Based on the text, it appears that the author first had to get approval from U.S. government officials before reporting the events which appear in this four-part article. Also, apparently he was not always able to get permission, as some stories said to be coming up in later parts, for example the "lightning rod set", are never actually recounted.
At this time the Electrical Experimenter often used phonetic spelling, which explains the unusual spelling for many words in this article. Also, beginining with the Agust issue, the magazine changed its name to Science and Invention.
Electrical Experimenter, May, 1920, pages 55, 102-106 (part 1):
A War-Time Radio Detective
By PIERRE H. BOUCHERON
I MUST start off with an apology. War stories are admittedly passé, so if I mention the words "great war", "German spy", "submarine", "spy radio stations", etc., a little too often please have patience with me as in some cases it will have to be done, even at the cost of the reader's displeasure.
No, regular subscriber, the "radio detective" is not a new system of dictagraph, nor is it a twenty-fifth century mechanical device having the power of tracking down criminals by means of distant radio control. The radio detective is, or rather was, (for he has temporarily ceased activities since the fall of October 1918) a very ordinary human being just like yourself, possest, however, with the knowledge of being able to distinguish a radio antenna from a clothes line, as well as the unusual ability of being able to "nose out" an underground antenna within a radius of one mile. This individual was formerly a regularly enlisted radio operator of the U. S. Navy or Army, who, during the war, pursued his unusual calling in various sections of the United States and particularly in districts close to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. He operated alone but sometimes was accompanied by an assistant. His equipment consisted of a small hand-bag which contained a complete portable radio receiving set of a rather original design, an automatic revolver, and a raincoat! In some instances the portable set included a loop or radio compass so that when the trail was especially strong, "bearings" of unknown transmitters could be secured. But this is getting ahead of the story so we will let the author tell it in his own words.
During the recent "scrap" it was my good fortune (or shall we call it misfortune) to be connected with a no less awe-inspiring outfit than the "Intelligence Department" of the Radio Censorship Bureau. It was the duty of men attached to this department to investigate reports of illegal radio activities occurring in neighboring districts. The sources of information came from all manner of ways, such as the secret service, allied bureaus of information, various governmental bureaus, the police, home defense leagues, amateur "deteckatives," and sometimes over-zealous citizens. They forwarded the reports by telegraph, cable, special delivery mail and "fleet-footed" messengers. In one case, a patriotic youth actually ran a marathon (27 miles, isn't it?) in order to inform us that Mr. Heinberger of Dingville, L. I., had been seen using a pocket flashlight for "signaling" purposes at 3.00 o'clock in the morning.
Many of these reports were totally unfounded and in many instances were even ridiculous in their childish character, demonstrating total ignorance of "radio telegraphy" matters. Well-meaning but misguided persons (males and females, if you please) would note a peculiarly twisted clothes line in a back yard, or a telephone wire running between two houses, or a guide wire attached to a pole or tree and would immediately decide that the locality was the rendezvous of "spies" in direct communication with the Wilhelmstrasse, in Berlin.
Strange to say these reports had to be investigated whether they appeared ridiculous or not, and it was often my lot to have as many as four or five of these reports to work upon during a single day. Of course there were many of them which on the surface looked fairly reliable and seemed to be really suspicious and worthy of the skill of some of our best men. I will say, however, conservatively, that not more than 5 per cent of the investigations resulted in a discovery of some plan definitely designed to secure information by means of radio and thereby break the existing laws concerning complete dismantling and inoperation of all unofficial radio stations in the United States.
I will, therefore, cite a few of the many cases which at first gave great promise, but alas, turned out to be complete fiascoes. This may give the average reader an idea of the amount of time and expense which the government was obliged to put forth in order to thoroly investigate the report of well-intentioned, tho too often misinformed patriots.
THE "STATIC MANUFACTURING" PLANT
In the spring of 1918 there came to notice a report to the effect that a large static machine had been installed in the immediate vicinity of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The machine, it was said, had been designed for the express purpose of sending out "static" on a broad wave and thereby seriously interfere with the reception of important naval dispatches at the Brooklyn Navy Yard radio station. That is to say, the apparatus was capable of simulating strays or atmospheric disturbances known in the parlance of radio men as static. Coincident with this, it may be well to say that during this time the local navy radio station was encountering difficulty with regular and very real static, so that a report of this nature coming at this period was worthy of investigation; and particularly so, for it came from Secret Service operatives.
This happened to be my first case so I was more than anxious to make good therefore sallied forth, armed to the teeth and prepared to put up a stiff fight with dangerous enemy criminals. Arriving at the suspected house I noted with satisfaction a shingle on a first floor window bearing the caption "Dr. Heinrich Schmidt." Ah, I thought, this is meat! A maid admitted me and I asked to see the doctor. I had visions of meeting a German scientist peering at me thru miopic glasses whose business it was to help the fatherland along in his own particular chosen way. Incidentally I kept a sharp watch for any possible disappearing traps with which the touch of a button might send me hurtling thru space into a dungeon near the coal bin. The doctor finally came in, licking his chops, from which I inferred he had been at his meal. I had received a mental shock, for the doctor seemed nothing but a harmless old soul possibly eighty years old. However, I was not to be so easily hoodwinked. In my best stentorian voice I asked for a word in private. The doctor led me into his office where I explained to him briefly my mission, and that I wisht to make a complete search of the house. The doctor registered surprise, then amusement, after which he laughed heartily, and handing me a cigar said he would be pleased to have me investigate the premises.
I went thru the upper floors of the house without noting anything suspicious and I finally came to his study on the second floor. Upon glancing around the room my eyes immediately spotted something which made my hair bristle up as it were, for there in one corner of the room was a genuine static maker--also known as a Wimshurst static machine. At this the doctor seemed as amused as I was surprised. I looked the machine over very carefully but could find no possible connection to a secret antenna or to either a gas or water pipe ground.
The doctor explained that he had had the machine twenty years, and had used it for the treatment of nervous diseases many years ago, and at a time when electricity in any form was considered to be the long-sought-for panacea or curer-of-all-ills. He explained also that he had not used the machine in years but that he could, however, account for the report in the following manner. About a week previous a curious patient had wanted to know what the machine was for and how it worked, at which the doctor had obligingly operated it by turning the rotating discs several times. This, of course, produced electric discharges between the two metallic discharge balls, and the noise could easily be heard by passersby on the street. It turned out later that it was during this instance that an alert "Boy Scout," with a hazy idea of the elementary principles of radio, happened to pass the house, heard the machine, and due to its similarity in sound to so-called static had decided it was for the express purpose of creating static interference. So much for fizzle number one.
THE TELEPHONE LINE "SECRET" RADIO STATION.
Reports of this type were probably the most frequent ones received at headquarters. In these interesting little comedies persons in and about New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and other large cities would report that they had heard secret wire messages being transmitted over their telephone lines; not only that, but they were certain it was the work of German spies in the immediate neighborhood. In many cases some of the informants claimed they had telegraphic as well as radio experience and could easily distinguish some of the words. In order to substantiate these naïve statements, they would forward copies and extracts of the messages with such suspicion-arousing words as "troops," "transports," "submarine," etc.
Reports of this nature were childish, to say the least, and one does not have to be well-versed in radio or in the handling of codes to know that anyone attempting to send such messages over a telephone line would not resort to such crude methods, but would use code and cipher, which might take months of constant work to decipher, and in some cases might never be fully understood.
However, I will mention one of the most interesting cases of these so-called "telephone-line radio stations." This was reported by an elderly spinster living near Islip, L. I. She lived in a rather secluded section of the country surrounded by a thickly wooded part. She had been hearing these signals for a period of several weeks and had called the attention of the telephone authorities to it, and altho the telephone company had investigated the matter in order to explain the probable origin of the signals, nothing had been definitely obtained and the signals were still being heard, usually at stated hours of the evening.
This worthy lady based her assurance that the signals were radio on account of the fact that she had made several trips across the Atlantic on large passenger vessels, and that she had visited the Marconi station on board, where the sending and receiving of messages had been fully explained to her by the operator. She was certain, therefore, and as she explained in her report, that "she knew what she was talking about." Also, she believed that her particular location would be an excellent spot for an enemy radio station, as very little traffic and few persons ever came near her home.
At the same time she reported that one of her gardeners who had been employed by her for the past few weeks seemed to act strangely at times, and there were many occasions when he could not be located. Strangely enough, he would usually make his appearance after she had heard the signals over the 'phone.
Investigation disclosed the fact that this "great radio mystery" was nothing more than a swinging high-tension power line in close proximity to the lady's telephone wire. This information was obtained after several days of hard work in testing many wires in the vicinity and in collaboration with the telephone officials. Numerous tests were made on various lines in the neighborhood, each one being isolated and separately tested. In this way the fault was found. The signals were very strong on rainy days, which was due to the electrical leakage between the power line and the telephone wires. The swinging, of course, was not of constant amplitude but was controlled by the degree of wind pressures at spasmodic or intermittent moments and in such a peculiar manner that the induction or transfer of energy produced impulses on the telephone wires of short and long duration, greatly resembling dots and dashes. In fact, upon hearing them, even an experienced telegrapher would have doubts as to whether or not they were human made.
A REAL CASE AT LAST.
It is needless to say that we sometimes worked for many weeks before a real, honest-to-goodness case presented itself. The case of the Grist Mill, however, turned out to be the real thing altho at first it certainly did not look very promising. The report came to us from a remote and complicated channel. In fact, I never did learn its real origin. No doubt it was the work of a closely veiled agency, which even we were not permitted to know about.
On a certain stormy March day I was dispatched to L . . . . . . . . in Ulster County, N. Y. Arriving there I met two plain clothes men attached to the New York state constabulary who had, by prearrangement, been sent to assist me in the sleuthing end of the case. Briefly the case was just this:
The armature of a large motor-generator had been seen transported from the railroad station to a grist mill a considerable distance away. Since the mill operated by water power a certain individual had, naturally enough, wondered to what use such a large piece of electrical apparatus could be put to in so remote a section of the country. It was, therefore, my particular duty to investigate the locality, "hang around" and ascertain just what the activities of the grist mill were, as it was inferred radio might have something to do with the case.
My two sleuthing friends and I accordingly hired a rig from the only stable L . . . . . . . . could boast of, and started out for the grist mill which was nearly thirty miles away. Under the guise of New York state watershed guards we stopt at a farm not far from the grist mill. Despite several days of careful investigating and a close study of external conditions connected with the mill we failed to note anything unusual or even suspicious, and my two friends were strongly in favor of dropping the case. However, my orders distinctly read to "stick around" regardless of time and not to overlook anything, even tho it began to look as if life at this particular grist mill was confined to nothing more interesting than an occasional farmer dropping off a few bags of corn or so and returning at nightfall for it.
After two weeks of "watchful waiting," I too decided the case to be another "false alarm" and was preparing to report my belief; in fact, had actually sat down to do so, when gazing absently out of the window of the shack we were stopping at I noticed on a distant hill a familiar telephone and telegraph pole on which were hung several wires. Of course there was nothing unusual about this, but I began to wonder just where this line led to, for I had not even seen or heard of a telephone in this vicinity, nor did the farmer know of one. Now I have always been interested in telephone and telegraph work; in fact, when I was a youngster, to learn telegraphy at the local railroad depot, I used to climb telegraph poles, tap various lines thru a portable set to ground and thereby have a "load of fun" with train dispatchers and towermen. I was finally caught in the act and shall never forget the experience. But that, as Mr. Kipling says, is another story.
Upon seeing this particular line, so far removed from its usual surroundings, I decided to look it up. I accordingly reached the spot of one of the poles where I saw there were exactly two wires stretched on the one crosstree carrying the usual glass insulators. Since the line was nowhere near the main road, curiosity led me to follow it which I did for a distance of about 1,000 yards. Imagine my surprise when upon reaching this spot the string of poles terminated, and so did the wires! The four wires simply were fastened to four glass insulators and stopt there. I concluded that the line was probably a discarded one and was thinking seriously of climbing the pole and testing each wire when I first decided to see how far the line went in the other direction. Accordingly I walked a distance of less than a quarter of a mile where I was again surprised to note once more the end of the poles! This, however, was at a place covered by a considerable number of trees but imagine my amazement when by close scrutiny I noticed that the two telegraph wires reached a "common joint" to another well insulated heavier wire leading from the last pole thru the trees in a carefully insulated manner. There was only one answer to this unusual telegraph wire arrangement--it was a disguised wireless antenna! I could hardly contain myself with excitement as I pusht my way thru the trees and heavy underbrush keeping my eye on what I now felt sure was a long wave listening-in station. After going down hill for a short space I began to hear the familiar waterfall and the overshot wheel of the grist mill, and finally I came to a slight clearing and noticed with satisfaction that the wire led, in a cleverly disguised manner, thru one side of the mill. I was now fully convinced that the place was equipt with at least a long distance receiving outfit. However, nothing could be done just then without arousing suspicion, as it was still daylight. I accordingly returned to the farmhouse and explained my find to my two companions. These gentlemen were for pulling out all artillery and making a "grand sweep" upon the mill, a suggestion which I quickly tabooed.
My plan was to come back at night, try to force our way into the mill, which I had previously noted could be easily done, and thus see what was actually "going on." We carried out this plan and found no trouble in slipping in at a point near the overshot wheel, and owing to the terrific racket it made, what noise we did make could not be heard. The three of us kept close together and prepared to make a stealthy but systematic search of the entire building. It took us exactly one hour to do this, after which we had heard absolutely no strange sound nor seen any gleam of light which might suggest the presence of anyone "listening-in." The place, to all appearances, was absolutely deserted at this hour of the night. Remembering the side upon which the lead-in was inserted, we decided to look again for a possible unexplored section of the building, We therefore climbed to the very loft and for fifteen minutes or so carefully and quietly listened for any unusual noise. After a short time our eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and it was then that one of my companions touched my side and pointed my face towards what I saw to be a tiny gleam of light. We carefully moved in this direction and reaching it I applied my eye to the crack. My hair literally stood on its ends as I looked and was a young man, telephone receivers on his ears and in the act of "copying." On the table and directly in front of him was what appeared to be a complete receiving set with several vacuum tubes burning brightly. What little noise we had made, of course, could not have been heard by the listener, owing to the telephone receivers clampt tightly on his ears, a fact which I communicated to the two men close to me.
Our flashlights disclosed a door which being unlocked enabled us to walk right into the room, where withdrawn revolvers we suddenly faced the young man. He never batted an eye, and in fact hardly seemed surprised, taking the whole proceedings as a matter of course and part of the day's work. While my two companions were attending to the young man, I looked at what the operator had been copying and saw it was coded words similar to those which were frequently transmitted during the war by European high-powered stations. Upon listening-in myself I heard the familiar spark of "POZ" beginning its usual sing song "groupen, etc."
Upon questioning the operator we were unable to secure any information whatever, so we took him over to the farm house for the rest of the night. Next day upon looking over the grist mill we found an explanation for the use of the mysterious armature. In one part of the building a large motor-generator was in the water power. A large transformer and a considerable number of Telefunken radio telegraph parts were found about the place preparatory, no doubt, to the erection of a transmitting station probably capable of communicating with submarines at sea thru the use of the excellent telegraph line antenna possest of unusually long wavelength.
The details of the rest of this experience cannot be disclosed here, but suffice it to say that no "mistake" had been made in this particular round-up.
The next three cases of this series will unravel the "Singer Building Signaling Mystery," the "Phantoplex Circuit Paradox", and the "Enigmatic Shipment of 'Medical' Supplies to Mexico."
Electrical Experimenter, June, 1920, pages 177, 203-204, 220-221 (part 2):
THE work of the "Radio Detective" was often augmented and sometimes seriously complicated owing to the fact that some of the cases would manage to fall into the hands of newspapers. Particularly was this true during a certain period of "radio hysteria" which prevailed in the Spring of 1918. Here are a few of the glaring headlines which greeted Mr. and Mrs. Average American in the morning papers while they blinked over their first cup of coffee:
"German Radio Plant Seized by Government Officials."
"Enemy Radio Station Unearthed."
"Secret Wireless Discovered in Old Grist Mill in Catskill Mountains."
"Government Experts Scour Mountains in Search of Radio Outfits."
"Spy Wireless Located on Roof of New York Skyscraper."
The immediate effect of this "newspaper publicity" was that many otherwise conservative citizens would at once set the genius of their own particular imagination at work and such commonplace things as a clothesline, telephone wire, burglar alarm system, or a lightning rod would now take the concrete form of a "secret radio plant." This was particularly so in rural districts, and a few days after these spurts of journalistic brilliancy various governmental departments would receive an avalanche of letters from all parts of the country, describing in detail and enclosing maps and sketches of suspected localities. The larger cities, however, were not without their share, and the following experience is one which caused a master detective and myself to lose a perfectly good night's sleep. I have in mind the case of the Singer Building.
THE SINGER BUILDING SIGNALING MYSTERY.
An observing young man in Jersey City was star-gazing one evening or looking at the Lady in the Moon, I don't know which, when he happened to glance in the direction of downtown New York. Presently he was attracted by what seemed to be a series of short and long flashes at the very top of the Singer Building tower. He noted that these flashes seemed to occur at frequent intervals. Now it happened that this young man had attended a summer naval camp of some sort where he had been taught Morse Light Signaling. This, as some of our ex-Army and Navy readers know, is nothing more than a system of signaling employed at night, whereby the dots and dashes of the Continental Morse Code are flasht with an electric lamp controlled by a Morse key, and it is a rather common method employed at sea between vessels for short distances. This same young man put two and two together and decided there and then, that the flashes on the skyscraper were nothing more, or less, than the clever scheme of alien spies enabling them to send military information to Spanish and Scandinavian vessels lying at anchor in the Hudson; this information of course, to be eventually transmitted by radio to enemy countries when the vessel went to sea or had reached neutral ports. Incidentally, this same deduction was arrived at by several other persons almost simultaneously, and in a few days our office was furnisht with the "makings" of a typical case.
After due consultation we failed to arrive at a satisfactory explanation for the flashes, so a special investigator and myself were assigned to the case. That very night found us on the roof of a structure close to the Singer Building, from which we had an excellent view of the various night lights of New York, as well as of vessels anchored in the two rivers. During the consultation it had been decided that such a method of signaling might well be resorted to by persons unable to reach closely watched neutral vessels, and it was therefore a factor worthy of serious consideration. The reports had intimated that the signals occurred at frequent intervals during the night, so that shortly after nightfall found us keeping a careful watch of the various lights with the aid of two pairs of excellent German prism binoculars.
Up to 11 P. M. no suspicious flashes had yet been noted so, as usual, I began to have my doubts. Finally the tenseness of the occasion failed to keep my eyes from blinking so we decided one would stay or watch while the other secured "forty winks." I won the toss of the coin, after which I retired to a convenient corner of the roof and finally dozed off. I must have been asleep an hour or so when I was suddenly awakened by my friend with the exclamations, "Look! Look! There they are--read them!" I looked in the direction of the Singer Building and there sure enough were the flashes, but altho I have had considerable experience in the dot and dash line, both oral and visual, I could make no sense or connection between these strange dots and dashes. O-ho, I thought, they are using a code of their own. The flashes continued for a few minutes and then finally stopt completely. After this I swept the Hudson River with my glasses and I was sure I saw a rather uncertain answering "blinker" on one of the ships lying at anchor!
Following previous instructions our next step, now that we were sure of the existence of the flashes, was to immediately dash to the top of the Singer tower in order to catch the signalers "with the goods." After considerable argument, necessitating much explaining and proof of authority, a night watchman took us to the tower, where for the space of half-an-hour we searched diligently for the concealed signaling system, but without results. The watchman finally decided to leave us and went back to the elevator with which we had come up, after having promised to return in a short time. As for my companion and I, we decided to remain in the now completely darkened tower and endeavor to hear or see anything connected with the mysterious flashes as we were both certain they had originated in this very spot.
The elevator had no sooner started on its downward trip when the corner where we had crawled at the top of the tower was suddenly illuminated by several vivid flashes of a most weird bluish kind. At the same time we heard the sharp metallic click of an electric circuit-closing device. We were both transfixt with astonishment and fright. My detective friend made for his hip pocket while I, if I remember rightly, literally sweated blood--as I frantically tried to regain my wits and decide on the next move. The flashes stopt for a short period when they suddenly reappeared again. This time we both looked in the direction from which they came, which we noticed to be at the top of the elevator shaft. Thru the blinding light of the flashes I saw the exact spot from which they were emanating. Finally the awful truth dawned upon me--the "mysterious" light signals were being caused by the elevator starting and stopping switching device! That is, the circuit-breaking system which controlled the electrically operated elevators, and which in this particular case were installed at the very top of the shaft, were directly responsible, for every time the elevator started and stopt the resulting make-and-break of the circuit breaker would cause a rather large arcing at the points of contact and this vivid arcing could plainly be seen to distant observers thru the tower windows. It will thus be evident that if the elevator stopt at several floors on its way up or down, a considerable number of flashes would result and naturally enough these had aroused suspicion. Needless to say our written report on this case was a short and snappy one. No, thoughtful reader, in our hurried exit from the building we did not stop to explain things to the night watchman. Thus ended an otherwise perfect tho at first mysterious night.
THE PARADOXICAL PHANTOPLEX CIRCUIT.
For many moons there had been literally heaped upon our heads all manner of complaints and reports from telephone subscribers all the way from Yonkers to Albany, N. Y. These reports were to the effect that signals closely resembling the dots and dashes of Radio-telegraphy were being heard on telephone lines, and in some cases these signals were so strong as to seriously interfere with speech. At first this was assumed to be induction of some sort which could easily he traced by telephone engineers. However, the number of cases assumed such large proportions, and some of them seemed to be so logical in their wording, that it was finally decided to investigate them. In fact, the deciding factor was brought about a report prepared by an expert radio man who was willing to back his professional reputation that the signals were man-made, and furthermore sounded very much like radio.
Ordinarily, such a condition might have been explained by ascribing it to the bona fide transmission of nearby naval stations, where oscillations were induced in a telephone wire acting as an antenna, and where the telephone transmitter rectified the signals so as to be heard in the receiver. However, in this case the signals were said to be unreadable; that is to say the characters themselves were foreign to either the Morse or Continental Codes, and even an expert operator was unable to make sense of any individual character; moreover, had they been regular radio signals, code or cipher words could have been copied. Accordingly, several expert radio men were instructed to investigate the origin of these strange signals, starting from the outskirts of New York City, and slowly working up as far as Albany, N. Y. With the assistance of telephone exchange officials, a series of tests were conducted and the strange signals heard at various times on many telephone circuits leading to the Capitol.
We had with us an expert telegraph and radio operator whose boast was that he could copy two messages being sent at the same time, one in Continental and the other in Morse Code, writing with both hands. Not only this, but he claimed he could read messages backwards as well; so that with such talent in our party we were prepared to copy anything in the dot and dash category including, static and Martian! After a great deal of head shaking and cursing, our expert friend admitted having met his Waterloo, as altho the signals were composed of dots, dashes and spaces, no combination of them could be interpreted to assume the outline of even one letter! Had we been able to make sense of the signals their source of origin could have been traced without much trouble, but under such circumstances there was only one conclusion to be formed, which was that here was secret information of some sort being transmitted between certain points without the cognizance of government, telegraph or telephone engineers and officials. So the case began to take on a more serious aspect, particularly when it was brought to the attention of officers charged with the welfare of the nation.
Our expert operator, however, had not given up hope, and each time the signals were heard saw him making wild pencil and paper movements in an endeavor to catch some of the elusive dots and dashes.
Finally the denouement came with the unexpectedness of an exploding bomb, when one day our expert telegrapher dasht into our midst, shouting "I've got it, I've got it." In his hand be held a piece of paper which he proceeded to explain to us. The accompanying illustration, Fig. 1, is a copy of his sketch as nearly as I can remember it.
It seems that he had managed to copy on paper a series of dots and dashes exactly as he had heard them, even tho they had been sent at a considerable rate of speed; after which he had carefully studied the characteristic of each dot, dash and space. As will be seen in the illustration the upper line of dots and dashes are those which he had heard, while in the lower line is to be seen the exact opposite of the above. That is to say, where a space had occurred in the series of "heard signals," a dash had been marked below: where a dot had occurred a slight space had been marked below, and where a dash had occurred a space of equal length had correspondingly been marked below. The result of this as will be seen was that the lower dots and dashes were real Morse signals corresponding in this particular case to NY NY NY AB, meaning that NY (New York) was calling AB (Albany). Other dots and dashes had been copied in a similar manner, and when deciphered were shown to be regular commercial messages of a very ordinary nature and lacking anything like suspicion.
So far, one thing had been solved, which was that the signals were
quite authorized ones and were therefore no longer mysterious. As for the reason for their inverted nature which had previously baffled us, was also very shortly explained to us in the following manner.
A so-called Phantoplex circuit had recently been placed in operation by one of the large telegraph companies between New York and Albany, whereby an alternating current was superimposed upon a telephone or telegraph line in such a manner that it was made to operate a complete telegraph system, supposedly without interfering with the normal activity of the line. In other words duplex telegraphy was accomplisht on a phantom circuit, and the back stroke of the sending operator's key was the one which induced impulses in various external circuits such as telephone and other lines parallel to it; these impulses, of course, corresponding to the frequency of the alternating current used in the "Fan" system. Fig. 2 shows a schematic diagram of a single line Phantoplex terminal station. Thus, in a nut-shell, you have the explanation of a rather simple electrical condition, which puzzled several of the country's leading electrical and radio engineers for many days, and I sometimes wonder how near to a solution we would have arrived, had it not been for the ingenuity of our expert Morse man.
THE ENIGMATIC SHIPMENT OF "MEDICAL" SUPPLIES TO MEXICO.
One day "a friend of the United States" sent in an anonymous letter telling us to watch for a certain case of goods addrest to an individual near Mexico City, Mexico. The case was supposed to leave on the steamer Monterey, sailing on the following Friday. Ordinarily, anonymous letters are usually bad actors and seldom reliable; the contention being that a real citizen is never ashamed to disclose his identity, when the matter has to do with the interest of his country. On the other hand, some of our correspondence school "deteckatives" may come sleuthing back at me with the information that anonymous reports are usually the work of dissatisfied accomplices who have turned traitors by "squealing," and therefore communications of this kind should be treated at face value. Be that as it may, either conclusion may be right, as it all depends upon extenuating circumstances.
This particular anonymous letter was written in a foreign script in exceedingly poor English and explained that we would find the shipment consisting of an interesting array of "supplies" much in demand by the Army and Navy at that time. The case seemed rather unusual and well worthy of investigation, so I and another investigator, specializing in export cases, began a systematic search for the origin of two large packing cases then reposing on one of the East River piers. After many inquiries had been made of truckmen, warehousemen and others, we found that the cases had been recently delivered to the truckmen by means of a cart, and the address given on the receipt had been a "blind" one. This in itself began to look suspicious, so that we finally decided to go back to the pier and look the two large cases over a little more carefully.
These consisted of the regular type of packing case surrounded by metal bands to strengthen them. They were addrest to a certain Señior near Mexico City, and in addition bore the legend "Medical Supplies--Handle With Care."
The exigency of this peculiar case, whereby we had been unable to secure any trace of the shippers, coupled with the fact that the ship was due to sail the next day, decided us. One of the cases was carefully opened in such a manner that if found a bona fide shipment, it could easily be repackt and allowed to proceed. Upon prying open one of the covers a great assortment of small medical supplies, such as vaseline, camphor, salts, patent medicines, etc., was found and everything began to point to another false alarm. Inwardly my opinion of anonymous letters dropt about 100%. We had about decided to repack the case when one of our number remarked that since we had gone to all this trouble we might as well empty the contents of the case and make sure. When we reached the center of the case, the cut-rate druggist's "delights" suddenly began to disappear, and in their place there was disclosed to our view a large cardboard box. Upon opening it we found the niftiest set of radio receiving instruments that ever graced a trans-Atlantic long distance station. A loose coupler, evidently designed for long wave reception, loading coils, several sets of head telephones, an array of variable condensers and even tho they were practically unprocurable except to the Army and Navy signal branches, there was included twelve vacuum tubes of a type manufactured at that time by the Western Electric Company, as well as several testing devices.
This was indeed quite a find, as during this period the shipment of radio instruments was very carefully watched particularly when destined to nearby neutral or unfriendly nations, as it was known that despite close censorship of the regular means of communication, definite information was being exchanged between stations in the United States and Germany. Then to make the disclosure complete, the second case of the shipment in question was found to contain parts necessary for the installation of a 50 kilowatt Telefunken radio transmitter which was not a surprise considering certain information we had previously received on the activities of numerous high power radio stations lately established in nearby countries.
By the way, it may interest some of our embryo sleuths to know that the particular Herr Professor, who had been engineering these "medical" supplies shipments, was shortly thereafter caught in a downtown warehouse in the very act of "doctoring" a case of "hardware," destined to a point not far from Cartagena, Colombia, where, some of you may recall, was located a "somewhat active" high power radio station, sadly in need of repair parts.
There you are, gentle reader; you know almost as much about the case as I do. In the next installment I will tell you about the clever use made of a lightning rod for sending and receiving; the scientist who had secured permission to erect a long antenna in order to develop a new system of "underground radio," after which we shall take a ramble into the very heart of the Catskills, where a German millionaire had erected a secret windmill tower radio station.
Electrical Experimenter, July, 1920, pages 296-297 (part 3):
FORTY years from now, when I am old and crabbed; when I no longer take pleasure in making home brew; when I shall have ceased experimenting with permanent electro-magnets on the electric light meter, and when my eyes shall have become dim and watery from close contact with sputtering arcs and X-ray machines to such a point that they will cease to appraise wondrous landscapes, art galleries, the language of the birds and flowers, beautiful women, near-beer and other works of nature and prohibition, I shall have my nurse-maid bring forth my diary and turning back to the experiences entitled "The part I played in the Grate War," shall have her read me to good cheer some of the many little comedies connected with my "radio-sleuthing" days.
Every time I swallow a false tooth, I shall want to be brought back to pleasant humor by insisting upon being read the passage about the nice old soul who once sent our bureau a 200-word day telegram to the effect that she had information of the greatest value to the Government of the United States, both from a scientific and military point of view, and that we make haste to visit her as soon as possible in order that she furnish us with all particulars. She did not forget, of course, to mention the fact that the matter was so startling and would prove so revolutionary that she could not even hint as to its nature in so open and public a method of communication as an ordinary telegram. The lady further stated that the case had to do with a totally new system of radio telegraphy, and for that reason no less than an expert in this science should be detailed on this important mission.
After this yarn has been read off to me, I shall contentedly sit back in my easy chair and perhaps take a few sips of weak tea, who knows? The story runs something like the following:
THE STRANGE RADIO TELEPATHIC SIGNALS.
Mrs. S---- lived near Rochester, N. Y., in an old house of the colonial days type. No sooner had an aged negro servant admitted me than the gloom and silence of the musty Revolutionary mansion began to weigh heavily on me in addition to the six-dollar raincoat on my back. I waited almost an hour when the lady finally made her appearance and greeted me with an air of dignity and low tones which seemed to spell mystery with a capital "M."
She led me to the old fashioned parlor and thereupon unfolded one of the most startling and fantastic recitals it has ever been my bad fortune to hear. For the past two weeks she had received many messages direct from the Central Powers. She explained that altho the messages were transmitted by means of radio-telegraphy thru the high-power stations at Berlin, Constantinople and other points, she had accidentally discovered a means of receiving them direct without the use of an actual radio installation! At this statement, I looked at her sharply, then began to look around for a quick exit to the nearest door. The odd part of it all was that the woman seemed perfectly rational and spoke in a well-informed and balanced manner, and no amount of questioning on my part failed to disclose the slightest trace of that well-known malady, dementia americana. To cap the strangeness of her story, she brought forth a number of sheets of paper containing all manner of messages written in several languages, evidently of an official character, judging from the various military and civilian titles.
I asked the lady just how she received these communications, at which she answered, "Why, by means of dots and dashes, of course. I have always been an expert operator, and there is no mistaking the manner in which the signals respond to my hearing."
For another whole hour I was forced to listen to many descriptions of just how the messages "came in," which were mostly at night, she said. The woman seemed so sincere that I began to have my own doubts. I remembered several instances in my operating days, when there had been times, when miles away from any radio apparatus, I thought I could hear familiar high frequency spark signals. Perhaps some radio men who read these pages may recall similar occurrences. Strange, but nevertheless true. So, as I say, I began to wonder whether the lady was not suffering from some exaggerated form of a similar delusion confined solely to the sense of hearing.
Finally, I gathered all the data offered me, made a few notes on the time and place of the strange radio-telepathic signals and fearing to be informed of more startling and revolutionary radio doings, I managed to make my exit with as much grace as I could command under the circumstances. Once out in the open country road, I breathed a sigh of relief, wiped the moisture from my almost "fevered brow," and started for the nearest house adjacent to the spooky Mrs. S---- in order to confirm certain thoughts.
Before I reached it, however, the rural mail carrier came jogging along in his buggy.
"Can you give me some character information on the lady living in that old homestead?" said I, pointing to the house in question.
"Sure," he promptly answered, "it's old Mrs. S----. She has been harmlessly but hopelessly mad for the past ten years. Her husband was a scientist of the old school, so she now imagines herself as carrying on his work, and she seems particularly cracked on subjects connected with mental telepathy."
"Thanks," I said, as I mentally resolved to prepare a long report to my superiors urgently recommending that in the future no attention be paid to the communications of informants unless accompanied by original certificates certifying to the sanity of the man or woman responsible for its dispatch.
One day, while intensely interested in a lifelike description of some artistic subject within the pages of the "Follies Gazette," an urgent call reached us to immediately dispatch an expert signal man to a certain building in the downtown section of New York, where a telephone inspector was in the very act of listening to some authentic and quite audible "radio signals" having no business there.
Upon reaching the place, I found my telephone friend pottering and fuming over a large connection box on the main floor of the building, He was sure they were radio signals because he once had met a man who had told him all about it. As far as he was concerned, there certainly was no room for doubt, and accordingly, had telephoned his chief to come down and listen-in for himself. Since this incident had occurred during one of the periods most pregnant with spy radio hysteria, these two gentlemen had lost no time in notifying official headquarters. With the aid of a telephone receiver I listened-in on an improvised circuit in the telephone box, to which ran many thousands of telephone wires. Sure enough, signals of a suspicious character were distinctly audible. They had a frequency of about sixty cycles, were quite loud, but hopelessly, pathetically and, as usual, inevitably unreadable. As I listened for a little while longer, the signals, which were composed mostly of series of long dashes with a few dots here and there, slowly began to assume the character of something I had once or twice heard, which sounded suspiciously like a certain instrument near the barroom of the Estor Hotel. You may remember, of course, that this well-known hostelry had, during the same year, been the scene of a suspected spy radio installation, not far from its immense roof. As the suspicion slowly began to impress itself on my mind, I asked one of the wire experts if there were any other lines besides telephone circuits within or near the connection box. He replied there was nothing at all except a so-called "ticker" circuit.
"Ah!" I exclaimed, as the previous suspicion now became alive with possibilities, "that is just what I want; where is it?"
I thereupon made some sort of connection on the ticker circuit and was not surprised when I heard the sounds within the telephone receiver absolutely identical to those we had heard on the adjacent telephone wire. In other words, the signals were none other than those which had fooled us many times before, and I may say many times thereafter. In short, they originated from stock ticker circuits. In sections where these ticker wires were allowed to run close to telephone circuits inductive effects often resulted, whereby the familiar "da-da-di-da-da" of the news and stock tickers, you and I have frequently heard, were induced on adjacent telephone lines.
MYSTERIOUS STEEL TOWER IN THE CATSKILL MOUNTAINS.
Occasionally there would be cases which, during the process of investigation, would manage to get into the hands of newspapers. The result of course was that great notoriety would be given to instances which were nothing more or less than the overzealous activities of patriotic and well-meaning persons.
Such conditions would particularly be noticed after the press had given much space to one or two of these fiasco cases. A case of this nature was the following one, which took considerable time and expense to unravel. Three reports came in from three different sources reporting the one individual case.
A millionaire woolen manufacturer who, rumor intimated, had had his manufacturing plant confiscated by the Government, and which was now being operated by the office of the Alien Custodian had, previous to our entry into the war, been engaged in much German propaganda.
This gentleman was now living in a secluded and almost inaccessible spot somewhere in the Catskill Mountains. Here he had fortified himself by building a large and expensive mansion, surrounded by all the comforts characteristic of millionaires. The informants had heard from undoubtable sources that this German had constructed and was operating a high-power radio outfit, capable of sending and receiving messages to and from Germany! The report also said that he had a large steel tower, under the guise of a windmill, and that from this tower was stretched several lengths of wire to neighboring tall trees which acted as an antenna. A large generating plant had also recently been forwarded to this spot as well as many other electrical appliances.
One of the informants claimed that he had climbed a certain high spot near the German's place, called "Watch Hill," where he had seen the tower and wires very distinctly. It could also be noticed that a wire fence had been built around the estate and that large, ferocious dogs, assisted by evil-looking individuals, patroled this enclosure during the day and night in order to scare away possible intruders.
After reading these reports, the case certainly looked very promising and inferred possibilities of a great discovery. The only way to reach this place was by train which left New York at 2 a. m. and which reached a place called Big Indian at about 11 a. m. From this point it was necessary to board a stage (a Ford truck used by the local postmaster) and travel thru many winding roads for a distance of nearly thirty miles. I finally arrived at a spot within a short distance of the suspected estate, accompanied by a secret service man. We were prepared for a long siege and had the necessary equipment, such as revolvers, powerful field-glasses, and a small portable receiving outfit.
In order to allay suspicion as to our purpose, we explained to the stage driver that we were on a fishing trip and our paraphernalia consisted of supplies for a long ramble thru the mountain streams in search of trout. We reached the base of Watch Hill late in the afternoon and decided to start our investigation after midnight. We climbed the "Hill" and installed ourselves near the top, where we had an excellent view of the estate, as well as the steel tower. Upon closely scrutinizing the ground with our field-glasses, we saw the power house in question, separated from the mansion by a short distance, and what were evidently power lines leading to and from the house.
We also observed that there were considerable lengths of wire attached to the steel tower, leading to distant trees, all seeming to be of standard length, as would be with a systematic attempt to secure a definite wave length, and the terminating ends also seemed to have large dark objects which closely resembled insulators. However, from the distance we were, we could not definitely establish whether or not these objects were actually insulators or merely twist-bolts.
At midnight we closely observed the place under investigation and noticed considerable activity, such as lights burning and persons walking to and from the power house, which in itself looked at least suspicious. After this, we erected our portable receiving outfit and listened-in for the remainder of the night. However, nothing was heard which would preclude high-power transmission in the immediate vicinity. In fact, constant and careful observation for the following three days failed to furnish any conclusive evidence that our friend was engaged in anything more alarming than scientific farming and tree planting, aided by several gardeners and laborers.
We therefore decided to "swoop" down or the place and to make a thoro investigation of the power house and that suspicious looking tower and wires.
The owner of the place was considerably annoyed when we explained our visit and at first was going to have us thrown out, but when we explained to him the futility of doing this, he consented to allow us to go thru his place in order to demonstrate to us the absurdity of the reports that he was a German agent engaged in receiving and sending military information between Germany and the United States. He accordingly detailed his private secretary to accompany us in our search.
Alas for the vagaries of humans and the vividness of their imagination! What we had thought would mean the making of our fame while unraveling this mystery and discovering a den of German propaganda proved only to be another story enough to give us a press notice of not more than two lines.
The tall steel tower was in reality a windmill and the wires separated from it were nothing more alarming than guy wires. The suspicious-looking objects at their termination were turn-buckles, designed to take up any sagging of the guy wire.
As for the power house, it was indeed genuine, but was used solely for the purpose of illuminating the house and surrounding barns as well as to furnish power to the many appliances necessary to a modern and up-to-date millionaire's estate.
Our German friend invited us to luncheon and he certainly exceeded himself to make us comfortable, including cigars, afternoon coffee and liqueurs. Under the genial influence of this meal, served to us by a butler in a gorgeous uniform, our host waxed genial and really was amused with the absurdity of his being under suspicion. He thought he knew who caused the report to be sent in. Probably a discharged employee, and he vowed he would investigate the matter himself in order to get at the bottom of it, to definitely prove to us that he was a true friend of the United States. He was a naturalized American citizen and had most of his money invested in Liberty Bonds. Not only that, but he had turned over his entire manufacturing plant to the Government for the manufacturing of khaki and incidentally had invented a new kind of cloth which was more serviceable, more economical and more efficient than any of the cloths used by the European countries.
Yes, critical reader, I fully realize that the Lightning Rod and the Underground Radio episodes promised last month are missing in the present issue. Be reasonable, as I have not yet received permission from the German War Office to publish them! In the next installment you will be rewarded with a few more choice exploits.
Science and Invention, August, 1920, pages 406-407, 457-458 (part 4):
Down at the office of the L. C. D. they will tell you of the many startling cases which involved enemy spy systems having a strong radio background. Some may even rant about the baffling exploits of the "three musketeer spies" who had devised a system where, from several vantage points close to the huge Sperry Gyroscope Plant, strong magnetic waves had been "focused" upon the building in such a manner as to disable delicate testing instruments, thus effectively curtailing the production of much needed war apparatus. They will also tell you about many other strange and equally fantastic incidents. But I have it from very good authority that these wild and woolly impossibilities were in many instances the product of fertile imaginations. As a matter of fact the most interesting cases entailing considerable time and expense in their solving, and which secured the most official notice, turned out to be some of the simplest and harmless happenings which were either coincidences or absolute false alarms. Judging purely from a matter of interest and narration, however, these proved to be the ones most worthy of recital for they involved the many characteristics which go toward making human nature the greatest of all scientific study and observation.
For that reason I might go on and rave indefinitely about innumerable cases, every one of them distinct from each other in its make-up and origin. Then, possibly, after the BORING point had been reached, the tables might be turned on me whereby the pursuer would become the pursued and countless numbers of otherwise genteel readers would track me to my lair, destroy my trusty typewriter and thus effectively put an end to these yarns. As I have no wish that this occur, I respectfully invite your attention to the following wind-up story:
THE RADIO MYSTERY STARTS.
ONE day, a middle-aged and much excited gentleman dashed into the office and for more than an hour was closeted with our chief. He had no sooner left when a colleague and myself were called in and a hurried conference held concerning the following very strange and interesting case.
The gentleman, who by the way was a very prominent lawyer of New York City, had been visiting friends in Long Island by automobile and upon returning had stopt at a roadhouse near Babylon for some refreshment. He gave his order to the waiter and in a short time this worthy returned and was in the act of arranging things on the table when another waiter came up to him rather hurriedly and speaking in a low tone said in French "La voiture vient de retourner," meaning, "the carriage has returned." The first waiter thereupon turned rather quickly and said, "Très bien" (very well), then, as if an afterthought had struck him, remarked, Faisez attention, je vous ait deja dit que vous parles trop fort" (be careful, I have already told you that you speak too loud).
Now it happened that altho the above conversation had been carried on in monotones, the lawyer, who had spent the early part of his youth in France and who later on in life had made frequent visits there, was therefore well conversant with the French language and readily heard and understood what had been said. Incidentally he noted a decided Teutonic accent in the speech of the would-be French waiters. The lawyer had kept up a bantering talk with his companion while the incident had taken place and now purposely continued to do so in the hope that the waiters would say more. Nothing further was said, however, and the two waiters departed towards the back part of the room.
Ordinarily, an incident of this kind might have past unnoticed, particularly in a public restaurant, as it is a well-known fact that many waiters in metropolitan districts speak French and German as well as English. In fact many will proudly tell you that in their European travels they have waited upon this and that prime minister, General So- and So and even King Whosthis. But in this case the lawyer wondered why these two individuals had used French when they were so evidently of German origin. Was it that English was not secretive enough and could have been too readily understood by chance persons sitting nearby, or was it that French had been employed because it offered less possibility of its being understood and at the same time could be heard by other persons without exciting suspicion? It would seem logical, of course, not to resort to German during the general suspicion of war-time, which is a language recognizable even by persons not able to speak or understand it. These things, coupled with the rather unusual remarks of the two waiters, caused the lawyer to decide that here was something going on which was evidently not meant or planned as an event to be heralded from nearby housetops.
He spoke to his companion about the matter and explained to him what had been said, whereupon they decided to call for the waiter in order to observe him at close range. The headwaiter dispatched someone to the internal regions and after a considerable period of time a strange and entirely new servant came who made haste to explain that our first waiter had "gone off watch" and that he would be pleased to attend to their further wants. In view of what had gone on this sounded exceedingly unconvincing and unsatisfactory, to say the least. When waiter number three had been sent for two additional highballs (alas, reader, this all happened before July, 1919!) it occurred to the lawyer that it might not be a bad idea to stroll outdoors and endeavor to obtain a close view of the "carriage," if such it be, referred to by the two pseudo-Frenchmen.
THE RADIO TRUCK DISCOVERED.
Outdoors, however, nothing unusual seemed to be going on. There was, of course, a considerable number of automobiles parked within the immediate vicinity, for that particular roadhouse happened to be a rather popular one, but none of them seemed particularly interesting. The lawyer walked about the place for a while, then finally decided to explore what appeared to be a small driveway leading to the back of the inn and which seemed to reach out toward considerable shrubbery and trees. After walking for a short space he suddenly heard the chug chug of an automobile motor and upon nearing the direction from which the sound came saw a large motor truck with canvas cover similar to the huge army motor-lorries. From the top of the machine and reaching thru the canvas covering was evidently a collapsible mast of several sections. Upon approaching nearer he noticed one of the canvas flaps had been opened which gave a fairly good view of what was going on inside. A considerable number of bulky instruments and a small table or shelf could easily be seen, over which sat two men intently interested in a certain piece of machinery. The whir of a high-speed motor could now also be plainly heard above the roar of the auto engine and intermingled with this whir were intermittent hissing noises which sounded very much like escaping steam. The lawyer thought these activities rather unusual in this section, for the outfit, which evidently was a portable or transient radio signaling unit, could hardly be connected with the army signal corps or any other authorized and official organization, particularly in view of the fact that the two men were not drest in uniform of any kind, being clothed in rather unkempt civilian attire. From his point of vantage he continued to observe the strange couple and their activities, being at this point a considerable distance from the main road. For the time being he did not know just what to do in order to confirm his suspicions. To go back to his friend and explain the situation with a view of further investigation would have meant that by the time he would return, the traveling plant might have decampt to parts unknown. On the other hand, the outfit might possibly be part of a Government signal unit operated by civilians for the purpose of test communication or research work, and it would be placing himself in a ridiculous position to attempt to report it or interfere should this prove to be the case.
The best plan, therefore, was to walk up to the two men and under the guise of a curious inn guest wandering about for some fresh air, nonchalantly step up and ask questions. He shortly reached the rear part of the auto truck but the men having their backs to him did not become aware of his presence immediately and this fact gave him the opportunity to better observe and study the contents of the car and its occupants. A small portable drop lamp of the storage battery type hung from the top of the car and thus by its fairly bright light could be seen the entire interior. Altho the lawyer was not well versed in radio matters, his general knowledge of the subject, however, enabled him to recognize the installation and its purpose with reasonable certainty.
Judging from the general arrangement of the car, it had evidently been designed for extended trips and constant travel. On one side was a settee or couch, the base of which probably contained storage cells and tools. One of the men was making some sort of adjustment to one of the running pieces of apparatus while the other was sitting on a camp stool and, with the familiar head telephones common to radio signaling outfits, seemed to be "listening in." Finally the noise of the machine must have been too much for him for he reached over and stopt the motor. It was at this moment that the nearest man slowly turned his head as if sensing the immediate presence of some one. The lawyer was somewhat startled for the man was no other than the late versatile waiter. He looked surprised for a moment then rather abruptly asked what was wanted.
"Nothing," replied the lawyer, "just walking around for a little air. What kind of an outfit is this you have here?"
The man had gotten up from his position and slowly walked to the end of the car and stood up above the lawyer looking down at him and studying his face when suddenly, and without the slightest warning, his right foot shot out from its elevated position and landed squarely on the chest of the lawyer with great force knocking him down and for the moment stunning him out of his wits. A few seconds later, the purr of the motor was heard once more, the canvas flap was drawn down tightly, thereby excluding all light, the car lurched forward and in less time than it takes to tell was speeding down the by-road at a considerable rate of speed where it was soon lost in the darkness.
After recovering from his surprise and astonishment the lawyer got up and since pursuit was out of the question, slowly walked back to the inn. He had not thought it wise to make a hullabaloo of the incident to any one in the place, but instead went directly to his friend who had been patiently waiting for him. The lawyer sat down and related what had just occurred, whereupon the two decided that to attempt to report or phone the matter from this locality would probably not be a wise step. One thing was certain, the first strange conversation of the two waiters, the motor lorrie and its paraphernalia coupled with the rather impromptu way of the versatile waiter in disposing of curious onlookers, proved beyond a doubt that the car and its occupants were engaged in an illegal activity having to do with some sort of spy communication system. Under the circumstances the most logical thing to do was to personally report the matter to the Government officials directly interested in investigations of this nature.
That was the substance of the story which the lawyer had related to our chief and which we two were now familiar with. The case was gone over very carefully and it was finally decided that enemy agencies were engaged in seeking and transmitting information to possible submarines lurking off the coast of Long Island, and that in order to do this in a way which would be hard to detect, they had resorted to the novel use of the traveling radio installation previously described. Moreover, this fact was shortly confirmed when upon inquiry it was learned that neither the Army nor Navy had any portable units of this type operating in that vicinity under circumstances as previously related.
SUSPICIOUS RADIO SIGNALS.
Incidentally, it was recalled that several of the Government radio stations on Long Island as well as those in Brooklyn had recently heard signals which sounded rather suspicious. These operated on a wavelength slightly above 700 meters, with a constantly fluctuating frequency, that is to say, gave the impression of emanating from a portable motor-generator unit, similar to those employed by the Army Signal Corps. Some types have hand-operated motor-generators whereupon as soon as the operator presses the key of the transmitting circuit the beginning of a dash will have a frequency somewhere around 800 cycles but will immediately drop down to perhaps 400. This characteristic will give a somewhat fantastic sound to long series of dots and dashes. It was also recalled that these particular signals had no real sequence, being composed mostly of intermingled numerals and letters. They were not recognized as pertaining to any Army or Navy signal codes or ciphers.
It was, therefore, very logical to infer that these strange and suspicious signals probably originated with the traveling radio station. This fact had been confirmed by resultant radio compass bearings which gave greatly varying positions every time they were intercepted. The regular means of investigating signals of unknown origin decidedly could not be employed in this instance, for it was recognized that we were dealing with persons who had made a close study of American communication systems, and that they were experts in the art of eluding detection. This case would therefore entail a different procedure and would necessitate the employment of many men as compared with the usual cases which could easily be covered by one or two investigators. The plan decided upon, therefore, was to erect several radio compass listening-in stations in the vicinity of Bay Shore, Babylon, Amityville and other points further east on the island. These stations were to maintain a constant "watch" and immediately upon securing approximate bearings of any unrecognizable or suspicious signals, report them to another body of men furnished with automobiles whose duty it would be to immediately dash out to the suspected spots and endeavor to corral the strange acting motor truck. This was the substance of the proposed operations. Incidentally, we were told to "work fast," for, since there were many military and naval establishments on Long Island it would not do to have their activities ascertained and reported to enemy intelligence systems for any length of time without resulting in possible dangerous consequences.
Naval intelligence men were accordingly dispatched to their individual points of vantage and the above-mentioned portable radio compasses were set up at the most advantageous sections. My good friend and co-worker J. T. H. and myself sallied forth to win recognition and fame on this latest exploit which certainly did promise interesting developments.
A MERRY CHASE.
Days rolled by, then weeks which were filled with some most breathless and intense moments. Excitement was the order of the day. At any hour of the day and night our radio compass operators would report bearings on suspicious signals whereupon we would spurt to the given spots only to find our birds had flown. This was to be expected, of course, for the very act of the radio spies in using the traveling outfit was designed to evade all possible detection by means of the radio compass. We hoped however, that we would eventually run across the motor lorrie, for our system was such that with the great number of men now working on the case such a large truck could not evade us much longer. Not only that, but we were working in connection with the Army so that possible disguise or camouflage on the part of the truck could have been readily detected. The great disadvantage was that our activities might have become known to persons located in various inns and hotels whose duty it was to notify the truck of our presence. This accounted for the fact that two weeks had now past without having discovered anything more tangible than certain sections of by-roads disfigured by large ruts made by the heavy wheels of the elusive auto.
Incidentally, our investigations up to this time had not proved entirely fruitless. Tips given us by the police and other agencies led to the discovery and dismantling of several illegal radio stations where the culprits were boys possest with perverse natures in that they thought it great fun to "listen-in" to what was going on in the ether by employing improvised indoor antennae and loops. In these cases nothing more drastic took place than severe reprimands with subsequent promises to behave in the future.
One case, however, proved more interesting than the others when a complete receiving installation was discovered in the home of a young man who had recently secured much newspaper notoriety. This "hero" was none other than the radio operator on board a certain large steamer attached to a West Indian run which had been but a short while back effectively sunk a short distance from the Jersey Coast. It was suspected at the time that the operator had been working into the hands of the enemy submarines by disclosing the presence of the ship thru an ill-timed radio signal. To make a short story still shorter the young man and his father were effectively taken care of by the Government.
All roads lead to an end and even a good cigar burns itself out so that finally our intense radio activities came to an abrupt and sudden end in the following manner:
For a week or so our "listening-in" operators had not heard the fluctuating signals and it began to look as if the truck had dropt thru a hole to the center of the island. Frequent and systematic trips thru main and by-roads as well as ceaseless search in barns and woods had so far failed to disclose the presence of the lorrie and its occupants. Even a close watch of the inn, where had first been secured the information, proved equally fruitless. The waiter had never returned to his post and upon cross-examination the proprietor explained that waiters and other employees came and went and that he could not be expected to keep track of their movements. Of course, he could not explain the existence of the motor truck--had never seen it, was not interested, etc.
One morning accompanied by an O N I investigator and with the use of a small car, we were traveling along one of the by-roads not far from the base of our operations when we presently noticed a small column of smoke pushing its way thru a wooded section to our left. More out of curiosity than anything else we decided to investigate and see who had started a fire in this locality and to what purpose. We traveled along for a short distance when we came to a makeshift road leading into the wooded part and of the kind used by farmers. We, therefore, turned our car in this new direction and had not gone very far when we suddenly came to a slight clearing trees had been chopped down and carted away, leaving a great number of stumps scattered about.
SPY RADIO DISCOVERED AT LAST!
Lo and behold, there in the center of the cleared space was a large mass of twisted steel and charred wood from which arose a few lazy spurts of smoke. Judging from the remains of the framework this had evidently been a large motor truck. A great pile of lumber had been placed under the body to assist in the effective destroying of the car which seemingly had been burning for some time, as nothing but smoldering ashes remained.
It did not take a great amount of ratiocination to explain this strange and unusual sight. The truck was none other than the elusive machine we had been trying to locate for the past two weeks. With the aid of several buckets of water secured from a nearby stream we completely cooled the smoldering wreck. Sure enough, there was the twisted and bent motor generator unit of possibly a ½ k.w. output, inductances, quenched gap and what not. Altho the parts had evidently been subjected to a white heat which had melted the hard rubber, wood, and other composition pieces, the general outlines of the remaining metal portions left no doubt in our minds as to their having originally been radio instruments.
The solution of this final happening was simple. The operators of the truck had probably decided that the locality was too hot for them, and having realized that they could not hope to evade capture very much longer had decided to abandon their work, first taking the precaution to burn their equipment and leave no trace behind them. Fate had willed that we should just happen to pass the ruined car, possibly twelve hours after it had been set on fire, thus giving the two men ample time to escape to other parts. Also, considering the meager information we had as to their description it would have been out of the question to attempt to find them.
Suffice it to say that since the illegal traveling radio unit had been destroyed our work was finisht, and it is needless to add that thereafter, steps which cannot be disclosed here, were taken to prevent a recurrence of this nature.
Concerning the radio detective there is a great future for him even in peace times. He may be assigned to ferret out radio amateurs who do not confine their transmissions to lawful wavelengths and regulations. On the other hand, he may earn his salt by co-operating with the revenue agents who have lately discovered the reason for their inability to arrest moonshiners in certain sections of the country. Newspapers tell us that radio systems are in operation thru which the distilling plants are notified by cipher signals from the railroad station sent by confederates when danger threatens. When the law swoops down on a spot where the still has been reported they find the outfit missing.