Tube testing at the drugstore for our first color TV (1969). We watched the Moonshot on that TV. I later helped my Dad change the picture tube on that Zenith console. Matter of fact, I took the TV to college and used it right up until I wanted something better (1986). Oh yes, and pulling the crystal/mechanical tuner and cleaning all the contacts. My Dad was an Aviation Electronics man in the Navy; I had a great time growing up and fixing/modifying electronics.
So I found a little FM transmitter project in Radio Electronics and decided to build it. Remember the days you could go to Radio Shack and get the stuff to etch your own board? I didn't know enough to solder in all of my components as close to the board as possible so I had everything with the leads up high hanging in the air...fortunately when I was talking to a friend about it and that I was puzzled that it wouldn't work, they pointed out the problem. After resoldering my components I got it to work - and I have it to this day!
This is a very interesting subject. My first project was to make a AM radio way back in the 1985. It was a pocket radio which works on two pen torch cells. I was just starting to learn some electronics and was not so good at soldering. After assembling the kit, with all eagerness to hear the local radio station, I switched it on only to find that it was receiving some walkie talkie communication and not the radio station. I thought it was a good start and proceeded to slowly tune the IF transfomers and was receiving some telegraph noises ( you know.. those kat... kata code).
It took me almost 18 months to learn that it is not a plug-n-play kit and needs proper tuning of the antenna coil and subsequently the IF transformers. Quite an experience, though.
I don't remember my first, but the most memorable, and nearly fatal was when I was around 12 and discovered my neighbor had an old make and break engine with a belt connecting it to a generator. The engine didn't run but the generator seemed ok. Inside the generator house were many old 1.5V lantern batteries all in series. There was so much mass in the generator armature that a hard spin would cause it to turn for a few seconds. I found a few 6V lantern batteries, hooked them up and gave the generator a spin. WOW, I got a shock that sent me across the room and out the door. It was a 110V DC Edison Generator and I was able to excite the field enough to get about 100V out. I freed-up the brushes, cleaned the commutator, found another small gas motor and with much careful experimentation was able to heat and light that and one other building. Between 110V DC and carbon monoxide, I'm amazed I survived but I learned a lot about basic electricity. The original Edison handbook for the generator operation was there and taught me a great deal.
I remember building a razor-blade-and-pencil-lead "crystal" radio when I was 9 or 10, but I really got bit by the electronics bug when I was 11, and we moved across the street from two Ham Radio brothers only a little older than me. They taught me to solder, and my dad bought me a Philmore 3-tube shortwave radio kit which I successfuly assembled and had a blast with. I even modified it to fit in a gym bag along with various antenna hookups, a logbook, and headphones instead of its speaker, so I could take it with me when we went to visit our many (boring) relatives. Now I've been a Ham over 50 years, and an electronic engineer for over 40. It's still a thrill to build stuff.
I had a little electronics kit that was essentially a large bread board with a handful of components. It came with a book of a whole bunch of circuits to build and showed both the schematic and the "wiring diagram". The quality left something to be desired, especially the potenitometers, which needed to be assembled from cheaper componets. Later, I upgraded to a much better kit.
I only discovered fun with electronics while in community college. My first project was a Light Beam Communicator, think it was a Heath-Kit. It was a lot of fun to build, my soldering skills... well not the best but I got the job done. While Daddy wasn't an engineer he know a lot and was really good at electronics and fixing stuff. However, in our house the girls were mostly taught "lady like things" by Mommy and my brother was taught "manly things" by Daddy. Guess Daddy may have been surprised to get a girl that's an electrical engineer. Surprised me too. lol
In the earliest stories, my family jokes about having to hide screwdrivers when I was around. I had a habit of screwing the backs off of any electronic device to look inside. I don't remember that but I'm sure it's true.
When my dad built his own digital clock, I didn't leave his side all summer. I HAD to learn how to do that too. Best summer ever...
NadineJ: I can appreciate your story. I was always really good at taking stuff apart, but not as good at (or maybe not as interested in) putting stuff back together. Now, thanks to our Tear Down articles, I actually get paid to take stuff apart. And it usually gets returned in a ziplock bag.
When I was just a toddler, Lego Blocks let my imagination turn into enormous creations. But I remember something of a very specific value, quite a few years later. I was 16 and landed a job as a Detail Draftsman at a Detroit Tool & Die shop, a job obtained thru the High School Co-Op program. A 5-ton cylindrical hub-cap die was crushing the part with a small interference. I attempted the corrective action by reducing the Inside diameter of the tool member by ½ inch. When the shop owner saw my attempt, he showed me that the entire I.D. didn't need reducing; only about .050" at the face needed relieving. He explained that while the full I.D. could have been reduced for the clearance it would have taken 25x longer in lathe work to reduce the diameter, instead of simply "facing" the small, local depression. He put his hand on my shoulder and informed me that machine time costs money! My first lesson in Engineering Economics.
Mine was a go-cart. At 9 years old, I was a bookworm, used to spend summer days at the local library. I came across a book on building your own go-cart. I must've checked out that book a dozen times that summer. Dad found an old lawnmower with a Briggs & Stratton model 5 engine. He and I bolted together an angle iron frame with a plywood floor. We loosely followed the plans in the book and built the cart, including a real rack & pinion style steering system, hand throttle, office chair seat, rear tire-rubbing brake, and centrifugal clutch transmission. I drove that cart for several summers, tweaking and improving it, making it handle better and go faster. Finally I outgrew it and that little Briggs couldn't push my weight any longer. Several run-ins with local law enforcement also eventually put a stop to my sidewalk fun. I kept the engine another 40 years until I sold it just last summer as an antique!
One of my first engineering projects was a strobe light circuit from an electronics magazine. At the time I lived in Huntsville, AL and we had both Allied and Lafayette electronics stores. I bought all the parts listed in the parts list and cobbled it together with my crude soldering skills. I even bought the plastic box, but was so anxious to blink that strobe light that I never put all the components in the box. I got it to strobe just like a disco! I still have all the connected parts and they're still not installed in the box.
Sidewalk fun? Reminds me of when I built my oldest son a mini-bike when he was the same age. A couple of months worth of work. He painted it rattle can bright red. The big day came and out of the driveway he went. I could hear him all over the neighborhood as we paid little attention to the muffler. Twenty minutes later he came back down the street with the cops in low speed pursuit with lights flashing. Underage, with no drivers license, no plates, and no muffler! Bad ju-ju, and not street legal. My son sold it to a friend of his who had the same outcome. He in turn sold it to another kid and on it went for months going from one kid to the next. I think all the local parents hated me as a result. Twenty years later I was in the old neighborhood south of Colorado Springs and I was sure I could hear the putt-putt of that little Briggs engine off in the distance. Cops probably chasing the newest owner.
Had not thought about this in years. I built a crystal radio receiver (galena crystal/cat wisker) in 1954 from general instructions in a Boy Scout book, even winding the coil on an empty toilet paper roll. I had to pester my dad for weeks to get an earphone set, but spent many nights listening to it as a young kid. I also made several magnets using a 6 volt car battery, burning myself several times in the process of making coils with insufficient windings. When I was 12 (1958) I assembled a HeathKit 75w tube transmitter. The same year (International Geophysical Year) I built a rocket using blackpowder. Must not have packed it correctly as it exploded, but as I used an electric wire igniter no damage was done except to my parents nerves. Found only small metal parts around our barn. I promised them "no more rockets". At 14 I built an electric guitar, but getting the tube power amp, made from junk parts took months to get working right. It took lots of reading from ARRL books on the subject. I think this stuff is part and parcel of our being for the most part. Today I work on far more lethal stuff, to my staff and myself anyway, using high power (100KVA+) power sources. Still its all pretty cool and my boss pays for all my "techie toys" (as he call them) and I have a nice research budget. I have been getting paid to have fun for years!
Those were the days when you could by the kits from Heathkit and Radio Shack. As a junior in high school I purchased a Radio Shack Model 1 computer with money I had been saving for an Altair 8080. Thanks for the wonderful inspiration of Popular Electronics, I caught the computer fever at an early age. Two weeks had not went by when I started working on a voice synthesizer for my Model 1 using a chip that was sold by Radio Shack. Had a lot of fun with the system when I went off to college. Wasn't long after that I tackled a Heath Kit GR-2000.
I was fortunate to have a large, OLD style erector set back in the late 70's/early 80's. It was heavy duty and probably came from the 50's. Actually, it was 3-4 sets combined.
With help from my Dad, I built various transmissions, a hammer mill for grinding crackers, toy cars, a stimulated steam engine, and many other things. The most exciting project was an overhead hoist complete with a block and tackle setup and trolleys which could move in x-y directions to pick up anything beneath it's 12" x 18" frame. It was was completely operated through a series of strings from one electric motor and transmission at one end of the frame.
My dad would also give me many things to tear apart after they stopped functioning. As a kid, I tore into TVs, radios, washing machines, small engines, copy machines and anything else I could find.
I'm an electronics geek. I come by it honestly: My dad worked for the phone company (back then there was only one), loved his job, didn't get enough at work and was always building or modifying some electronic gadget. He loved that I was interested and was patient enough to explain things. My earliest engineering recollections come from about 1953. I was four years old: By then I knew my colors. My dad had designed and was building a hi-fi amplifier. He'd call out the colors so I could find the right resistor and hand it to him. Then he told me the colors stood for numbers and started calling out color and number, then just number. I learned my numbers while I was learning the resistor color code. With my dad as a teacher, it was easy, because he made it so much fun.
The earliest build I can remember was a science fair project in middle school. I found instructions for making a carbon arc furnace from battery carbon rods, a flowerpot, and a salt water rheostat. But I wanted to do more. I had read that carbon had a broad spectrum (nearlt a full rainbow) and thought that if I burned stuff from my chemistry set in the furnace I would get bright lines on top of the carbon spectrum, so it would be easy to tell the lines of material I was burning from the carbon rainbow. Didn't work quite as well as I would have liked as I didn't have a narrow enough slit, but you could see some differences, anyway. I got an award, at least. Some other kids had also seen the carbon arc furnace and made one, but I was the only one who had used it as part of a larger design.
My first engineering story took place in High School during the early 1970's. I helped out at a TV repair shop mostly for free parts. During the summer between 8th grade and freshman year I "designed" a tube TV using the parts I was able to scrounge up and purchase. It used a RF front end from one TV and the remainer was put together from scratch. I used an old 15" BW TV picture tube and in fact all of the design used vacuum tubes. I was delighted when after some initial trouble shooting, a picture showedup on the CRT. It was upside down and a negative image, but it was there...for about 2 minutes when the contraption caught fire.... Funny thing, now that I am designing motor drives it is not all that unusual for the first versions of the drives to catch fire too ... Hmmmm?!
I had been putting electrical and electronic things togather from kits even in elementary school. I could solder fairly well before I learned to write script. But the electronicas was kits, until later on. By ninth grade I had discovered that I could build up an audio amplifier and listen to the phone line, and when nobody was using our phone I could hear signals from the other pairs in the cable. That was sort of interesting. But that 90 volt ringing signal was hard on my input circuit until I discovered high voltage capacitors. The phone line monitor was the first experience with putting togather pieces of circuits that were originally intended for other uses. That was a lot of fun.
A couple years later I built an audio oscilloscope out of a really old television that had an oscillator high voltage supply. That allowed me to have an adjustable sweep frequency. The audio patterns on the scope screen certainly beat the color organs that other folks had. The scope wound up being just too big for any useful or fun stuff, eventually.
I think the first thing I can remember that made me think about being an engineer was a science project we did where our teacher shot a gun at one end of the track and we saw the smoke and then heard the bang. Or was it hear the bang and then saw the smoke. Either way it was little projects and experiments like that, that led me to think science and then engineering was cool. Kudos to all those Science teachers our there.
It's a bit of a stretch, but my first "engineering story" actually involves a toy I played with at age seven. It was called Kenner Girder & Panel Building Set and I conservatively estimate that I built more than 500 "buildings" with it before I finally lost most of the parts. I later studied theortectical and applied mechanics in college, which I directly attribute to the Kenner Co. When the toy was resurrected a few years ago, I wrote about it in Design News.
Remember the desktop telephones from era when you paid Ma Bell a rental fee on them? I took the plastic domed transducers (can't remember if they were the mic or the speaker) out of a couple of them and, along with some wire coat hangers, made a set of stereo headphones out of them. I was really surprised at how good they sounded. Roll forward a few years and Sony introduced the Walkman with these tiny headphones with great sound that just had these little plastic domed speakers.
Probably the first thing I did that might be called "engineering" was around 1982 when I had access to my older brother's TRS-80 for which he'd bought a 300 baud dumb modem. A dumb modem can't dial or answer the phone itself and I wanted to run a BBS (remember those?). At Radio Shack I found an 8 pin ring detector IC from TI. While TI had two flavoers, the one that RS stocked put out a square wave "ring" tone that was intended to drive a speaker or piezo transducer. I put a rectifier on the output and fed that to the Trash-80 as a logic level input. My BASIC BBS program then camped on that input and when the phone rang, the program would set an output that drove a transistor that drove a relay that connected the modem to the line. I guess I was about 14 at the time.
I believe I also had a TRS-80, Rathomas (although I may be confusing it with another model). Mine had a small door in the side for insertion of a tape cartridge and it used my color TV set as a display. For word processing, I slid a tape cartridge called ScripSit into the side door. Was that the TRS-80?
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