Tag Archives: Radio Shack

MacGyver and Other Tales of Improvised Engineering

My friends would call my little inventions MacGyverisms so I thought I would share a few.

If you’ve read my earlier About Men Radio blog, then you already know that I had an early start building radios out of broken components and older radio parts. (“Radio Shack: Real Family Fun.”)

As a kid we had Tonka toys that were utterly indestructible.

I’ll attest to that as we lived on the 9th floor in the housing projects and upon seeing that commercial of an elephant standing on a Tonka toy and it didn’t budge, I’d figure that to be thrown from the 9th floor would surely cause some damage.

So I opened the back window — making sure no one was sitting on the benches — and hurled my dump truck outside.

Then it was a race downstairs to look for the wreckage.

I got downstairs and to my surprise the truck was totally intact.

Not even a scratch or busted plastic glass windshield. I was very impressed.

As I looked at the fire trucks and ambulances in the neighborhood, I noticed that they had lights. So I took a drill that I made and proceeded to cut some holes into my ambulance.

There was a plastic piece where lights would go, so I removed it and created a housing underneath. I also punched some holes through the top of the cab and used white Christmas lights as my ambulance lights.

I had spliced the wires and added it to a battery pack and finally had running lights. Except they didn’t blink, so I had my handy Radio Shack kit, which had a flasher attachment, so I modified that to make it work

My dad was pretty inventive as well.

He could make pretty much anything out of metal. As a young boy, I wanted some kind of plastic toy but on Christmas I opened up the present and found this derrick.

Crane Boom Green


I didn’t play with it very much. It wasn’t until I had a friend over and he asked and then I showed him how it worked.

It had a structurally sound crane boom. For example, my dad wore 5-pound steel-tipped shoes to work every day and the crane picked them up and didn’t tip. It might have not been the most attractive vehicle in my fleet, but it actually worked the best.

MacGyver: You can do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it.

It wasn’t until high school and Pedro broke his glasses, that I thought about melting my pen to fix his them. It was a quick fix but it seemed to work.

MacGyver: A paperclip can be a wondrous thing. More times than I can remember, one of these has gotten me out of a tight spot.

I began a job and they didn’t give me keys to the desk, but with my trusty old paperclip, I got into my desk. It took about a month before they finally gave me a key.

paper clip

MacGyver: If I had some duct tape, I could fix that.

My ex broke a draw and I used duct tape to get it working again. She couldn’t understand how I fixed it so quickly. She did want me to fix it properly, so I had to run to the lumber yard and get a matching piece.

I glued it together and that chore was fixed that day.

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Radio Shack: Real Family Fun

I was saddened to hear the news that Radio Shack was closing many of  its doors.

My first love with all things electrical began at Radio Shack.

When I was a boy, my dad and I would walk from the Castle Hill projects to the Korvette shopping mall and stop by Radio Shack.

He would get a little AM transistor radio that came with its very own white ear bud. Mind you, these were not like the ear buds of today, but something about the size of a broccoli spear.

Well, at home I would always have a few broken radios that I would take apart and try to glean how they worked.

Things really came together when I also had a pair of walkie-talkies.

I also discovered that if I used some wire attached to the antennae and fastened it to the riser pipe in my bedroom, I could tune into conversations farther away than most.

The transmitter was still weak, so I wasn’t able to communicate with anyone, but I am sure that I’ve said a few “rogers” and “over and outs” to the people on the other line that probably didn’t hear me.

Although one time I do recall having a conversation with someone from JFK, but it was probably just my imagination.


One Christmas, my brother Francis got a V8 engine which consisted of over 1,000  plastic pieces and metal pieces.

When it was finished, it had the power to push a small go-cart. Since I was the youngest and lightest, I got a chance to test it out.

Over the years, I continued purchasing the little kits where you could make an alarm or shortwave radio.

I still have a zip-zap car in its original box from about 15 years ago.

It is my reminder of the good old days of model car racing. We used to get parts from Radio Shack in order to build the HO Slot cars.

Those were a lot of fun times with my dad and brothers. Real family fun.