February 1959 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.
In his usual manner,
John T. Frye uses this "Dog Teaches Boy" episode of Carl & Jerry technodrama
story to present a lesson in electronics. A method for cooking hotdogs using the
standard 117-volt household supply was used to admonish the reader regarding necessary conditions
for electrocution. Maybe it's from being so familiar with working around electricity
for many decades, but the comment about some people believing that 117 volts can't
kill you seems incredible. I do have to take exception to the claim that switching
the neutral wire along with the "hot" wire is a safer way of doing things. The National
Electric Code prohibits doing so except under certain very specific conditions.
The reason is because the neutral, being connected to the same point electrically
as the ground in the circuit breaker panel, should always be connected so that any
current present has a low impedance path. Most people have no idea how electrical
systems work, and I have known people who believed that you can only get shocked
from the hot wire (typicaly black or red, but any color other than white or green).
The fact is you can get as bad of a shock from the neutral as from the hot if there
is current flowing in the circuit, if you happen to present a lower resistance to
ground that the neutral return path.
Carl & Jerry: Dog Teaches Boy
By John T Frye, W9EGV
Carl looked puzzled as he examined the strange
object resting on the workbench in the basement laboratory. His pal, Jerry, watched
him with a broad grin. The object was a sort of wooden box with one glass side.
It was about ten inches wide, two feet long and a foot high.
Through the glass side of the box, two orderly rows of large spike nails could
be seen sticking up from a board in the bottom. The spikes were spaced about two
inches apart in each row, and the rows were approximately four inches apart. At
each end of the board, fastened to the bottom of the box, was a porcelain lamp socket
holding a small round red lamp. The side opposite the glass window was hinged at
the bottom so that the box could be opened, and a heavy electrical cord went into
the box at the upper right-hand corner of this hinged cover.
"Okay, what is it?" Carl finally asked.
"It's an electrocution chamber for dogs," Jerry announced with a teasing smile.
Carl shot him a withering look. "I suppose that bed of nails is to make the dog
comfortable while he's being electrocuted," he said scornfully. "Quit clowning and
tell me what it really is."
"I did tell you," Jerry insisted as he opened a package of wieners. "Here's the
scoop! Mom is chairman of the food committee for the meeting of her Sunday School
class at the church tonight. They intended to serve hot dogs broiled in the gas
ovens of the church kitchen, but the cold weather has broken a gas line running
into the church, and it can't be repaired until tomorrow.
. . . Carl looked puzzled as he examined the strange object resting
on the laboratory workbench . . .
"Then I happened to remember seeing a gadget that cooked hot dogs by passing
117- volt house current through them. So I experimented with a single hot dog at
a time until I found several things not to do; then I built up this affair that
will cook ten of them at once. You're just in time to see it checked out."
"What sort of things did you find out not to do?" Carl wanted to know.
"Well, I started out using galvanized nails. They worked all right, but they
left a disagreeable taste at the points where they pierced the dogs. I think some
sort of electrolytic action took place ... the taste was very much like brimstone.
When Pop heard about this, he cracked that since it was to be a church affair a
little taste of brimstone might not be a bad idea, especially for a couple of gossips
he knew in that class. You should have seen the look Mom gave him. It would have
cooked several pounds of dogs. Anyway, these uncoated nails leave no taste."
As he talked, Jerry was carefully fastening the wieners to the nails by thrusting
opposite spikes in the two rows through the ends.
"The nails should go through as close to the ends as possible without splitting
out because the dog is cooked by current passing between the nails," he explained.
"What are the little red bulbs for?"
Mostly atmosphere. Of course, they also serve as pilot lamps to indicate when
the current is on, but relying on a voltage-indicating pilot lamp is dangerous.
It's too likely to burn out and fail to give warning that the voltage is present.
But you will notice that this heavy-duty plug mounted up here in the corner of the
box has two heavy leads that go down through the board and are connected to two
copper strips soldered to the heads of each row of spikes. The plug matches up with
this socket which is fastened to the door so that only when the door is entirely
closed does the plug engage the socket and apply voltage across the two rows of
spikes and the two lamps."
"Wouldn't a simple microswitch in one lead work just as well?" Carl asked.
"You know better than that. In the first place, this gadget will be operated
in the church basement which has a cement floor. You know that one of the two wires
ordinarily bringing current into the house is grounded while the other is 'hot.'
If you stand on the ground and touch that single hot wire, you can electrocute yourself.
"It may take two to tango, but never forget it takes only one wire to electrocute
you if you're standing on the ground or touching anything grounded, such as a gas
or water pipe, a radiator, or a bathroom fixture. A switch that opens only one wire
of a device has a fifty-fifty chance of opening the ground lead instead of the hot
lead. That's like playing Russian roulette with a six-gun with three loaded cylinders.
Now I'll show you another reason for not using an ordinary switch."
As he said this, Jerry plugged the dog-roaster into a panel with an a.c. ammeter.
The two bulbs in the box lit up, and the ammeter pointer swung over to indicate
six amperes of current.
"Hey, nothing's happening," Carl remarked.
"Oh, yes, it is; just keep watching."
The ammeter needle gradually crept over. When it reached about twelve amperes,
the hot dogs showed signs of heat. They smoked a bit and began to sizzle. Their
skins started to swell and grease dropped from them. The current went up to sixteen
amperes. In only about a minute and a half, Jerry pulled the plug.
"That sixteen amperes of current is too much for an ordinary microswitch," he
explained, opening the door and handing Carl a still-smoking wiener. "Each dog takes
about an ampere-and-a-half of peak current; so ten dogs are about all that can be
cooked at one time from an ordinary wall socket. How does that taste?"
. . . Jerry plugged the dog-roaster into a panel with an a.c.
ammeter. The two bulbs in the box lit up . . .
"Not bad, not bad at all!" Carl approved as he reached for another. "It really
seems to be thoroughly cooked all the way through. Why do you think the current
goes up that way?"
"I don't know exactly, but I know what it makes me think of. I've been boning
up recently on precautions to be observed in working with electricity, and I found
out several things I didn't know before. One is that the human skin offers the best
protection against electrocution from low voltage sources. While skins vary widely,
the average dry skin presents a resistance of about 90,000 ohms per square centimeter.
When the skin is wet with water or sweat, it drops to around 900 ohms. That's just
the epidermis. The dermis has practically no resistance at all. I've been told that
six volts are enough to cause fatal shock if the electrodes are thrust beneath the
"It's really the current that does the dirty work, isn't it?"
"Right! But how much current do you suppose it takes to cause death?" Jerry inquired.
"Just a few amperes, I'd guess."
"You're wrong, a thousand times wrong. Only 15 to 25 milliamperes of current
are enough to destroy your muscular control and render you incapable of releasing
your grasp of the wire or gadget that's killing you. The current soon causes the
skin to blister, and that deprives you of its insulation. Then, with the inner skin
offering no resistance to the current, it rises rapidly, just as it does in those
hot dogs. Ventricular fibrillation, or electrically produced heart spasm, can occur
at between 75 and 100 ma., and then you've had it."
Carl shivered. "Not a very pretty picture," he commented; "but what started you
on this safety kick?"
"I just got to thinking that we're probably going to be working with electricity
the rest of our lives, and it's plain stupid not to be well informed on its dangers.
That would be like a laboratory technician not understanding how to handle deadly
microbes or an auto mechanic being ignorant of carbon monoxide poisoning.
People think 117-volt house current is too low to be dangerous, but many of them
have discovered that they were dead wrong; and I use the word dead deliberately.
More people are electrocuted by house voltage than by any other source. Naturally,
one reason for this is the widespread use of this particular voltage; but another
reason is that folks don't have the respect for this voltage that they should. People
working with higher voltage are usually specially trained to take careful precautions,
and they take them; but any dub can stick his finger into an electrical socket to
see if it is turned on and to show others how much electricity he can take. He's
the guy who will tell you: 'Aw, 110 can't hurt you.' "
"You won't catch me doing anything as stupid as that," Carl promised. "I don't
think I'll ever bite another hot dog without thinking about the sight of these having
the grease fried out of them with 117 volts."
. .. Carl's sinewy fingers wrapped themselves around Jerry's
pudgy hand. "It's a deal," he solemnly agreed. You watch me, and I'll watch you
. . .
"Good!" Jerry exclaimed. "Now what do you say to this idea? Suppose we agree
to watch each other carefully for any careless or dangerous practices. Let's never
be in so great a rush to see how an electrical gadget is going to work that we skimp
on safety measures. Let's try to make every electrical device we put together as
nearly foolproof as possible, just as I did with this dog - roaster. Let's not depend
on our being careful and alert. There will be times when we'll be excited or in
a hurry and may forget to check a switch or pull a plug. Let's see to it that we
always protect ourselves from our own carelessness. Is that okay?"
Carl's sinewy fingers wrapped themselves around Jerry's pudgy hand. "It's a deal,"
he solemnly agreed. "You watch me, and I'll watch you; and the first one who gets
careless receives forty lashes with a wet noodle. Say, who's going to operate this
dog-burner at the party tonight?"
"I am. Want to come along?"
"Yep. Wait a minute. I'll be right back."
This last sentence was cut off by the slamming basement door as Carl took the
outside steps two at a time. In a couple of minutes he strode back into the laboratory.
On top of his head was a huge mushroom-shaped chef's hat that nearly brushed the
low ceiling, and his lean frame was wrapped in a snowy white apron that had "Chef"
printed on the front in big letters.
"My uncle sent me this for Christmas, and I've been thinking I'd have to wait
for next summer's barbecues to try it out," he explained. "Now I won't. How do I
look? Pretty sharp, huh?"
"I'm not sure that's the word, but you look different, anyway. All I can think
of are those white-crested cranes we used to see standing along the river bank when
we were fishing last summer. But you wear that getup, and we'll give these poor
little dogies a real send-off on their last roundup."
"Eet weel be my plaizhure, M'sieu," Carl said in an atrocious French accent as
he drew himself to his full height and saluted smartly.
Posted November 10, 2022
Carl Anderson and Jerry Bishop were two teenage boys whose
love of electronics, Ham radio, and all things technical afforded them ample opportunities
to satisfy their own curiosities, assist law enforcement and neighbors with solving
problems, and impressing – and sometimes toying with - friends based on their proclivity
for serious undertakings as well as fun.
Electrical Shock - September 1955
- A Low Blow - March 1961
- The Black
Beast - May 1960
Electronik, September 1958
- Pi in
the Sky and Big Twist, February 1964
Bell Bull Session, December 1961
Boogie, August 1958
- TV Picture,
Eraser, August 1962
Trap, March 1956
at Work, June 1956
Aweigh, July 1956
Has His Day, August 1956
- The Hand
of Selene, November 1960
or Not?, October 1956
Electronic Beach Buggy, September 1956
Extra Sensory Perception, December 1956
in a Chimney, January 1956
Performance, November 1958
of Judas, July 1961
- The Sucker,
New Year, January 1963
Snow Machine, December 1960
Extracurricular Education, July 1963
Slow Motion for Quick Action, April 1963
Sleuthing, August 1963
- TV Antennas,
a Soroban, March 1963
Fair --", September 1963
Worm Warming, May 1961
Operation Startled Starling - January 1955
Light Subject - November 1954
Teaches Boy - February 1959
- Too Lucky
- August 1961
and Jeopardy - December 1963
Santa's Little Helpers - December 1955
Tough Customers - June 1960
Pocket Radio, TV Receivers
Yagi Antennas, May 1955
Stomping, March 1962
- The Blubber
Banisher, July 1959
- The Sparkling
Light, May 1962
Research Rewarded, June 1962
- A Hot Idea, March
- The Hot Dog
Case, December 1954
New Company is Launched, October 1956
the Mistletoe, December 1958
Eraser, August 1962
- "BBI", May 1959
Sound Waves, July 1955
- The River
Sniffer, July 1962
- Ham Radio,
Torero Electronico, April 1960
Wireless, January 1962
Electronic Shadow, September 1957
Induction, June 1963
- He Went
Detective, February 1958
an Instinct, December 1962
- Two Detectors,
with a Tachometer, July 1960
and the Pirates, April 1961
The Crazy Clock Caper, October 1960
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."