Retrotechtacular: ⋅⋅⋅⋅ ––– ⋅–– – ––– –– ––– ⋅–⋅ ⋅⋅⋅ ⋅ –⋅–⋅ ––– –⋅⋅ ⋅

There’s a lot to learn from this 1966 Army training film about the International Morse Code, but the most crucial component of good keying is rhythm. A young man named [Owens] demonstrates very clean keying, and the instructor points out that skill is the product of sending uniform and short dits, uniform and short dahs, and correct spacing between dits, dahs, letters, and words.

Throughout the film, there are title cards in a typeface that shows the stroke order of military printing. The instructor points this out after a brief interlude about the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, &c). Right away, we see that the Morse Code for ‘H’ is four dits that gallop with the rhythm of a horse in a hurry to get to the hotel.

big keySuch clever and memorable pictures are painted for a few other letters. We wish he would have covered them all, but that’s not the aim of this film. The Army is more concerned with good, clean rhythm and proper spacing that marks the difference between ‘low’ planes and ‘enemy’ planes. There’s a simple, three-step plan to getting what is called a ‘good fist’, and the Army demonstrates this in the best possible way: a giant J-38 and fake hand descending from the ceiling to match. Yes, really.

The first step is to adjust the key to ensure good contact alignment, proper gap spacing, and ideal spring tension. The second step is to develop good technique by resting one’s elbow on the table and holding the key rather than slapping it. The third step is simply to practice. Learning through imitation is helpful, as is taping one’s practice sessions and playing them back. [Owens] likes to use an RD-60 code recorder, which immortalizes his signals in ink.

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Retrotechtacular: The Gossamer Condor

For centuries, human-powered flight eluded mankind. Many thought it was just an impossible dream. But several great inventions have been born from competition. Challenge man to do something extraordinary, offer him a handsome cash incentive, and he may surprise you.

In 1959, London’s Aeronautical Society established the Kremer Prize in search of human-powered flight. The rules of the Kremer Prize are simple: a human-powered plane must take off by itself and climb to an altitude of ten feet. The plane must make a complete, 180° left turn, travel to a marker one-half mile away, and execute a 180° right turn. Finally, it must clear the same ten-foot marker. While many tried to design crafts that realized this dream, man is, at his strongest, a weak engine capable of about half a horsepower on a good day.

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Retrotechtacular: The Sylvania Tube Crusher

This week, we’re switching off the ‘Tube and taking a field trip to Emporium, Pennsylvania, home of the Sylvania vacuum tube manufacturing plant. Now, a lot of companies will tell you that they test every single one of their products, ensuring that only the best product makes it into the hands of John Q. Public. We suspect that few of them actually do this, especially these days. After all, the more reliable the product, the longer it will be before they can sell you a new one.

sylvania-tube-crusher-thumbFor Sylvania, one of the largest tube manufacturers of the golden age, this meant producing a lot of duds. A mountain of them, in fact, as you can see in the picture above. This article from the January 1957 issue of Popular Electronics vilifies forgers who used all kinds of methods to obtain defective tubes. They would then re-brand them and pass them off as new, which was damaging to Sylvania’s good name and reputation.

In addition to offering a reward for turning in known tube forgers, Sylvania did the most reasonable thing they could think of to quash the gray market, which was building a tube-crushing machine. Pulverizing the substandard tubes made sure that there were no “factory seconds” available to those fraudsters. After crushing shovelful after shovelful of tubes, the glass splinters were removed through a flotation separation process, and the heavy metals were recovered.

Did we get you all hot about tubes? Here’s how Mullard made their EF80 model.

[Thanks for the tip, Fran!]

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

Retrotechtacular: Brunswick Shows A Bias for Tires

Somewhere between the early tires forged by wheelwrights and the modern steel-belted radial, everyone’s horseless carriage rode atop bias-ply tires. This week’s film is a dizzying tour of the Brunswick Tire Company’s factory circa 1934, where tires were built and tested by hand under what appear to be fairly dangerous conditions.

It opens on a scene that looks like something out of Brazil: the cords that form the ply stock are drawn from thousands of individual spools poking out from poles at jaunty angles. Some 1800 of these cords will converge and be coated with a rubber compound with high anti-friction properties. The resulting sheet is bias-cut into plies, each of which is placed on a drum to be whisked away to the tire room.

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Retrotechtacular: Principles of Hydraulic Steering

Have you ever had the pleasure of trying to steer a one-ton pickup from the 1940s or wondered how hard it would be to turn your car without power-assisted steering? As military vehicles grew larger and heavier in WWII, the need arose for some kind of assistance in steering them. This 1955 US Army training film handily explains the principles of operation used in a hydraulically-assisted cam and lever steering system.

The basic steering assembly is described first. The driver turns the steering wheel which is attached to the steering shaft. This shaft terminates in the steering cam, which travels up or down along the camshaft depending on the direction steered. The camshaft connects to the steering shaft through a spline joint, which keeps the travel from extending to the steering wheel. The steering cam is connected to the Pitman arm lever and Pitman arm shaft. Movement is transferred to the Pitman arm, which connects to the steering linkage with a drag link.

The hydraulic system helps the Pitman arm drive the linkage that turns the wheels and changes the vehicle’s direction. The five components that comprise the hydraulic system use the power of differential pressure, which takes place inside the power cylinder. The hydraulic system begins and ends with a reservoir which houses the fluid. A pump driven by the engine sends pressurized fluid through a relief valve to the control valve, which is the heart of this system.

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Retrotechtacular: Pascal Got Frustrated at Tax Time, Too

While necessity is frequently the mother of invention, annoyance often comes into play as well. This was the case with [Blaise Pascal], who as a teenager was tasked with helping his father calculate the taxes owed by the citizens of Rouen, France. [Pascal] tired of moving the beads back and forth on his abacus and was sure that there was some easier way of counting all those livres, sols, and deniers. In the early 1640s, he devised a mechanical calculator that would come to be known by various names: Pascal’s calculator, arithmetic machine, and eventually, Pascaline.

The instrument is made up of input dials that are connected to output drums through a series of gears. Each digit of a number is entered on its own input dial. This is done by inserting a stylus between two spokes and turning the dial clockwise toward a metal stop, a bit like dialing on a rotary phone. The output is shown in a row of small windows across the top of the machine. Pascal made some fifty different prototypes of the Pascaline before he turned his focus toward philosophy. Some have more dials and corresponding output wheels than others, but the operation and mechanics are largely the same throughout the variations.

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