May 1963 Popular ElectronicsTable of Contents
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged. See all articles from Popular Electronics.
In today's environment where law breakers seem to have more rights than law abiders, the electromechanical pyrotechnic tactic used in this story to snare a thief would have been used by a lawyer to charge Carl & Jerry (and Parvoo U. dorm mate Benny) with assault. A moronic judge would likely convict and fine (or jail) the boys trying to protect their own property and let the actual perpetrator - caught red-handed - walk. In fact, it we apply contemporary dictates on the treatment of property trespassers (i.e., the U.S. southern border), after getting into the car's trunk the law breaker would be given food stamps (EBT card), a nice hotel with large screen TV, clothing, and bestowment of sainthood. After all, he was just stealing property that other American wouldn't steal.
By John T. Frye W9EGV
A few minutes after midnight there was a splash of intense white light, followed a second or so later by an explosion.
Carl, Jerry, and Benny Winthrop, a fellow H-3 resident, were standing in the parking lot across from the residence hall of Parvoo University staring down at the bright May morning sunlight flooding the empty trunk of Benny's late-model luxury sedan.
"I simply can't psych it out," Benny said, shaking his head. "This is the third time in a month thieves have cleaned out my trunk. First it was the spare tire; then it was a pair of shoe skates and some ice-fishing tackle; and now my portable typewriter and a suitcase full of clothes. It was late when I pulled in from home last night; so I decided to leave the stuff in the trunk until this morning. You can see what I found. They only left my new spare tire ... What really bugs me is how they get in. There has never been any sign of prying or tampering with the trunk lock."
"What did the police say when you reported the other two jobs?" Jerry asked.
"They said the thieves probably had a key to fit my trunk. They explained that there are only so many basic lock patterns and there are millions of cars; so it's not unusual for one car key to fit several locks on other cars. Being an engineer, I didn't accept this as a fact without proof. I rounded up all the guys with car keys in the hall, and we formed a long line and tried our keys in every door and trunk lock on the lot. It was astonishing how many locks we could open."
"Then why don't you think the thieves used their key again?"
"First, because I had the lock changed while I was home. On top of that, I waxed the car; and when I started to insert my key in the trunk lock this morning, I noticed the key slot was still covered with paste wax. That trunk was not opened with a key last night, and-"
He broke off and gave an instinctive leap to one side as a young boy whizzed silently up behind him on a bicycle and came to a sliding, tire-screeching halt.
Darn you, Butch!" Benny said angrily. "Someday you'll pull that stunt once too often, and I'll clobber you good."
Butch, a sixteen-year-old boy who liked to hang around the university campus, grinned up at Benny. "Temper, temper!" he said tauntingly.
"Hey, Butch," Carl injected quickly to cool things off, "how come you're not home playing with that new tape recorder you were telling us your uncle gave you for Christmas?"
The boy's face clouded over. "Aw, Mom took it away six weeks ago. She would never believe Dad and me when we told her she snored; so one night when she was sawing away in front of the TV, I made a recording and played it back for her when she woke up. She got mad and said I couldn't have the recorder until I learned 'to use it sensibly.' She makes me sick."
"And you make me sick," Benny said, still angry because he had shown fear at the screech of the bicycle tire. "Suppose you get on your bicycle and pedal off just as fast as your fat little legs will carry you. I think your mother did the right thing."
"You would!" Butch said witheringly, but he leaped on his bicycle and pumped off down the street.
"You shouldn't lean on the kid that way, Benny," Carl said gently.
"I know it, and I'm ashamed of myself," Benny admitted; "but this thing has me all upset."
Jerry had been examining the trunk lock mechanism. "Benny," he said, "what's this doodad on the trunk lock catch that has a little hose going to it?"
"That's a vacuum cylinder that pulls the catch aside and lets the trunk lid pop up when a knob inside the glove compartment is pulled out," Benny explained.
"Maybe the thieves got into the trunk that way!" Carl blurted out.
"I don't think so," Benny answered with a shake of his head. "To do that, if the car had been sitting a little while, they would have to have keys for the car door, the glove compartment door, and the ignition switch. A storage tank on the car's vacuum system allows the trunk lid to be operated for a short time after the motor is shut off, but the vacuum soon leaks away. After that, the motor has to be started to open the trunk from inside the car."
"Have you tried using that glove compartment release lately?" Jerry asked.
"No, I practically never use the thing.
Jerry slammed the trunk lid shut and got into the car. "Let's drive away from here," he suggested. "I hate to think so, but the thief could be someone in our residence hall who is watching us right now. I have an idea I'd like to check out with a little more privacy. Drive over to Marty's filling station."
When they arrived at the station, Benny tried opening the trunk lid with the knob in the glove compartment. The only thing that happened when the knob was pulled out was that the motor speeded up a bit, indicating that more air was being added to the intake mixture.
"I thought so," Jerry said. "Let's put the car on the hoist."
With the car on the lift, Jerry quickly found what he was seeking: a small rubber hose running along inside the car frame had been cut squarely in two. "That's how they did it," he said. "This is the hose that runs from the valve in the glove compartment back to the vacuum cylinder in the trunk. The thieves simply cut the hose and applied suction to the part running back to the trunk. That released the catch."
Carl applied his lips to the end of the tube and sucked on it until his eyes bulged, but he could not make the trunk lid pop up.
"It takes a little more suck than that," Marty, the station owner, who had been watching with interest, observed with a chuckle. The three boys got into the car and drove slowly back toward the residence hall while they talked over the matter.
"If I thought the joker would come back and suck on that tube with his mouth, I'd like to pull the end off inside the trunk and stick it into a bottle of castor oil - or something worse," Benny said harshly.
"That wouldn't do any good. We want to catch the thief if we can," Jerry replied. "Carl, do you still have any of those loud firecrackers your cousin bought for you on his way back from Florida?"
"Fine. Get two or three of them while I pick up some other things. Then let's drive down along the river and see if we can't fix up a little surprise for Benny's buddies."
The boys drove to a secluded spot along the river and pulled the car over a depression alongside the road that permitted them to squirm underneath it easily. First, Jerry pulled the rubber hose loose from the vacuum cylinder in the car trunk and slipped it over the end of an old fountain pen barrel. The top had been cut off the barrel, and the rubber piston that worked back and forth inside was attached to the actuating leaf of a microswitch. When suction was applied to the other end of the hose, the piston moved down the barrel and closed the microswitch.
"So far so good," Jerry said as he removed a large photo flash bulb, some tape, and several lengths of wire from his pockets and laid them alongside the firecrackers on the floor of the trunk. Very carefully he wound several turns of fine resistance wire around the fuse of one of the firecrackers and placed the explosive on the grass. Long leads from the resistance wire were touched across the car's battery. Almost instantly the resistance wire became white hot and set the fuse to sputtering before the resistance wire burned in two. The fire-cracker went off with a terrific bang.
"That works fine, too," Jerry said with a grin of satisfaction as he started preparing another firecracker in a similar fashion. "Carl, suppose you fasten this firecracker up under the car toward the front where it can do no damage. Benny, you mount this flash bulb under the car very close to where the hose has been cut. I'll do the wiring so that the battery voltage will be applied to both the flash bulb and the resistance wire whenever suction on the end of the hose closes the microswitch."
These arrangements were soon completed, but the boys made sure everything was taped securely in place and that no short circuits could occur.
"That's all there is to it," Jerry said, as he crawled out from beneath the car and brushed the leaves and grass from his clothing. "All you have to do, Benny, is park your car as close as you can to the residence hall. Then, when you hear that firecracker explode, heel-and-toe it down to the car as quickly as you can and grab anyone you see acting funny."
Carl and Jerry had exams on tap the next day, and they had already used up several hours of study time. That meant they had to burn the midnight oil that night. In fact, it was actually a few minutes past midnight when their peaceful studying was abruptly interrupted by a splash of intense white light against the windows of their room, followed a second or so later by an explosion.
"The firecracker!" Carl exclaimed, dropping his slide rule and dashing for the stairs. The whine of a police siren greeted the ears of the boys as they rushed out the door of the residence hall and sprinted across the street toward the parking lot. An old jalopy careened out of the parking lot on two wheels and took off down the street with a campus police cruiser in hot pursuit.
Carl and Jerry had almost reached Benny's car when a staggering, stumbling figure lunged into them. "Lemme go! Lemme go!" the slight figure screamed as he struck blindly at them with his clenched fists.
"Hey, it's Butch!" Carl exclaimed, as he pinioned the boy's arms down against his sides.
"Who is it?" Butch asked, peering myopically up into Carl's face. "I can't see. I'm blind."
"You won't be when the effect of that flash bulb going off right in your face wears away; but it would almost serve you right if you were," Carl said grimly. "Why were you robbing Benny?"
"Who says I was ?" Butch asked craftily, turning his head to one side.
"Your buddies here say you were!" a deep voice boomed out of the darkness. Two burly campus policemen came up holding a couple of cringing seventeen or eighteen year old boys by their collars. Benny, barefooted and in his pajamas, also came limping up at the same time, and cried out in pain when he stubbed his toe against something lying beside his car. He stooped down and picked up a small tank of the sort used for propane gas soldering torches.
"Here's where the extra needed suction came from," Jerry said as he took the tank from Benny and turned a valve on the top. Air could be heard hissing into the tank.
"Why did you do it, Butch?" Carl asked gently.
"Because I was sick and tired of being pushed around, told I could do this and couldn't do that," Butch sobbed incoherently. "She had no business taking away that tape recorder. It was mine. She didn't give it to me.
"I learned how that trunk lock worked hanging around a garage, and I figured out a way to open it. I used the vacuum pump at the physics lab at school to pump the air out of that discarded tank. When I told Hank and Joe there I could open a trunk without a key, they bet me I couldn't. I showed them on Benny's car, and then they took his spare tire. I didn't know they intended doing that, but I didn't much care because Benny is bossy like my mom and his old man gives him anything he wants and lets him keep it, too.
"We came back two other times and got some more stuff. Tonight we were going to get that new spare tire I saw in the trunk this morning, but when I connected the tank to the hose and opened the valve, a terrible bright light flashed in my eyes and someone shot at me with a shotgun. I couldn't see, and my pals over there ran off and left me," he finished bitterly.
"Come on," one of the policemen said, taking Butch by the arm. "Let's get you three birds down to the station and call your proud parents."
As the tail lights of the squad car disappeared down the street, Carl, Jerry, and Benny looked after it thoughtfully.
"I almost wish our trap hadn't worked," Benny finally said hoarsely.
"No, it's better this way," Jerry decided. "If Butch had gotten away with it, he would have figured he was too smart to be caught and be well started on a life of crime. The court may not be too hard on him because of his youth and good past record, but he certainly will have to walk the straight and narrow from here on in."
I guess he did it because he was mad at his mother for taking away his tape recorder without good reason," Benny offered.
"That was his childish reasoning," Carl agreed. "N0oone escapes injustice all the time, and he naturally resents it when it happens; but if he ever hopes to call himself a man, he doesn't try to take his resentment out on all law and order."
"It took a good bit of thinking to figure out how to open the trunk," Benny commented. "It surely is a shame when a kid has a bright mind like that and uses it to get himself into trouble."
"Yeah," Jerry agreed as he idly opened the valve on the little tank and listened to the air rushing in. "Poor Butch not only used a sucker; he was a sucker!"
Carl & Jerry: Their Complete Adventures is now available. "From 1954 through 1964, Popular Electronics published 119 adventures of Carl and Jerry, two teen boys with a passion for electronics and a knack for getting into and out of trouble with haywire lashups built in Jerry's basement. Better still, the boys explained how it all worked, and in doing so, launched countless young people into careers in science and technology. Now, for the first time ever, the full run of Carl and Jerry yarns by John T. Frye are available again, in five authorized anthologies that include the full text and all illustrations."
Carl & Jerry Episodes on RF Cafe
- Geniuses at Work, June 1956
- Eeeeelectricity!, November 1956
- Anchors Aweigh, July 1956
- Bosco Has His Day, August 1956
- The Hand of Selene, November 1960
- Feedback, May 1956
- Abetting or Not?, October 1956
- Electronic Beach Buggy, September 1956
- Extra Sensory Perception, December 1956
- Trapped in a Chimney, January 1956
- Command Performance, November 1958
- Extracurricular Education, July 1963
- Treachery of Judas, July 1961
- The Sucker, May 1963
- Stereotaped New Year, January 1963
- The Snow Machine, December 1960
- Extracurricular Education, July 1963
- Slow Motion for Quick Action, April 1963
- Sonar Sleuthing, August 1963
- TV Antennas, August 1955
- Succoring a Soroban, March 1963
- "All's Fair --", September 1963
- Operation Worm Warming, May 1961
- The Sparkling Light, May 1962
- Pure Research Rewarded, June 1962
- The Hot Dog Case, December 1954
- A New Company is Launched, October 1956
- Under the Mistletoe, December 1958
- Electronic Eraser, August 1962
- Blubber Banisher, July 1959
- "BBI", May 1959
- Ultrasonic Sound Waves, July 1955
- The River Sniffer, July 1962
- Ham Radio, April 1955
- El Torero Electronico, April 1960
- Wired Wireless, January 1962
- Electronic Shadow, September 1957
- Elementary Induction, June 1963
- He Went That-a-Way, March1959
- Electronic Detective, February 1958
- Aiding an Instinct, December 1962
- Two Detectors, February 1955
- Tussle with a Tachometer, July 1960
- Therry and the Pirates, April 1961
- The Crazy Clock Caper, October 1960
Posted August 14, 2014