1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 56

Chapter 10

Dr. Phil’s Aeolian Transformers

March 1632, Jena

It had been a hard day of almost wasted discussions with the scholars at the university. John Grover and Ken Butcher, accompanied by Derrick Mason, a young radio operator on loan from the army, had been trying to identify the materials and skills available down-time for the manufacture of earphones for crystal radios. They had hoped that it would be an easy matter to find people capable of making the wire-wound headsets at a sufficiently low price that affordable crystal radios could be made, allowing anybody to listen in to the broadcasts of the Voice of America. As things stood, there were about ten thousand up-time radios that could receive the signal. However, they were expensive. What was needed was a crystal radio set that anybody could make or buy extremely cheaply. That way, the Voice of America radio broadcasts would be able to reach everybody, not just those who could afford an up-time radio and a power supply.

Father Gus, who had been pressed into service as an interpreter, sat with the Americans while they continued to discuss the problems surrounding cheap earphones with a couple of members of the Jena faculty. Listening in, interpreting as needed, Father Gus considered the problems. They needed to wind thin copper wire around “magnetic” iron to somehow convert their “electric signals” into sound. The concept sounded extremely interesting, if such a thing was really possible.

That had been part of the problem. The Americans had come into Jena with a certain reputation for outlandish ideas and inventions. People, however disbelieving, had been prepared to listen. However, sound from the air? If it hadn’t been for the two-way radios they had brought with them, nobody would have believed them. Even with the two-way radios as proof, many were still unconvinced that they could be made.


“Hello, Dear. Have you been having fun?” asked John Grover’s wife, Leota.

Father Gus had to smile. John’s wife, Leota, Ken’s wife, Sarah, and Ken’s sister-in-law, Esther Sloan, presented quite a sight with all their bundles and baskets. They were settling down and displaying their booty from a lightning raid on the unsuspecting shops of Jena.

“You’ll never guess what I managed to get,” Esther said. She pointed to a heavily laden basket. “It’s almost impossible to get in Grantville. But here in Jena, I managed to pick up a whole ten pounds of Gribbleflotz Vin Sal Aer Fixus, and the price was less than in Grantville.”

“That’s marvelous, Esther. Can I buy some off you?” asked her sister, Sarah.

“There’s still some left in the shop. Most of this lot is destined for the school cafeteria. We’ve been forced to feed the students sourdough bread, but with the Gribbleflotz Vin Sal Aer Fixus, we can do biscuits again. The students have almost been up in arms having to go without biscuits.”

A rustle of paper drew all eyes to Leota and the flyer she was spreading out on the table. “What’s that, Leota?” Esther struggled to read the upside-down flyer.

Leota looked up at Esther, then placed the flyer down where her husband could read it. “When you mentioned the name Gribbleflotz, I suddenly remembered this. It’s a flyer advertising seminars on the ‘Philosophy of the Essence of Lightning,’ which are being given in the private salon of a Dr. Gribbleflotz. Apparently, the man gives demonstrations of ‘The Wondrous Lightning Generator,’ ‘The Amazing Lightning Crystals,’ ‘Storing the Essence of Lightning,’ and ‘Continuous Lightning.’ It sounds a lot like the kind of things the early scientists used to do. John, maybe you can drop by and see what the man has. It could be interesting.”

Father Gus had been translating as best he could for Dr. Werner Rolfinck and Dr. Willi Hofacker of the University of Jena. When he mentioned Dr. Gribbleflotz though, both men started to go red. Frau Grover had barely finished speaking when Dr. Rolfinck exploded. Father Gus struggled to keep up as the invective flowed from the good doctor.

“Dr. Rolfinck says that this Dr. Gribbleflotz is little better than a charlatan. These philosophical seminars are little more than cheap demonstrations of lesser technology with an unscholarly commentary pretending to explain what is being shown.”

There was a pause while Father Gus listened to a quick discussion between Dr. Rolfinck and Dr. Hofacker. “Apparently, this Dr. Gribbleflotz has no true credentials. He has failed miserably in the university courses on iatrochemistry. The man claims to be related to the Great Paracelsus, father of modern medicine. But the doctors doubt it. He is totally lacking in scholarly skills. He was little better than a self-employed laborant until he started making cooking powders for the American women. That was about his level, they claim. Though, I do wonder why the invective. I wonder what they have against the doctor?”

Sarah wrinkled her forehead. “Yes. If they don’t think he has credentials, why are they even letting him call himself ‘Doctor?’ I thought that was a protected title?”

Father Gus smiled at Sarah before turning to talk to the doctors. Moments later he had an answer. “They say they dare not challenge him on his doctorate. Apparently, he is doing quite well with his little ‘blue balls of happiness,’ his Gribbleflotz Sal Vin Betula. With the money from that he has retained the services of Herr Hardegg of Hardegg, Selfisch, and Krapp, a Rudolstadt legal firm with a certain reputation. The good doctors are not rich men. They cannot afford to defend an action of slander.”

Dr. Rolfinck had been trying to calm down while Father Gus translated for the Americans. But when Father Gus mentioned Sal Vin Betula, he again exploded. Father Gus tried to calm Dr. Rolfinck.

After a moment, Father Gus explained. “The dean is a little upset at the unscholarly name Dr. Gribbleflotz has given his little blue pills.”

Jena, outside Herr Doctor Gribbleflotz’s Private Salon, later that same day

“Well. That was a complete screw up. What did you have to go and laugh at his ‘Wondrous Lightning Generator’ for anyway, Derrick?” John Grover asked.

Derrick Mason smiled apologetically “It wasn’t the generator I was laughing at, Mr. Grover. Whoever made it used a couple of old 78s for the rotating discs. I was just laughing at their choice of titles.”

“Well, it was pretty unfortunate timing. He’d just demonstrated his Amazing Lightning Crystal. It was a piezoelectric crystal. I’m not sure what type, but apparently he grew it himself. I was at the point of asking him about making some more for us when you cracked up.” John looked at Derrick. “He was not impressed when you started laughing.” John turned to Father Gus. “Father, what do you think?”

“Herr Grover, I am very much afraid the good doctor took deep offense. I cannot be sure, but the way he immediately called upon his housekeeper to have us shown out . . . I think he may have felt your man was laughing at his lightning generator.” Father Gus gave Derrick a penetrating look. “Also, I believe Herr Doctor Gribbleflotz’s English may be a little better than he lets on. I noticed he paid attention when Herr Mason commented on how all of his experiments were really simple. I think he was ready to take offense.”

Father Gus turned to John Grover and Ken Butcher. “I do hope you do not need the good doctor’s services. I do not think Herr Doctor Gribbleflotz will forgive easily.”


“John, how did your visit to the electricity man go?”

John sighed. “A bit of a mixed bag, Leota. Dr. Gribbleflotz has an interesting range of electrical toys, and his amazing lightning crystal is a piezoelectric crystal. I was talking to him about sourcing some of the crystals when the comedian here,” he waved at Derrick, “decided to laugh at the good doctor’s lightning generator. From the manner in which we were invited to leave, I don’t think the doctor is going to be too enthusiastic about helping us.”

“What do you want the crystals for, John?” asked Esther.

It was Ken Butcher who responded. “If they’re piezoelectric crystals and he can make more, well . . . depending on the price, we might have an answer to our headset problem. Rather than use wire coils, we can use fine piezoelectric crystals. John and I are trying to remember recipes for piezoelectric crystals, but we’re coming up blank. If this Dr. Gribbleflotz can make them, then, based on the opinion of Doctors Rolfinck and Hofacker, I reckon we should be able to make them as well. I sure would like to know what he’s making and where he heard about them, though.”

Esther grinned. “Where is easy. He probably heard about them from one of the Kubiak Country people.”

“The who?”

“The Kubiak Country people. Look, here.” Esther passed over a bag of Gribbleflotz Vin Sal Aer Fixus and pointed to the printing on the package. “See. It says ‘Made by HDG Enterprizes (Jena), a branch of Kubiak’s Country Industries (Grantville).’ The address is up Mahan Run, which isn’t surprising if the Kubiak clan is behind it. Anyway, if you talk to one of the Kubiaks up on the Run, I’m sure you’ll find someone who can help you.”

Head Office, Grantville Canvas and Outdoor, Mahan Run, Grantville

John Grover turned to his wife. “Are you sure this is the right place?” He was sitting on his horse, outside the front gate of Ted and Tracy Kubiak’s home.

Leota nodded. “Yes, dear, this is the right place. Careful how you cross the cattle guard now.”

With a sour “teach your grandmother to suck eggs” look, John carefully guided his horse over the cattle guard and waited for Leota. They could hear the yipping of a dog while they rode up the drive to the house, so they tightened their reins and halted their horses until the source of the noise came into view. It was a small dog — a Jack Russell terrier. Before it could get under the horses’ feet there was a loud whistle. The dog stopped in its tracks. Shortly afterwards, a man walked up, bent down and lifted the excited animal up to his chest.

“Hi, John, Leota. Can I help you?” Ted Kubiak waved a greeting while struggling to keep a firm hold on his dog.

“My wife and I are looking for the Head Office of Kubiak Country Industries. We were directed here. I was just wondering if we’ve come to the right place.”

Ted smiled up at the mounted couple. “Yep. You’ve come to the right place. Tracy’s working up in the house. If you’d like to tie your horses to the corral by the shed, I’ll lead you to her.”

Ted waited while John and Leota loosened the cinches and tied their mounts to the corral. When they finished tending to their horses he released Ratter, who immediately ran up to John and Leota. The dog sniffed around them for a moment, then turned and trotted off. When John and Leota joined him, Ted asked, “So, what’s your poison? Gribbleflotz Vin Sal Aer Fixus, Sal Aer Fixus, or Sal Vin Betula?”

John stared at Ted, a grin appearing, “None of the above. I was wondering if you know anything about Dr. Gribbleflotz’s Amazing Lightning Crystals, though. We were in Jena and Leota here picked up a flyer advertising seminars on the ‘Philosophy of the Essence of Lightning.’ So me, Ken Butcher and a couple of other guys went visiting. I was just watching him demonstrate his lightning crystal when Derrick Mason, one of the other guys, started laughing around the doctor’s lightning generator. Before we knew what was happening we were out the door.”