Defense Conversion on a Budget
Space craft hardware we converted into useful items.
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These pages show how to turn swords into plows on a budget.
As our first research lab, in the basement of the Carroll Street house in South Bend, Indiana, needed an oscilloscope for our ELF and sonic experiments, we went in search of Department of Defense surplus sales.
The year was 1977 and it was nearing the end of the road show season.
While I searched with the Department of Defense Offices in Battle Creek Michigan, Nigel found one that was nearer. Our local Bendix Aerospace was having an auction. At the time our "Wizard Jewelery" division, which was funding our endeavors was running out of money as the season was almost over. Grabbing some carnival jewelery, Nigel and I started walking to the sale, selling jewelery all the way, to our customers along the route.
Hitching a ride for the last few miles, we arrived with our new found wealth of $112.87 to bid our hearts away on millions of dollars of former I.C.B.M. quality control equipment.
We were the lowest bidders in this whole high bid sale. Our guide, who had festooned us with security badges, scowled at each of our $3.00, $7.00 and $22.00 bids. As we squandered our paltry life savings, he saw his life's work start to dissolve in our handful of low dollar bids.
The bids were read one by one. It seemed that the folks with the large cash bids of thousands, often pulled their large wads of cash out of stained and torn bib overalls. Typically they were millionare junk dealers, out for a few large bucks. We learned that most of these folks had many international contacts who wanted our obsolete space program's parts for their own.
As the bids went on, and large bucks were handed to the cashiers for state of the art lab equipment, our miniscule bids were filed into the convenient circular file. After seeing all the tons of equipment being sold and sent to places unknown, to continue their missions, we left scopeless. But we still had our "fortune", less 2 cokes and 2 candy bars from Bendix's well stocked machines.
The next day we packed and caught the last road show of the season. Since our old faithful "White Knight" Dodge Van was still "benched" in the shop, from our previous ventures, Nigel and I stuck out the thumbs and bounced to Michigan.
A week later, our fortune increased by substantial proportions, we returned to our house in South Bend, to find a note from Bendix scolding us for not paying our $7.00 and removing our test equipment.
Dumbfounded, we called and found out that the only bid, in a forgotten room, on a piece of equipment, was ours.
Nigel quickly summoned help from a friend, with a pick up truck, for the promise of a tank of gas. Arriving at Bendix, Nigel soon found that our piece of equipment weighed just short of a ton. What we had bid on and won, was not an osciliscope exactly, but a solid state and electron vacuum tube tester,
unlike anything to be found in Radio Shack at the time.
Don't get me wrong, I spend a lot of time in places like Radio Shack. The magnets for our center pendants on our line of "Psycotronic Generators" necklaces, over 16,000 built before we lost count, will attest to that.
Back to the point: The "Beast", was a lab desk, made of much aluminum panel, and channel, it measured about five feet deep, about eight feet wide and, the counter was about normal lab bench height. The back had a wall of instruments, including a scope. Unfortunately, this was an X-Y unit and not like the Tectronics 500 series we had our hearts set on.
Apparantly, this fine piece of equipment had served her country proudly for most of the space race. It had been used to provide accurate Quality Control Inspection of almost every vacuum tube or transistor device for some previous decades.
Shock and dismay woke practical Nigel out of the history narrative to blurt, "How can we move it?" "No problem, got a fork lift over there" spoke our Historian/shipping and receiving manager.
Loading the "Beast" on the pickup was accomplished by enlisting the help of the driver of the lift, offering him an $8.00 "bribe" and pulling him away from his assigned task of making coffee. We did an out of pocket expense report, on this, labeled transportation.
The pick up groaned under the weight, but surprisingly, there was still 1/4 inch before the wheels would touch the wheel wells. The pickup proceeded at a none too rapid pace of below walking speed, with flashers flashing, and many irate horns blaring. With the truck groaning at each pot hole, our heroes watched in horror, as the railroad tracks came ever nearer. Visions of a tottering space craft test unit perched precariously on the rails of the truck could not fail to escape anyone's mind.
Hitting the tracks, the "survivors" later confessed, was almost as good as taking a rocket ride. The wheels, upon hitting the tracks, alternately locked up and then gained traction. The "Beast" alternatly rocked back and forth, threatening to either crush the street below, or crush the cab of the truck.
Evidently tiring of its threatening role, "the Beast" finally gently settled down , with one last nudge to the truck, breaking free the wheel that had been caught between track and wheel well.
Pulling up in front of the Carroll St. house, Nigel and the others showed me the "Beast" mounted precariously on the back of the leaning and sagging pick up truck.
Quickly summoning all the neighbors, we started stripping modules off of the equipment. Huge black boxes, containing all sorts of power supplies, from very low to very high voltages, were carefully removed and labeled as to function and connectors. Fortunately, all the circuit diagrams and engineering change notices were included with our new inventory. Finally, after all the electronics were stashed in the lab, the aluminum carcass of the "Beast" was hoisted off the truck. It took 5 or 6 of us to accomplish this, as I recall.
The "Beast" sitting in front our house, looked like some robotic whale beached upon a dune. Supper came and went, while we speculated on how to turn our huge, unwieldy $15.00 investment into anything that could keep our enterprises together during the cold winter coming. "Let's build a robot, out of it" decided Georgine for the group.
While Patricia and Robert built the form of the robot, which was modeled after Patricia, Nigel stalked the streets hawking our prototype "Theatrical Robot" to the merchants of South Bend. The electronics consisted of an audio amplifier allowing two way speech path between the robot controller and the audience. The eyes consisted of an iris tube and neon emiter, which coupled with the speech made a compelling effect.
The right arm was partially articulated, and the body was covered with space angel clothing consisting of a flowing gown.
Our first purchase order came from an "adult" book store. We didn't take this contract. There was too much potential for wise cracks about "Pimping" our Robot. Our first gig with "F1", (standing for Flossie 1, which was now her name) was in Niles Michigan at a night club, opening for some friends with a "sister" band. F1 stood proudly greeting customers on tape or live as Nigel got on the remote. The "Wizard" even showed up that night.
The next Gig, in which we booked "F1" to be the spokeswoman, was at a retail boutique. This allowed our band of robot owners to obtain some much needed cash and costumes.
Meanwhile our team of engineers and mad scientist were in the basement lab cooking up our laser-con project. This consisted of the X-Y oscilloscope, fed by two sound sources that displayed on the screen while the sound flowed out of our amplifiers. These were large power supplies, that we re-engineeded into push pull pentode amplifiers. The immediate object of the laser-con was to supply audio and visual effects in a night club atmosphere.
After working with the prototype laser-con for a few weeks, staff and friends started to notice effects of brain wave entrapment as well as temporal effects on human observers. No animals were harmed in this experiment, but I would never be the same! Before this device could be placed in a commercial environment, a friend of a friend offered a large cash contribution to our show fund and departed with the laser-con as his own temporal distortion toy. A second robot modeled after Nigel was built.
As the snow was starting to fall, we packed up robots and a crew of four to do the Florida circuit. It was December 1977.
During a severe storm in St. Augustine, the Nigel robot prototype was destroyed after sailing thirty feet, propelled on a gust of wind.
The next show was booked at Bradenton Florida in January 1978.
As we set out minus one of our crew, (Dave, who had "defected" back to South Bend, in search of his "soul mate") and one robot, our van, "The White Knight", blew its transmission enroute. We had to abandon the van and most of our equipment, till later. We had arranged to meet Ray, --- a compatriot who had a show called "Dr. Finster's Traveling Medicine Show" ---, at Bradenton. We showed up meeting Ray empty handed. Fortunatly he had a jewelery concession running and money was made. I suffered from reaction to a poison, and had to be evacuated to Fort Lauderdale. Other wise it was a great road show.
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