September 1961 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.
It was only the first day at engineering college and already
their first familiar techno-caper was underway. Indiana's Parvoo
University was about to get an initiation into the world of
Carl and Jerry. As with all of John Frye's tales this one mixes
serious electronics topics with a bit of fun and a life lesson.
There were no 'bad guys' here as in many other episodes, but
the boys did get an unexpected introduction to Parvoo U.'s president!
Despite the story's title, the day ended well.
Carl and Jerry: Off to a Bad Start
By John T. Frye W9EGV
Darkness was falling over the campus of Parvoo University
this early September evening as Carl and Jerry sat in their
room on the third floor of Men's Housing Unit Number III. Actually
they were only thirty-five miles from home, and this was just
the end of their first day at school; but somehow everything
connected with home seemed far away and long ago. As they watched
the winking lights of a commercial airliner taking off from
the university airfield, saw batteries of windows lighting up
in building after building, and realized that some twelve thousand
men and three thousand women students were sharing the campus
of the big land-grant school with them, they felt very small
The boys had taken advantage of advance enrollment back in
July and had gone through their placement tests and many other
preliminaries at that time; so actually there had not been too
much for them to do on this first day. Thanks to their high
school records and their showing in the tests, both were "honor"
students and were enrolled in a Freshman Engineering course
that was plenty stiff - just how stiff they mercifully did not
know at this point. Their brand-new green beanie caps - which
they had already learned to call "freshman pots" - were resting
on their beds.
Carl was sitting in a chair in front of the open window looking
at the Coeducational Recreation Gymnasium across the way. From
behind the "Co-Rec" building he could hear faintly the shouts
of students enjoying the two outdoor swimming pools and the
tennis courts that would be flooded in winter to form an ice-skating
rink. Carl reflected idly that there was another heated pool
inside the building, plus facilities for dancing, roller-skating,
basketball, volley ball, squash, riflery, archery, gymnastics,
etc.; but none of these appealed to him at the moment.
"Say, Jer," he said slowly, "do you feel kind of funny? I
mean, are you a little shook by all this?"
"Yep," Jerry admitted from where he sat at his combination
desk-and-bureau toying with his new Log-Log-Duplex-Decitrig
slide rule. "I feel as green as that stupid-looking freshman
pot. Wonder if we ever will learn our way around this place?"
"I dunno," Carl answered with a sigh.
"While you were at the bookstore this afternoon, I wandered
into a building and came across a bunch of fellows who were
peering through a little diamond-shaped window set into the
wall. When I asked what was going on, the other freshmen said
they weren't certain but they felt pretty sure that Parvoo's
nuclear reactor was behind that window. They said you could
see rods moving back and forth, probably in and out of an atomic
pile in the basement. Then I looked, and sure enough, there
were some slender rods going up and down.
"About that time," Carl continued, "a janitor came by and
asked us what we were doing. When we explained that we were
watching the nuclear reactor, he grinned widely and said he
hated to disillusion us but that we were merely looking into
the elevator shaft through an inspection porthole. The 'rods'
we had been watching were actually elevator cables moving up
"We slunk out of there very quietly and went our separate
ways. None of us wanted to associate with those other stupid
Jerry chuckled at his friend's story, then slid his rule
back into its case that smelled pleasantly of new leather, and
came over to stand behind Carl's chair.
"I'm not homesick," he announced firmly, "but I sure do miss
things. Especially, I miss our car. I know that not being permitted
to drive in this county while we're freshmen and sophomores
is a good rule, but we could explore the campus a lot faster
if we had our wheels."
"I know what you mean," Carl sympathized; "and I miss our
electronic lab even more. When I realize we're way out here
without even so much as a volt-ohmmeter, it sort of scares me.
If we were back at the lab, I'll bet we wouldn't be just sitting
around staring out a window."
"Maybe we shouldn't give up so easily," Jerry muttered as
he looked down at students dropping cards and letters into a
mailbox on the sidewalk just below their window. "I always figure
that a really good technician is one who can get the most out
of the equipment he has at hand. Carl, do you remember that
Candid Camera show with the mailbox that talked?"
"Sure," Carl answered as he stood up to see what Jerry was
staring at. "Are you thinking that we could give that mailbox
down there a voice? I don't see how. We don't have an intercom
"Maybe we could make one," Jerry mused. "After all, an intercom
is nothing but an audio amplifier and two speakers. One speaker
acts as a microphone while the other functions normally on the
output of the amplifier. A switch alternates the roles of the
remote speaker and the unit speaker so that either can be used
for talking or listening.
"We both have our transistor radios," he continued. "We could
take a speaker out of one and drop it down inside the mailbox
for use as the remote. The audio section of the other radio
can serve as the amplifier. Then all we need is a switch to
swap the set speaker and the remote speaker back and forth between
input and output of the amplifier, and down at the radio store
this afternoon I just happened to pick up this bat-handle d.p.d.t.
toggle switch from the bargain counter."
"Hold it!" Carl interrupted as he bolted for the door. "We'll
need a two-wire cable of fine wire to run to the slave speaker,
and if we're in luck, I know where we can get it. I'll be back
in a sec."
He was, too; and in his hand was a pair of very beat-up hair
clippers. "I just remembered that the guy next door threw these
into his wastebasket when he unpacked this afternoon and discovered
they had been clobbered on the trip from home. They're the cheap
vibrator type with a coil of fine wire inside. We can unroll
all we want and twist a couple of lengths together to form a
cable that will never be seen."
"Fine," Jerry applauded. "Now the only thing that bugs me
is how we're going to unsolder connections inside the receivers
and solder new leads to the switch, speaker, and so on."
"Leave that to me," Carl said as he slid back his closet
door and took a small traveling case down from the top shelf.
After he had spread his electric razor, toothbrush, hairbrush,
and after-shave lotion out on his bed, he dived back into the
bag once more and came up triumphantly with a small pencil-type
electric soldering iron and a little roll of rosin-core solder.
"You may get old Carl away from home without his wallet,
his toothbrush, or even his pants; but you're not going to get
him away without some kind of soldering iron," he boasted. "We
can split that clipper cord and make leads out of it to go to
the switch. You go ahead and solder the switch into your radio
while I take the speaker out of mine and bring out leads from
the output transformer."
Both boys were thoroughly familiar with the circuit of their
identical sets; so it didn't take long to carry out Carl's suggestions.
Then they removed the coil of fine wire from the electric clippers
and started winding it in a big loop around the backs of the
two desk chairs placed at opposite sides of the room. Two such
loops were made, and then the ends were fastened together and
the loops unwound simultaneously while the wires were twisted
together to form a two-wire cable of fine enameled wire easily
long enough to reach down from the boys' window to the mailbox
below. They connected one end of this cable to the speaker from
Carl's radio, and the other end to the toggle switch and the
ground connection of Jerry's receiver.
With the switch in one position, the remote speaker voice
coil was connected to the output winding of the transformer
in Carl's receiver; the plate winding of this transformer was
across the volume control of Jerry's set. With the switch in
the other position, the voice coil output of Jerry's speaker
went through Carl's output transformer back to the volume control,
and the remote speaker was connected to the secondary of the
radio's output transformer. Carl took the little remote speaker
out into the hall to check on the operation of the haywire arrangement;
and, as haywire arrangements frequently do, but shouldn't, it
Dusk was falling rapidly by this time; so no one noticed
as the boys removed the screen from their window and let the
little speaker down the side of the building. Then Carl went
outside and quickly fed the fine wire along a little groove
cut in the sod beside the sidewalk running out from the building.
When Carl reached the main sidewalk, he ran the wire into
a section notch that led to the foot of the mailbox. The speaker,
with a short length of dark twine fastened to it for retrieving
purposes, was dropped into the mailbox; and both the twine and
the fine wire were Scotch-taped to the side of the box so that
they would be as inconspicuous as possible. After this was done,
Carl scampered back up to the room.
They did not have to wait long for a victim. Almost immediately
a car swung to the curb, and a tall, gray-haired, pleasant-looking
man stepped out and dropped a letter into the box.
"Thank you!" Jerry said into the speaker of his receiver.
"We'll take care of this immediately. Not snow, nor rain, nor
heat, nor gloom of night - and all that rot, you know." He snapped
The man turned on his heel and stared down at the mailbox
for a few seconds. Then the grinning boys heard his pleasant,
well-modulated voice coming from the speaker: "Thank you! I
knew our post-office department was accommodating, but I didn't
realize it went quite this far."
"Don't you feel a little silly talking to a mailbox?" Jerry
"No, not at all," the man said, calmly taking a penlight
from his breast pocket and beginning to examine the box. "I'm
afraid I frequently talk to much less receptive ears."
As he finished speaking, he located the string and carefully
lifted the little speaker from the box; then he pulled the cable
taut, and it pointed an accusing finger straight at their window.
The man snapped the wire loose from the speaker and started
walking toward the building.
In a couple of minutes later the boys heard a knock at their
door. Carl opened it to reveal the tall, gray-haired man standing
there holding out their speaker.
"I believe this belongs to you," he said pleasantly. "May
I come in?"
The stammering youths pushed the guest chair toward him and
sat down at their respective desks.
"Now, I don't like to be a kill-joy," the man began, "but
I wonder if you two have ever heard about the severe penalties
exacted for tampering with the U. S. mails or post-office department
Neither boy uttered a word.
"Well, they are rather serious," the man continued, as he
casually looked over the rat's nest of wires on the window ledge,
"If you had bothered to look, you would have seen that the mail
is supposed to be picked up from that box about this time. In
fact, there's the truck now. If the mailman had found your speaker
and reported it, as he is supposed to do, you might have gotten
into a bit more trouble than you anticipated. That's why I brought
your speaker back to you."
He took hold of the doorknob as he finished speaking. "I
like to see students who have imagination and ingenuity," he
commented, "and I trust that before long you two will have enough
demand on these qualities from your studies so that there won't
be much left over for pranks."
"Thanks a lot, sir," Jerry recovered himself enough to say.
"We never thought about tampering with the mails. Are you an
instructor here at the university, or something?"
"'Or something possibly covers it," the man admitted with
a smile. "Pardon me for not introducing myself. I am Mr. Hedde,
the president of this university. And I see by the nameplate
on the door that you are Jerry Bishop and Carl Anderson. Welcome
to Parvoo University, men. I hope your stay here is a pleasant
and richly rewarding one and that you will bring credit to our
school. Good night."
He was gone, leaving behind two white-faced youths staring
open-mouthed at each other.
"Good gravy," Jerry breathed; "fifteen thousand people on
the campus and we have to pick out the president to get smart
with! We're certainly off to a great start."
"Yeah," Carl said shakily. "Let's put those radios back together
and turn in before we get expelled!"
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 lashups 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
- 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,
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,
Posted December 25, 2014