November 1958 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.
Assuming that a couple creative teenage boys could get away
today with electrifying weapons to dramatize a mock sword fight
during a high school production of a Roman battle, you can be
sure the suit of armor required by safety monitors would consist
not of coats of mail, but coats of rubber and fire retardant
material, fully sealing OSHA-approved goggles for eye protection,
ear plugs, and electrical lineman's gloves. Offstage would be
certified fire fighting professionals (formerly called firemen)
and an emergency response crew specialty training in high voltage
electrical contact with a hospital-style emergency room crash
cart nearby. The audience would need to sign safety release
forms before being admitted to the auditorium, and a properly
vetted statement of warning and admonition would be read prior
to the performance, with a video monitor providing a message
crawl advising what to do if at any point during the sword fight
someone was offended, psychologically affected, or personally
offended. You think I'm joking, and of course I am - there is
no way any metal object even slightly resembling a sword would
be allowed into a school building.
Carl & Jerry: Command Performance
By John T. Frye
Carl and Jerry were walking home from school in the slanting
rays of the autumn sun. It was later than usual because they
had stayed to practice for the play the Latin Club was giving.
As they scuffed along through the thick carpet of crisp fallen
leaves, the boys talked about the play.
"Man and boy," Carl said in his deepest voice, "I've seen
some pretty corny plays, but that thing tomorrow night will
top them all."
"You're not kidding there," Jerry agreed morosely. "I'd rather
bend the needle on my volt-ohmmeter than prance around out there
on the stage in that breezy Roman warrior outfit playing pattycake
with you with those tin swords."
"Yeah, and our last scene, the fight of the gladiators, is
the best part of the show; so that clues you as to how bad the
rest of it is. I simply wouldn't go through with it, but it
means so much to Miss Jellicoe; and she's so doggone nice -
for a Latin teacher, anyway."
"Hm-m-m-m," Jerry said thoughtfully, "I'm wondering if we
couldn't pep up that last scene a bit some way."
"Don't see how. We can't really fight.
She's afraid we'll hurt one another."
"Say, you know something? Since you can't wear your glasses,
I'm with her. Realizing how poorly you see without them, I'd
as soon be on that stage with a rotary mower with the guard
off as with you really trying to sword-fight. Last night you
chopped half the leaves off the rubber plant before you found
out I was standing behind you."
"You and that rubber plant look a lot alike when the stage
is darkened for our fight," Carl muttered. "With it in that
big pot, the two of you have the same kind of figures."
Jerry ignored this nasty remark. "Don't you think it would
be real George if every time our swords touched fire would fly?"
"Sure, but how could we manage that?" "With electricity,
natch! My idea is to have the swords complete an electrical
circuit when they contact. If we had our Tesla coil, we probably
could cool it down so it would work; but I shipped it out to
my cousin in New York. Maybe we can use that neon transformer.
The secondary puts out five thousand volts at a fraction of
a milliampere of current. We could use some of that indoor antenna
wire to go from each side of the secondary to a sword. That
wire is small and very flexible, and wouldn't be seen from the
audience. We can tape the handles of the swords with high voltage
tape to keep from being shocked."
"Let's use plenty of tape. I've been bitten by that transformer
a few times, and it really jolts you."
"Yes, it carries about the same wallop as the spark plug
of a car. While the very limited current greatly reduces the
danger of that high voltage, any shock, even one of only a few
volts, can be fatal under the right circumstances; so we'll
take every precaution to keep from being shocked."
"You going to tell Miss Jellicoe about this?"
"N-o-o-o-o, I don't think so. Let's surprise her. If we told
her, she'd start worrying and probably not let us do it. You
meet me backstage at lunch tomorrow, and we'll hook things up."
"Fine. See you at noon," Carl agreed.
It didn't take the boys long to hook up their little gadget
the next day. They taped the sword handles heavily, and fastened
the small insulated wires to the blades. The transformer was
placed near one end of the curtain, and a wire went from one
side of the secondary to a sword placed nearby. A wire from
the other side of the secondary ran beneath the stage and came
up near the other end of the curtain. The other sword fastened
to this wire would be placed at that point. They made both wires
long enough so that the swords could reach any part of the stage.
"Just before our fight scene starts," Jerry said, "I'll plug
in the transformer and enter from this side, like so. You pick
up your sword and come in from side. Let's touch swords and
see what happens."
As metal touched metal, there was a great hissing red spark
that changed to blue as the blades parted. Even on the well-lighted
stage it could be seen easily. The boys grinned in happy anticipation.
"That's really going to show up when the lights are dimmed,"
Carl said; "but we better scram to class before the bell rings."
When the boys peeped through the curtain that night, they
saw that the large high school auditorium was literally jammed.
Even the balcony was full to overflowing. A combination of circumstances
brought about the large attendance: admission was free; there
was no competing attraction in town that night; the weather
was ideal; and the cast was large. That meant that the family
of each player, down to grandparents, aunts, and uncles, had
turned out in force.
... They taped the sword handles heavily, and fastened the
small insulated wires to the blades ...
And in spite of the foreboding of the boys, the audience
enjoyed the play. They did not expect a polished professional
performance, and the flubbed lines only aroused sympathetic
amusement. Time after time the auditorium roared with laughter
and applause. The loudest laugh of all came when Mr. Stagg,
the portly high school principal, strode onto the stage dressed
as Nero. His hairy, bare legs beneath his short tunic and his
bald head garlanded with ivy gave him an appearance that was
grotesque but still imposing.
"Perfect casting if I ever saw it," Carl muttered to Jerry;
"but that ivy really should be poison ivy."
"Now, now; let's not be bitter because he caught you goofing
off," Jerry said with a grin. "Get ready. We're on next."
But the curtain did not go up. The boys saw the school janitor
talking excitedly to Mr. Stagg.
"... and it seems to have started in the closet of the office,"
he was saying. "I called the fire department, and they should
be here any minute. I'm sure they'll have no trouble putting
it out, but I hate to think what will happen if that crowd out
"Maybe I should step out on the stage and talk to them,"
Mr. Stagg said.
The janitor shook his head. "I wouldn't.
Just let them hear the word 'fire' and they're gone."
The sounds of impatient clapping of hands and stamping of
feet came through the curtain.
"Why don't you go and see how bad it is?" Jerry suggested.
"We'll go on with the play and try to keep their attention.
The scene coming up is pretty exciting."
"Okay," Mr. Stagg agreed. "Carl, you tell the members of
the orchestra to play as loud as they can. That's one thing
they can do: play loud. I'll be back as quickly as I can."
As soon as Carl came back from the orchestra pit, the curtain
went up. Jerry had plugged in the transformer; and the two boys,
dressed as Roman gladiators, strode toward each other across
the dimly lit stage.
"Hold, Claudius," Carl said menacingly.
"Take a last look at the darkening sky. A few minutes hence
your glazed eyes will see it no more."
" 'Tis not for naught they call you Tiberius the Talker,"
Jerry taunted. "Let's see if your Roman blade is as nimble as
your Roman tongue."
Gingerly the boys drew their swords from the scabbards, being
very careful that the blades did not touch their bodies. Then
they warily approached each other an crossed swords. As they
did so, the sparks crackled, and a gasp of astonishment came
from the audience.
On this cue the orchestra roared to life. Each player was
giving his instrument all it would take, paying scant attention
to the other instruments or to the leader; and the effect was
tremendous. But the cacophony of sound went well with the desperate
action taking place on the stage.
Carl and Jerry were carried away with the occasion and put
on a real sword fight. Blade clanged against blade with a sound
heard even above the thunder of the orchestra. At each contact
hissing sparks of blue and red lighted the dim stage - with
a fitful lightning. The smell of ozone filled the air.
Carl's long arms gave him a reach advantage, but Jerry's
deceptive quickness overcame this. As minute after minute passed,
however, Carl's good athletic condition began to tell. He was
scarcely breathing hard, while Jerry's round face was bathed
with sweat, and his breathing was open-mouth panting.
... At each contact hissing sparks of blue and red lighted
the dim stage with a fitful lightning ...
Still the fight went on. Ordinarily it would have been over
quickly, but the boys were determined to keep it going until
they had some sign that the danger was over. That sign arrived
at last as Mr. Stagg and the fire chief came in the rear of
the auditorium and walked up the aisle to the stage.
The boys stopped fighting, and all the lights in the house
went on. Mr. Stagg strode on the stage and held up his hand.
"Folks, I can tell you now we had a little excitement across
the hall that was not on the program. Some oily rags caught
fire in a closet and we had a pretty good fire going until the
chief here and his men put it out. Now that your minds are off
the stirring action on the stage, you will probably notice that
you can smell the smoke.
"We were afraid of panic. While I went to investigate the
fire, these two young men you have been watching on the stage
essayed to keep your attention away from the smell of smoke,
the sound of sirens, or anything else that could easily have
precipitated a dangerous panic; and they were aided and abetted
by this sterling collection of frustrated soloists we call our
orchestra. Even across the hall that music, if I can apply the
term loosely, was excruciatingly loud."
Mr. Stagg beckoned with both hands for Carl and Jerry to
draw near to him. He placed an affectionate arm across the shoulders
of each embarrassed, squirming boy as he remarked: "I like to
think that in this school we teach more than the three R's.
We try to teach character. And from the evidence these two boys
have given us tonight, I am encouraged to believe that we are
succeeding. When I think about how calm, how level-headed, how
resourceful these two were tonight, it puts a gladness in my
heart, a proud gleam in my eye, a new spring in my step - yowwwww!"
he screamed as he gave a sudden great leap that took him clear
over the footlights to plunge both sandaled feet squarely through
the kettle drum.
He had hugged the boys to him a little too strongly, and
the bared swords they still carried in their hands had been
forced into contact with his naked shins at precisely the same
This really brought down the house. The audience rose from
their seats and surged to the orchestra pit to help the principal
out of the drum. Carl and Jerry took advantage of the confusion
to jerk the wires loose from the swords and to recover their
transformer. Then they sneaked out the rear door and walked
home through the bright, clear harvest moonlight.
Every few steps they stopped and leaned against each other
in helpless laughter as they recalled the picture of Mr. Stagg
sailing over the footlights.
"Just tell me one thing, Jer,' Carl finally gasped "Did you
do it deliberately?"
"Honestly I don't know," Jerry said, wiping his eyes with
his handkerchief. "I saw the blade getting closer and closer
to his leg, and when he said, 'a new spring in my step,' well,
it was as if no power on earth could stop it."
"I know, I know!" Carl broke in, "It seemed that someone
else's hand had hold of my sword. But I'll bet the final act
of this year's Latin Club play will be remembered in this town
for a long, long time to come."
... "It puts a gladness in my heart, a proud gleam in my
eye, a new spring in my step - yowwwww!" he screamed as he gave
a sudden great leap...
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 13, 2014