The famous Murphy law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” JK (my brother, first appeared in A Sunday, A Yezdi and An Adventure (To all those Yezdi lovers)) and I read this idiom much later in life. By that time, we had made attempts to repair everything from torchlights to transistor radios and spent hours in making film projectors and other DIY stuff. Most of these essays, if not all, resulted in misadventure if not total disasters and in the process we got some beating and scolding from parents, electrocuted by valve radios a hundred times and learnt some valuable lessons.
Trouble with Torchlight / Flashlight
The quest to find out what’s in it? started at a very young age and I still remember my first unsuccessful attempt to make something OK. I was about 8 years old when my dad, visiting us in the village brought a small pen torch. It was beautiful and a novelty in an era where the only flashlight you ever saw was the huge aluminum ones. I decided immediately to take it to school and show off to friends. I told my classmates that it was very powerful and you could see the other end of the village at night. Of course I was confident in the knowledge that no kid is going to visit my home at night to check the veracity of my claim.
All the children in the class became curious and in no time the torch was changing hands with everyone vying to have a feel of it. To cut the long story short, soon it stopped working and fearing dad’s anger, I tried to mend it myself. The only problem was I did not know how to open it and tried various ways to pry it open. Soon, few of us pulled it from all directions and it broke open. The cross section of the torch would have looked something like this
The small torch could not withstand the onslaught of us and broke into 3 pieces. I somehow managed to put it back, but the bulb fell off and broke. I brought it home and with one look my dad could understand what I had done to the poor thing. I don’t remember whether I got a scolding or beating but he showed me how I could have opened it without smashing it to smithereens.
This was probably the only solo attempt from me to repair something. JK played an equally important role in subsequent disasters.
Riveted View Master
Do you remember the View Master of 1970s? Yes I am talking about the toy which played slides in 3D.
The slide had 7 sets of films, two each to give the 3D effect. When you pushed the lever the film would change. It’s probably the most famous toy of the baby boomer generation when there were growing up and the build quality was amazing. When I did some research yesterday, I learnt that many of these toys are still in working condition after 70 odd years. The earlier models were made of graphite and were very strong.
A friend of us gifted this toy to us and soon my usual delicate handling of things resulted in the lever to stop working. You can see the lever in the photo above. So JK and I decided to make it alright. The problem was, the manufacturer correctly believed that the toy would not need any repair and put rivets to hold the toy together. We did not know how to address this issue but decided to open it anyway. We tried to put a small mark on the rivet to make it a screw and used a screwdriver to open it. When that did not work, we decided to use a kitchen knife to pry it open. When this attempt also failed, we tried to cut through the joint which was holding the viewer and the slide-holder together. The antique knife we had, would not have cut open an envelop forget cutting through solid graphite.
By now we were getting desperate. Our father would have definitely explained to us about MOC (Material of Construction) and rivets and how there was no way to open it. But he was away on a tour and we had full freedom to test things out. When all our attempts failed, we decided that some strong force should solve the problem. We put a nail on the rivet and started hammering hoping the rivet would come out, freeing the lever. The poor toy took the initial blows very well and remained intact. At this fateful moment, I decided one mighty blow would do it and it did. The graphite around the rivet chipped and fell off, the spring which moved the slide mechanism came out of it’s socket and that was the end of the View Master.
Yesterday, I asked my daughter Rachna (in Switzerland for her masters) if I had ever told her about View Master. She said I had got her one when she was a kid. She added that it’s in her cupboard and she has preserved it. I retrieved it and found it in perfect working condition. Fortunately, she has inherited the correct genes from her mother who takes great pride in keeping things in pristine condition even after decades. Even today, you can buy a in Amazon: Mattel View Master.
The Science Project
I have already introduced our school in my earlier blogs, Two Great Teachers and Eye Witness – Movie with Mohan Ram. It was a great school but lacked even basic facilities. The most expensive equipment in our laboratory was probably the Bunsen Burner. So we did not get much opportunities to do things in our lab. When I visited a science exhibition in a nearby school, I saw a students’ project and decided that we would do one at home.
On a small piece of cardboard, there was a list of countries printed on the left hand side and on the right hand side a set of capitals (in different order). A pair of wire was dangling from a small bulb placed on top of the the board. When you touched the wire on the country on left and the capital on the right, the light would glow. It was a simple project to do but we had to innovate because we did not have the resources to buy the right stuff. What JK and I made looked like this:
We did not have a piece of cardboard. So we took our sister’s writing pad – called exam pad as it was used only during exams. We flicked our sister’s pad because it looked much better than the dog-eared ones we had. We sawed off the clip to make it look authentic and placed the bulb & socket there. We put screws near the countries and capitals (bullets in the picture) and at the back side connected the right answers with pair of wires. We took our father’s torchlight and took out the batteries and bulbs. We placed the heavy batteries at the back and connected it to the screws. When the lead wire touched the right country and capital the circuit would get complete, and the light would glow.
It looked a neat trick if everything worked properly. But the Murphy’s law was in full force and coupled with the fragility of the makeshift parts we used, the damn thing failed often when we were demonstrating it. The screws were rummaged from dad’s tool kit and were of different sizes. So the wires kept coming out breaking the circuit. So the light will not glow even when the correct country and capital are connected. We used to take it to another room (kitchen) to set it alright. Obviously we did not want everyone to see how the contraption we built worked.
We would tighten the wires to screw and start our demo again and something else would breakdown. Mostly the wires would come out of the battery terminals. We just rolled two batteries inside a paper and glued it to the back of the Pad.
In our hurry to set things alright, more often than not, we allowed disasters to play havoc with us. When we turned the pad, the exposed bulb would hit the table or the floor and break into pieces. Since we had already taken the bulb from the only torchlight we had, we now needed two bulbs, one for the torch and one for the project which would cost 2 Rupees (2 Cents in 1974), a princely sum in those days when we did not have any pocket money. Mom would eventually give us the money after some severe scolding and we would run to the nearest electric shop to get the bulbs. In the pre-duracell era, the batteries would die out faster than we expected resulting in huge frustration.
The story did not end there. When our sister found out that we had stolen her exam pad, she created a ruckus as it was her lucky pad and we ended up getting more scolding from mom and dad.
The Radio Affair
I have written a blog about Radio repairs in my blog, Radiopetti – Adventurous Listening. Excerpts from the blog to give the readers an idea about our affair with valve radio.
Fiddling with Radio: Our No 1 obsession during school days..
“For a number of reasons, the Radio would stop playing. If the Band Switch became loose, we could not change from Medium Wave to Short Wave and vice versa. We used to tighten the screw and voila it would crack to life again. A bad circuit coupled with poor insulation would let the electricity flow to all parts of the Radio and more often than not, it would bite us. As kids, we would both get the shock together, sometimes joined by the youngest brother who would poke his head out of curiosity and touch us, resulting in a free for all electric shock.
The second thing which would go wrong was the valves getting dislocated. You need to gently push it back to the position to make the valve work and the radio had 5 valves and when you set one alright the other would shift resulting in endless frustration. If the fingers wandered a bit, we would invariably touch something in metal and end up with a big yell, taking all the 220 volts in your hands. You would wonder why could we have not switched off the Radio and make these adjustments. The problem was you never know which was the right position and only by trial and error you could get it right and for that to happen the Radio needed to be plugged in. The same used to be the case with capacitor. You have to keep adjusting it to the right position.
The other challenge was adjusting the Radio for listening to Short Wave. Of course SW listening was limited to ABC and BBC for Cricket Commentary and Radio Ceylon. We would have to turn a small point at the back of the Radio (it did not have a fine tuning) and it would come to life. And guess what was the tool we used for this adjustment? A divider from the Geometry box – superb conveyor of electricity. The slightest movement of finger would make you miss the screw and the surrounding areas would be eager to teach you a lesson – don’t touch me.
The tuning dial, which helps you to get to the desired station would become loose or come out of the groove. Though this could be adjusted after switching off the Radio, we would forget the 101 of repair and realize the mistake after getting a shock.
The electric shocks were of different kinds. Sometimes you would feel a small vibration in hands and you would be able to remove your fingers without much damage. Other times the shock would be more severe; you would feel a super jolt, remove your hands and keep wringing it. A number of times we received the worst of the shocks, which resulted in huge screaming from us. We would end up crying and felt like puking. Remember I was only 12 and JK was 10 when we started these repair works. Of course by God’s grace we did not end up in hospitals.”
And thus our adventure continued. We tried to build a projector using fused bulbs and empty cartons, a phonograph to play 78 RPM record, fiddled with our B & W TV to get Rupavahini (Sri Lanka Television) in Chennai. Will write about all these (mis)adventures and more importantly, the lessons we learnt in my next blog..
Doodle Courtesy: Rachna