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Widget Of The Week

Heathkit Thermo Spotter MI-104, 1965?

Where would you find a Crappie? How about an Alewife? Obviously the answer is North America, in waters at between 65 to 74 and 48 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. Yes, of course they’re fish and knowing where they, and many others, are most likely to be lurking is one of the best ways to catch them. So what has this weird-looking object got to do with it? It’s all about fish finding, and the Heathkit Thermo Spotter, Model MI-104 is basically an underwater thermometer. It has three main elements; there’s the hand-held reel with a built-in temperature meter. Wound around the reel there’s a long wire, with a temperature sensor attached to the end.  Drop the sensor in the water (attached to a lead weight) and as it descends (or rises) the meter displays the temperature of the water. A chart on the side of the case lists 16 fish species alongside the temperature gradients they are most likely to be found in.

 

Most of the fish listed are typically found in the US, which is a good clue as to where the Thermo Spotter was made. Or does it? Oddly enough, apart from the fish chart, there is no other clue as to where it came from. There are no markings anywhere on or inside the case. If you want to be really picky this one could have been assembled just about anywhere. The Heathkit name is the giveaway and for over 70 years -- with a couple of interruptions -- they’ve been the world’s leading supplier of home-build electronic kits. 

 

The electronic circuitry inside the Thermo Spotter, such as it is, wouldn’t have taken very long to put together. It comprises the 50uA moving coil meter on the front panel, a small printed circuit board with four fixed resistors and two preset potentiometers (for calibration), a momentary action push-button switch for taking readings, a holder for a single 1.5 volt AA cell and the sensor module on the end of the wire. This almost certainly contains a temperature-sensitive resistor or ‘thermistor’ in a sealed brass capsule. You will have to take that on trust, as opening it up to make sure would be a no-go, as it would almost certainly destroy it

 

It was a chance catch on ebay whilst trawling (all fish puns intended…) through listings for Heathkit test gear. And as so often happens with oddball items, no one seemed interested in it. The auction was about to end, and never having come across such a thing before, I was curious enough to put in a bold bid of 50 pence over the start price of £10. Luckily it was the only bid, it arrived quickly, and in surprisingly good condition, just needing a wipe over with a soft cloth and a squirt or two of Flash to get it looking like new. There was a long expired AA cell in the battery clip. Thankfully it hadn’t leaked and apart from some gunge on the contacts the Spotter turned out to be a runner. I know that through scientific tests (a kitchen sink and an old school chemical thermometer). After tweaking the twin pots the meter was more or less spot on. There was just one minor cosmetic issue, though, and that was the meter’s transparent cover. At some point the original one had been broken or lost and replaced with one from another, differently shaped meter. It doesn’t look too bad but I would like to find the correct one. However, it’s an old and long-obsolete model and the only one I’ve found on ebay so far cost twice as much as I paid for this Spotter so I’m not holding my breath.

 

Finding out when it was made or assembled turned out to be surprisingly difficult Several online archives have the odd Heathkit catalogue from the late 60s and early 70s, and some of them include more sophisticated fish finders and related marine kits but alas, no Thermo Spotters. The mid-sixties date is a guesstimate, therefore, based on the overall design, components and materials but as you can see there’s not a lot to go on, so if anyone can help to pin it down, please get in touch. 

 

What Happened To It?

Heathkit started out as the Heath Company in the US in 1947, initially producing kits for home build test equipment and later branching out into home hi-fi, amateur radio, automotive electronics and all sorts of electronic gadgets, even computers. It built up an impressive reputation for the ease of construction, quality and performance of their kits, though they almost always cost significantly more than similar ready-made products.

 

By the early nineties interest in home build projects had waned and the price differential between kits and off the shelf equivalents widened and in 1992 Heathkit pulled out of the kit market. They didn’t give up, though, and continued making security and lighting products, and in 2011 had another go at making kits. Sadly it didn’t work out and in 2012 Heathkit filed for bankruptcy. New owners took over and the brand was revived in 2013. At the time of writing they were still in business, marketing a small range of retro gadget kits online. There is also a sizeable and enthusiastic fan base with a strong presence on ebay and some eye-catching prices for some of the most popular vintage kits. Alas the Thermo Spotter is not one of them. That is in spite of it being extremely rare (in the UK at least). It is definitely worth about what I paid for it, though, and possibly a little more if I ever manage to find an original meter cover at a sensible price.


DUSTY DATA

First Seen:                   1965?

Original Price:             £?

Value Today:               £10 (0521)

Features:                     Thermistor temperature sensor, 50uA moving coil meter, meter scale 32 – 86 degrees Fahrenheit (0 – 30 C), push-button reading, cable reel with rewind handle, 10-metre waterproof cable, fish temperature gradient chart

Power req.                       1 x 1.5 volt AA cell

Dimensions:                     260 x 140 x 68mm

Weight:                            500g

Made (assembled) in:       USA?

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)      9



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