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Thanks to everyone who responded on this topic, on and off list.
I'm basically ignorant on electrical stuff, so if I can succeed with
this anybody can. Of course, I haven't succeeded yet.
The potientiometer I got at RadioShack is not suited to 120v
applications, and I wired it up wrong (before I got some better
information from list responders). It exploded as soon as I
plugged it in (fortunately, on a test bench in the garage, not in
place on a tank). Fun, but at $1.50 a pop I'd rather buy a cherry
My local RadioShack does not have speed controllers. I bought
the cheapest light dimmer I could find at Home Depot and hooked
it up to one of the four inch RadioShack AC cooling fans (they only
sell one model that fits this description). It did work. However,
I found that I could only control the fan in a narrow range of
speeds, and that there was some sort of noise from the fan when
I slowed it very much at all. The net effect was that it did not
make it very quiet.
I think the AC route is exhausted. Next I'll be exploring DC
power setups. I may have more questions.
Thanks for your patience,