February 1955 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.
Just in time for Halloween, John T. Frye's teenage sleuths Carl & Jerry unexpectedly recorded a late-night conversation between two men where they plot how to dispose of the 'body' when death occurred as a result of prolonged choking. Employing their trademark technical prowess and scheming ability, the pair sets a trap for the perpetrators and dutifully summon the authorities as they complete their nefarious act of the night before. Halloween comes into play because the recordings were made for use in creating sound effects during the reading of Edgar Allen Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum and The Cask of Amontillado.
By John T. Frye
At Jerry's invitation, Carl had accompanied him to Carter's Feed Store on their way home from school. Not until they were inside the store did the long and rangy Carl learn that his chubby companion had a reason behind his invitation: he wanted help in carrying home some of his recording equipment that was at the store. Jerry thanked Mr. Carter profusely for something - Carl could not make out exactly for what - and the two boys started home. By some chance Carl found himself carrying the tape recorder that weighed a good thirty pounds, while Jerry padded along carrying a timer clock whose weight could be measured in ounces.
"You know," Carl ruminated aloud, "I used to wonder why you didn't take up with a good strong packhorse for a chum instead of me; but then I realized you would have to feed a horse!"
"Let's not be bitter!" Jerry said as he delicately steadied the clock on top of his flat-top crew cut with the right forefinger while, with his left hand on his hip, he minced along with the exaggerated prance of a baton twirler beside the trudging Carl. "You are a victim of what might be called muscle oblige, which is French for, 'Them as has muscles have gotta use 'em.'"
"That's so nice to know," Carl observed sarcastically. "Why did you have this recording junk down at the feed store, anyway?"
"I wanted to make a recording of rats squealing, and that store has got the rats. I nailed a piece of meat to the floor just under the microphone and set this timer clock to cut the recorder on for fifteen minutes around midnight. I figured that by that time the rats would be having a real ball and I ought to get some dandy squealing."
"And why," Carl patiently pursued, "did you want a recording of rats squealing?"
"For the new party game tape I'm working out called Horror Story Sound Effects. On this tape will be several sound effect strips, each one representing the sounds that might have been heard in an important scene from a well-known horror story. At a party this tape will be played in the darkness and the guests will try to guess the title of the story represented by each sound effect. As an example, I rasp a mason's trowel across a brick a few times, rattle a chain, and give a muffled crazy laugh with the microphone shut up in my clothes closet. That represents the scene where Fortunato is being walled up in The Cask of Amontillado, by Poe."
"Hey, that's keen," Carl applauded.
"For The Pit and the Pendulum, I want to use the sound effect for the story's climax where the swinging crescent of sharp steel is just about to cut into the victim while the rats are squealing and fighting as they gnaw at his food-smeared bonds. Swishing a wood lath back and forth in front of the microphone takes care of the sound of the swinging knife, but nothing sounds like a rat squealing but a rat himself."
"Well," Carl observed as they reached the basement entrance of Jerry's laboratory, "We'll soon know what we've got on the tape."
In a few minutes the recorder was set up and the boys were listening intently to the faint rustling sounds coming from the speaker. At first, these were the only sounds heard, but after a few minutes the rats apparently became accustomed to the slight noise made by the running recorder and returned to their feast. As they did so, their fighting and squealing rose to a crescendo which was all Jerry could want. He reached over to switch off the recorder, but just as he did so a sound came from the speaker that stopped his hand in mid-air. It was a man's gruff voice, faint and muffled, but clearly understandable:
"You're late. How come?"
"The job took longer than I expected," a younger man's voice replied. "She took an awful lot of choking before she finally died and I had to drag her into the garage."
"No one saw or heard you, did they?
Those Hollywood types get a lot of attention."
"I'm sure they didn't. Now I've got another problem. The boss says I've got to get rid of the body right away. How about your helping me dump it tomorrow night?"
"Okay. Do you think we ought to cut it up first to make identification impossible?"
"That won't be necessary. We can just throw the body on your flatbed truck and spread a canvas over it and then drive to that old abandoned stone quarry west of town. Once it's at the bottom of that, no one is ever going to find it."
"All right, I'll be over at your place with the truck about twelve-thirty tomorrow night; then we can-"
At this point the slapping of a freed end announced that the short tape had passed through the machine.
"Holy cow!" Carl breathed softly, "What a time to run out of tape! We've been listening to a couple of murderers."
"And the victim must have been a pretty Hollywood starlet," Jerry said, his staring round eyes matching his round face. "That microphone was hanging just below a window that opens out into an alley. Those killers must have been standing just outside that window."
"Well, what are we waiting on?" Carl demanded as he jumped to his feet. "Let's take this recording down to the police."
"Hold on," Jerry admonished. "Don't forget that since the police found we were behind that starling-scaring business, we are not exactly the fair-haired boys with them. If we take this down there now, they will think we cooked the whole thing up ourselves."
"Surely you're not going to just sit there and let those crooks get away with choking that pretty little starlet to death, are you?" Carl demanded as he paced impatiently up and down the laboratory.
"No, but we've got to go at this calmly," Jerry announced as he assumed his favorite position on the couch with his head pillowed on his clasped hands. "After all, the crime has already been committed, so we can't stop it from happening. What we want to do is make sure the murderers are punished, right?"
"I guess so."
"We know they are going to try and dispose of the body tonight shortly after midnight; and we are both familiar with the quarry where this is to take place. All we have to do is let them try to carry out their plan and then arrange for the police to catch them right in the act."
"And just how, if I may be so bold as to ask, are we going to manage this little thing?"
"Suppose tonight we ride our bicycles out to the west edge of town and take along a couple of those two-meter walkie-talkies our radio club built up for Civilian Defense work. One of us can station himself at the stone quarry, and the other can stay close to that all-night drugstore at the edge of town. That means we'll only be about a mile apart and can communicate with each other easily. Then when you - I mean when the person at the quarry sees the truck turning into the quarry gate he can flash the word to the fellow at the drugstore. This fellow can then telephone the police to send a squad car to the stone quarry. After the squad car has arrived and caught the cold-blooded killers right in the act of disposing of the body, we can come forward and modestly admit we were the detectors - I mean the detectives - who engineered the whole clever affair. Any questions?"
"Just one," Carl said slowly as he glowered suspiciously down at the reclining figure of his chum. "Who stands watch at the quarry?"
"Why, Carl," Jerry said with round-eyed elaborate carelessness, "I hadn't even thought about that, but I'd better take the job. Of course, since I'm short-legged and a little inclined to be pleasingly plump, I couldn't run very fast if something went wrong, and the men would be sure to catch me and send me down to the bottom of the quarry too, but that's all the more reason why I wouldn't want my best friend to take any chances, even though he is the fastest sprinter our high school has ever had. After all-"
"All right, all right!" Carl interrupted.
"I'll go to the quarry; but don't think you suckered me into it. It's just that I'd as soon be scared to death as talked
to death. I'll get the gear together and see you back in the alley about eleven o'clock."
But Carl did not get out of the house at eleven. His folks were watching the late TV show, and it was impossible for him to get out of the house without their noticing until almost a quarter to twelve. The two boys rode their bicycles swiftly to the edge of town and there they parted. Jerry took up his vigil in a dark shadow beside the drugstore, while Carl bravely rode off into the darkness along the road leading past the quarry.
It seemed a long time before Jerry suddenly heard Carl's welcome voice in the earphone of the walkie-talkie pressed close against his ear: "W9CFI, this is W9EGV calling. How do you copy?"
"Five by nine," Jerry said softly with his lips almost touching the mike of the transceiver. "Where are you?"
"Under the bridge that leads off the road into the quarry," Carl reported. "This ditch is dry and deep enough for me and my bike both to get under here. What time is it?"
Jerry cautiously peered around the corner of the building at the clock hanging in the front window before he announced, "Twelve forty-five. See anything of the murderers yet?"
"Don't use that word!" Carl said hoarsely. "I hope this doesn't take long. It's not exactly cosy under this bridge."
"I believe that," Jerry said, "because I can hear your teeth chattering."
"Hey, I see a pair of lights coming down the road," Carl announced excitedly. "I'm going to duck back under the bridge, and if you hear the truck pass over, get ready to make that phone call muy pronto. It's getting closer; now it's slowing down-" his voice trailed off at this point, but he kept the transmit switch held down, and Jerry could distinctly hear the hollow rumble as a heavy vehicle passed over the wooden bridge.
"It's them," Carl said in a hoarse whisper with a reckless disregard for his English. "Make that call and ride out here as fast as your fat little legs will carry you. I may need help."
Waiting to hear no more, Jerry tossed the transceiver into the basket of his bicycle and slipped into the phone booth of the drugstore. He dialed the already-memorized police number and tucked his chin down so as to make his voice come from his chest, rendering it - he hoped- deeper and more mature. As soon as a man's voice answered, he carefully intoned: "Listen carefully. Two murderers are disposing of the body of a victim at this very moment at the old stone quarry a mile west of town. If you send a squad car immediately, you can catch them in the act."
Then, without waiting for an answer, he quietly hung up the receiver and slid out of the drugstore. Now, ordinarily Jerry had an almost pathological aversion to exercise in any form, but let it be said to his credit that this once he did not spare the horse power as he pedaled swiftly down the road toward his friend in danger. The night was dark, and he kept his bicycle light turned off. This made it very difficult to tell exactly where he was, especially since his eyes were still not completely accustomed to the darkness. Just as he was thinking that he must be nearing the quarry, there was a sudden pinging sound. His bicycle rose beneath him like a bucking bronco, and he sailed over the handlebars to make a perfect three-point landing on his knees and nose in the frozen gravel of the roadway.
Before he could gather his scattered senses, Carl was dragging him by an elbow toward the deep ditch at the side of the road and hissing into his ear, "Get down here in the ditch before they see us. I crawled up a few yards to wait for you, but you came along so fast I didn't have time to flag you down. I was, afraid to call out, so I just grabbed up a stick and ran it through your front spokes. That stopped you!"
"Oh fine!" Jerry muttered as he tenderly felt his scraped nose. "Here I am rushing to help you, and you try to murder me."
"Quit griping," Carl hissed. "With all that natural padding you've got, a little bump isn't going to do any damage. Let's get back under the bridge until the squad car comes."
They had barely reached this sanctuary before they heard the wailing of a siren, and a few seconds later the flashing red light of a squad car rapidly approached down the road. With a great screeching of brakes and showering of gravel the car slowed down and turned abruptly across the bridge. The boys immediately popped out of their hiding place to see a truck and two men standing in the glare of the squad-car spotlights.
"All right, you two; don't move!" one of the officers commanded as he stepped from the car with a drawn gun. "What are you up to?"
"Why we were just getting ready to dump a body-" one of the men began.
"Ha! So you admit it," the officer said menacingly. "Mack, you cover me while I examine the body."
With his gun still drawn, the policeman stepped forward cautiously, taking care not to come between the gun of his fellow officer and the two men, and jerked the canvas from the object on the truck. The two boys had stolen out of the ditch and were standing right at the rear fender of the squad car. The simultaneous gasp they gave as the canvas slipped to the ground so unnerved the policeman standing beside the car that he tried to point his gun in all four directions at the same time and came very close to shooting a hole in the squad car itself.
"It's a car body!" the boys said in chorus.
"And what did you think it was?" demanded one of the men in the spotlight. "Hey, where did you kids come from?
Did one of you call us?" the officer near the car demanded.
"Ye-yes, I did," Jerry quavered. Then he told the whole story of the tape recording. Before he finished the two men with the truck were slapping each other on the back and laughing so hard they could scarcely stand up. Finally the younger one wiped his eyes and started to explain:
"I do some dirt track racing. Jack here, who works at a machine shop from 4 p.m. until midnight, helps me fix up my cars. I often talk with him after he eats a midnight snack at the restaurant right across the alley from the feed store. Last night I was telling him about a beat-up racecar I had bought in a neighboring town and had managed to drive home. The heap was in such sad shape that I had to keep choking the motor to make it run. It finally died completely right in front of the house and I had to tow it into my garage. We weren't going to use the old body and my wife said I had to get rid of it. I call my wife 'The Boss' - just kidding, of course."
"We're both married; we understand," one of the policemen said.
"In this race business, every driver likes to keep the other drivers guessing about a new rod he intends to use. That's why we didn't want anyone to see the car we were rebuilding. Leaving the old body lying around would be a giveaway, so we were going to drop it into the quarry."
"What was that about 'the Hollywood type attracting a lot of attention,''' Carl asked.
"The jalop had a Hollywood muffler on it that made a lot of noise when you gunned the motor," Jack explained promptly.
The older policeman studied the dejected faces of the two boys for a few seconds and then said kindly, "Don't take it so hard, fellows. Even without hearing that tape, I can imagine how convincing it must have sounded. And if it had been a serious affair, you did a good job of detecting."
Jerry looked up with a sudden expression of resolution. "From now on," he announced, "'detection' is going to be just a radio term as far as I am concerned."
"I'm with you," Carl said fervently as he started toward his bicycle.
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 October 21, 2014