January 1956 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.
All three of my hobbies
are contained in this episode of Carl & Jerry - electronics, astronomy, and
airplanes! For as clever as the two teenagers are, they sure do manage to get themselves
into some sticky situations due to what can only be termed as stupidity. This is
not the first time their future relied on a fairly large number of people being
'out there' who were familiar with Morse code. Supporting the claim that trends
run in cycles, the ignition-type model engine common in the mid 1950s eventually
gave way to glow fuel (a nitro methane and castor or synthetic oil mix) engines,
but nowadays miniature electronic ignition systems have made model-size gasoline
powerplants popular again, especially given the 5x cost of glow fuel compared to
gasoline. I'd be giving up the story's plot by telling you what happened, so you'll
want to read this yourself. Enjoy!
Here is the
Morse code message mentioned in the story:
... --- ...
/ -... --- -..-
..-. .- -.-. - --- .-. -.--
... - .- -.-. -.-
Carl & Jerry: Trapped in a Chimney
By John T. Frye
Man, did you ever see a sweeter flying job?" Carl demanded enthusiastically,
as he and his chum, Jerry, squinted at Carl's radio-controlled model plane sailing
along against the late afternoon January sky.
"Surely does handle well," Jerry agreed, doing a little jig on the frozen ground
to keep warm. It had been a fine winter day with the temperature up in the 40's,
but now the mercury was sinking with the sun. The boys were flying their model in
a large field just beyond the outskirts of town. At the other end of the field were
the ruins of a box factory that had been completely destroyed by fire several years
before. Only a tall brick chimney had been left standing.
"Better bring it in for a landing," Jerry suggested. "It's getting late, and
I think I can smell snow in the air."
"Okey-dokey," Carl agreed; "but get a load of this tight turn around that smokestack."
As he said this, he stuck his finger in the opening marked "L. Trn." of the telephone
dial mounted on the transmitter control box; pulled it down against the stop and
released it. Instantly the little plane banked gracefully and turned toward the
top of the smokestack.
"Hey!" yelled Jerry, whose depth perception was much better than Carl's, "you've
turned too quick!"
By the time he got the warning out, however, and in spite of all the "body English"
he tried to put on the little plane, it closed the gap between it and the smokestack
- and failed to appear on the other side. At the same instant, the steady snarl
of the little motor ceased abruptly.
"Holy cow!" Carl groaned, "it's crashed!"
He set the control box on the ground and started at a dead run across the field.
Jerry followed, but Carl's long legs and athletic build gave him such an advantage
that by the time his chubby companion came puffing up to the base of the chimney
Carl had loped around it twice.
"Hey, that's funny," Carl muttered. "I can't see a thing of it, and there's no
place for it to hide, unless -" As though worked by a common string, the heads
of both boys tilted back as they stared up at the top of the chimney towering some
sixty or seventy feet above them.
"That's where it went," Jerry said with conviction. "It was just skimming the
top, and I thought it might clear; but it must have dived right into the top. Well,
scratch one model plane."
"That's what you think," Carl said determinedly, reaching for a rung of the wide
ladder going up the side of the chimney. "I've got at least a gallon of sweat and
several acres of lawn mowing invested in that gas motor and the plane controls,
and I intend to get 'em back or know the reason why."
"All right," Jerry said resignedly, as he started up the ladder behind his friend;
"I'm just stupid enough to go along with you."
... they leaned over the broad lip of the smokestack opening
and stared down...
In a few minutes, the boys were standing side by side on an upper rung of the
ladder while they leaned over the broad lip of the smokestack opening and stared
down its throat. Even at the narrowed top, the stack measured a good eight feet
"Heck," Carl said in disappointment: "it's too dark down there to see a thing."
"Hold your horses a minute," Jerry grunted, as he squirmed around on his stomach
so that he could reach into a pocket and pull out the flashlight case that contained
the booster-battery used in starting the plane motor. He unscrewed the adapter with
its two flexible leads from the bulb socket, screwed the bulb back in place, and
replaced the lens cap. When the restored flashlight was shone down into the chimney,
the white cross formed by the wing and fuselage of the plane could be faintly seen
at the bottom.
"You hold the flashlight. I'm going down and get it," Carl announced.
"Oh; no, you don't," Jerry exclaimed, as he threw a fat leg over the edge of
the stack and reached for the top rung of the rusty narrow iron ladder that went
down the inside of the chimney. "This is my chance to check up on that old business
about whether or not you can see stars in daytime from the bottom of a well or chimney,
and I'm not going to muff it. You can tag along if you want to."
Cautiously, the two boys went down the rust-eaten ladder. All went well until
they were about ten feet from the bottom, and then suddenly the whole lower section
of the ladder gave way under their combined weight and they dropped to the bottom
of the chimney. Jerry fell on his back on the layer of soft ashes at the bottom
of the chimney, and Carl came down on top of him. The section of ladder broke into
several pieces and clattered harmlessly around them. Carl quickly sprang to his
feet and looked anxiously down at his friend still lying on his back and staring
intently up at the little circle of blue far above them.
"Are you hurt, Jerry? Can't you get up?" "You can see stars, and they're all
different colors," Jerry observed softly, in a bemused voice.
"Come on; snap out of it," Carl said, unceremoniously yanking Jerry to his feet.
"You don't need to go down a chimney to see the kind of stars you're seeing. Hey!
Did you have to land squarely on top of my plane?"
"There's just no pleasing some people," Jerry sighed, as he lifted the flattened
model from where he had been lying and shook the ashes from it. "Here I break your
fall with my very own body, and all you do is gripe about your darn plane. I think
we're mighty fortunate. If that ladder had broken loose a little farther up, we'd
both have been killed; and it would have been our own stupid fault. Trusting that
rickety old iron ladder was not one of our brighter acts."
"You can say that again," Carl agreed, as he stared owlishly about him in the
dim light that filtered down from above; "but now the $64,000 question is: how are
we going to get out of here? There's nothing to climb on to reach the bottom end
of that ladder, and I wouldn't want to trust it again if we could reach it. These
chimney walls are too thick to chisel through even if we had tools. The one opening
through the wall, that one up there near the bottom end of the ladder where the
smoke from the boilers came in, is sealed off solidly with heavy metal plates that
sagged down over it when the box factory burned. I've noticed that before from the
"If you were Tarzan, you might go hand over hand up this little cable that runs
along the side of the chimney," Jerry observed. "What's it for, anyway?"
"It's a ground lead for the lightning rods on the top," Carl said; "but I'm not
Tarzan, and I wouldn't want to trust my weight on it if I were. No, I'm beginning
to think we'll never get out of here without help. We've got to cook up some way
to let people know we're in here."
"A fat lot of good that'll do. We never saw a soul around here all afternoon;
and now that it's getting dark, no one will be around for sure."
"We might build a fire. Then when people saw the smoke, they'd come to investigate."
"A dandy idea if we had something to burn, if people could see smoke in the dark,
and if we didn't suffocate long before anyone noticed the imaginary smoke."
"Okay, smarty; you make some suggestions and let me knock them in the head for
"Let's see what we've got in our pockets.
"This thing makes a spark for the motor, and will make a spark
for a transmitter."
Maybe that will give us an idea. All I've got in mine is a cigarette lighter,
a dime, a quarter, and this little piece of wire."
"I can do better than that," Jerry boasted.
"I've got this flashlight and the booster-battery adapter. Here's a small file
I brought along to dress that nick out of the propeller blade. Finally, here's one
slightly squashed chocolate bar that was in my hip pocket. We had better cut that
up in small portions and eat just a little bit each day to keep up our strength."
"That's out," Carl said flatly. "If we don't get out of here pretty soon, we'll
freeze to death anyway; so let's break that in two and eat it right away. Maybe
it will help us think. All I can think of right now is that Mom is having spaghetti
and meatballs for supper tonight, and there's going to be an empty chair at the
For a little while, the two friends munched their chocolate in silence. Finally
Jerry said slowly: "What we really need is some way to send out a call for help.
If you had just brought that control transmitter with you, we might have been able
to rig up some sort of low-frequency transmitter with the parts, but we surely can't
build a transmitter with what we've got here. We don't even have a tube."
"They had transmitters before there were tubes," Carl pointed out. "Don't forget
the old spark coil jobs. But that doesn't help either because we don't have any
spark coil -"
He broke off abruptly as Jerry leaped to his feet and snatched the broken model
plane from the ground.
"Who says we don't?" Jerry gloated, starting to remove the tiny induction coil
from the fuselage. "This thing makes a spark for the motor, and it will make a spark
for a transmitter."
"This I gotta see," Carl said dubiously. "You've got to have either a.c. or rapidly
pulsating d.c. in the primary of that coil to get a continuous spark discharge across
the secondary. Where are you going to get that?"
"Fire up that lighter of yours, and just watch and see," Jerry said, as he busied
himself with the coil and the booster-battery adapter for the flashlight.
In a few minutes, Jerry had a haywire arrangement of wires, flashlight case,
and induction coil spread out on the ashy floor. Two bits of the wire from Carl's
pocket had been used to form a small spark gap across the secondary of the induction
coil. One terminal of the flashlight battery was connected to one end of the induction
coil primary, but leads from the other side of the battery and the other side of
the primary were left free.
At Jerry's direction, Carl used the rest of the wire to connect one side of the
spark gap to the lightning arrester cable. The other side he stuck in the ground
several feet away. Finally, Jerry connected one of the loose primary wires to the
blade of the file and pressed the end of the other wire against Carl's quarter.
When the quarter was drawn rapidly across the serrations of the file, the rapid
making and breaking of the primary circuit of the induction coil produced a ragged
blue spark discharge across the small gap.
"It works!" Jerry exclaimed. "What shall I say? Had we better start out with
SOS or use the amateur emergency call, QRR?"
"Better use SOS," Carl advised as the lighter flickered out. "More people are
familiar with that. Then go ahead and say something like, 'Please send help to the
old box factory chimney. We are imprisoned within it and -' "
"All right, Charles Dickens; cut it short," Jerry interrupted. "This quarter-and-file
keying arrangement is not exactly a bug, you know. I'm going to send 'SOS box factory
stack' over and over and let 'em take it from there."
With this, he started drawing the coin across the file in short and long strokes
to form the respective dots and dashes. "Z-z, z-z, z-z; z-z-z-z-z, z-z-z-z-z, z-z-z-z-z;
z-z, z-z, z-z," hissed the little spark, and its light cast a flashing, eerie, blue
glow on the intent faces of the two boys. By now it was almost completely dark inside
the chimney, and Jerry "keyed" the transmitter entirely by sense of touch. Needless
to say, the sending was not exactly machine-like.
After a quarter of an hour or so, the batteries grew so weak that the spark would
no longer jump the gap. The bits of wire were pushed closer together and the message
repeated until even this smaller gap was too much for the failing batteries.
"That's it, I guess," Jerry announced. "After resting a few hours, the batteries
will recover enough to let us make one more short transmission; we'll save that
"What frequency do you suppose we're sending on?"
"Just about all frequencies. A spark gap emits a very broad band of frequencies,
and there are no tuned circuits in this rig to peak it up."
"Well," Carl said disconsolately, "it looks like nobody heard it anyway -"
"Listen!" Jerry interrupted.
Faintly, but unmistakably, there came the sound of a wailing police siren. It
came closer and closer and then stopped abruptly. A few minutes later, the boys
heard muffled voices outside the chimney.
"Help! Help! Here in the chimney!" they shouted in unison.
Seconds later, a strong spotlight was shone into their upturned faces from the
top of the chimney, and a dangling rope was let down to them. By means of this rope,
the boys were hoisted up one at a time until they could reach the bottom end of
the broken ladder, and then were helped on up and out of the chimney.
"I might know it would be you two," the police sergeant said coldly, as he surveyed
the begrimed but happy boys. "Every time something weird happens in this town, you
jokers are mixed up in it."
"Who picked up our message?" Jerry asked eagerly.
"Who didn't!" the sergeant growled. "For the past half hour they've been ringing
the police station phone off the wall. A few of the calls were from hams, Boy Scouts,
and ex-Army or -Navy operators who actually picked up the message on the broadcast
or short-wave bands; but dozens of calls were from irate TV viewers who were just
plain mad because someone was clobbering Milton Berle on their sets - and on the
very night when Marilyn Monroe was a guest star, too. Right now, you two are probably
the most hated pair in this whole town!"
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."
Posted October 5, 2020
(updated from original post on 11/26/2014)