My dad is an engineer who grew up during the golden age of electronics, and who infused me with a considerable portion of my geekiness.  He is a great go-to person for questions on almost any topic. He is the king of Trivial Pursuit. When my husband and I were dating, I said to him, “Watch this.” Then, I said to my dad, “What does DNA stand for?” Without missing a beat, he said, “Deoxyribonucleic acid” (I had to look up the spelling). He was great to have around while struggling with homework. No math question was ever too difficult for him, no matter how difficult the math got. He tutors to this day. My husband once said it was like growing up with Doc Brown from Back to the Future as Dad.

Not my dad.

While I was on vacation this week, we were going through some old pictures when I came across his old ham radio cards, or QSL Cards. I didn’t happen to think to take any pictures of them, but I found one in the Internet so you can see what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, my father no longer has any of his own QSL cards. He started telling us this story of how he got his ham radio license when he was fifteen, and how he built his own ham radio transmitter out of vacuum tubes and spare parts with the help of a retired Navy chief who lived just down the street. It is a fun story, and more details come out every time he tells it. I never heard about the Navy chief before this particular telling.

Fast forward a few days. Out of the blue, my mother asks my dad if something can be done about their old 8mm home movies. Can they be made into DVDs? Then, he starts talking about the projector, which is still in the garage. It hasn’t worked since the early ’70s.

I said to him, “You can fix it.”

He looked at me doubtfully.

I said, “Dad. You cobbled together a ham radio transmitter out of spare parts. Whatever is wrong with that projector, I’m sure you can fix.”

Mom tells him to go get it, and he dutifully brings it into the kitchen, and pulls it out of the box, along with about a dozen film reels. It’s a Kodak Brownie 8mm Film Projector. It’s dusty and made of metal, and is very retro-looking. A lot of unidentifiable dust comes out along with it, which my mother says is roach poop. There’s at least one dead silverfish.

Dad opens the front and the back, looking for the power cord, then he stops, puzzled, because it’s not there.

“There it is!” I said, pointing to a stub of a power cord poking out the front, where this one is.

Not our projector. Click to zoom.

At this point, we all think that the projector is junk. I mean, when an electrical gadget has no cord, that’s it, isn’t it? I go to the computer and start googling “brownie 8mm projector”. I even find one for 40 bucks, minus a lamp. My mom comes in and sidetracks me by having me price Irish crystal. You know, girly stuff. We’re in there for about 20 minutes.

We come back to this:

Click to zoom in.

Yes, that’s speaker wire that he’s started to splice in. It turns out, there’s a little bit of cord left underneath the grommet that was on the front panel. He assures me that speaker wire is good enough for now, since the projector only uses X amount of watts, not that I knew enough to be worried. (Since I’m a computer programmer, he talks to me in engineer-ese, expecting me to understand. I retaliate by talking to him in programmer-ese.)

Anyway, he hooks up the other end of the speaker wire to a plug that he just happens to have. I mean, we all have plugs handy in our tool box, don’t we?

Then, he peers at it, dissatisfied. The plug, he pronounces, is unsafe. He rips it apart, and goes out and gets a mac-daddy, supersafe plug. That he happens to have. At this point, we’re all just waiting for him to plug the danged thing in. He reassembles the safe plug, and then, just like Doc Brown, he apologizes for the crudity of his operation. He didn’t have time to get a proper power cord, yanno, or splices or grommets. I take on the role of Michael J. Fox, and I tell him that it’s fine.

Genius At Work

Time for the first test. It will only smoke a little, he tells us, if there is something wrong with the electrical aspects of it (whatever they are). He makes sure it is in the off position, and then without a fear, he plugs it in.

No smoke.

Next test: he flips it on. The light shines bright and after a bit of sluggishness — entirely understandable because it’s been in a box for 38 years — the danged motor starts to move.

We cheered!

Next test: an actual movie. We didn’t have a return reel, so we played an old Woody Woodpecker silent cartoon. A vaguely familiar electrical smell filled the room while husband held up a pillowcase to act as a projector screen, and we watched it upside down (it wasn’t safe enough to turn upright yet). As it played, I hand-fed the film into a coil, which we tied off and set aside. Presto. The empty reel is now a return reel.

Eventually, we ended up in the living room where we watched it like this:

Click to enlarge.

Yes, that’s a flatscreen TV that we are projecting it onto, covered with a folded sheet. There’s something poetic about using a flatscreen TV as a projector screen for an 8mm movie, but I’m not sure what it is.

Here’s the running projector, still sans covers:

Sorry so blurry. Click to enlarge.

It’s on an ironing board, because of it’s height-adjustable features and the fireproof cloth cover. Never mind the newspaper.

Since I have the only movie projector screen in the family, we plan to have a get-together where he will bring the projector (cleaned up and with the proper power cord, or course), all the movies and all the slides (yes, he has those too, but I have the only slide projector), and we will show them to the entire family for the first time in almost 40 years.

Now that will be worth another blog post.