January 1956 Popular Electronics
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
All three of my hobbies are contained in this episode of Carl &
Jerry - electronics, astronomy, and airplanes! For as clever
as the two teenagers are, they sure do manage to get themselves
into some sticky situations due to what can only be termed as
stupidity. This is not the first time their future relied on
a fairly large number of people being 'out there' who were familiar
with Morse code. Supporting the claim that trends run in cycles,
the ignition-type model engine common in the mid 1950s eventually
gave way to glow fuel (a nitro methane
and castor or synthetic oil mix) engines, but nowadays
miniature electronic ignition systems have made model-size gasoline
powerplants popular again, especially given the 5x cost of glow
fuel compared to gasoline. I'd be giving up the story's plot
by telling you what happened, so you'll want to read this yourself.
Carl & Jerry: Trapped in a Chimney
By John T. Frye
Man, did you ever see a sweeter flying job?" Carl demanded
enthusiastically, as he and his chum, Jerry, squinted at Carl's
radio-controlled model plane sailing along against the late
afternoon January sky.
"Surely does handle well," Jerry agreed, doing a little jig
on the frozen ground to keep warm. It had been a fine winter
day with the temperature up in the 40's, but now the mercury
was sinking with the sun. The boys were flying their model in
a large field just beyond the outskirts of town. At the other
end of the field were the ruins of a box factory that had been
completely destroyed by fire several years before. Only a tall
brick chimney had been left standing.
"Better bring it in for a landing," Jerry suggested. "It's
getting late, and I think I can smell snow in the air."
"Okey-dokey," Carl agreed; "but get a load of this tight
turn around that smokestack."
As he said this, he stuck his finger in the opening marked
"L. Trn." of the telephone dial mounted on the transmitter control
box; pulled it down against the stop and released it. Instantly
the little plane banked gracefully and turned toward the top
of the smokestack.
"Hey!" yelled Jerry, whose depth perception was much better
than Carl's, "you've turned too quick!"
By the time he got the warning out, however, and in spite
of all the "body English" he tried to put on the little plane,
it closed the gap between it and the smokestack - and failed
to appear on the other side. At the same instant, the steady
snarl of the little motor ceased abruptly.
"Holy cow!" Carl groaned, "it's crashed!"
He set the control box on the ground and started at a dead
run across the field. Jerry followed, but Carl's long legs and
athletic build gave him such an advantage that by the time his
chubby companion came puffing up to the base of the chimney
Carl had loped around it twice.
"Hey, that's funny," Carl muttered. "I can't see a thing
of it, and there's no .place for it to hide, unless -" As though
worked by a common string, the heads of both boys tilted back
as they stared up at the top of the chimney towering some sixty
or seventy feet above them.
"That's where it went," Jerry said with conviction. "It was
just skimming the top, and I thought it might clear; but it
must have dived right into the top. Well, scratch one model
"That's what you think," Carl said determinedly, reaching
for a rung of the wide ladder going up the side of the chimney.
"I've got at least a gallon of sweat and several acres of lawn
mowing invested in that gas motor and the plane controls, and
I intend to get 'em back or know the reason why."
"All right," Jerry said resignedly, as he started up the
ladder behind his friend; "I'm just stupid enough to go along
... they leaned over the broad lip of
the smokestack opening and stared down...
In a few minutes, the boys were standing side by side on
an upper rung of the ladder while they leaned over the broad
lip of the smokestack opening and stared down its throat. Even
at the narrowed top, the stack measured a good eight feet across.
"Heck," Carl said in disappointment: "it's too dark down
there to see a thing."
"Hold your horses a minute," Jerry grunted, as he squirmed
around on his stomach so that he could reach into a pocket and
pull out the flashlight case that contained the booster-battery
used in starting the plane motor. He unscrewed the adapter with
its two flexible leads from the bulb socket, screwed the bulb
back in place, and replaced the lens cap. When the restored
flashlight was shone down into the chimney, the white cross
formed by the wing and fuselage of the plane could be faintly
seen at the bottom.
"You hold the flashlight. I'm going down and get it," Carl
"Oh; no, you don't," Jerry exclaimed, as he threw a fat leg
over the edge of the stack and reached for the top rung of the
rusty narrow iron ladder that went down the inside of the chimney.
"This is my chance to check up on that old business about whether
or not you can see stars in daytime from the bottom of a well
or chimney, and I'm not going to muff it. You can tag along
if you want to."
Cautiously, the two boys went down the rust-eaten ladder.
All went well until they were about ten feet from the bottom,
and then suddenly the whole lower section of the ladder gave
way under their combined weight and they dropped to the bottom
of the chimney. Jerry fell on his back on the layer of soft
ashes at the bottom of the chimney, and Carl came down on top
of him. The section of ladder broke into several pieces and
clattered harmlessly around them. Carl quickly sprang to his
feet and looked anxiously down at his friend still lying on
his back and staring intently up at the little circle of blue
far above them.
"Are you hurt, Jerry? Can't you get up?" "You can see stars,
and they're all different colors," Jerry observed softly, in
a bemused voice.
"Come on; snap out of it," Carl said, unceremoniously yanking
Jerry to his feet. "You don't need to go down a chimney to see
the kind of stars you're seeing. Hey! Did you have to land squarely
on top of my plane?"
"There's just no pleasing some people," Jerry sighed, as
he lifted the flattened model from where he had been lying and
shook the ashes from it. "Here I break your fall with my very
own body, and all you do is gripe about your darn plane. I think
we're mighty fortunate. If that ladder had broken loose a little
farther up, we'd both have been killed; and it would have been
our own stupid fault. Trusting that rickety old iron ladder
was not one of our brighter acts."
"You can say that again," Carl agreed, as he stared owlishly
about him in the dim light that filtered down from above; "but
now the $64,000 question is: how are we going to get out of
here? There's nothing to climb on to reach the bottom end of
that ladder, and I wouldn't want to trust it again if we could
reach it. These chimney walls are too thick to chisel through
even if we had tools. The one opening through the wall, that
one up there near the bottom end of the ladder where the smoke
from the boilers came in, is sealed off solidly with heavy metal
plates that sagged down over it when the box factory burned.
I've noticed that before from the outside."
"If you were Tarzan, you might go hand over hand up this
little cable that runs along the side of the chimney," Jerry
observed. "What's it for, anyway?"
"It's a ground lead for the lightning rods on the top," Carl
said; "but I'm not Tarzan, and I wouldn't want to trust my weight
on it if I were. No, I'm beginning to think we'll never get
out of here without help. We've got to cook up some way to let
people know we're in here."
"A fat lot of good that'll do. We never saw a soul around
here all afternoon; and now that it's getting dark, no one will
be around for sure."
"We might build a fire. Then when people saw the smoke, they'd
come to investigate."
"A dandy idea if we had something to burn, if people could
see smoke in the dark, and if we didn't suffocate long before
anyone noticed the imaginary smoke."
"Okay, smarty; you make some suggestions and let me knock
them in the head for a while."
"Let's see what we've got in our pockets.
Maybe that will give us an idea. All I've got in mine is
a cigarette lighter, a dime, a quarter, and this little piece
"This thing makes a spark for the motor,
and will make a spark for a transmitter."
"I can do better than that," Jerry boasted.
"I've got this flashlight and the booster-battery adapter.
Here's a small file I brought along to dress that nick out of
the propeller blade. Finally, here's one slightly squashed chocolate
bar that was in my hip pocket. We had better cut that up in
small portions and eat just a little bit each day to keep up
"That's out," Carl said flatly. "If we don't get out of here
pretty soon, we'll freeze to death anyway; so let's break that
in two and eat it right away. Maybe it will help us think. All
I can think of right now is that Mom is having spaghetti and
meatballs for supper tonight, and there's going to be an empty
chair at the supper table."
For a little while, the two friends munched their chocolate
in silence. Finally Jerry said slowly: "What we really need
is some way to send out a call for help. If you had just brought
that control transmitter with you, we might have been able to
rig up some sort of low-frequency transmitter with the parts,
but we surely can't build a transmitter with what we've got
here. We don't even have a tube."
"They had transmitters before there were tubes," Carl pointed
out. "Don't forget the old spark coil jobs. But that doesn't
help either because we don't have any spark coil -"
He broke off abruptly. as Jerry leaped to his feet and snatched
the broken model plane from the ground.
"Who says we don't?" Jerry gloated, starting to remove the
tiny induction coil from the fuselage. "This thing makes a spark
for the motor, and it will make a spark for a transmitter."
"This I gotta see," Carl said dubiously. "You've got to have
either a.c. or rapidly pulsating d.c. in the primary of that
coil to get a continuous spark discharge across the secondary.
Where are you going to get that?"
"Fire up that lighter of yours, and just watch and see,"
Jerry said, as he busied himself with the coil and the booster-battery
adapter for the flashlight.
In a few minutes, Jerry had a haywire arrangement of wires,
flashlight case, and induction coil spread out on the ashy floor.
Two bits of the wire from Carl's pocket had .been used to form
a small spark gap across the secondary of the induction coil.
One terminal of the flashlight battery was connected to one
end of the induction coil primary, but leads from the other
side of the battery and the other side of the primary were left
At Jerry's direction, Carl used the rest of the wire to connect
one side of the spark gap to the lightning arrester cable. The
other side he stuck in the ground several feet away. Finally,
Jerry connected one of the loose primary wires to the blade
of the file and pressed the end of the other wire against Carl's
quarter. When the quarter was drawn rapidly across the serrations
of the file, the rapid making and breaking of the primary circuit
of the induction coil produced a ragged blue spark discharge
across the small gap.
"It works!" Jerry exclaimed. "What shall I say? Had we better
start out with SOS or use the amateur emergency call, QRR?"
"Better use SOS," Carl advised as the lighter flickered out.
"More people are familiar with that. Then go ahead and say something
like, 'Please send help to the old box factory chimney. We are
imprisoned within it and -' "
"All right, Charles Dickens; cut it short," Jerry interrupted.
"This quarter-and-file keying arrangement is not exactly a bug,
you know. I'm going to send 'SOS box factory stack' over and
over and let 'em take it from there."
With this, he started drawing the coin across the file in
short and long strokes to form the respective dots and dashes.
"Z-z, z-z, z-z; z-z-z-z-z, z-z-z-z-z, z-z-z-z-z; z-z, z-z, z-z,"
hissed the little spark, and its light cast a flashing, eerie,
blue glow on the intent faces of the two boys. By now it was
almost completely dark inside the chimney, and Jerry "keyed"
the transmitter entirely by sense of touch. Needless to say,
the sending was not exactly machine-like.
After a quarter of an hour or so, the batteries grew so weak
that the spark would no longer jump the gap. The bits of wire
were pushed closer together and the message repeated until even
this smaller gap was too much for the failing batteries.
"That's it, I guess," Jerry announced. "After resting a few
hours, the batteries will recover enough to let us make one
more short transmission; we'll save that for daylight."
"What frequency do you suppose we're sending on?"
"Just about all frequencies. A spark gap emits a very broad
band of frequencies, and there are no tuned circuits in this
rig to peak it up."
"Well," Carl said disconsolately, "it looks like nobody heard
it anyway -"
"Listen!" Jerry interrupted.
Faintly, but unmistakably, there came the sound of a wailing
police siren. It came closer and closer and then stopped abruptly.
A few minutes later, the boys heard muffled voices outside the
"Help! Help! Here in the chimney!" they shouted in unison.
Seconds later, a strong spotlight was shone into their upturned
faces from the top of the chimney, and a dangling rope was let
down to them. By means of this rope, the boys were hoisted up
one at a time until they could reach the bottom end of the broken
ladder, and then were helped on up and out of the chimney.
"I might know it would be you two," the police sergeant said
coldly, as he surveyed the begrimed but happy boys. "Every time
something weird happens in this town, you jokers are mixed up
"Who picked up our message?" Jerry asked eagerly.
"Who didn't!" the sergeant growled. "For the past half hour
they've been ringing the police station phone off the wall.
A few of the calls were from hams, Boy Scouts, and ex-Army or
-Navy operators who actually picked up the message on the broadcast
or short-wave bands; but dozens of calls were from irate TV
viewers who were just plain mad because someone was clobbering
Milton Berle on their sets - and on the very night when Marilyn
Monroe was a guest star, too. Right now, you two are probably
the most hated pair in this whole town!"
Carl & Jerry: Their Complete Adventures is now available. "From
1954 through 1964, Popular Electronics published 119 adventures of Carl Anderson and Jerry Bishop, 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
- Electronic Eraser,
- Electronic Trap, March
- Geniuses at Work, June
- Eeeeelectricity!, November
- Anchors Aweigh, July
- Bosco Has His Day,
- The Hand of Selene,
- Feedback, May 1956
- Abetting or Not?, October
- Electronic Beach
Buggy, September 1956
- Extra Sensory
Perception, December 1956
- Trapped in a Chimney,
- Command Performance,
Education, July 1963
- Treachery of Judas, July
- The Sucker, May 1963
- Stereotaped New
Year, January 1963
- The Snow Machine, December
Education, July 1963
- Slow Motion for
Quick Action, April 1963
- Sonar Sleuthing, August
- TV Antennas, August 1955
- Succoring a Soroban,
- "All's Fair --", September
- Operation Worm Warming,
- The Blubber Banisher,
- The Sparkling Light, May
- Pure Research Rewarded,
- A Hot Idea, March 1960
- The Hot Dog Case, December
- A New Company is Launched,
- Under the Mistletoe,
- Electronic Eraser,
- "BBI", May 1959
- Ultrasonic Sound Waves,
- The River Sniffer, July
- Ham Radio, April 1955
- El Torero Electronico,
- Wired Wireless, January
- Electronic Shadow,
- Elementary Induction,
- He Went That-a-Way,
- Electronic Detective,
- Aiding an Instinct,
- Two Detectors, February
- Tussle with a Tachometer,
- Therry and the Pirates,
- The Crazy Clock Caper,
Posted November 26, 2014