Firestone’s Shocking Radio

Firestone Air Chief 4-C-3 radio 03-03-2016This Firestone Fire Chief 4-C-3 radio was born the same year I was – 1947 – if Google info is correct. It was the size of a small suitcase, and quite shocking in its day (more about that later).

You can click on the pictures to make them larger.

Dad and Roy Welch would take it fishing

LV Steinhoff fishing with Radio of Death in backgroundDad worked at the Firestone store in downtown Cape for awhile, so he might have been the one who bought the radio, but I usually associated with my grandfather, Roy E. Welch. A huge 9-volt battery made it portable.

You can see it on the bank behind Dad while he’s fishing.

The radio’s innards

The battery is long gone. I find it interesting that the case and the side brackets are all wood.

A spec sheet on the Radiomuseum website said the “Reception principle was Superhet with RF-stage; ZF/IF 455 kHz; 2 AF stages.”

Tubes, remember tubes?

Firestone Air Chief 4-C-3 radio 03-03-2016Tube testers could be found in all kinds of stores. If your radio or TV stopped working, you’d pull out all the tubes and drag them to your nearest drug, grocery or hardware store. There, you’d stick them in the tester gizmo one at a time until you found the bad one, pay a buck or so for a replacement, then go home to plug them all in again.

There was nothing that made you feel more like a scientific genius than seeing your gadget come back to life.

Radio made in Akron

Firestone Air Chief 4-C-3 radio 03-03-2016A handy-dandy sticker said the radio was made in the U.S.A, in Akron, Ohio, to be exact.

It was even nice enough to include a little schematic showing the type of tubes it used and their locations. In case you are playing along at home, here are the six tubes it took: 1N5GT, 1A7GT, 1N5GT, 1H5GT, 3Q5GT and 117Z6GT.

A couple knobs are missing

Firestone Air Chief 4-C-3 radio 03-03-2016The top opened up to expose the volume and tuning controls and a tiny selector switch in the middle that determined if you were running on AC power or the battery.

The knobs are missing, which proved problematic when it was plugged into a wall outlet. The radio was poorly grounded, so as soon as you touched any metal part on it, you would find 60-cycle electrical current passing through your body, a distinctly unpleasant experience.

One learned very quickly to approximate how loud you wanted it to sound BEFORE you plugged it in, and to turn it off by pulling the plug.

Always set to 960 AM

Firestone Air Chief 4-C-3 radio 03-03-2016There was no need to tune the radio: it was always set to 960 AM, KFVS radio. That’s where Dad would listen to Harry Caray calling the St. Louis Cardinal games, hoping to hear his signature line, “It might be … it could be … it IS! A home run! Holy cow!”

I was tempted to see if it still worked, but I think I cheated death enough when I was a kid. That device might have been hiding up in the attic for 45 years just waiting for me to plug it in, thinking, “That fool is going to give me one more crack at him.”

Dad’s Murder Mysteries

LV Steinhoff murder mysteries 01-25-2016After I started school, we quit following Dad from town to town in the trailer he’d park in whatever space he could find for us. That meant that he was living in hotels, motels and boarding houses for weeks at a time, maybe making it home every weekend or two.

There wasn’t a lot of entertainment options when you’re building roads and bridges from cain’t see to cain’t see, even if you weren’t too tired to avail yourself of them.

That’s when he turned to paperback murder mysteries.

He preferred Perry Mason

LV Steinhoff murder mysteries 01-25-2016His first choice was Erle Stanley Garnder’s Perry Mason mysteries. If nothing else, the story descriptions on the backs of the book were almost as good as the book.

“You find too many bodies, Mason,” said Lieutenant Tragg coldly. [Tragg was the cop who always seemed to be the one accusing Mason’s clients of murder.]

“Don’t be silly,” Perry Mason answered, “I had no idea this man was dead. I brought you here to hear him confess.”

Pocket books became popular during WW II

LV Steinhoff murder mysteries 01-25-2016Pocket Books, now a division of Simon and Schuster, produced the first mass-market, pocket-sized paperback book in 1939, but they became really popular when material shortages during World War II worked to their advantage. The books would fit in a pocket, were easy to read and cheap to produce.

Most of Dad’s books cost a quarter, although I did see the price start to creep up over the years to 35 and 45 cents. They generally had brassy colors and semi-revealing models.

Mickey Spillane and others

If he couldn’t find a Perry Mason, he’d dip into a Mickey Spillane or Shell Scott or whoever else happened to be on the shelf. Their covers tended to be a bit cruder (both in execution and subject matter), and their tease copy wasn’t as well done.

I read lots of paperbacks, but they were mostly non-fiction I picked up at Metro News on Broadway across from the Rialto. I never read the mystery genre, so I’m going to dip into Dad’s stash to see what I missed.

I asked my grandfather why HE liked to read murder mysteries, but never picked up any of my sporting or adventure magazines like Field and Stream or Argosy.

“Reading a murder mystery doesn’t make me want to go out and kill somebody. Reading about fishing would make me want to go out and do that, and I can’t,” he explained.

Mystery book photo gallery

Here are some other books cluttering up the shelf. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery.


A Model Hobby

USS United States models 09-23-2015Dad and I spent many a winter evening building plastic models of ships and planes. Well, to be more accurate, I sat at the table WATCHING Dad build plastic models of ships and planes.

He was a follow-the-directions kind of guy, so he would get frustrated when I skipped around and ended up having to take apart stuff that I had assembled out of order. Before long I would be relegated to applying decals and sorting parts.

One of our largest projects – at least in size – was The U.S.S. United States. It wasn’t the most complicated, but it lit up and it was about two feet long.

A memorial to my Grandfather

Ken Steinhoff and Roy WelchHere’s something about the model I never told anyone: when my grandfather, Roy Welch, died when I was 10, I wiped all the dust off the deck and vowed that I would only dust half of it in the future as a way of remembering the passage of time since I had lost him.

When I took it down from the attic to put in a box of stuff going to Annie Laurie’s Antiques, I looked for the dust demarcation, but 30 or 40 years had made it ALL dusty.

Despite that, I still remember my Roi Tan cigar-chomping grandfather. I guess I really didn’t need the U.S.S. United States to do that.

Grandfather’s Tackle Box

Ken Steinhoff tackle box 03-14-2014I was on hold with Comcast when I heard a shriek in the other room. Not a happy, “Look, Publisher’s Clearing House just pulled up the driveway!” shriek. It was a “You’d better get in here right now!” shriek.

Wife Lila was supporting a shelf end with one hand and attempting to lighten the load on the shelf with the other. Paper products – paper towels and toilet paper – were flying everywhere. It seems that one of the plastic supports that held up the shelf since the middle 80s got tired and decided to take a nap while she was putting supplies away.

Of course, THAT would be the time the Comcast rep I was waiting for would come on the line.

After the shelf was repaired and Comcast dealt with (a pleasant experience, surprisingly), it was time to reload the errant shelf. Of course, that involved looking up at the shelf above it. “What’s all that stuff? Can we get rid of it?”

One of the items was an old, old blue tackle box with, as you can see, a whole forest of dust bunnies living on top of it. [Editor’s Note: I didn’t know what a group of rabbits was called. For future reference they are, “a colony, warren, nest, herd (domestic only), litter (young); specific to hares…A down, husk. Since I have learned a new factoid, that means I qualify for a nap.]

I think it was my grandfather’s

Ken Steinhoff tackle box 03-14-2014When I was a kid, I lived to fish. Every chance I could get, I’d head down to 3-Mile Creek with this tackle box hooked though one handlebar and my fishing rod and reel cradled across it. My name is written in red plastic label tape, but I think Dad and I both used it at various times. It has to be at least 75 years old, and I’m pretty sure it originally belonged to Mother’s Dad – my grandfather – Roy E. Welch.

I recognize some of the lures as mine, but I also see some of Dad’s stuff in there.

I really liked fly fishing. There was something about dropping a fly exactly where you wanted it to go that satisfied me. Plus, there was never any danger of me catching anything big, so a fly rod made even small fish fun.

Truth be told, my interest in fishing ended when the object of my quest got within hand-holding distance. I’d have been perfectly happy if the slimy thing made a spectacular jump and threw the hook back at me at the last second. I just went back to look at an earlier story I did about fishing. Nope, my views haven’t changed much.

You might notice that all my lures and flies are small. That’s because even they were larger than most of the fish I’d catch. Still, I liked artificial bait rather than live bait: you didn’t have to dig it, catch it, dissect it or listen to rubber worms scream when you threaded them on the hook. Besides, I thought it was an act of positive Darwinism to weed out the fish dumb enough to fall for fake food.

Panatomic-X film can

Ken Steinhoff tackle box 03-14-2014I bought film in 100-foot rolls and cut it into 30-exposure rolls in my basement darkroom. Those empty film cans like this one that contained Panatomic-X were put to a multitude of uses around the house. This one found a home in my tackle box.

When I first moved to Florida, I’d sneak out west of town on a slow day and fish some of the pounds and lakes in the wilderness near the city. I could turn up the scanner and the company two-way radio and pretend to be working while casting, mostly fruitlessly. The few times I caught anything, I’d toss it back. The last thing I wanted to happen was have to roll on spot news and forget I had a fish under the seat.

Sons Matt and Adam haven’t shown any real interest in fishing. I’ll offer my tackle box to them, and if they don’t want it, I’ll carry it back to Cape to let Brothers Mark and David divvy it up. Mark likes collecting old objects that he turns into art, and David is an avid fishermen. Maybe David can catch stuff with lures that are half a century or more old. I certainly didn’t use up all the luck in them.

You can click on the photos to make them larger if you want to see what I fished with.