February 1956 Popular Electronics
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Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Unlike with the Mac's Service Shop episodes that typically were published in monthly issues that jived with the story setting, the Carl & Jerry plots did not necessarily correspond with the month in which they appeared. To wit, this "How to Haunt a House" story appeared in the February edition of Popular Electronics. I saved it for Halloween. As always, author John Frye mixes technical descriptions with the storyline to lend credibility to the teens' escapades. Modern teenagers might use slightly different methods and materials, but the end results are the came. Enjoy the adventure.
Carl & Jerry: How to Haunt a House
By John T. Frye
Bright moonlight bathing the snow-covered landscape made it unnecessary for the two boys to use their flashlights as they trudged up the narrow lane toward the dark and brooding silhouette of the house set well back from the highway. The only sound was that of the snow squeaking beneath their Arctic boots, until the tall one carrying the tape recorder turned his head so that the moonlight glinted on his horn-rimmed glasses as he addressed his short and puffing companion:
"Jer, I'm still a little foggy on why Mr. Arnold is paying us twenty-five dollars, plus cost of equipment, to 'haunt' this old house."
"He wants to get even with a couple of favorite tomboy nieces who really gave him a hard time when he visited them in Florida last spring, Carl. He says that as soon as those two found out he was afraid of bugs and reptiles they really gave him the business. They chased him around the house with a hairy-legged spider that he swears could straddle the mouth of a teacup; they put little chameleon lizards in his bed; and finally, after they had coaxed him to go swimming with them in a little lake near Orlando, one distracted his attention by taking his picture with a movie camera while the other swam under water and clamped a couple of barrel staves around his leg just as the one with the camera shouted, 'Alligator! Alligator.' He vows he could feel teeth in those barrel staves, and he practically splashed the lake dry getting to the bank as the whole thing was recorded on film."
"Say, those two sound like interesting chicks," Carl said admiringly.
All at once the whole empty house was filled with a cacophony of discordant sound. From somewhere upstairs there was the clanking of chains mixed in with the high-pitched squeaking of bats. A hollow, echoing laugh rolled down the open stairway. And once more the door swung open and added its rasping groan to the other sounds. Ghostly rappings ran over the walls, ceiling, and floor. As the door came to a stop, wide open, revealing the moonlit snow scene outside, all of the sounds came to an abrupt halt that left the echoes still bouncing off the bare walls. The rocking chair teetered back and forth in a lessening arc.
"Not really. They are practically old women. One is nineteen, and the other is at least twenty-two," Jerry said disparagingly. "Anyway, they're here visiting the Arnolds, and Mr. Arnold is going to 'con' them into betting they can spend tomorrow night in this old 'haunted house' on his farm without seeing any ghosts. He has run a couple of light wires through the grove that separates this old house from his home so that we can have light down in that hidden cellar room and power to operate the house-haunting gadgets that we installed yesterday afternoon. Tonight we'll check our whole installation to make sure everything works. Mr. Arnold is going to sneak off and meet us if he can get away."
As Jerry finished speaking, they reached the old house and carefully picked their way across the rotting porch to the deeply shadowed front door.
"This place looks a heck of a lot different at night than it does in daytime," Carl muttered. "If you ask me, 'spooking' this place is sort of gilding the lily. I'd not be surprised if there were ghosts in there."
"None of that," Jerry said briskly. "As a young scientist, you can only believe in the ghosts you see on your TV screen when an airplane flies over. Shine your flashlight on this keyhole while I-"
He stopped speaking abruptly, and stumbled backward into Carl as the door suddenly swung open with a loud screeching of rusty hinges.
"What do you know! We must not have locked it yesterday afternoon," Jerry exclaimed, as he stepped cautiously inside and probed the corners of the large, nearly empty room with his flashlight. "Now I know how the girls will feel when we make the door do that for them tomorrow night."
"How do we work this again?"
"The closed door compresses a little spring in the casing up at the top. Throwing a switch in the cellar allows current to flow through the coil of a solenoid mounted in the door casing by the latch. The magnetic field pulls a spring-loaded soft iron plunger down into the coil. This plunger has an extension sticking out the end of the coil so that its movement, produced by the magnetic field, can exert either a pulling or pushing action. In this case, it pushes back the catch, allowing the compressed spring at the top of the casing to shove the door open as if it had been opened by unseen hands," Jerry explained, as he closed the door and tugged at the knob to make sure that it was securely latched. "Hey," he exclaimed to Carl; "quit walking on my heels and breathing on the back of my neck, will you?"
"This place gives me the creeps tonight," Carl admitted in a half-whisper, as he nervously twitched the beam of his flashlight over the dusty floor, the cracked and cobwebbed windows, the peeling wallpaper, and the warped and sagging open staircase.
"You're just letting your imagination run away with you," Jerry said firmly. "Apparently Mr. Arnold couldn't get away; so we may as well get started. You stay here and observe while I go down in the cellar and operate things. Try to imagine you're seeing what goes on through the eyes of a frightened girl."
"That 'frightened' part will be easy," Carl said through teeth kept tightly closed to prevent their chattering. "What all are you going to do?"
"First I'll make the door come open. Then I'll turn the knob on that multiple contact wafer switch so that it activates, one after another, the solenoids fastened to the bottom of the stair treads. As the rubber-covered ends of the solenoid plungers bump their respective steps, it should sound very much as if an unseen person were walking up the stairs."
"Next I'll make this rocking chair rock all by itself," Jerry said, as he carefully checked the position of the old-fashioned chair. "By sending pulses of current through the coil of the electromagnet mounted just below the surface of the floor, I'll give magnetic tugs to the piece of soft iron concealed in the chair rocker just ahead of the point where its curve now contacts the floor. Timing the pulses of current properly should make the chair rock harder and harder. And all this time I'll be working the solenoids we have hidden under the floor and in the walls and ceiling so as to produce a wide variety of plain and fancy 'spiritual knocking.' "
"Remembering how we mounted this stuff and ran wires to it, I'm glad Mr. Arnold intends to tear down this old house in the spring," Carl said.
"That's right. Having his permission to saw and bore and chisel wherever we pleased made things a lot easier. Now, after the chair-rocking act, I'll run the tape recorder into the concealed speakers and play some of those spooky recordings we made of chains rattling, bats squeaking, and hollow groans."
"My favorite is that echoing-crazy-laughter recording we made in the empty main hall of the fair grounds last Sunday afternoon," Carl remarked.
"That is a doozy," Jerry agreed. "First I'll play it through the speaker in the back bedroom upstairs, then I'll move it into the speaker at the head of the stairs, and finally I'll feed the recording into one of the speakers in this room. That ought to give the impression of the madman moving in on you. And don't forget, I'll be able to switch any of those speakers into the input of our intercom unit so that they'll serve as microphones and let me hear what's going on in any part of the house. You can keep in touch with me all the time through them. Well, here I go."
Carl stood in the middle of the empty room and watched the rotund figure of his chum move off down the hall with the tape recorder, preceded by the bobbing pool of light furnished by the flashlight. It seemed that this had scarcely disappeared from view when Carl felt a cold draught on the back of his neck and turned around to see the door swinging open to the sound of its grating hinges.
"Man, you surely got things warmed up in a hurry," Carl said nervously, as he closed the door with a bang. "You can check off the door business as operating perfectly .... You hear me, Jer?" he called anxiously, after waiting several seconds for an answer that did not come.
"What are you babbling about?" Jerry's voice suddenly boomed from the ceiling. "Just as the intercom warmed up, I heard you say something about the door's working all right, but I haven't even tried it yet. If you're ready, I'll try it now."
"Somebody or something beat you to it!" Carl said hoarsely, "but go ahead."
As he said this, the door once more swung open with its "Inner Sanctum" sound effect.
"You don't need to tell me it worked," Jerry called cheerfully. "I could hear it. Now let's walk the ghost up the stairs."
Immediately there was a muffled thump at the bottom of the stairs; then came another and another and another, each sound emanating from a higher step. The sound was so much like that of the footsteps of a heavy man climbing the stairs that Carl imagined he could see a ghostly figure ascending the worn steps. Suddenly the sound stopped for a few seconds; and then, as Jerry started turning the switch knob backwards a position at a time, the sounds started all over again; but this time the ghostly feet were coming down the stairs, toward Carl!
"Stop it!" Carl called sharply in a shrill voice. "That's a little too realistic."
"Fine, fine!" Jerry's voice came from the speaker concealed in the ceiling. "Now watch the rocking chair. I think I can time the switching by the sound of the rocker if you don't QRM me with those knocking knees of yours."
As if by magic, the rocking chair began swaying back and forth, gently at first and then harder and harder. As Carl stared in fascination at the chair rocking crazily away in the circle of light from his flashlight, it looked exactly as though some ghostly sitter were vigorously entertaining himself.
"Quit opening the door; it's getting cold in here," Carl shouted at the ceiling.
"Who's opening the door?" Jerry demanded.
"I've not touched that switch but once since I came down here." /p>
He broke off as a deep bass chuckle suddenly swelled through the house.
"I didn't know you had a recording like that," Carl said with surprise. /p>
"I haven't," Jerry finally said, in a small scared voice. "That didn't come from me."
All at once the rocking chair began to rock again, wilder than before.
"Are you rocking the chair?" Carl asked in a croaking voice.
"No. I've pulled out all the plugs except that of the intercom unit. Something odd is going on. I'm coming up."
In nothing flat, Jerry came charging down the hall, and the two boys huddled together at one end of the room and watched the chair swaying crazily back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
"I'm getting out of here," Carl shouted as he bolted for the door, with Jerry right at his heels.
"Wait, boys!" the deep bass voice boomed from upstairs. Carl stopped in the open doorway, and the two boys shined their flashlights up the staircase. There at the top loomed a familiar laughing figure.
"It's Mr. Arnold!" Jerry exclaimed.
"That's right," Mr. Arnold said as he came down the creaking steps, still chuckling aloud. "I hope you boys won't hold it against me, but I simply HAD to find out how effective the little entertainment we have planned for my smart-aleck nieces is going to be. If I could scare you two with your own electronic goblins, I knew that we would have a sure-fire bet to straighten out those gals' permanents; and now I'm convinced that we've got what it takes."
"But how did you do it?" Jerry wanted to know.
"Very simply. I just connected switches in parallel with those operating the door-opening mechanism and the rocking chair. I was careful to splice in at a point where you would not notice. My switches are in a clothes closet near the top of the stairs. With them, I was able to take over a couple of your ghosts. For good measure, I stuck my head out of the closet door once and gave that corny laugh. Your imagination did the rest."
"Well, let me tell you," Carl said earnestly, "it gives you a very funny feeling when one of your own ghosts suddenly goes berserk."
"That I can believe," Mr. Arnold said with another chuckle. "If I live to be a hundred, I'll never forget the way you two were staring pop eyed at that rocking chair when I tip-toed to the top of the stairs. I've already got my money's worth out of this prank right now, and we still have tomorrow night to go!"
Posted October 31, 2017
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
Picture, June 1955
- 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,