One day, my dad decided that he would bring home a gift for me when I was about 11 years old. I don’t know where he got it, but it was a large, chrome light that was supposed to be mounted to the handlebars of my bike. It looked alot like those aerodynamic lights that you used to see mounted on the fenders of old hot rods with graceful lines curving backwards to a point on the back. I thought it was just about the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
My dad told me that when he got a chance, he would help me mount it my bike, but after several days of holding it in my hand and turning it over and over, I became a little impatient because we hadn’t even gotten a battery for it yet and I really wanted to see it shine. I thought it would probably shine like a spot light and I knew that when I rode my bike at night, it would surely light my way. I didn’t really stop to think about the fact that I was required by law to be inside by the time the streetlights came on, but that didn’t matter to me then. The light took one of those big, square six volt batteries and you installed it by opening the front cover and inserting the battery inside the chrome case.
After a few days, my curiosity and impatience got the better of me and so after my parents went to work, I began to wonder if I could make this light work without a battery. After all, a battery was just a source of electricity, electricity was electricity and we had electricty available all around our house. I noticed that on the bottom of the light was a big threaded rod that extended about 2 inches and there were two nuts already on the rod. I rummaged around the house and found an old lamp that we didn’t use any more so I took a steak knife and cut the cord, split the cord into the two separate wires and skinned the ends back to unveil the bare wires.
Now, I’d seen how these electrical connections were made before and knew all I needed to do was to wrap one of the wires around the threaded post and tighten the first nut down on it to hold it in place. Next, I could wrap the second wire around the threaded post the other way and tighten the second nut down to hold it in place. That would provide good electrical contact with the light and should provide more than enough electricity to the lightbulb!
I found an empty electrical socket just to the left of the television in our combination living room, dining room, kitchen and without further ado or thought, while holding the chrome bike light in my right hand and the electrical plug in my left hand, I inserted tabs A & B into electrical socket C.
I was instantly bathed in a bright blue light, the sort I’d never seen before from regular light bulbs and it seemed to me in the brief time it existed to be brighter than the sun! My bike light was sooooo cool! About the time I saw the flash, there was the sound of a what I can only describe as the very loud crack of a giant baseball bat striking a concrete wall. It was almost as loud thunder and unbeknownst to me in the moment, it was deafening.
Unfortunately, the light issuing forth from the underside of my bike light was so bright and short-lived that as soon as it went out every other light in the house suddenly went out at the same time, though it took a little bit before I could see well enough to realize it. I was still standing in our darkened combination living room, dining room, kitchen holding my chrome bike light in my right hand when I began to smell what I later learned was the smell of ozone and I wondered what could have possibly gone wrong. Did I put the wires on the light in the wrong order? Was my light too cool for our electrical system? Was it perhaps, just a coincidence that the lights went off at exactly the same time?
In the semi-dark, I turned my bike light over in my hand and examined the connection points I’d configured and found that the nuts would no long turn as they had been more or less welded to the rod and a significant portion of the plastic wire covering had simply melted away.
I don’t know how long I stood there dumbfounded, staring at my scorched chrome bike light, but somewhere in the back of my head, I began to hear a ringing sound growing louder and louder until I suddenly realized it was the telephone.
I answered the phone with a shakey voice and my mom’s first words were: “Paul, what are you up to?”
“Nothing,” I said, “but something funny is going on here at the house. I wasn’t doing anything and lights went out.” I don’t think she bought the story of my innocence for a second, but she remained calm enough to tell me to unplug whatever I had plugged in and then how to go check the breaker box. She also said she would deal with me when she got home.
I followed her instructions, flipped the breaker and got the lights to come back on. I tried to get rid of the ozone smell in the house to no avail and it was as strong as ever when my parents got home and forced me to tell them the truth about the chrome bike light and my failed experiment. I got grounded (no pun intended) from all electrical experiments for the rest of my life and my dad never helped me mount my chrome bike light on my bike. To this day, I’m convinced that their reaction to is what prevented me from becoming an electrician. They yelled and yelled about how I could have burned the house down, killed myself or worse yet I might have caused massive blackouts across the city.
In the end, being older now I realize that they were probably right and that had I wired that light just a little bit different, the results might have been far different.
Speculation aside, all I really know is that for one brief shining moment, my chrome bike light lit up like the sun!