May 1963 Popular Electronics
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history
of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights
are hereby acknowledged. See all articles from
In today's environment where law breakers seem to have more
rights than law abiders, the electromechanical pyrotechnic tactic
used in this story to snare a thief would have been used by
a lawyer to charge Carl & Jerry (and Parvoo U. dorm mate
Benny) with assault. A moronic judge would likely convict and
fine (or jail) the boys trying to protect their own property
and let the actual perpetrator - caught red-handed - walk. In
fact, it we apply contemporary dictates on the treatment of
property trespassers (i.e., the U.S. southern border), after
getting into the car's trunk the law breaker would be given
food stamps (EBT card), a nice hotel with large screen TV, clothing,
and bestowment of sainthood. After all, he was just stealing
property that other American wouldn't steal.
Carl & Jerry, Adventure in Electronics: The Sucker
A Carl and Jerry Adventure in Electronics
By John T. Frye W9EGV
A few minutes after midnight there was a splash of intense
white light, followed a second or so later by an explosion.
Carl, Jerry, and Benny Winthrop, a fellow H-3 resident, were
standing in the parking lot across from the residence hall of
Parvoo University staring down at the bright May morning sunlight
flooding the empty trunk of Benny's late-model luxury sedan.
"I simply can't psych it out," Benny said, shaking his head.
"This is the third time in a month thieves have cleaned out
my trunk. First it was the spare tire; then it was a pair of
shoe skates and some ice-fishing tackle; and now my portable
typewriter and a suitcase full of clothes. It was late when
I pulled in from home last night; so I decided to leave the
stuff in the trunk until this morning. You can see what I found.
They only left my new spare tire ... What really bugs me is
how they get in. There has never been any sign of prying or
tampering with the trunk lock."
"What did the police say when you reported the other two
jobs?" Jerry asked.
"They said the thieves probably had a key to fit my trunk.
They explained that there are only so many basic lock patterns
and there are millions of cars; so it's not unusual for one
car key to fit several locks on other cars. Being an engineer,
I didn't accept this as a fact without proof. I rounded up all
the guys with car keys in the hall, and we formed a long line
and tried our keys in every door and trunk lock on the lot.
It was astonishing how many locks we could open."
"Then why don't you think the thieves used their key again?"
"First, because I had the lock changed while I was home.
On top of that, I waxed the car; and when I started to insert
my key in the trunk lock this morning, I noticed the key slot
was still covered with paste wax. That trunk was not opened
with a key last night, and-"
He broke off and gave an instinctive leap to one side as
a young boy whizzed silently up behind him on a bicycle and
came to a sliding, tire-screeching halt.
Darn you, Butch!" Benny said angrily. "Someday you'll pull
that stunt once too often, and I'll clobber you good."
Butch, a sixteen-year-old boy who liked to hang around the
university campus, grinned up at Benny. "Temper, temper!" he
"Hey, Butch," Carl injected quickly to cool things off, "how
come you're not home playing with that new tape recorder you
were telling us your uncle gave you for Christmas?"
The boy's face clouded over. "Aw, Mom took it away six weeks
ago. She would never believe Dad and me when we told her she
snored; so one night when she was sawing away in front of the
TV, I made a recording and played it back for her when she woke
up. She got mad and said I couldn't have the recorder until
I learned 'to use it sensibly.' She makes me sick."
"And you make me sick," Benny said, still angry because he
had shown fear at the screech of the bicycle tire. "Suppose
you get on your bicycle and pedal off just as fast as your fat
little legs will carry you. I think your mother did the right
"You would!" Butch said witheringly, but he leaped on his
bicycle and pumped off down the street.
"You shouldn't lean on the kid that way, Benny," Carl said
"I know it, and I'm ashamed of myself," Benny admitted; "but
this thing has me all upset."
Jerry had been examining the trunk lock mechanism. "Benny,"
he said, "what's this doodad on the trunk lock catch that has
a little hose going to it?"
"That's a vacuum cylinder that pulls the catch aside and
lets the trunk lid pop up when a knob inside the glove compartment
is pulled out," Benny explained.
"Maybe the thieves got into the trunk that way!" Carl blurted
"I don't think so," Benny answered with a shake of his head.
"To do that, if the car had been sitting a little while, they
would have to have keys for the car door, the glove compartment
door, and the ignition switch. A storage tank on the car's vacuum
system allows the trunk lid to be operated for a short time
after the motor is shut off, but the vacuum soon leaks away.
After that, the motor has to be started to open the trunk from
inside the car."
"Have you tried using that glove compartment release lately?"
"No, I practically never use the thing.
Jerry slammed the trunk lid shut and got into the car. "Let's
drive away from here," he suggested. "I hate to think so, but
the thief could be someone in our residence hall who is watching
us right now. I have an idea I'd like to check out with a little
more privacy. Drive over to Marty's filling station."
When they arrived at the station, Benny tried opening the
trunk lid with the knob in the glove compartment. The only thing
that happened when the knob was pulled out was that the motor
speeded up a bit, indicating that more air was being added to
the intake mixture.
"I thought so," Jerry said. "Let's put the car on the hoist."
With the car on the lift, Jerry quickly found what he was
seeking: a small rubber hose running along inside the car frame
had been cut squarely in two. "That's how they did it," he said.
"This is the hose that runs from the valve in the glove compartment
back to the vacuum cylinder in the trunk. The thieves simply
cut the hose and applied suction to the part running back to
the trunk. That released the catch."
Carl applied his lips to the end of the tube and sucked on
it until his eyes bulged, but he could not make the trunk lid
"It takes a little more suck than that," Marty, the station
owner, who had been watching with interest, observed with a
chuckle. The three boys got into the car and drove slowly back
toward the residence hall while they talked over the matter.
"If I thought the joker would come back and suck on that
tube with his mouth, I'd like to pull the end off inside the
trunk and stick it into a bottle of castor oil - or something
worse," Benny said harshly.
"That wouldn't do any good. We want to catch the thief if
we can," Jerry replied. "Carl, do you still have any of those
loud firecrackers your cousin bought for you on his way back
"Fine. Get two or three of them while I pick up some other
things. Then let's drive down along the river and see if we
can't fix up a little surprise for Benny's buddies."
The boys drove to a secluded spot along the river and pulled
the car over a depression alongside the road that permitted
them to squirm underneath it easily. First, Jerry pulled the
rubber hose loose from the vacuum cylinder in the car trunk
and slipped it over the end of an old fountain pen barrel. The
top had been cut off the barrel, and the rubber piston that
worked back and forth inside was attached to the actuating leaf
of a microswitch. When suction was applied to the other end
of the hose, the piston moved down the barrel and closed the
"So far so good," Jerry said as he removed a large photo
flash bulb, some tape, and several lengths of wire from his
pockets and laid them alongside the firecrackers on the floor
of the trunk. Very carefully he wound several turns of fine
resistance wire around the fuse of one of the firecrackers and
placed the explosive on the grass. Long leads from the resistance
wire were touched across the car's battery. Almost instantly
the resistance wire became white hot and set the fuse to sputtering
before the resistance wire burned in two. The fire-cracker went
off with a terrific bang.
"That works fine, too," Jerry said with a grin of satisfaction
as he started preparing another firecracker in a similar fashion.
"Carl, suppose you fasten this firecracker up under the car
toward the front where it can do no damage. Benny, you mount
this flash bulb under the car very close to where the hose has
been cut. I'll do the wiring so that the battery voltage will
be applied to both the flash bulb and the resistance wire whenever
suction on the end of the hose closes the microswitch."
These arrangements were soon completed, but the boys made
sure everything was taped securely in place and that no short
circuits could occur.
"That's all there is to it," Jerry said, as he crawled out
from beneath the car and brushed the leaves and grass from his
clothing. "All you have to do, Benny, is park your car as close
as you can to the residence hall. Then, when you hear that firecracker
explode, heel-and-toe it down to the car as quickly as you can
and grab anyone you see acting funny."
Carl and Jerry had exams on tap the next day, and they had
already used up several hours of study time. That meant they
had to burn the midnight oil that night. In fact, it was actually
a few minutes past midnight when their peaceful studying was
abruptly interrupted by a splash of intense white light against
the windows of their room, followed a second or so later by
"The firecracker!" Carl exclaimed, dropping his slide rule
and dashing for the stairs. The whine of a police siren greeted
the ears of the boys as they rushed out the door of the residence
hall and sprinted across the street toward the parking lot.
An old jalopy careened out of the parking lot on two wheels
and took off down the street with a campus police cruiser in
Carl and Jerry had almost reached Benny's car when a staggering,
stumbling figure lunged into them. "Lemme go! Lemme go!" the
slight figure screamed as he struck blindly at them with his
"Hey, it's Butch!" Carl exclaimed, as he pinioned the boy's
arms down against his sides.
"Who is it?" Butch asked, peering myopically up into Carl's
face. "I can't see. I'm blind."
"You won't be when the effect of that flash bulb going off
right in your face wears away; but it would almost serve you
right if you were," Carl said grimly. "Why were you robbing
"Who says I was ?" Butch asked craftily, turning his head
to one side.
"Your buddies here say you were!" a deep voice boomed out
of the darkness. Two burly campus policemen came up holding
a couple of cringing seventeen or eighteen year old boys by
their collars. Benny, barefooted and in his pajamas, also came
limping up at the same time, and cried out in pain when he stubbed
his toe against something lying beside his car. He stooped down
and picked up a small tank of the sort used for propane gas
"Here's where the extra needed suction came from," Jerry
said as he took the tank from Benny and turned a valve on the
top. Air could be heard hissing into the tank.
"Why did you do it, Butch?" Carl asked gently.
"Because I was sick and tired of being pushed around, told
I could do this and couldn't do that," Butch sobbed incoherently.
"She had no business taking away that tape recorder. It was
mine. She didn't give it to me.
"I learned how that trunk lock worked hanging around a garage,
and I figured out a way to open it. I used the vacuum pump at
the physics lab at school to pump the air out of that discarded
tank. When I told Hank and Joe there I could open a trunk without
a key, they bet me I couldn't. I showed them on Benny's car,
and then they took his spare tire. I didn't know they intended
doing that, but I didn't much care because Benny is bossy like
my mom and his old man gives him anything he wants and lets
him keep it, too.
"We came back two other times and got some more stuff. Tonight
we were going to get that new spare tire I saw in the trunk
this morning, but when I connected the tank to the hose and
opened the valve, a terrible bright light flashed in my eyes
and someone shot at me with a shotgun. I couldn't see, and my
pals over there ran off and left me," he finished bitterly.
"Come on," one of the policemen said, taking Butch by the
arm. "Let's get you three birds down to the station and call
your proud parents."
As the tail lights of the squad car disappeared down the
street, Carl, Jerry, and Benny looked after it thoughtfully.
"I almost wish our trap hadn't worked," Benny finally said
"No, it's better this way," Jerry decided. "If Butch had
gotten away with it, he would have figured he was too smart
to be caught and be well started on a life of crime. The court
may not be too hard on him because of his youth and good past
record, but he certainly will have to walk the straight and
narrow from here on in."
I guess he did it because he was mad at his mother for taking
away his tape recorder without good reason," Benny offered.
"That was his childish reasoning," Carl agreed. "N0oone escapes
injustice all the time, and he naturally resents it when it
happens; but if he ever hopes to call himself a man, he doesn't
try to take his resentment out on all law and order."
"It took a good bit of thinking to figure out how to open
the trunk," Benny commented. "It surely is a shame when a kid
has a bright mind like that and uses it to get himself into
"Yeah," Jerry agreed as he idly opened the valve on the little
tank and listened to the air rushing in. "Poor Butch not only
used a sucker; he was a sucker!"
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 August 14, 2014