November 1958 Popular Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Assuming that a couple
creative teenage boys could get away today with electrifying weapons to dramatize
a mock sword fight during a high school production of a Roman battle, you can be
sure the suit of armor required by safety monitors would consist not of coats of
mail, but coats of rubber and fire retardant material, fully sealing OSHA-approved
goggles for eye protection, ear plugs, and electrical lineman's gloves. Offstage
would be certified fire fighting professionals (formerly called firemen) and an
emergency response crew specially trained in high voltage electrical contact with
a hospital-style emergency room crash cart nearby. The audience would need to sign
safety release forms before being admitted to the auditorium, and a properly vetted
statement of warning and admonition would be read prior to the performance, with
a video monitor providing a message crawl advising what to do if at any point during
the sword fight someone was offended, psychologically affected, or personally offended.
You think I'm joking, and of course I am - there is no way any metal object even
slightly resembling a sword would be allowed into a school building.
Carl & Jerry: Command Performance
By John T. Frye
Carl and Jerry were walking home from school in the slanting rays of the autumn
sun. It was later than usual because they had stayed to practice for the play the
Latin Club was giving. As they scuffed along through the thick carpet of crisp fallen
leaves, the boys talked about the play.
"Man and boy," Carl said in his deepest voice, "I've seen some pretty corny plays,
but that thing tomorrow night will top them all."
"You're not kidding there," Jerry agreed morosely. "I'd rather bend the needle
on my volt-ohmmeter than prance around out there on the stage in that breezy Roman
warrior outfit playing pattycake with you with those tin swords."
"Yeah, and our last scene, the fight of the gladiators, is the best part of the
show; so that clues you as to how bad the rest of it is. I simply wouldn't go through
with it, but it means so much to Miss Jellicoe; and she's so doggone nice - for
a Latin teacher, anyway."
"Hm-m-m-m," Jerry said thoughtfully, "I'm wondering if we couldn't pep up that
last scene a bit some way."
"Don't see how. We can't really fight.
She's afraid we'll hurt one another."
"Say, you know something? Since you can't wear your glasses, I'm with her. Realizing
how poorly you see without them, I'd as soon be on that stage with a rotary mower
with the guard off as with you really trying to sword-fight. Last night you chopped
half the leaves off the rubber plant before you found out I was standing behind
"You and that rubber plant look a lot alike when the stage is darkened
for our fight," Carl muttered. "With it in that big pot, the two of you have the
same kind of figures."
Jerry ignored this nasty remark. "Don't you think it would be real George if
every time our swords touched fire would fly?"
"Sure, but how could we manage that?" "With electricity, natch! My idea is to
have the swords complete an electrical circuit when they contact. If we had our
Tesla coil, we probably could cool it down so it would work; but I shipped it out
to my cousin in New York. Maybe we can use that neon transformer. The secondary
puts out five thousand volts at a fraction of a milliampere of current. We could
use some of that indoor antenna wire to go from each side of the secondary to a
sword. That wire is small and very flexible, and wouldn't be seen from the audience.
We can tape the handles of the swords with high voltage tape to keep from being
"Let's use plenty of tape. I've been bitten by that transformer a few times,
and it really jolts you."
"Yes, it carries about the same wallop as the spark plug of a car. While the
very limited current greatly reduces the danger of that high voltage, any shock,
even one of only a few volts, can be fatal under the right circumstances; so we'll
take every precaution to keep from being shocked."
"You going to tell Miss Jellicoe about this?"
"N-o-o-o-o, I don't think so. Let's surprise her. If we told her, she'd start
worrying and probably not let us do it. You meet me backstage at lunch tomorrow,
and we'll hook things up."
"Fine. See you at noon," Carl agreed.
It didn't take the boys long to hook up their little gadget the next day. They
taped the sword handles heavily, and fastened the small insulated wires to the blades.
The transformer was placed near one end of the curtain, and a wire went from one
side of the secondary to a sword placed nearby. A wire from the other side of the
secondary ran beneath the stage and came up near the other end of the curtain. The
other sword fastened to this wire would be placed at that point. They made both
wires long enough so that the swords could reach any part of the stage.
"Just before our fight scene starts," Jerry said, "I'll plug in the transformer
and enter from this side, like so. You pick up your sword and come in from side.
Let's touch swords and see what happens."
As metal touched metal, there was a great hissing red spark that changed to blue
as the blades parted. Even on the well-lighted stage it could be seen easily. The
boys grinned in happy anticipation.
"That's really going to show up when the lights are dimmed," Carl said; "but
we better scram to class before the bell rings."
When the boys peeped through the curtain that night, they saw that the large
high school auditorium was literally jammed. Even the balcony was full to overflowing.
A combination of circumstances brought about the large attendance: admission was
free; there was no competing attraction in town that night; the weather was ideal;
and the cast was large. That meant that the family of each player, down to grandparents,
aunts, and uncles, had turned out in force.
... They taped the sword handles heavily, and fastened the small insulated wires
to the blades ...
And in spite of the foreboding of the boys, the audience enjoyed the play. They
did not expect a polished professional performance, and the flubbed lines only aroused
sympathetic amusement. Time after time the auditorium roared with laughter and applause.
The loudest laugh of all came when Mr. Stagg, the portly high school principal,
strode onto the stage dressed as Nero. His hairy, bare legs beneath his short tunic
and his bald head garlanded with ivy gave him an appearance that was grotesque but
"Perfect casting if I ever saw it," Carl muttered to Jerry; "but that ivy really
should be poison ivy."
"Now, now; let's not be bitter because he caught you goofing off," Jerry said
with a grin. "Get ready. We're on next."
But the curtain did not go up. The boys saw the school janitor talking excitedly
to Mr. Stagg.
"... and it seems to have started in the closet of the office," he was saying.
"I called the fire department, and they should be here any minute. I'm sure they'll
have no trouble putting it out, but I hate to think what will happen if that crowd
out there panics."
"Maybe I should step out on the stage and talk to them," Mr. Stagg said.
The janitor shook his head. "I wouldn't.
Just let them hear the word 'fire' and they're gone."
The sounds of impatient clapping of hands and stamping of feet came through the
"Why don't you go and see how bad it is?" Jerry suggested. "We'll go on with
the play and try to keep their attention. The scene coming up is pretty exciting."
"Okay," Mr. Stagg agreed. "Carl, you tell the members of the orchestra to play
as loud as they can. That's one thing they can do: play loud. I'll be back as quickly
as I can."
As soon as Carl came back from the orchestra pit, the curtain went up. Jerry
had plugged in the transformer; and the two boys, dressed as Roman gladiators, strode
toward each other across the dimly lit stage.
"Hold, Claudius," Carl said menacingly.
"Take a last look at the darkening sky. A few minutes hence your glazed eyes
will see it no more."
" 'Tis not for naught they call you Tiberius the Talker," Jerry taunted. "Let's
see if your Roman blade is as nimble as your Roman tongue."
Gingerly the boys drew their swords from the scabbards, being very careful that
the blades did not touch their bodies. Then they warily approached each other an
crossed swords. As they did so, the sparks crackled, and a gasp of astonishment
came from the audience.
On this cue the orchestra roared to life. Each player was giving his instrument
all it would take, paying scant attention to the other instruments or to the leader;
and the effect was tremendous. But the cacophony of sound went well with the desperate
action taking place on the stage.
Carl and Jerry were carried away with the occasion and put on a real sword fight.
Blade clanged against blade with a sound heard even above the thunder of the orchestra.
At each contact hissing sparks of blue and red lighted the dim stage - with a fitful
lightning. The smell of ozone filled the air.
Carl's long arms gave him a reach advantage, but Jerry's deceptive quickness
overcame this. As minute after minute passed, however, Carl's good athletic condition
began to tell. He was scarcely breathing hard, while Jerry's round face was bathed
with sweat, and his breathing was open-mouth panting.
... At each contact hissing sparks of blue and red lighted the dim stage with
a fitful lightning ...
Still the fight went on. Ordinarily it would have been over quickly, but the
boys were determined to keep it going until they had some sign that the danger was
over. That sign arrived at last as Mr. Stagg and the fire chief came in the rear
of the auditorium and walked up the aisle to the stage.
The boys stopped fighting, and all the lights in the house went on. Mr. Stagg
strode on the stage and held up his hand.
"Folks, I can tell you now we had a little excitement across the hall that was
not on the program. Some oily rags caught fire in a closet and we had a pretty good
fire going until the chief here and his men put it out. Now that your minds are
off the stirring action on the stage, you will probably notice that you can smell
"We were afraid of panic. While I went to investigate the fire, these two young
men you have been watching on the stage essayed to keep your attention away from
the smell of smoke, the sound of sirens, or anything else that could easily have
precipitated a dangerous panic; and they were aided and abetted by this sterling
collection of frustrated soloists we call our orchestra. Even across the hall that
music, if I can apply the term loosely, was excruciatingly loud."
Mr. Stagg beckoned with both hands for Carl and Jerry to draw near to him. He
placed an affectionate arm across the shoulders of each embarrassed, squirming boy
as he remarked: "I like to think that in this school we teach more than the three
R's. We try to teach character. And from the evidence these two boys have given
us tonight, I am encouraged to believe that we are succeeding. When I think about
how calm, how level-headed, how resourceful these two were tonight, it puts a gladness
in my heart, a proud gleam in my eye, a new spring in my step - yowwwww!" he screamed
as he gave a sudden great leap that took him clear over the footlights to plunge
both sandaled feet squarely through the kettle drum.
He had hugged the boys to him a little too strongly, and the bared swords they
still carried in their hands had been forced into contact with his naked shins at
precisely the same time.
This really brought down the house. The audience rose from their seats and surged
to the orchestra pit to help the principal out of the drum. Carl and Jerry took
advantage of the confusion to jerk the wires loose from the swords and to recover
their transformer. Then they sneaked out the rear door and walked home through the
bright, clear harvest moonlight.
Every few steps they stopped and leaned against each other in helpless laughter
as they recalled the picture of Mr. Stagg sailing over the footlights.
"Just tell me one thing, Jer,' Carl finally gasped "Did you do it deliberately?"
"Honestly I don't know," Jerry said, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief. "I
saw the blade getting closer and closer to his leg, and when he said, 'a new spring
in my step,' well, it was as if no power on earth could stop it."
"I know, I know!" Carl broke in, "It seemed that someone else's hand had hold
of my sword. But I'll bet the final act of this year's Latin Club play will be remembered
in this town for a long, long time to come."
... "It puts a gladness in my heart, a proud gleam in my eye, a new spring in
my step - yowwwww!" he screamed as he gave a sudden great leap...
Posted April 3, 2019(original 6/13/2014)
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
- 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,