June 1960 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Hmmm... this is the first
time recall either of Carl's or Jerry's father, at least where either was present
in the story. Their mothers are mentioned on occasion for providing sandwiches or
uttering words of caution when embarking on a sleuthing mission. In this episode
entitled "Two Tough Customers," creator and author John T. Frye have the techno-teens
set out on an adventure to shop for a good deal on a fundamentally sound car - which
they would own in a partnership set up by their fathers. As you would expect if
you are an ardent C&J follower, their effort includes inspecting not just the
mechanical integrity but also the electrical system health. Frye always used his
stories as the basis for a lesson on some technical aspect of everyday life. The
boys broke teenage car owners into three groups: Hot-Rodders, Show-Offs, and Mechs.
They seemed to assign one trait or the other, but not a combination thereof. Personally,
I was a bit of all three with my first car - a
1969 Camaro SS. While reading, see if you notice what I
did about the battery measurement (very typical in 1960).
Carl & Jerry: Two Tough Customers
By John T. Frye W9EGV
You might have expected to find Carl and Jerry outside on such a wonderful, warm
June evening. But they were perched on the workbench of their basement laboratory
instead, looking questioningly across at their respective fathers seated side by
side on a leather-covered couch.
"No doubt you boys are wondering why we called this conference," Mr. Bishop,
Jerry's father, began; "so let me say right off that you can quit looking so serious
and guilty. You're not in any trouble - at least none that we've caught you in."
"That's right," Mr. Anderson agreed with a smile. "To end the suspense, boys
... we've decided it's time you two had a car."
"Yippe- e- e -e!!" Carl shouted as he bounded off the bench and began skipping
around the lab. Jerry, who seldom permitted himself to waste any energy, stayed
put; but the big grin wreathing his round face showed that he shared his chum's
"We think you should know how and why we reached this decision," Mr. Bishop continued
as Carl settled back on the bench. "Both of us have kept sharp eyes on you as you
took drivers' training in school, as you passed your drivers' tests and got your
licenses, and as you herded the family buses around these past few weeks. You still
have a lot to learn about handling and maintaining a car, but we think you'll learn
much faster in a car for which you're solely responsible." "
I might add that your mothers don't agree," Mr. Anderson said with a wry smile;
"and you should keep in mind that your old dads have stuck their collective necks
way out for you on this one. If you get hurt or hurt anyone else with your car,
not only will we be the two sorriest fathers in town, but we're going to hear 'I
told you so' for the rest of our lives."
"Along that line," Mr. Bishop went on, "we can't have you buying a worn-out,
dangerous junker. But a good, sound used car still costs a sizable chunk of cash.
Now that we're preparing to send you two characters through college, neither family
has much money to spare - at least not enough to put out the whole cost of a good
"That's why we decided to split the expense and buy you two a partnership car,"
Mr. Anderson chimed in. "We know this arrangement wouldn't work in many cases, but
we think you two are an exception. You practically live together, anyway; so we
have a hunch you won't mind sharing a car."
"We'd rather!" Carl and Jerry chorused.
"Fine," Mr. Bishop said happily. "Then here's
the dope : we looked around quite a bit and decided a careful shopper can get a
good, safe used car for around six hundred dollars. A careless shopper can get an
awful stinging for twice that amount. At any rate, we're each putting three hundred
dollars into a car-buying fund. You boys are to shop around until you're sure you've
found the car you want costing six hundred dollars or less. Then we'll go down and
buy it for you. The choice will be solely yours. We're hoping you'll take your time,
use good judgment, and get a real bargain; but if you buy a lemon, there'll be no
one to blame but yourselves."
For a little while no one spoke. Then Jerry said hoarsely, "Dad, and Mr. Anderson,
I want you to know I really appreciate what you're doing. I know you're taking a
chance on us, and I'm sure going to try and deserve your confidence."
"Me, too," Carl added; "and maybe we can set your mind at ease on one point.
Jer and I have talked it over, and we've decided teenage drivers fall roughly into
three groups. The Hot-Rodders are the fellows who try to squeeze every bit of speed
and acceleration possible out of a car. They're interested in what we hams would
call the automobile's maximum peak power output. A few of them fail to use good
judgment about where and when they try out their souped-up 'irons,' and they bring
the bad name of reckless drivers to the whole group, which really isn't fair."
"Then there are the Show-Offs," Jerry continued. "These fellows are more concerned
with the car's appearance than with its snap or top speed. They are the ones who
go in for customizing the body, lowering the silhouette, dual-exhausts, chrome trim,
etc. They want their car to be noticed, and sometimes they try to attract attention
by childish actions like squealing the tires, using straight pipes, unnecessary
blowing of special horns, and so on."
"Finally," Carl concluded, "there are the Mechs. These are the boys who pride
themselves on keeping their automobiles in tiptop mechanical condition and treating
them with respect. Their cars are spit and span, but they put no money into chrome
gadgets, dummy radio antennas, or other things that don't contribute to the car's
performance. They would as soon kick a dog as abuse their car's mechanism with jackrabbit
starts or tire-screeching stops. They know just as much about what makes a car tick
as do the Hot-Rodders, but they're interested in the car's overall, long-time performance
instead of its short-burst peak performance. They are just as proud of their cars
as are the Show-Offs, but their satisfaction comes from a motor that purrs as smoothly
and quietly as a kitten, a body that is tight and free from squeaks and rattles,
and a smooth driving technique that wrings the maximum mileage out of every drop
of oil or gasoline. Jer and I have decided that, as future engineers, we belong
with the Mechs."
"Well," Mr. Anderson said casually, trying hard not to reveal how pleased he
was with what he had just heard, "I know a pair of future Mechs who had better be
scampering off to bed so they can get up bright and early tomorrow morning and start
car-hunting. Come along, son; let's go home."
Late afternoon three days later found Carl and Jerry, rather dispirited, standing
in front of Sam's Used Car Sales.
"Well, we may as well go in," Carl said. "This is the very last dealer in town."
"I suppose so," Jerry agreed; "but would you have believed it was so hard to
buy a car? In the last three days I've been under more cars than a cross-walk, and
we haven't found a thing we want at our price."
At this point a short, fat little man wearing a broad-brimmed Stetson hat and
puffing at a thin, crooked cigar sauntered out of the office of the car lot. "If
you young punks are thinking of trying to sell me some hub caps you've stolen, you
can forget it," he said with a scowl as he flipped the ashes from his cigar with
a little finger.
"We don't want to sell you anything, mister," Carl said politely. "We want to
buy a car."
"Not from me you don't," the little man asserted.
"I've been through that jazz. You want to give me about a bill and a half for a
clunker that will run fast enough and hold together just long enough to splash you
all over the landscape. Go buy your suicide weapon elsewhere. Plenty of guys will
take your money."
"Now, hold on," Jerry said indignantly. "We're not looking for a car to hot-rod.
We want a good, sound, safe used car at a reasonable price. We're more interested
in how long it will run than in how fast it will go."
Sam cocked his cigar up at a jaunty angle and looked shrewdly at the two boys.
"So maybe I went off half-cocked," he said gruffly, "but your pitch is new to me.
How much dough you got ?" he demanded.
Carl and Jerry exchanged glances. Then Jerry flung caution to the winds and gulped,
"Exactly six hundred dollars. Our dads are putting it up."
"How come your folks don't do the shopping?"
"They think if we've got sense enough to drive a car we ought to have sense enough
to buy one."
"Hm-m-m, that's an interesting theory most folks prefer to apply in reverse,"
Sam said with a broad grin that crinkled his eyes almost closed. "Come along and
I'll show you something."
The boys followed the waddling little man until he stopped in front of a very
clean-looking 1954 model four-door sedan of a popular make. "Now, there," Sam said
proudly, "is a real cream-puff if I ever saw one. The guy who owned it had one of
those little foreign cars that took almost all the short-trip driving. At least
three-fourths of the miles on that speedometer were put on during vacations and
other long trips. The rest of the time that car sat in the garage. I've been holding
it for my wife's kid brother, but when he found out that the six- cylinder motor
only develops 115 horsepower, he lost interest. That birdbrain thinks anything under
a couple of hundred horsepower is only for running tinker-toys."
Carl and Jerry had been eagerly going over the car while Sam was talking. He
watched them examine the brake and clutch pedals of the straight-stick job for wear.
He saw them look at the mileage and date on the door-edge lube sticker and compare
this with the 32,000 odd miles on the speedometer. With difficulty he concealed
a grin as they solemnly ran all the door windows up and down, opened and closed
all four doors, and examined the paint on the door edges for evidence of a repaint
job. Then they methodically checked the tread on all four tires and carefully examined
the frame for any signs that it had been heated and straightened after an accident.
Finally they raised the hood and took out the dipstick. The oil was clean and of
a viscosity that checked with the #20 shown on the lube sticker.
"Don't you want to hear it run ?" Sam asked curiously. "That's the first thing
a teenager usually does: start the motor and wind it up before the oil has a chance
to circulate. We call this 'tightening the bearings'."
Sam wedged himself under the wheel and started the motor. The starter turned
slowly, but once started the motor hummed smoothly.
"What's that little clicking sound ?" Carl asked.
"Tappets of the overhead valves," Sam explained as he shut off the motor and
got out of the car. "They always make a little noise. But say: I've got to close
up now and meander on home. We're having company tonight, and the little woman will
flatten me if I'm late. You boys come back tomorrow and finish looking the car over.
I won't be surprised if we do business. I like the way you two go at things."
Reluctantly the boys closed the hood and took off for home, excitedly planning
When Sam unlocked the door of his office the
next morning, Carl and Jerry were right on his heels. He had to do some book work,
but he gave the boys the keys to the car and suggested they take it for a trial
drive. When he walked out of the office an hour later, the boys were back and had
the front end of the car jacked up. Jerry was wearing a pair of earphones plugged
into a small black box. He was pressing a little rod sticking out of this box against
an exposed front axle as he slowly turned the wheel.
"I think there's a bad bearing in this wheel," Jerry announced. "I can hear it
grinding through this contact mike working into the transistor amplifier. I don't
hear it on the other wheel."
"We'll soon find out," Sam said indulgently as he pulled a crescent wrench and
a pair of pliers from his hip pocket and started taking off the wheel. "I was a
garage mechanic for many years," he explained, "but they kept making cars lower
and lower, and I kept getting thicker and thicker. Finally, even with lowering blocks
on my creeper, I couldn't slide under 'em any more; so I stopped doctoring them
and started selling them. Well! I'll be darned! This bearing is a little rough.
We'll put in a new one."
"And how about relining the brakes ?" Carl asked. "Those bands are almost down
to the iron." "
Okay," Sam groaned; "but you boys are going to have me on the street with a tin
cup and pencils. Don't forget I'm letting you steal this sweet little buggy for
only six bills."
Jerry got into the car and hit the starter. The motor revolved very slowly but
did not start.
"Don't tell me I'm going to have to throw in a new battery!" Sam groaned.
Carl picked up the volt-ohmmeter that had been placed for safe-keeping in the
rear seat and connected it across the battery terminals as Jerry twisted the starting
"It's not the battery," Carl announced. "The voltage only drops to 5.5 volts
with the starter load."
"Better the battery than the starter," Sam said, as he nervously took out one
of his crooked little cigars and lit it.
"I've hooked the meter between the grounded battery terminal and the starter
case. Hit the starter again," Carl instructed Jerry. "Hold it!" he exclaimed as
soon as the starter began its sluggish turning. "That's it. There's a volt or so
drop right there. Must be a poor ground connection on the battery cable. Can I borrow
that wrench a minute?"
"Be my guest," Sam replied, holding out the tool.
Carl's lanky frame slid easily under the car,
and he did some high-powered grunting and wrench-tugging. "Now try her," he called.
The starter whirred rapidly, and the motor started instantly.
A pleased smile spread over Sam's face. "Boys," he said impulsively, "I've taken
a shine to you; so let's quit horsing around. I like to see a good car go to someone
who appreciates and takes care of it. You two have convinced me you will do just
that. I'll stake my reputation as a mechanic - of which I'm pretty proud - that
this car will give years of satisfaction. It's a real bargain at six bills just
as it stands, but I'll put in the new bearing and the brakes and check it all over.
You can have it at eight tonight if you want it. What do you say to that ?"
Carl and Jerry looked at each other and then said in chorus, "We'll take it!"
It seemed to the boys that eight o'clock would never come, but finally they and
their fathers started on foot for Sam's place. Their pride-and-joy, freshly washed
and polished, was ready and waiting right in front of the office. They looked it
over lovingly as their fathers went into the office with Sam to conclude the deal.
As the men came out, Carl flipped a quarter into the air and Jerry called out, "Heads!"
"Tails it is," Carl revealed, and he slid behind the wheel while Jerry got in
"Pilot to co-pilot," Carl called in a singsong voice, "ready for take-off ?"
"Blast off," Jerry instructed.
The car rolled smoothly out into the street, and as Sam watched the gleaming
tail lights disappear around a corner, he took off his big hat and held it against
his chest as he looked up into the star-studded June sky.
"Boss," he said reverently, "there goes my good deed for the day, and I feel
real good about it. But if it's not too much to ask, could you maybe send me a few
tire-kicking, door-slamming suckers now just to sort of even things up ?"
Posted October 30, 2019
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 lash-ups 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
Vox Electronik, September 1958
- Pi in
the Sky and Big Twist, February 1964
Bell Bull Session, December 1961
Cow-Cow Boogie, August 1958
Picture, June 1955
- 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,
- 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,
Santa's Little Helpers - December 1955
Two Tough Customers - June 1960
Transistor Pocket Radio, TV Receivers and Yagi Antennas, May 1955
Stomping, March 1962
- 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,