An Electronics Short Story

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by KL7AJ, Nov 12, 2009.

  1. KL7AJ

    Thread Starter AAC Fanatic!

    Nov 4, 2008


    Eric P. Nichols, KL7AJ

    As always, the fragrance of smoldering rosin flux and burnt insulation greeted my nostrils as I stepped into Joel Ballek’s garage. WL7AI, “El Joe” had always been a soft touch for orphan ham gear. His twelve-foot long, solder-scarred, sagging workbench was always laden down with his latest basket cases. Often, these were one-of-a-kind relics from an era that preceded either one of us by a generation.
    “Oh, hi, E—didn’t notice you come in,” El Joe said, glancing up from his labors, a soldering iron the size of a baseball bat clenched in his grimy fist. “I’m teaching myself surface-mount soldering.”
    I glanced at the medieval weapon in his hand. “Right.”
    “Grab me a line cord, will ya?” El Joe requested, returning to his patient.
    I headed toward one of the surplus gym lockers El Joe had at the back of his garage, where a bundle of antique fabric power cords were lovingly draped over a hook like fine imported neckties. I sorted through the cords, found one with the plug still intact. It had a yellowish diamond pattern woven into the maroonish-brown fabric. It looked like it came from a toaster or waffle iron. I returned with the relic to El Joe’s side.
    “Ahh! Good choice. Thanks.”
    The thing stood about eight inches in height, about five inches wide, and about four inches deep. It had a semicircular arched top, sort of like the old “cathedral” style table radios, but made entirely of steel with a dark gray hammer tone paint job. Two inches below its arched top, a single, menacing “Magic Eye” tube stared out from beneath a chromium “eyelid.” No knobs or switches of any kind graced the front panel.
    “Yikes!” I said, leaping back from the bench a few inches. “What in tarnation is THAT?”
    “I figure it’s some kind of modulation monitor or something,” El Joe surmised. “Definitely homebrew.”
    “Well, whoever made it was definitely brewing something,” I agreed. It looks like Cyclops. I glanced at the rear panel of the beast, where nothing but the new power cord penetrated the cabinet. “Um, wouldn’t a modulation monitor have an R.F. connector or something?”
    “Hmm. Good point,” El Joe agreed. “Well, let’s plug it in and see what smokes.”
    El Joe reached behind his bench through a cluster of power cords, coax cables, and spiders’ nests, and plugged the beast in. Thirty seconds later, the magic eye’s iris glowed warmish green, with a darker green wedge the bottom of the fluorescent cone.
    “Well, that much works,” I observed. “I think it’s still looking for a signal of some kind, though. If I remember my magic eye tubes.”
    El Joe scratched his bearded chin, glancing back at Cyclops. “I think you’re right. Let me poke around inside again. I must have missed something.”
    El Joe pulled Cyclops’ plug and removed the back panel again. He squinted, prodded, and poked inside Cyclops’ torso. He pulled an RCA tube manual off his shelf, flipped quickly through its pages, scanned the data in question, and then returned to his patient, the puzzlement on his face increasing. Eventually, he rendered his verdict.
    “Ya know, there’s nothing in here but a power supply,” he mused. “I guess the guy never finished it.”
    “Maybe we should finish it for him,” I suggested, with a shrug.
    Joel nodded, replacing the back cover. “Yeah, let me think about that. In the meantime, might as well plug ‘im back in and cook in the capacitors for a while. They probably haven’t seen an electron in a few decades.” He plugged Cyclops back in, upon which, the eye gradually glowed green again. “Shall we get something to drink?”
    “Sounds good to me, El Joe,” I said. I followed my host into the kitchen. El Joe rummaged around the innards of his nearly bare refrigerator. “Well, it looks like our choices today are Worcestershire Sauce or Vermouth. I’d take the Vermouth if I were you.”
    “I think I’ll just have water, thanks.”
    El Joe removed the stainless steel coffee pot from his coffeemaker and shook it. “I think I can do you one better. I think there’s half a mug left in here.
    “Works for me,” I said. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
    El Joe blew the dust out of an ancient ham club coffee mug and filled it with the dregs of his morning brew, sliding it across the counter to me. “Bottom’s up!”
    “Thanks, guy.” I took a sip of the body-temperature sludge. “So, where did you pick up Cyclops, anyway?”
    El Joe filled a glass tumbler with water from the kitchen tap. “XYL of a silent key down in Delta Junction. KL7YP, I think. Never worked him, as far as I know.”
    I rolled the callsign around in my brain for a moment. “No, I don’t think I knew him either. Old callsign, though. Wonder how we missed him.”
    El Joe shrugged. “Maybe he was too busy building stuff to ever get on the air.”
    “Yeah, maybe,” I agreed. “Pretty nice workmanship on that box. Hard to make a curved chassis like that. Not to mention that old-school paint job.”
    El Joe nodded. “Yeah. Maybe we’d better not desecrate the old guy, after all. I’ll keep Cyclops as he is. Maybe he’ll make a nice reading lamp. Well, why don’t we go back out and see what other damage we can do. Bring your coffee with ya. I picked up an SP-600JX, too.”
    “My condolences,” I said, following El Joe back into the garage.
    “Hah!” El Joe laughed. “Well, this one is really clean. Anyway, I haven’t had one around for a while. And the price was right, i.e. free.” He caught a glimpse of Cyclops and frowned. “Oopsie! I think we’ve got a capacitor going bad, after all!”
    I looked at Cyclops and noticed that the dark wedge at the bottom of his iris was twitching, alternately pinching and opening at random intervals. “Yeah, you’ve definitely got something intermittent going on there!”
    El Joe stared at Cyclops for a minute, his brow furrowing.
    “Uh...E? I do—o—o—o—n’t think that’s intermittent…”
    “What?” I said, observing El Joe’s expression, which suddenly seemed more horrified than curious. I looked at Cyclops’ eye. Indeed, the twitching wedge wasn’t random. It was Morse Code!
    “CQ CQ CQ DE KL7YP,” it spelled out, in a slow, uniform fist. I felt the blood drain from my head.
  2. SgtWookie


    Jul 17, 2007
    Wow, that's creepy! :eek:
  3. davebee

    Well-Known Member

    Oct 22, 2008
    Great story!

    (I guess it's time to get rid of all those old yellowed fabric-wrapped power cords hanging on that pole in my garage)
  4. thatoneguy

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 19, 2009
    A self aware Vacuum Tube. Interesting.

    I'm wondering who gave it the test, as well as filling out the paperwork.
  5. Bernard


    Aug 7, 2008
    I made a magic eye VTVM 1947 to aid in fixing E ST Louis radios, spent next summer working on Alaska Rail Road--dont aupose it's the same eye ?? Spooky.