March 1959 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.
This might be the first appearance of Carl's father, at least
in a drawing. In this episode, Carl and Jerry design and build
a "polecat detector." In the process, a little drama is thrown
in when a stander-by mistaken believes he is being insulted.
Even if you don't learn how a photocell-based threshold crossing
circuit works, you might just learn the meaning of 'lugubriously.'
Carl & Jerry: He Went That-a-Way!
By John T Frye
Carl and Jerry were perched on the workbench of their basement
laboratory listening to Carl's father as the big, pleasant-featured
Mr. Anderson said:
So when your mother saw that skunk go under our house, Carl,
she was really 'shook' as you boys put it. She's threatened
my life if we do anything to upset the little beast there because
she still remembers how, when she was a girl down on the farm,
her dad set the dogs on a skunk under the house. The whole family
had to move out and live in the corncrib for a month."
"How do we know the polecat's still under there?" Carl asked.
"We don't. Possibly it's gone away. But we don't want to
be 'half-safe' and close up that opening until we're sure. That's
where I thought you electronic hot-shots could help. Can't you
rig up some sort of electronic device that will let us know
if the skunk comes out from under the house? I mean some sort
of gadget that will sound an alarm if something comes out through
that hole but will stay silent if something goes in."
Jerry's round face wrinkled in a frown of concentration.
"Ye-s-s-s," he finally breathed, "that ought to do it!" He grabbed
up a piece of chalk and began to sketch his plan on a blackboard.
"Here's a transistor with a high-sensitivity relay that I'll
label RL1 in the collector circuit. The transistor's biased
so the relay is held closed. Notice we have a 1000-μfd. capacitor
across the relay winding. Here's a selenium photocell. When
a beam of light shining directly across the opening under the
house falls on this cell, it generates a current that bucks
out the transistor bias current. That causes the collector current
to fall nearly to zero, and the relay opens. If anything interrupts
the light beam, the collector current rises and the relay closes
. The voltage across the relay coil charges the capacitor, and
the discharge current from this capacitor keeps the relay closed
for 30 seconds or so after the light beam has been restored.
Okay so far?"
"Check!" Carl said promptly.
Carl's father took the microphone in his
hand and shouted in his great booming voice, "There goes the
skunk! There goes the skunk!"
"Fine! Here's another relay-transistor-selenium cell/light
source combination that's set up a yard or so from the wall
of the house. The only difference is that it has no capacitor
across the winding of RL2. This relay also stays open until
its controlling light beam is broken. Then it closes; but, unlike
RL1, it opens again immediately when the light falls on the
"Now the contacts of RL1 and RL2 are connected in series
so both have to be closed simultaneously before current through
them will actuate this heavy-duty relay, RL3. Relay RL3 controls
this solenoid. When the solenoid is actuated, it pulls out a
pin that lets a gate fall down across the opening under the
house. At the same time it turns on a switch that starts our
tape recorder. An endless loop of tape on the recorder keeps
repeating a warning message over and over."
"I think I get it," Carl said slowly. "If the skunk is outside
now and goes under the house, nothing happens. He will break
the beam that controls RL2 first, but this relay will open again
immediately after he has passed; consequently, when he breaks
the beam of RL1 and it closes, RL3 is not actuated. On the other
hand, if he tries to come out, RL1 will close immediately when
he pokes his nose out of the hole. It will stay closed as he
comes on out and walks a step or so and breaks the beam of light
controlling RL2. When this happens and RL2 closes, RL1 is still
held closed by the discharging capacitor. That means RL3 closes
and works the solenoid that drops the gate, sealing off the
opening under the house, and also starts the tape recorder to
let us hear the 'all clear.' "
"Even I can understand that," Carl's father said with a broad
grin; "and it sounds like a fine idea. How about letting me
dictate the glad tidings on that loop of tape?"
"Sure thing," Jerry said as he took the cover off the tape
recorder. "We'll leave the recorder in here and hook up another
speaker outside the house. Then we'll hear the message whether
we are inside or out."
By chance this message filled the loop of tape exactly so
that when the recorder was running the warning was repeated
Over and over without interruption.
... Put up your dukes, he shouted ...
"I'll run over and try to coax your mother down off the chandelier
and explain that we have the situation well in hand," Mr. Anderson
said, "while you boys start work on your direction-of-skunk-movement
It didn't take long for Carl and Jerry to assemble the comparatively
simple apparatus. From long experience the two boys worked together
smoothly and efficiently. They mounted the photocells inside
mailing tubes to shield them from bright daylight. The light
sources were 117-volt bulbs with simple reflectors and hoods
to send the light directly into the ends of the mailing tubes.
Since the lamp-to-cell distances were short, powerful lights
were not needed.
They arranged little fences so that an animal going in or out
of the small opening in the house foundation would have to break
both light beams in sequence. A light lattice-work gate was
set so that it dropped in front of the hole when the solenoid
pulled a prop out of the way.
By the time everything was finished, the sun had gone down.
The boys sat on the front steps of Carl's house and enjoyed
the unusually warm March evening as they talked over their installation
to make sure nothing could possibly go wrong. As they talked,
Carl's father came out the front door wearing his hat and coat.
"I'd certainly like to stay here and see what happens with
the polecat detector," he said ruefully; "but I just got a telephone
call that disturbs me. As you know, I'm running for city councilman
in the primary. Pat Gallagher down the street is running against
me. Just now I got word that some low-lifer has told Pat a string
of lies about what I am supposed to have said against him; and
he, quite understandably, has his dander up. I'm going over
there right now and straighten things out before they get worse
- which they can very quickly. Pat's got a temper that matches
his red hair, and I don't want him mad at me. I'll be back as
soon as I can - hey!" he broke off; "There goes Pat across the
At this precise instant there was a muffled bump at the side
of the house, and a few seconds later a voice bellowed forth:
"There goes the skunk! There goes the skunk!"
The two boys and Mr. Anderson raced around the house. The
gate had dropped, closing off the hole, but the skunk was not
in sight. Jerry walked over and threw the switch that stopped
the tape recorder. It was not until then that the three of them
noticed a little red-headed man come bounding around the house,
peeling off his coat as he ran toward them.
"Stop, you big hulking coward!" he shouted at Mr. Anderson.
"I'll teach you to call me names and then run. Put up your dukes,
man; don't shame yourself in front of your own flesh and blood."
"Now hold on, Pat," Mr. Anderson said as he moved away from
the little man who was dancing back and forth with his clenched
fists held stiffly in front of him in the style of the immortal
John L. Sullivan. "That wasn't me you heard. Jerry, turn that
thing back on and show him."
... Poor Bosco got the worst of it ...
"Don't add lying to your other black-hearted crimes! I know
that Bull of Bashan voice of yours when I hear it. Are you going
to fight or am I going to have to-"
At this moment bedlam broke loose. The tape recorder began
shouting its message. A small black animal with a white stripe
down its back and along its tail tore around the back corner
of the house and raced toward them with Bosco, Carl's dog, in
hot pursuit. In the distance they heard the wail of an approaching
The skunk dashed for the hole in the foundation, only to
find it closed off. He was trapped. He had to use his secret
weapon. Before the horrified gaze of the four people, that plumed,
white-striped tail came up and a horrible, choking stench enveloped
the whole area.
Poor Bosco got the worst of it because he was closest, but
there was plenty to go around. The dog howled in agony as he
rolled on the grass and pawed at his stinging eyes. The men
and boys fled blindly toward the front of the house. The skunk
then sedately and daintily picked his way past the writhing
dog and disappeared around the back of the house.
Two patrolmen piled out of a squad car at the curb and came
racing toward the group on the front lawn, but suddenly they
got a whiff of the rich odor and came to a stiff-legged halt.
"What's going on here?" they asked. "We got a report two men
"Someone must be mistaken," Mr. Anderson said blandly as
he tried vainly to breathe by exhaling only. "I've seen no fighting
here; have you, Mr. Gallagher?"
"Certainly not," Pat answered promptly.
"Things have come to a pretty pass when a man can't get rid
of a skunk without being badgered by the police."
"Who's that blatting away about 'There goes the skunk,'''
an officer insisted.
"That's just a tape recording; and it's too long a story
to tell now," Mr. Anderson said. "We've got to see what can
be done about decontaminating ourselves. Pat, we've got a shower
in the basement, and I've got some old clothes down there you
can wear home. I'm afraid we are all going to have to bury what
"That's mighty friendly of you, Steve; and I'll take you
up on it. Sheila would never let me in the house in this condition."
"Okay, gentlemen," one of the officers said as he got back
into the squad car; "but if you don't mind, I'd like to make
just one remark - quite respectfully, you understand. I don't
know what kind of a campaign you two intend to put on, but it
certainly is off to a smelly start!"
As the squad car drove off, Mr. Anderson and Pat Gallagher
looked at each other for a long second; then an irrepressible
smile crinkled Pat's Irish face. Mr. Anderson pounded the little
man on the back, and all four whooped with laughter as they
trooped toward the basement entrance of the Anderson house.
Jerry flipped off the switch on the recorder control, and the
voice coasted to a stop.
"There goes the-e sku-u-u-u-nk!" it said lugubriously.
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,
Education, July 1963
- 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 June 23, 2014