April 1963 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.
Our two intrepid techno-sleuths are in college by now, but that
does not keep them from applying their well-honed mystery solving
skills to hometown situations while on spring break. The boys
invoke the scientific method of
Mr. R.R. Dibble, a New Zealand scientist, to help prove
to county commissioners that a certain part of their critical
infrastructure was in need of repair. An nth-generation farmer's
observation was not proof enough, so indisputable empirical
data would be needed. Real-life inventors and company's unique
instruments are often incorporated into the Carl & Jerry
series that ran for many years in Popular Electronics.
Carl & Jerry: Slow Motion for Quick Action
By John T. Frye W9EGV
Carl and Jerry, home from college on spring vacation, had
spent the beautiful warm afternoon wandering along the banks
of Wildcat Creek with their transistorized tape recorder gathering
a collection of spring sounds. Already stored on the little
reel of tape were the gay "churlik! churlik!" of a robin, the
excited cawing of a surprised crow, the "barrrump! barrrump
!" of a bullfrog, the scolding trill of a piney squirrel, and
the sounds the flooding creek made as it poured over rocks and
sucked at the swollen buds on the willow branches dipping into
its muddy waters.
Now the youths were sitting cross-legged on the floor of
a rustic wooden covered bridge that spanned the creek and staring
curiously up at the great hewed timbers constituting the framework
of the structure. They did not have to worry about traffic through
the bridge. A bad washout in the winding road leading to it
had taken care of that for several days to come.
"They had some darned good engineers away back when this
bridge was built," Carl offered. "It's at least seventy-five
years old; yet those timbers look perfectly sound."
"That was partly the reason for the roof," Jerry explained.
"It protected the weight-bearing timbers from the weather. The
covered bridge also provided the traveler with shelter from
a sudden shower."
"Yeah, and what a dan-dan-dandy place to rest the horse and
pitch a little woo!" Carl added with a grin. "Hey!"
"am I imagining it, or did this thing shake a little?"
"Most likely it did," a voice answered from the end of the
bridge. Silhouetted against the light was the lanky frame of
an elderly farmer.
"I'm Clyde Butcher," he introduced himself. "I own that farm
over there in the bend of the creek that has the old grist mill
on it. It was my daddy's before me and his daddy's before that.
"This old bridge needs care bad," he explained, "but we can't
convince the county commissioners of it. Their smart-aleck young
engineer knows nothing about wooden bridges, and he just laughs
when we try to tell him the bridge doesn't sound right and it
doesn't feel right."
"I'm not sure I understand," Jerry said politely.
"You know that a crack in a violin will show up in the sound
long before you can see it through the varnish, and a tight-rope
walker can tell by the feel of the rope when something is wrong
with the rigging," the old man said earnestly. "Well, just remember
that I and many like me have been passing over this bridge all
our lives. We know the normal sound it has when a wagon rolls
across this floor, and we know it used to have a little bounce
to it even when a heavy dog trotted across it. Now it doesn't
sound right, and the bounce has gone out of it. The floor is
sagging, too, as you can see; but that snooty engineer says
it has always sagged. That's a lie. He'd like to tear the whole
thing down and put in a new concrete bridge."
"That would be barbaric!" Carl exclaimed. "Only a few of
these fine old bridges are left in the whole state."
"I'm glad to meet young men with a little respect for something
old," Mr. Butcher said as he shook hands with the boys. "This
old bridge is settling a fraction of an inch or so every day,
especially during this period when the frost is going out of
the ground; and unless she's given some help, she won't be here
"If you just had some evidence of this settling you could
present directly to the commissioners," Jerry said thoughtfully
as he stared down at the tape recorder in his lap, "maybe they'd
"Maybe," the old farmer said doubtfully; "but it would have
to be something simple and convincing. They know as much about
engineering as a hog knows about Sunday - even less than I do."
"Could you run an a.c. line from your barn over here to the
bridge to power electronic equipment we would install to record
the settling of the bridge?" Jerry asked.
"Sure, but the bridge only settles a freckle every few hours.
Those commissioners aren't going to sit still listening to several
hours of recording."
"They won't have to. I was reading the other day that
RR Dibble, a scientist at the Department of Scientific and
Industrial Research at Wellington, New Zealand, had modified
a household tape recorder to operate 500 times slower than normal
and used it to record 'ice quakes' at Antarctica. The tape only
moves about a half-inch a minute; so an 1800-foot reel of tape
will last a month of continuous operation. When the tape is
played back at normal speed, the very slow vibrations of a quake
become audible sounds. What's more, twenty-four hours of recording
can be reviewed in slightly less than three minutes."
"You lost me," the old gentleman confessed; "but if you think
it will work I'm game to try it. I'll string that wire first
thing in the morning."
It didn't take the boys long to drive to their laboratory in
the basement of Jerry's house. Once there, they immediately
set to work revamping an old discarded tape recorder they had
been hoarding against just such an emergency.
"You slow down the recorder, and I'll make up a special bridge-settling
transducer and an ultra low-frequency amplifier," Jerry suggested.
"I think you can substitute that powerful little 4-rpm synchronous
motor for the one in the recorder to get pretty close to that
1/500 speed reduction, and then you can turn down the capstan
to hit it right on the nose. Brother Dibble probably didn't
do it that way, but it's the quick-and-dirty method we'll use."
"Aye, aye, sir!" Carl said mockingly, starting to remove
the tape recorder motor; "but how are you going to make a bridge-settling
"We could use a sensitive accelerometer if we had one - which
we don't," Jerry mused, "and no ordinary mike will work because
we're not trying to detect audible frequency vibrations. We
need something that will translate a single slight vertical
movement into an audible sound .. What do you think of this?
We'll mount a crystal phono cartridge on its side. A length
of springy piano wire will be inserted in the needle chuck,
and a small weight will be put on the end of the wire. The length
of the wire and the amount of the weight will be such that when
it's disturbed it will vibrate back and forth at a slow rate,
say a couple of cycles per second. The flexing of the crystal
caused by this motion will produce a low-frequency alternating
voltage that can be amplified and recorded on the slow-moving
"Can't see anything wrong with it," Carl admitted, "but why
don't we use the amplifier in the recorder?"
"Shame on you for asking instead of thinking!" Jerry chided.
"That amplifier probably starts to fall off pretty rapidly at
100 cycles per second. We need one that will do a good job on
100 cycles per minute. I intend to throw together a little direct-coupled
transistorized amplifier, using both pnp and npn transistors,
that will amplify right down to d.c. If we use a cheap, high
output crystal cartridge, we won't need too much amplification.
We'll probably have to change that recording head to a low-impedance
transistor type, but fortunately I've got a spare."
Before they went to bed that night, the whole project was
completed, even to testing. The slightest movement set the weighted
wire to bobbing, and this put a signal on the creeping tape
that came out as a quickly damped "beep" when the tape was played
back on their conventional recorder.
When the boys took their equipment housed in a sturdy weather-proof
box to the bridge the next morning, .they found that Mr. Butcher
was as good as his word. The a.c. line was ready and waiting
for them at the end of the bridge. Under the curious gaze of
the farmer, they fastened the box securely to the upper timbers
of the bridge near the center of the span. The recorder was
plugged into the a.c. line, and ropes carrying "Keep Off" signs
were stretched across both ends of the structure.
"We'll let the recorder run for forty-eight hours and then
see what we've got," the boys told the farmer. "That's about
all the time we'll have before heading back to school."
It that on the morning the recorder was to be picked up Carl
had to drive over to a neighboring town for his father. It was
almost one o'clock when he came dashing into the basement laboratory
and found Jerry anxiously awaiting him.
"Boy, I'm glad to see you!" Jerry exclaimed. "Mr. Butcher
chickened out on presenting our recording to the commissioners.
Says he would ball things up because he knows nothing about
electronics. We have a one-thirty appointment with them at the
The three commissioners and the county engineer received
the youths with poorly concealed smiles of amusement when the
boys explained that they wanted to present evidence that the
old covered bridge was settling. However, the men showed mild
interest as Jerry set up the transducer on a heavy table in
front of them and connected it to the slow-speed recorder.
Next, Jerry slid a single postcard under one leg of the table.
Then a short endless loop of tape was placed in the recorder,
the wire was allowed to come to rest, and then the card was
pulled from beneath the leg. The one-hundredth of an inch of
vertical movement at one corner of the table set the wire to
bobbing. When it finally came to rest again, Jerry transferred
the loop of tape to the normal recorder and let the commissioners
hear the beep of sound produced by the slight vertical movement
of the table.
Finally, he put the tape that had been recorded in the bridge
over a 48-hour period on the conventional recorder. During the
six minutes it ran, beep after beep was heard, indicating that
the bridge was settling a trifle every few hours. Just at the
end of the recording, there was some Donald Duck quacking which
sounded like nothing that had gone before.
"What's that?" one of the commissioners wanted to know.
"Oh, it's just some voice recording that got in on the end
of the tape," Jerry explained hurriedly. "You wouldn't want
to hear it."
"How do you know we wouldn't?" the commissioner said suspiciously.
"Can you make it understandable?"
"I probably could by playing the tape at a slower speed,"
Jerry admitted with obvious, very obvious, reluctance.
"Well, do it then," the commissioner snapped.
Jerry switched the recorder from 7 1/2 ips to 1 7/8 ips,
and the voices on the tape came out clearly and distinctly.
Carl recognized one voice as Mr. Butcher's, and the other apparently
belonged to a neighbor he had encountered in the bridge.
"Well, guess the commissioners are going to let the old bridge
fall down," the first voice said.
"Seems like it," the other agreed. "Too bad some people care
nothing about tradition and history. People drive hundreds of
miles to take pictures of this bridge. And it means still more
to folks around here. Why, half the men in the county learned
to swim beneath it."
"I'm one, and you're another. What's more, I proposed to
my wife inside that bridge. Seems a pity three short-sighted,
bull-headed men can destroy something that means so much to
folks who elected them."
"Maybe that's an idea. The election will be rolling around
before we know it. Let's forget party lines, as far as commissioners
go, and turn these jokers out and put in men who promise to
do something about the bridge. Suppose we start right now talking
it up among our neighbors and friends."
"That's a fine idea! I'll start the ball rolling at our grange
meeting next Friday. Well, got to be going now. Be seeing you."
Jerry switched off the tape recorder and began collecting
his equipment. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the
three commissioners in a whispered colloquy.
"Hm-m-m-m !" the one who had been so insistent on hearing
the voices said eventually; "boys, your scientific demonstration
has been most convincing. It has convinced us that the bridge
needs attention immediately. We are hereby instructing our engineer
to go to the bridge at once and make a careful study to see
what is needed to restore it to its original strength and condition,
being careful not to impair its historical significance. As
soon as we have his report, work will begin."
While the boys were loading their equipment back into the
car, Jerry could feel Carl's eyes looking at him suspiciously.
Finally Carl exclaimed:
"There's some hanky-panky going on here. You know audio frequencies
would never record on that tape at that slow speed. Furthermore,
that transducer is no mike. Finally, even if the voices did
record at one-half inch per minute, you couldn't play them back
at 1 7/8 inches per second and make sense. Come on; give!"
"I didn't say the voice recording was picked up by the transducer;
the commish just jumped to that conclusion," Jerry said with
a grin. "Actually I had Mr. Butcher and a crony record that
conversation on our regular recorder when I picked up the other
equipment. They did darned well without a script. I just had
a hunch the commissioners might not be thoroughly convinced
by scientific proof; so I decided to include a little something
they would be sure to understand. "
"And you sure did! Come on; let's go tell the good news to
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,
- 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 April 2, 2014