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My Oscilloscope Affair: A Love Story

from Bill Pietschman, W8LV on January 10, 2018
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My Oscilloscope Affair: A Love Story

I once had an affair with an Eico and an Identical TWIN PAIR of Tektronix scopes at the same time. I was in my early twenties, but even then, it was hard keeping up, even at my young age. And you know? It just got to be too much for me to handle... I couldn't keep one set of leads from getting confused in the middle of a lab "session" with which scope I was courting at the time.

I know it's disgusting now looking back at it all since I also had a Girlfriend, but my hands were ALL OVER these Scopes... Playing as I was with High Voltage Fire, I didn't even observe the "keep one hand in your pocket rule." God, I guess we were ALL a bit reckless back then, before we had to worry about CMOS Static and Viruses (!) We didn't worry that just ONE touch could ruin everything...I was one of those guys in my Wasted Youth... Long Hair, Polyester Pants static generating be damned, and All Caution to the wind, though I DID least have a Pen Pocket Protector. Here I was even putting my Girlfriend at risk, of losing her Boyfriend anyway, but I'm sure in hindsight, that even SHE would get over the shock. -- By the next weekend. Boyfriends like me were a dime a dozen. Especially the non-athletic types like me who spent sunny days in a dingy apartment electronics lab.

After all, in those Heady GTO Days, I was driving an Oldsmobile Cutlass! Not an Oldsmobile Cutlass Deluxe. JUST an Oldsmobile Cutlass. With Massey Ferguson Tractor Red Paint over the Rusted and smashed back left quarter panel from where I had wrecked it on a Road Trip to pick up...YES! MORE Electronics Junque from Fair Radio Sales in Lima, Ohio! You get the picture.

You know, the Tektronix "twins" were very Up Town and Sophisticated. But the Eico had such an alluring Vacuum tube Smell, even though she WAS a bit more of a Waterfront kind of painted "Lady", with a thicker green phosphor line and all. Sure She lacked the Badge and the Window Dressing Makeup, and her prodigy was certainly no more than kit built and bodge job modified, and creaky slow. But she knew what to do, even if she wasn't Fast and Wide... And you always knew where you stood with her, and somehow even her distorted Sine Waves were Cute as a Button.

And then, it happened.

My Eico was left with one of her previous "suitors" with a replacement non-polarized plug. Some guys are like that: They just USE a scope and then take the Cheap and Undignified way out: And there she sits at the Garage Sale...until finally she is reduced to the Landfill Status Discard…But a few LUCKY ONES are Rescued.

I had just switched apartments, trying to keep a low profile in my Obsessional Shame. Just after signing The Lease with The Landlord who bought my "cover story" of being a mere College Student who wouldn't convert the back open second story patio into an Antenna Farm resembling the roof of an Embassy and a SAM Site, I nonchalantly plugged her in at the new domicile, without checking which way the polarity was... I gently turned up her gain. The smell of vacuum tubes, capacitor wax, and dust was overpowering. I gently touched her with the back of my hand, and the sensation of warmth was indescribable! I hadn't plugged in the Tektronix Twins yet…they didn't need to know about THIS little Test Bench Romp! Yet their empty cold CRT's stared on in blank disgust at what was about to happen.

I was simultaneously annoyed with ANOTHER smell, namely the crappy "Cost Cutter" Generic Brand pizza in the Gas oven that was way past the 45 minute wind up timer bell ding that I had set to remind me that it was ready and I always forgot about in the middle of my experiments anyway. I couldn't afford a microwave back then. Few could. But then again, that wasn't the kind of microwaves I was interested in back in the day. So I ate lot of Burned Costcutter Pizza. There's nothing worse than Burned Costcutter Generic Pizza. Other than not eating at all. Other than drinking Costcutter Generic Beer. Which is actually not better than not drinking at all. But not by much.

My Forgettable but it seemed like a Good Idea at the time Breadboard Experiment "Device Under Test" was all ready to go. This was hand carried from the "Old" apartment, not disassembled and put back together at the new place...that would have been the LOGICAL way to move it: Instead, IT had made a separate and distinct trip in the Cutlass. And all the way up the steps. It was "ready", I told my Girlfriend. And would only take me a few minutes to complete. Of Course, that ACTUALLY meant three hours and forty five minutes of futzing around with four dozen Alligator Clips, and one Frozen Pizza as I recall and reckon.

But it was ready.

You Christen a ship with a bottle of Champagne. Times being what they were, I popped the lid on a Generic can of warm beer. It was a white can, and it had a black label, that said "Beer". But it sure didn't taste like a Carling Black Label, no matter how good the price was. Somehow, it matched the Eico for the Moment of Truth.

So I plugged in my unprotected Male Banana Plug into the Eico's Female Jack, as I had so many times before. Just as my Girlfriend entered the room as she was saying: "What are you doing in there?" from behind the closed but unlocked door. Since it didn't have a lock on it.

And all Hell Broke loose in a flash and lightning ball that only Thor could deliver. -- Or, in this case? Abraham Lincoln. Yep, that's right! -- Old Honest Abe Himself. (Thor WOULD come to visit me a number of years later, and luckily I lived.)

Between the pizza and the electronics, the smoke was Tremendous. -- White and Black and thin and thick, all at the same time. The cooking sounds stopped first with the pizza, but the electronics were still sizzling. It's a bad sound, and it doesn't give the satisfaction of a sizzling steak on the grill. -- Not nearly. And you can't really stop the smell, but at least you can put out the fire with two boxes of Cost Cutter Generic Baking Soda.

After I got a hold of a flashlight, and turned the pizza off, since the Gas oven wasn't even mildly concerned that the electrons no longer want through our tungsten filaments or anything else for that matter, I located the breaker box. Which wasn't a breaker box.

It was a fuse box. There wasn't even a box of spare fuses left by the previous occupant. Everybody always at least kept a couple of spares taped to the cover if not an entire box minus one replacement...after all, there was no twenty-four hour Wally Worlds back then. -- So if you had a Sump Pump and it was Sunday, and you didn't have a spare fuse? Guess What? That meant that you were going Swimming, that's what!

So now I figure well I have to unscrew the Old Fuse anyway, and try to come up with a replacement of the same size. -- From somewhere. It was Sunday.

And then I figured it out: The previous Occupant had placed a penny in the fuse box in place of a fuse. -- Probably on a Sunday. And Poor Abe had given all that he could!

I'm Certain, that all the Power plants in North America placed their Entire Electrical Output through that ONE single phase 15 Amp A.C. Circuit.

My shock was Tremendous. My Tektronix Twins Stared on in Blank Disbelief. My Girlfriend ran down the steps. I was fairly certain that she wasn't going to be back with a fuse. -- Or ever. When she did came back, I was trying to put the smoke back into the Eico, but the Rescue Mission quickly became a Recovery Operation, and then an Autopsy. And my Girlfriend didn't come back with a fuse, but she DID blow a fuse when I asked her if she had one. We got married.

73 and All the Best!

DE W8LV Bill

Best Regards from Amateur
Radio Station W8LV
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My Oscilloscope Affair: A Love Story Reply
by K5WLR on January 10, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
What a SHOCKING development! ...and how many of us have done the same or similar "dumb" things and lived to tell the tale?

An interesting read, indeed!

Will Rogers
RE: My Oscilloscope Affair: A Love Story Reply
by W3WN on January 10, 2018 Mail this to a friend!

That is a great, albeit sad, tale.

I have GOT to put it in a future club newsletter! With your blessing, of course.
My Oscilloscope Affair: A Love Story Reply
by VA3WAO on January 10, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
OMG I am in tears here and wiping down my keyboard and monitors at work from sputal coffee! Takes me back to the simple days of electronics in high school ... charging capacitors and then connecting them, one to each handle of the roll up doors on the test benches! (That stopped when the teacher inadvertently grabbed the handles to roll open the one lab bench ... he said bad works too! :O )

There was a issue with grounding on our test benches in class that if we forgot to observe polarity just right, well the smoke would escape ... and you can't put the smoke back in, right!! Teacher had several of us pull the Oscopes out of each test benches and put fuses in each scope on the lead plugs, after all, our measurements didn't need to be precise, it was high school after all! We had seen several of those old scopes smoke up like a NHRA dragster! I think the record was 5 in one period! Hooking up a Klystron with no shielding whatsoever! Ah the good times! Did you ever see a look on your teachers face like he was stroking out?? Funny it was! I did have kids later in life. That was two periods of my life 3 times a week that I couldn't wait for. Thanks for the memories!!

Just got my ticket 2 years ago now, and I just bought my first, very own oscilloscope with more bells and whistles than the massive 1/2 ton Tektronx Storage Scope we had in College! Looking to further my knowledge in this great ... hobby? of ours!
RE: My Oscilloscope Affair: A Love Story Reply
by AF6AU on January 10, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
My first 'scope was a heath O-12? IO-12? Anywho, it had a nice transformer that did a decent isolation job from line power..

Problem was the 'scope's case and chassis would take the polarity of whatever you were testing, and many of the late 1960's and early 1970's televisions and "Famous 5" am radios had line cord grounded chassis...

So if you did not pay attention, the scope was a coin toss as to if it's as hot as the radio or TV chassis. Stand up off your stool, and reach over to turn it off, SUPRISE! I was glad I did not live in Europe with their hot at 220V to ground.

Not fun.

These lessons go right up there with "That" Uncle that has you hold the magneto wire of some small engine when he spins it over... Your hand is numb as he laughs and sprays his mouthful of beer over you.

Or you happen on a fence at a cousin's farm that has a Fence Charger on it.... (How does that damn horse CHEW on the wire???)!!

Worse hit? I was 14 years old, and tangled with one side of a luminous tube sign transformer (Called a "Franceformer"), yep, center tapped 7,250 volts at 15 milliamps. So 3,600 volts through the finger, through shoes, to concrete. I did a 5 foot rearwards standing broadjump on my butt.

Yeah, I want to hook that mother to that wire chewing horse fence!

However, its called "Learning the HARD WAY". And we did learn how to respect and deal with high voltage.

RF burns are no fun either.... There's another article here on just that. Read it, some real hoots in there... ;-)

I learned to have a HELL of a lot of RESPECT for the 4KV B+ in my Henry 2KD.

I did it again 2 weeks ago though, I ignored the "3 points of contact" rule while working up a ladder with Xmas orniments. Yep, learned the lard way (AGAIN), and yes I still have some bruises and pains from the fall.
RE: My Oscilloscope Affair: A Love Story Reply
by NN2X on January 11, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
What a story....

During my pre college years I used to repair Test Equipment, including Tek Scopes namely 465, and HP Spec An, (8566)...

Smoked many of test equipment, but eventually one gets to repair the equipment!

About my wife....

I indirectly found my wife from Ham Radio!! Forget eHarmony!

My Oscilloscope Affair: A Love Story Reply
by K1FPV on January 13, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
This story makes me remember of when I got into the hobby and eventually earning my living in the field. Unfortunately, in the 60's, many TV's & radio receivers were the AC-DC type, thus you had to be careful.

Fortunately, I survived playing with the Mr. Ready Kilowatt, the little advertising person for the electric company. Now, it is funny as 99.9% of all gear uses polarized power cords or 3 prong plugs to avoid this.

Now I have the habit of checking polarity on power cords after well over 50 years in this hobby and having retired after years in the broadcast engineering field, and worked with voltages many times larger than the 240 VAC. It is a good way to be able to live over 70 years with 55 years years as a ham!

73 & Happy New Year to All,
My Oscilloscope Affair: A Love Story Reply
by NU1O on January 17, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
I lost track at the number of double entendres at about two dozen. They were double entendres weren't they? :-)

You should expand your horizons. Perhaps a film noir script or even soft-core porn.

You're a gifted writer!


Chris NU1O
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