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Gus Wilson's Model Garage

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Gus and Stan Help Out A Traveler

by "Martin Bunn"

The old Land-Rover rolled down the country road, a fine sight on a fine summer day. Burdened with a trailer it wasn't making the best of time, but keeping up with traffic in its way.  This was the type of day Al liked the most - nowhere to be in a hurry, no schedule other than the level of fuel in the tank, and no crisis waiting at the other end - only a campsite on a quiet pond perfect for a boat paddle or a swim.

However, all was not right in this scene. A ticking sound had been growing louder and louder over the past hour, turning into a loud CLUNK whenever the clutch was depressed. Al realized that a universal joint or driveshaft was singing its swan song, and that he surely wasn't going to make it where he was going without a catastrophic failure. Going back to Stanfield was 30 miles or so, and Al wasn't sure the old beast would make it there. He decided that the next town was going to have to produce a garage, or he was going to have to pull the driveshaft and proceed in front-wheel-drive - the latter being a really bad idea unless absolutely necessary.

Soon enough, a small town presented itself on the road. Like so many small town in western New York, it was a real slice of Americana, with town square presenting town hall, a local Protestant Church, tidy houses and lawns. The road into town hadn't shown a garage he wanted to stop at, so he continued on through, hoping to find something along the way. 

Finally, a sign proudly emblazoned MODEL GARAGE presented itself in the distance. A trim, very well-kept service station of the classic model was behind the sign - that looked more than capable of taking care of any problem he might have, never mind a piddling universal joint.

Pulling the Land-Rover up into the drive and well out of the way of the passing traffic, Al set the brake and wandered into the old-fashioned office. Behind the desk, a slightly harried-looking man was collating invoices, but looked up and asked politely "What can I do for you?"

"Got what sounds like a bad U-joint in that old Land-Rover out there" Al replied, hooking his thumb at the truck and trailer, partially visible out the window.

"Ouch. We can certainly change it if that is what's bad, but getting the part might be a problem. We don't really stock anything for foreign cars, and a lot of times the parts don't have an easy-to-get substitute."

"If it is a u-joint then that won't be a problem. The universals in Land-Rovers are two sizes, both of which are common to rear wheel drive Chevrolets. This truck uses a Precision 369 or equivalent - and that's a pretty common stock item."

"Well, then - if that's the case we'll certainly be fine. I know we have a few pairs of those in stock. What do you mean by "rear wheel drive" Chevrolets? Has GM put out something new we haven't seen here yet?"

It occurred to Al right about then that something here was more than a little amiss. A quick glance through the window at the cars in the lot, the ones passing by and the interior of the office made him realize that his timely arrival here was exactly the opposite - OUT of time.

As Al said when talking about the incident later; "The remark about the rear-wheel-drive cars made the penny drop with a very loud clang. I realized then that the garage, the street, and everything around was mid-1950s, no later. I know my technology fairly well, and judging from what I was seeing I was venturing no later than 1956 or 7."

"I realized right then that treading VERY carefully was going to be the name of the game. One major virtue I had was that the LR and the camper were both mid-50s - the LR was a 54 Series I and the camper was so customized that it could be from any time - but unless someone dug into its guts it wasn't going to be identified as being early 21st century."

Al thought for a second, then remarked "I work in the trade. Sorry - should have just said Chevrolet but getting tied up with the GM labs out in Dearborn makes you forget the real world, sometimes."

Mollified by the revelation, the man behind the desk said "Why don't you roll out behind the garage and unhitch your trailer? Pull up to the back door and honk - I'll have Stan open the door and we can get you fixed right up."

With sweaty palms and a feeling of desperation Al pulled around the back of the garage, dropped the trailer's jack and unhitched. With great relief he realized that the doors at the back of the shop did not have windows - because some subterfuge was needed if he was to survive long enough to get the universal joint in his truck fixed and then find his way back to his own else-when.
 
While doing so, he took the time to make very sure that the plates on the truck were muddy, and the front one missing any date stamp. The inspection sticker on the windshield got a coating of mud, and was thankfully opaque enough to not allow it to be read backwards.  The iPod went into the tool locker, as did all of the currency in his wallet and coinage in his pocket save two 10-dollar silver certificates (thank God for souvenirs). Computer bag went into the under-bed locker on the trailer, as did the GPS and the satphone. The rest of the truck was reasonably muddy, so the date stamps on the tires and wheels wouldn't be noticeable except to the most persistent inquirer.

 License and registration, and all other contents of the wallet went into the cubby box which was locked securely. A frantic search of the truck and visible items on the trailer (which was also locked securely) revealed nothing that could cause any suspicion to even the most paranoid local resident.

Unknown to the frightened driver of the Land-Rover, two hidden sets of eyes looked at the frantic shuffle between the Land-Rover and trailer from a small window at the far end of the service building.

"Why do they always try to hide, Joe?" asked an older man as he drew on the stem of a battered briar pipe. The man from behind the desk, having alerted the older mechanic to the presence of the visitor shrugged and asked "How would you behave? I could tell he'd figured out where he was when he slipped on the Chevrolet parts designation. Poor guy, he must be nearly frantic right now. He's handling it better than most of the others, though."

"Poor guy - probably figures we're going to think he's a Commie spy and hold him for the FBI. Oh, well, here's hoping whatever is wrong with his truck is nothing big and we can get him on his way smoothly. The way he's running around the poor guy's going to have a heart attack."

With heart hammering in ears, Al started the truck and drove up to the “back bay” door of the shop, honked and waited for the door to open. The door rolled up, and with the usual dance of clutch and throttle the old truck was directed over a floor pit.

The junior mechanic (Stan, as Al recalled) waited till he got out, then walked down into the pit under the truck, scanning the underside with a light.

"Mind if I have a look?" Al called down. "A bad U-joint is hard to spot on one of these with the drive-train wind-up from the four-wheel-drive mechanism."

"Sure!" Stan called back, turning on the pit lights to illuminate the stairs.  Al walked down carefully, orienting himself to the underside of the Rover. Stan placed a screw jack under one side of the rear axle and lifted the tire off the ground, allowing the wind-up to come off the rear drive-train. With that done, turning the free rear wheel back and forth while feeling the universal joints pointed out a badly worn rear U-joint in the rear driveshaft, and a front one that was not far behind.

Stab grabbed a grease gun and tried to force grease through the fittings on the defective U-joints. "There's your problem - the fittings are blocked and the grease gun can't force them clear. The guy doing the grease jobs didn't bother to find out why they weren't taking grease - and just kept moving."

"That doesn't surprise me - she's a good kid but doesn't always pay attention to things like that." 

"She? You have a GIRL doing your lube jobs on your truck?"

"Sure. Best way to learn things is to do them - and give her poor old Dad a hand when she's home from college. She checked the oil levels in the axles, swivels and did a lube job while I did a valve adjustment on the engine and a tune-up with new plugs, cap and rotor."

"Wow. That's not something Dads around here would do - other than the few girls who were in the war in the WACS. Got a few of them I wouldn't mind having working here but my boss Gus is an old fuddy-duddy about things like that."

"I'd like him to meet my daughter - she'd change his mind fast. Real no-nonsense type. However, now that we see what's going on - can you guys fix it up for me? The guy at the desk said you have the joints in stock but do you have a press to get them in and out?"

"Sure do. We can likely fix you up in an hour or so - this isn't a big job and we've got nothing in that can't wait. Let me go grab the U-joints out of stock and make sure they're right - i trust Joe's memory but he's just in for a visit - he's not normally at the front desk anymore."

Stan returned s few minutes later with a sheepish expression. "I was right to check - we only have one of the 369s in stock. I'll need to have the grease monkey run down to the supplier for a second one. Won't take long, though - I'll mark and strip the shaft while he's gone, and then I can press them in. Figure two hours total, including the time to get the shaft in and out. Why don't you go grab a long lunch at the grill across the street, and once you're on your second cup of coffee we'll be done."

"Stan, I'd love to, but I'm not exactly flush with cash. What's this going to cost me to get done?"

"Let me go talk to Joe and have him cost it out. Worse to worst we can send you a bill..."

"Thanks, but I really want to pay cash. I hate leaving debts behind - sounds silly, but that's the way I am."

"I understand how you feel - I'm that way myself. Let me get Mr. Clark to cost it out -I'm sure it won't be too harsh."

Stan left again, walked into the office leaving a stressed-looking Rover owner standing by his vehicle. Once he passed into the office and closed the door a grin broke across his face as he met Joe Clark and Gus Wilson.

"We have a very honorable gentleman out there - wants to know what the job is going to cost to make sure he can pay the bill before he leaves. Can we just let him off the hook - the poor old guy looks like he's going to keel over before we let him out of here. "

"I think letting him know we're on to him might be worse - let's just get him fixed up and out of here. Give him a decent charge - he won't know its low because his judgment of the prices here won't be right.  Call it the two universals at a dollar-eighty each, and an hour of labor at a dollar-fifty..." Joe wandered off into his pricing reverie, and then said "Call it four dollars and seventy-five cents and that should be about right. We're also going to give our friend out there a surprise when he gets back from lunch."

"Be careful guys - he looks like he's about to blow a gasket now. You didn't see how red he was when we came up out of the pit."

"He'll be fine - this is a good one, not like that motorcycle moron we had wandering through a few years ago. When that idiot pulled out a pistol and started threatening people I was glad Jerry Corcoran was here to cuff him ‘til he calmed down."

Stan left the office, smiling a bit at the subdued chuckles from the two co-conspirators behind him. Walking back out to the shop, he talked to Al, still nervously standing by his truck.

"I talked to Joe - he said the bills likely to be about four dollars seventy-five cents - figure five dollars to be sure in case we need to replace some of the hardware as well. He also said not to worry if you're short on cash - he's more than willing to bill you on it."

Al relaxed visibly, his tension level dropping about five notches from where it was. Stan, noting this, said "So, you want me to go ahead with this?"

"Certainly, and if you can have your grease monkey get an extra U-joint I can toss in my tool box just in case that would be great. I've changed them on the side of a road before - I don't enjoy it but it can be done of you're tidy about it. So where is this place you recommended for lunch?"

"Let me send the grease monkey out for the part and he can show you where it is - it's right on his way and about a block down on the other side of the street."

"Thanks, - I'll just wander down there. Don't want to delay him, and I can use a stroll to stretch my legs. I feel like I've been in that old truck for years."

With that said, Al walked out of the shop area through the person door in one of the garage doors, and set off at a leisurely pace down the street. Deliberately putting the thought of how to get home out of his mind, he looked about himself on his walk with a keenness humans don't normally apply to their surroundings. The sights, the smells (flowers, trees, a whiff of French fries from the restaurant exhaust, car exhausts), the sounds of small-town living - all were as he'd imagined them in the mid 1950s.

He found the restaurant with little difficulty, and settled onto a stool at the end of the stainless steel counter. The glass cabinets, embossed stainless steel walls and air of cheerful friendliness were comforting, and he started to think he'd survive this trip after all. The waitress brought him coffee unbidden, pointed to the menus and said she'd be back in a minute to take his order. The hectographed menu in a plastic folder caught his attention, and he looked down it with interest.

"Hmmm...cheeseburger deluxe... 45 cents...French fries...25 cents, milkshake, 35 cents...hmm..."

"What can I get for you, sir? The blue plate special today is chicken pot pie, and we have apple pie, chocolate cream pie and chocolate cake for dessert."

"I'll have a cheeseburger deluxe, please, with mustard and catsup on it, along with a side of French fries and a chocolate malt. Also, any chance you might have a magazine or newspaper I could look at over lunch?"

"Sure - there's a pile of stuff down the other end of the counter - help yourself to anything you might find down there while you eat. Want me to freshen you coffee?"

"Please do, and thank you."

Al got up and wandered down to the far end of the counter, heading for a tidy pile of periodicals at the far end of the counter by the wall. Shuffling through the pile, a well-worn copy of "Popular Science" appeared and was eagerly grasped. Shuffling back to his spot, sipping coffee and flipping through the advertisements in the back pages Al experienced a profound feeling of contentment and began to relax to his situation. He still had problems to deal with - getting back to his own place and time being the big one - but the truck was being repaired, he was about to have a burger and fries and nothing needed to be done this very second. Unbidden, old habits from dealing with crises came to the fore and let him focus on the goodness of the moment rather than worrying about the future.

Lunch arrived - a plate with a juicy hamburger topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, a slice of American cheese on a seeded bun and accompanied by a pile of hand-cut French fries and a chocolate malt in a metal-framed fountain glass. Savoring the meal and soaking up the comfort of the small diner he ate his lunch, draining the chocolate malt down to the last drop in the glass. Another call to the waitress produced a refill on the malt and a piece of chocolate cake, both of which were savored to the bottom of their respective containers.

After this interlude Al hated to get up, but duty and problems called. Getting up, paying his check with one of the silver certificates (from which he received most of it in change) and leaving the waitress a healthy tip, he wandered back to the Model Garage and into a nightmare.

Walking in the office door he saw his truck - sparking clean and with all of the camouflaging mud removed. His alarm rose even further when he realized that all three of the denizens of the Model Garage were in the office waiting for him.

"So, what's it like in the year 2015?" the older mechanic (with "GUS" on his coveralls) asked. "We got the driveshaft done quick-enough and decided to give it a wash once we got done - thing was dripping mud everywhere. The date codes on the inspection sticker and the license plates were a real shock. Why would you be driving that old (to you) bus anyway - don't people in 2015 all have flying cars or jet packs?"

Al stood there, dumbstruck by the pit he'd been dropped into. Moving slowly and hopefully unnoticeably, he sidled toward the shop door.

Stan reached into the pocket of his coveralls, producing the keys to the Rover. "You might as well stop now...even if you get to it you can't start it."

"So says you. Hood up and move one wire and I can start and drive that thing - the wiring's got a mistake in it that allows this for anyone who knows about it. "Regaining his senses and starting to think again, he realized that he wasn't getting out of here without dealing with these three. The question hanging heavy in the room was OK, what now?

Suddenly, the three men broke out laughing. Stan tossed Al his keys and Al, running on autopilot, caught them while he tried to process the total about-face that just happened.

Completely nonplussed, Al shouted "What the HELL?!?!?" and then lapsed into silence, staring at the laughing men. The moment was broken by the garage forecourt bell ringing as a gas customer pulled up. Still chucking, Joe went out to answer the summons, leaving the two mechanics still gleefully enjoying the expression on Al's face. Finally, the laughter died down and Al stared at the two, waiting less than patiently for an explanation. Finally Gus spoke up, the stern expression from earlier gone from his face.

"Coffee?" Al nodded dumbly, accepting a mug with cream and sugar added. Gus and Stan refilled theirs, and all three settled back in chairs in the office - Al warily, the other two relaxed.

"Settle down, friend - we had you figured out from when you first talked to Joe Clark and dropped that clanger about "rear-wheel-drive" Chevrolets. We saw you out back, trying to cover your tracks with mud and sticking your stuff back in the camper (which we haven't bothered, by the way). You did a pretty good job - if it hadn't been for the slip-up and the wear on what should have been an almost-new truck then you'd have gotten away clean.

This town is a funny place - every now and then people come to town who really don't belong here. Everyone here knows about it, and those of us who tend to run into these folk know how to handle it without stirring anybody up too badly.  Usually, we just accept the traveler as just that - a traveler - and don't make a big deal about the time differences or anything weird - unless it's too far out there, and then we gently ease them on their way back to where they came from as fast as we can."

"Hoow, ahem, how often does this happen?"

"Every year or two - and before you ask you're the farthest-out one we've run across so far. We figure it's because of the truck - it more-or-less fits here, as did the cars and trucks of other people who've come here. The fact that you're from so far forward is what prompted us to spring that little surprise on you - we just couldn't resist. Sorry about that."

Al took a long draw off his coffee, tilted back a bit in his chair and pondered the situation. He'd been outed, true, but   it looked like he was still safe - the locals weren't calling the FBI on him. More to the point, his truck was fixed, he still had a reasonable amount of gas in his tank and his hosts seemed to understand the predicament he was in.

"OK, no harm no foul - but doing that to a guy my age is never a good idea." Al quipped. "To put not too fine a point on it, though, how the heck am I going to get home again - and how long do I have before the door closes on that possibility?"

"No problem. Whatever this is (and we have no more real idea than you do) doesn't seem to open and close - it's just there. Only a very few people seem to pop through it too this here-and-now - and the ones who do can just reverse their path and return to the there and then they come from. Once you've been here, you can come back again by doing what you did. There doesn't seem to be a price to pay with it and we even had one traveler settle down here in town."

"Hmm. So, in short, I go back out through town and I end up back in 2013?  It's not 2015, by the way - that's just the expiration date on my registration."

"Yup, that's all there is to it. You don't need to hurry too much, though, the future is not going anywhere. We have a campground outside of town and the fishing's good there."

"Love to stay, guys, but my money wouldn't hold out long - I don't have a lot of cash that fits the here-and-now. Which reminds me - I owe you some of it - but can I have a look at the job first? As you've likely figured out that truck is a complete rebuild I did  - and it's a little odd in some of the corners."

"Sure - let's go have a look." That said, they finished their coffees and trooped out to the garage. Al climbed down into the pit under the truck and looked up at the rear shaft, noting with approval that the universals had been replaced, the shaft cleaned and given two coats of quick-drying lacquer paint. They'd also greased the front shaft, checked all the lube levels and adjusted the brakes, he was proudly told by Stan (who'd done the work himself).

"Great - so what's all this going to cost me? Not trying to be a penny pincher, but my resources are not limitless."

"Original quote is good - call it four dollars and fifty cents and you're on your way." Al counted out the amount from the change he got from lunch, and realized that he still had more than enough for a good dinner at the hotel, food and beer for his cooler and a few days at the campsite.

"Gus? Whereabouts did you say that campsite was?"

©Al Richer, 2014

 

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