June 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.
Carl Kohler has done it again with his saga of a DIYer-gone-overboard titled "Operation Chaos." Nobody knows for sure whether the over-enthusiastic husband in the series of techie stories that ran in Popular Electronics magazine in the 1950s was actually Carl himself or maybe an alter ego version of himself. Carl was also the artist of numerous tech-related comics. His wife, affectionately referred to as "Old Big Eyes" and a certified "lady-telepath" is always quick to recognize the impending disaster about to ensue, often with her as an unwilling participant. This particular project is not one recommended for the undertaking by anyone within eyeshot since aside from being profoundly unsafe, these days it would likely illicit a visit by a child welfare and/or animal rights Gestapo agent, accompanied by a police officer. The "Kohler Stroller" (which might be a hint as to whether this is about Carl himself) was actually an early version of today's wide selection of battery-powered toy cars and carts for tykes.
See Carl Kohler's "The Great Electron-Pedantic Project," "Dig That Reel
Flat Response," "I Married a Superheterodyne,"
"Unpopular Electronics," "Operation Chaos," "Thin Air, My Foot," "High Tide in the Tweeter," "The R/C Cloud," "Hi-Fi Guest List," "Kool-Keeping Kwiz ," "Boner Box," and "McWatts."
By Carl Kohler
I have a curious wife.
As long as I'm working on an ordinary project, such as dissecting a radio or tinkering with the innards of a TV; I am left alone. But let me begin juggling the components of an off-beat experiment, and here comes Old Big Eyes on the double - usually ill-concealed behind the pretext of delivering hot coffee.
"Whatever are you doing to the stroller?" She stared hard at the half-installed sequence-reversing speed-control switch ...
Her timing is so deadly that I'm faced with stretching credulity and admitting there's something to feminine intuition - or that I've innocently gotten myself hitched to a lady-telepath.
Meanwhile, I consistently get caught with my plans down.
Not long ago, I dreamed up a humdinger-ish notion which I figured would not only prove a boon to wearied parents across the land (for that matter, across the planet, maybe), but would also move electronics ten years forward on the domestic front. Lastly, I reasoned, I should most probably make enough out of the idea to retire.
This latter angle, alone, seemed reason aplenty to put the idea into a frame of actuality.
Quite simply, I planned to produce an R/C stroller for people who were sick and tired of pushing their offspring around the block. First, I invested in a second-hand washing-machine motor. Second, I pilfered Junior's stroller. And, third, I went to work with the intensity of a madman picking the funnyhouse lock.
Unfortunately, the Girl Psychic beamed my vibrations.
And here came the coffee.
"Whatever are you doing to the stroller?" She stared hard at the half-installed sequence-reversing, speed-control switch and the rest of the transmitting and receiving equipment ... all the while pouring scalding java into my lap. "Now what do all those crazy gestures mean?"
When my lap cooled sufficiently for my voice to return from the outer regions of agony, I stopped dancing around and began composing a reply. I have bitterly learned that women prefer anything to logic.
"Perhaps you may find it difficult to visualize yourself as being the lucky loot-partner of a genius, much less a soon-to-be wealthy genius," I .said carefully, "but you'll just have to acclimate yourself to these wonders and learn to put up with easy street."
She narrowed an eye at me.
"Boy, maybe you needed this coffee more than I thought."
I fought back a psychosomatic hiccup. "No snow, you lucky kid," I chittered assuringly. "The Kohler Radio-Controlled Stroller is the charming vehicle upon which the Kohler's are destined to ride to fame, fortune and a much higher tax bracket! I'm still undecided whether to let Popular Electronics or LIFE have the scoop of the decade.
"The original king-size imagination," she muttered to no one in particular. "Come off it. I just want to know why you see fit to tear apart a practically brand-new stroller when you're all the time howling about overhead and -"
She broke off - suddenly the picture of a girl whose nerves have had a nasty jolt. Cold green horror crawled across her face. "Radio-controlled! You mean something like that nightmare you turned loose on the whole neighborhood a few months back?"
... Without warning, the stroller shot forward at increased speed and disappeared across a lawn ...
Sometimes I despair of her ever forgetting Frankie - that R/C robot. I had the modesty to blush and avert pain-filled eyes. I snapped a martyred expression on my map that could have earned me ,an honorary membership in the Barrymore clan, for effort if not professional quality. "That," I whimpered "was different. Not the same thing at all. Besides, the robot had a faulty escapement and this stroller is the last word in perfection."
She regarded the stroller as though it had just slithered out from under it's rock.
"Look," I pleaded, trying logic as a last resort, "I've built a lot of R/C airplanes since then -"
"Lost a lotta them, too."
"- and, surely, you don't think I'd put our child in any machine that I wasn't absolutely certain was safe -"
"Child! You'll put the dog in that monstrous thing over my inert body, much less try luring our beloved Junior into that electronic bone-breaker!" Outraged Motherhood regarded me as though I had just slithered out from beneath my rock. "Honestly, the things you spend perfectly valuable time dreaming up! Honestly!"
"You said the same things about the TV-Babysitting-Scanner when I first brought it into the house," I protested. "Now, you wouldn't know what to do without it."
"That's different. That was -"
"Think of the thousands of steps electronics has saved you," I persisted, grimly determined to sell this bill of goods. "Look at the photoelectric doors on the garage, the pantry, the porch ... their very existence sparing you needless effort and energy. And this intercom system. Electronics, again, making your life a paradise of saved-time compared to your mother's, your grandmother's, your greatgrandmother's, your -"
"I'm grateful, I'm grateful," she snarled. "Did you ever stop to think that electricity cooks our food? That it heats our house? That it allows you to run up fabulous telephone bills, have hot and/or cold water in unlimited amounts at a second's notice?" I glared mildly at this spoiled darling of super-civilization. "No, you never thought of poor, old overworked and faithful electricity as your best friend. You never gave electricity a decent chance. Serve you right if it refused to come in the house - the way you rave against it."
"Who?" She was a mite uncertain. "Electricity," I said reverently, whipping off my cap and holding it over my heart while I leaped to attention. "It slaves for you, keeps your radio singing, your TV picture bright, floods your house with warm, yellow light, runs your automatic washer so you are saved from rough; red hands, keeps the scoff eatable in the refrigerator and the surplus scoff safe in the freezer ... " I hesitated, flicking a tear from my cheek. "Yessir, good old, everlovin' electricity and you refuse to give it a chance."
Her lower lip began to quiver.
"W- Who refuses t-to give it a c-chance?" I bussed her soundly. "That-a-girl'! I knew you'd see it my way!" I slurped the now-icy java. "You run in and let electricity put some heat in this chilly brew whilst I finish installing the batteries and motor in the Kohler Stroller, hey! There's also a little matter of adjusting my solenoid-controlled-brake-device to be solved before our little fortune wagon is ready to roll us to wealth," I gleamed the choppers at her. "Wouldn't want to start something I couldn't - haw, haw, - stop! Get it?"
"Oy," she moaned and took off.
Four days later we were ready for the test-run.
"I still don't see why Junior should be cheated of the honor of being the very first passenger to enjoy a ride in the stroller that's going to make him a rich man's son," I complained as the Nervous Mother shoved Digger, our terrier-dachshund-collie-what-have-you into the seat of the stroller, fastening him there with the leash.
"Geeple,' agreed Junior, enthusiastically.
"OOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWOOOOOOOO!" commented Digger.
"No dice. Our agreement was to let Digger risk his life and if he survives - then, perhaps, Junior can have a ride. It's that or find some other sucker, genius." She took a firmer hold on the heir and cast a pity-loaded glance at Digger, huddling miserably in the stroller.
"OOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWOOOOOO," stated the big coward.
"Gopple," observed Junior enviously.
"Well, the weight-factor's about the same - so, here goes! Good luck, Digger, old boy, old boy, old boy!" I jabbed the start button on the portable transmitting unit and the stroller cruised smoothly up the sidewalk.
"See!" I gloated. "It works like a charm! "Well, I hate to admit it," said Loser Girl, "but I guess you've stumbled onto something all right."
'''Dun & Bradstreet!" I rejoiced, jabbing the reverse button and bringing the stroller back, "we are here! Now shall we let Junior crowd in beside the noble Digger and show off our Stroller Of Tomorrow in the park?"
"That might be fun!" agreed Fair-Weather Girl.
Half-way through the park, a fortune slipped through my fingers. Just like that. Without warning, the stroller shot forward at increased speed, described a figure-eight on two-wheels and disappeared across a lawn - Junior gleefully waving his fat little arms and Digger howling like an anguished banshee.
"Gruss Gott!" I gasped, desperately working every button on the transmitter. "It just can't be!"
"Y-You fiend!" screamed the Stricken Mother, "You've done it again! Only this time my baby is in the monster!"
I snapped the transmitter's off button. "Relax," I tittered, hysterically. "They can't have gone far. The center of gravity is too low, on that thing with the heavy electric motor in it, to tip over - and I've cut the signal - so it should be stalled nearby." Together, we raced across the lawn, neatly hurdling all the Keep Off The Grass signs. "I still don't understand it, though."
"... probably ... smashed ... against ... a ... tree ... " panted the Pessimistic Mother, her face pale with visions of tragedy whirling through her mind. "... should ... have ... had ... my ... head ... examined ... letting ... you ..."
Ahead, a group of citizens burst out of a crosswalk, running for their lives. Behind them came the stroller - Junior grinning evilly at the frightened escapees and Digger baying a stream of canine mental-agony.
"Turn it off!" shrieked the Wild Woman at my side. "Turn that thing off, will ya?"
"Itis off!" I bellowed despairingly. The sprinters and the pursuing stroller vanished down another crosswalk. We galloped forward again, peering vainly in all directions for our son and his runaway steed.
"Look out, Fred, here it comes again!" shrilled a matron from the safety of a tree to which she had scrambled. Fred joined her without comment or waste motion just as the stroller thundered out of the bushes.
I tackled it - madly jerking wires loose at random, and we bumped to a stop.
"Beeble!" protested Junior irritably.
"No broken bones," I observed, handing Junior to the Distraught and Weepy Mother. "But let's evaporate before all concerned pull themselves together and pin the rap on us."
We took to the scenery ... pronto.
Hitting the street, I heard the crackle of static and the metallic-voice of a communications-radio.
"Good lord!" I whispered hoarsely. "They must be throwing a police net around the park! You two run for it! Digger and I will hold them off until-"
It's only a taxicab, silly."
"Oh." My blood unfroze and resumed coursing .
"Why do you suppose the stroller went so crazy if you turned off the transmitter?" asked Missus Curious, now that sonny-boy was safe in her arms and my project a miserable failure. "You sure can't sell anything that gets out of control and stays that way. Not to this mother, anyway!"
"All right, all right!" I rasped peevishly.
"I'm resigned to facing a life of labor. You've made your point. I don't know why it stayed out of control. There's no explainable reason for it. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my transmitter or my receiver- and this is a brand-new, guaranteed sequence-switch, so it couldn't be anything remotely connected with the equipment."
We plodded on in silence. My arms began to ache from pushing the extra-heavy stroller.
"Well, I don't want to sound like an interfering wife -"
Then - it hit me ... hard. "Interference," I muttered. "Sure. Interference!"
I raced back to the parked taxi.
"Do you happen to know what band your company operates those sets on, Mac?" I pointed to the crackling radio.
"Sure," said the startled hackie. "465, Citizens."
"Know the watt-output, by any chance?" "Yeh. About two-hunnert fifty." "Thanks, Mac," I said glumly. "You just solved a slight mystery and limited my R/C plans, in the future, to small model airplanes in the countryside."
After I explained the situation - my puny five wattage against all the city communication systems - Missus Wife was pleased and had the temerity to suggest I give the electronics field a rest and turn to other things. Chess was her advice. Chess, because she plays a mean bishop. Not to mention that I seem to have a penchant for always trading my queen for one of her pawns.
And, then, I got a terrific idea. Why not R/C Chess? Complex, perhaps, but certainly not beyond the determined abilities of a real electronics enthusiast.
I'm laying out the preliminary schematics now.
And here comes that coffee again.
Posted June 2, 2016