A Little Personal History From the CEO.
A notable trait throughout the Amish is simplicity. This takes form in varying degrees but usually it shows in dress, vocation, homes and even health. No radios, television or cars. Simplicity is also evident in certain thought processes. Amish people tend to trust others and take things at face value, sometimes to their misfortune.
Amish people will not go to the doctor for every sneeze and sniffle, testament of their frugality. However, when sicknesses do occur, age old home remedies are applied, combating one illness after the next. Garlic for colds. Unkers for congestion. Prune juice for constipation and the chiropractor for everything else. Unfortunately, throughout the years certain health scams have found their way into Amish homes, taking advantage of these frugal and traditional suspects.
Simplicity however, does not exclude all new innovations. In many Amish publications such as Die Botshaft or Plain Interests, many distributors hawk their latest cure-all products and devices. Some of these have good qualities without question while others cause suspicion. And then some health products call for more research than the cure all tincture. These products, regardless of their claims, do demand a certain strain on the pocket book.
My Dad being a Bishop, was always wary of scams or fraudulent products deceiving his flock. Thus the stage was set.
One day many years ago, my Dad called my brother Norman and I together for a little meeting. “There are some health products being used that need some investigation”, he informed us. Being technically inclined we could not have been given a better assignment.
The one product was called “The Black Box”. This was a diagnosing device that operated very simply. The theory was called radionics, a hi-tech sounding word for any Amish man. The black box had several dials and a well in the center of the box. The sick person placed some human tissue such as hair, blood or saliva into the well. The practitioner then turned the dials and simultaneously rubbed an adhesive plate. When the adhesive plate became sticky, the health practitioner checked the numbers on his dials. He then consulted a chart which showed him what disease the patient suffered.
The process was so simple and natural that it was appealing to the Amish sufferer. The treatment was neither invasive nor as expensive opposed to hospitals or medical specialists. It appeared scientific enough to give it credibility, so it surely must be real. In fact, a patient could just send his photograph as a specimen. How convenient! This was of course taboo in Amish culture, since photographs are forbidden.
The interesting fact about this particular Black Box was that throughout the years it lost its technical complexity to the point of having only several wires. In fact, users claimed it worked just as well without batteries installed! The Black Box was definitely fraudulent.
The second diagnosing machine we investigated proved more interesting than the Black Box. This one nearly got the Bishop in trouble.
This box was called the Syncrometer and was used in conjunction with the Zapper. These machines were principally designed to detect parasites in the human body and then effectively electrocute them. Upon reading the accompanying literature, one could easily be taken up with the horror of these critters and the necessity to rid them. Incidentally, Amish parasites are no more pleasant than English ones. So now we have these huge promises of health and happiness delivered to eager listeners. Never mind the pocket books! Never mind the lack of scientific evidence. It looks hi tech and they say it works!
Enter the Amish FBI
“Okay,” I told Norman, “we can easily make this Syncrometer contraption.” We studied the simple print diagram provided by the author. A resistor here, a transistor there, a condenser between the two and a speaker to boot. Of course this modern medical device required a battery and even a short copper pipe to hold while operating it.
With two Amish skeptics bent over the smoking soldering iron and the Bishop impatiently waiting for results, the future for Amish parasite hunting was really being threatened. It took a number of intense after-supper sessions in our upstairs bedroom laboratory, but finally we were ready to throw the switch.
The Syncrometer operated on an interesting theory by detecting certain frequencies radiating from parasites and then sounding a buzz on the speaker. Our ears strained to hear the telltale buzzing sound from the speaker. Nothing. We turned dials up and turned dials down. Nothing. Pulled on this wire. Pushed on that one. Nothing. Surely we weren’t that healthy! According to the literature, everyone has parasites!
Giving up was not an option. We had to get answers. So, what happens if we add a length of wire to this piece? VOILA! A buzz! And if I take hold of the copper pipe this way it sounds one way or that way it sounds another.
I rushed out the lab, down the stairs two at a time. I find my father dozing on the rocking chair, but not for long. “It works!” I yelled. Dad jumped, his eyes wide. “I don’t believe it!” he said trying to convince himself. His hopes of documenting a hoax were trembling. “Come and see,” I responded.
He followed us upstairs to our detective lab and skeptically eyed our mess of wires. “Listen.” I said turning the dial while holding the copper pipe. Sure enough. Buuzzzzz. Buuzzzz. There was no mistake. I must have the worms or there is something else going on. Dad finally, turned and left the lab thoughtfully stroking his graying beard. Did his boys have parasites, were they practicing witchcraft or was something else going on?
We decided to take the “something else is going on” road. Norman and I diligently bent to the task before us. “So what if we attach this wire to a longer wire?” was the next logical experiment. The sound changed. It was clearer somehow with less static. Plus, we didn’t have to hold the copper pipe any longer. Now we had lots of noise but no human attached. Was the room full of parasites? We didn’t think so.
We turned the dial and cranked up the speaker volume. “Whoa here! I hear voices!” Norman looked shocked. I planted my ear to the speaker. It was unmistakable. We heard voices. It was unintelligible but distinct, with some faint music. Were they parasite voices? Or perhaps spirit voices. Or was something else going on?
By now Dad was worried. What had he gotten his curious boys into? It all started quite innocently but where was this heading? This was certainly no ordinary medical device. But what was it? It certainly seemed like a hoax but what sort of hoax was it?
Meanwhile the Amish FBI picked up speed. “You know, I think this is a crystal radio,” I announced after deep contemplation. I compared the two circuits and they were strikingly similar. The only way to know is to build one we concluded innocently enough.
The next day found us at the local electronic shop asking for a germanium diode. “What do you need a germanium diode for?” The burly proprietor demanded, riffling through a cardboard box of tiny parts. My face changed colors as I stuttered, “Its its for a project.” I felt foolish but quickly recovered as we hurried home with our precious piece of the puzzle. Arriving home, it didn’t take long to build the crystal radio.
Holding our breath we threw the switch, turned the dial and… Presto! It buzzed. And spoke. The same unintelligible garble mixed with faint music. Now we knew. What a hoax! A radio to test for parasites! What a joke we ejaculated, “The Amish are spending hundreds of dollars to get tested with nothing less then a radio!”
A week later our tune changed. The Bishop was worried. Really worried now. His boys proved that his flock was being fraudulently tested with a helpless hoax. But the troubling part was, the only thing the people heard was “The Bishops boys’ built a radio!” Anathema! Radios are worldly! Whoever heard of an Amish Bishop letting his boys build a radio? And so it hit the Amish air waves.
Fortunately, the truth prevailed and in time Dad proved his sincerity, the project was disassembled and the Amish FBI escaped unscathed, non the worse for wear.
Nathan Miller CEO