While still in elementary school in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Don built his first crystal radio, using parts given to him by an uncle and a cousin as well as junkyard finds. Soon after, he got a paper route and saved his money to buy his first soldering iron and his first vacuum tube. His enthusiasm for electronics was apparent in his high school physics class, in Fargo, North Dakota, where his family had moved. From that class he was recruited for a weekend job repairing electric motors at the Fargo Electric Motor Co.
When Don graduated from high school at age 17 in 1943, in the thick of World War II, he had three months before the U.S. Army would pounce on him for service. Having spent his life so far in Minnesota and North Dakota, he decided to see the West Coast, and went to Seattle. His first stop was a shipyard, where he asked for a job working with electricity. He was sent to the union hall, and officials there offered him a post as an apprentice electrician.
“No,” the teenager told the union representative, “I want to be a journeyman. I’ve been working for two years in electric motor repair, I must have learned something.” The union officials gave him an oral test. After he answered the last question, which he recalled had concerned safety precautions in working with hot electrical lines, a listening electrician laughed, muttering, “Well, the kid is wrong on that one.” The shop steward corrected him. “No, the kid is right, you’re wrong,” he said, and gave Pederson his journeyman assignment. He was put in charge of providing temporary electric power, when needed, for lights and tools on a destroyer that was being built.
His knowledge of electrical safety was to be tested further. Often he had to work with live wires, so as not to cast workers in various sections of the destroyer into the dark. “I would get a couple of very dry pieces of wood,” he said, “put them on the metal deck, make the break, hold the two