September 1956 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.
You can go into Walmart
(or Radio Shack, when this was first posted) and pick up a pretty decent handheld
metal detector for under $100 these days, but in the 1950s even a rudimentary metal
detector was a rather large and heavy contraption. So unwieldy were they that most
had a belt clip and shoulder straps to help support and manipulate them. That was
the situation facing teen electronics aficionados Carl and Jerry as they pondered
how to leverage their combined technical prowess to facilitate a thorough combing
of the nearby Lake Michigan beach area for treasures of coins, watches, jewelry,
cigarette lighters, and other metallic objects given up as lost by weekend seekers
of relief from searing hot, humid late summer days. Read on in this 1956 Popular
Electronics technodrama to discover how their innocent plans turned into an
adventure that helped local law enforcement officers nab a wanted man.
Carl & Jerry: Electronic Beach Buggy
By John T. Frye
It was a blistering-hot last-of-August day,
and Carl and Jerry were at the beach, but they were not swimming. Instead, they
lolled in the scanty shade of spindly growth on the side of a sand dune and looked
disconsolately across the absolutely empty beach at the close-spaced row of large
signs sticking in the sand along the edge of the water. The signs read: "Danger!
Water Polluted with Acid. Stay Out!"
A Great Lakes tanker loaded with acid had been in a collision just off shore
and lost most of its cargo. This highly concentrated acid, blown in to shore by.
the wind, had collected on the sand and rocks of the beach. While it was slowly
diluting, there was still enough left to cause serious burns to the skin and even
more damage to the eyes if it came in contact with them.
"A fine kettle of fish this is," Carl growled. "Here is as hot a day as we've
had all summer; there is all of Lake Michigan ready to cool us off; and for all
the good it's doing us, we might as well be out in the middle of the Sahara Desert."
"While you're wallowing in self-pity, don't forget that school is coming up like
thunder," Jerry added. "In about a week the beach will be O.K. again, but we'll
be sweating it out in the brain factory,"
The boys contemplated this gloomy prospect in silence for a little while, and
then Carl said: "Jer, have you dreamed up any ideas yet about how we can raise some
money to buy the transistors, special transformers, tiny capacitors, and other parts
we'll need for our transistor experiments this winter?"
"Nope, I've not come up with a thing.
How about you?"
"Me, neither," Carl replied as he looked across the empty beach, "unless-" "Unless
what?" Jerry demanded, raising himself on an elbow to follow Carl's glance.
"Unless We could do a little beachcombing. You know how packed this
place normally is, especially on weekends. There's hardly room to set down a bottle
of suntan lotion. Think of all the coins that must have slipped from upside-down
pockets into the sand, of all the rings and watches that have been removed to take
a plunge and lost, of all the cigarette lighters, bracelets-"
The dark man's beady black eyes glinted coldly out of his pasty white face as
he held out a de-manding hand for the rectangular metal plates.
"Okay, okay!" Jerry interrupted. "So what do we do? Sift the sand?"
"A good electronics man like you ought to be ashamed to think of anything so
crude and mechanical as that," Carl chided. "We can use our handy-dandy metal locator
that we built from the article in the June, 1955, Popular Electronics. You know
how we found Farmer Sloan's gold watch out in the cornfield with it; well, most
of the valuables here will only be covered with an inch or so of sand, and the metal
locator should be able to sniff them out easily. Only one thing's wrong: that treasure-finder
is a little heavy to use over a long period of time, and I just know who will be
elected to carry it. Lugging that thing around out there in the hot sun does not
"Hold it! I've got an idea," Jerry broke in. "Suppose we mount that little gasoline
washing machine motor of yours on the back of my wagon with the big rubber tires.
The motor can drive one of the rear wheels through a couple of jackshafts and combination
of speed-reducing V-pulleys so it will make the wagon just creep along. You'll also
remember that I've taken all the remote control equipment out of the model tugboat
while I'm refinishing the hull; so we can put this into the wagon and remote-control
it. A solenoid operating a belt-tightener can serve as a clutch, and we can use
one of those fractional-horsepower, reversible electric motors with a speed-reducing,
power-amplifying gear train to steer the wagon. We can sit right here in the shade
and send that wagon wherever we want to ... up and down the whole beach."
"Well good, good, goody for us!" Carl said sarcastically; "but what's all that
got to do with our locating the loot?"
"I'm coming to that. We'll mount the treasure-locator on the wagon, with the
search coil out in front, just clearing the surface of the sand. The audio beat-note
signal that we hear in the earphones when something metallic appears near the search
coil will be amplified, rectified, and the resulting current can be used to operate
a sensitive relay which, in turn, will operate the clutch solenoid."
"You're getting through to me!" Carl said, with the enthusiasm boys invariably
feel for a really complicated Rube Goldberg device. "When the search coil passes
over something metallic like, say, a five-hundred-dollar-diamond-studded gold watch,
the audio signal produced will trip the relay that will operate the solenoid that
will stop the wagon. The gadget will just sit there like a faithful little old bird
dog on 'point' until we leisurely stroll down to if, brush away the sand, pick up
the watch, and toss it into the pillowcase full of other valuables we have already
"Well, let's go!" Jerry said, getting to his feet and brushing the loose sand
from his knees and the seat of his trousers.
And go they did, just as fast as they could pedal their bicycles home. The heat
that had seemed so oppressive when they had nothing to do was entirely forgotten
now as they worked out details of mounting the powerful little gasoline motor on
the fat-tired coaster wagon. They connected up the remote control receiver and its
reed-type actuator so that it could operate the steering mechanism and the simple
clutch. Then they arranged the metal locator so that its hoop-shaped search coil
was carried well out in front of the Wagon two or three inches above the ground.
With the motor and the jackshafts mounted behind the wagon and the probe coil sticking
away out in front, the resulting ungainly appearance was something like that of
an elongated king-sized insect ... but the contraption worked!
Proof of this was had when Jerry fished a nickel from his pocket and recklessly
tossed it out onto the middle of the lawn. They started up the self-powered remote-controlled
treasure finder and sent it into action quartering back and forth across the yard.
After having first turned up three rusty nails and an old belt buckle, it finally
stopped with the search coil directly over the nickel. That was all the "testing"
the boys needed. They immediately began coaxing Jerry's mother to drive them and
their invention down to the beach in the station wagon, and did not let up until
she agreed. Just as they were starting out the drive, Carl suddenly exclaimed: "Wups!
Wait a minute. We're forgetting something."
He vaulted over the low fence between the two houses and disappeared into his
own house. Almost immediately he came dashing back out waving an empty pillowcase
in which to dump their findings.
Once at the beach, the boys lost no time in putting their electronic beach buggy
into action. The large tires kept the wheels of the wagon from cutting down into
the sand, and the gasoline motor - thanks to the down-gearing - had an easy task
propelling the vehicle along. At first the boys could not resist the temptation
to send the treasure locator hither and thither along the beach to test out the
operation of the remote control; but when it was found that this functioned perfectly,
they settled down to directing the movement of the wagon in a regular pattern that
eventually would cover the whole area of the beach in sight of what they dubbed
their "command post."
The wagon had hardly gone a hundred yards when it came to a halt, and there was
nothing leisurely about the way the boys dashed down to where it was sitting quietly
put-put-putting away. As Carl eagerly brushed away the sand from beneath the search
coil, he uncovered a little slip of tin foil from a stick of chewing gum, and instantly
the wagon started chugging ahead, indicating that the bit of tin foil was what it
had in mind.
A little disappointed, the boys started back to their command post, but before
they reached it, the wagon stopped again. It had found another scrap of tin foil.
To cut a long and painful story short, the metal locator found exactly twenty-three
bits of tin foil in two hours - and it found nothing else! Actually, the boys were
expending more energy running back and forth between their command post and the
wagon than they would have used if they had simply carried the metal locator in
the first place; but to them, of course, this fact was entirely irrelevant and beside
Finally, Carl knelt in front of the search-coil with the twenty-third scrap of
tin foil in his hand and addressed it with an impassioned speech: "Now look, Tin-Foil
Terry, you don't seem to get the idea. We're not looking for this kind of stuff.
We can get all the tin foil we need. We want something like this!" He placed some
coins in the palm of his hand and held them directly in front of the search coil.
"Now will you please, please get off this tin-foil binge you're on and go out there
and find some of these pretty little engraved silver discs? Will you please?"
Again the boys trudged back to their command post, and the wagon chugged on down
the beach. It did not hesitate until it reached the turn-around point, nor did it
stop on the way back until it was almost directly in front of the boys. Then the
motor speeded up a little as the solenoid clutch operated to stop the wagon.
"More tin foil," Carl grunted, heaving himself to his feet and starting across
the hot sand toward the wagon.
"You can't be sure," Jerry said, optimistically, as he followed along. "We can
And when Carl started brushing away the sand, it began to look as though his
pep talk to Tin-Foil Terry had done Some good, for no scrap of tin foil appeared,
and the wagon stayed put, showing that whatever it was pointing to was still there.
"Dig deeper," Jerry suggested, as he knelt beside his pal.
Carl scooped away the sand to a depth of eight or ten inches, and suddenly his
fingers touched a parcel wrapped in 'moldy, rotting, brown paper. He lifted it out
of the hole and discovered that it was a heavy package some four inches wide by
seven inches long by an inch thick. The wagon started up when the parcel was removed
from beneath the coil, but Jerry stopped it by shorting out the spark plug of the
"What the heck is it?" Jerry asked, with much curiosity.
"You got me, but I guess there's only one way to find out," Carl said, as he
started unwrapping the decaying paper. Inside were two rectangular metal plates
carefully wrapped separately in soft flannel. He handed one to Jerry to examine
while he scrutinized the other.
"It's got a kind of design engraved on one of the flat surfaces," he said slowly,
turning it so that the light made the design stand out. "There's a kind of cameo
in the middle with a man's head on it, and there's some printing, too, but it's
hard to make out because it's printed backwards."
"Mine's got a picture of some kind of big public building in the middle, and
it has both letters and numbers printed on it. Let me see. Say, these must be printing
plates for making mo--"
"Never mind what they are," a gruff voice commanded. "Just give them to me. They're
The boys had been so intent on examining their find they had not heard the short
dark man approaching in the soft sand. His beady black eyes glinted coldly out of
his pasty white face as he held out a demanding hand for the plates.
"Hold it, Jake!" still another strange voice interrupted, and three men came
running from behind one of the nearby dunes. At first the man they addressed as
Jake looked as though he might run for it; but when he saw the guns in the hands
of the approaching trio, he stood still.
"Couldn't wait any longer, huh, Jake?" one of the men inquired as he frisked
the short dark man for a possible weapon.
"I'm clean," Jake grunted; "and I could have waited until you guys layin' out
there in the dunes took root if these brats hadn't forced my hand."
"Hey, can anybody tell us what's going on?" Jerry piped up.
"This is Jake, The Penman," the leader of the trio explained. "He's a well-known
counterfeiter just out of prison after doing a stretch. But when the counterfeiting
ring was broken up, the plates were never found. We put a tail on Jake as soon as
he left prison, hoping he would lead us to where the plates were hidden; and, thanks
to you boys and your-your-gadget there, he did. I'm not sure, but I rather think
there will be a reward of some sort coming to you for helping to find the plates.
But just as a matter of curiosity, would you mind telling us what that thing is?
We've been lying out there watching you all afternoon, and none of us can figure
Carl and Jerry, both talking at once, began an explanation of how the electronic
beach buggy worked. When they finished, the leader of the three Federal agents shook
his head as though to clear it of a bad dream.
"I still don't get it," he confessed; "but right here in my hand is the evidence
that it works. Don't be surprised if some of the Treasury people want to examine
it after I make my report. We might be able to use it in, our business!"
Posted June 8, 2022
(updated from original post on 3/30/2015)
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.
- Carl &
Jerry: 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
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."