Gus Wilson tore three coupons out of the A book
handed to him by a worried-looking young fellow behind the wheel of an
apparently well-kept sedan that had paused at the Model Garage gas pump.
"Well, Al," he said, "you report at your induction
center pretty soon now, don't you? Keep that old chin up, boy."
Al Day nodded soberly. "Thursday morning," he
replied. "But going into the Army isn't what's bothering me. Take a look
at my oil, will you, Mr. Wilson? For a week this car has been using pretty
nearly as much oil as gas. That's what's got me down."
"You're nearly a quart low," Gus reported, and
up-ended an oil container over the filler pipe. "Going to lay your bus up
while you're away?" he asked.
"No," Al told him, "I'm going to sell it to a
friend of mine on Wednesday - that's day after tomorrow. The fact is, I
need the money. I'm going to be engaged to a mighty cute girl before I
leave, and I'm to give her an engagement ring at a party at her house
Wednesday night. It's her birthday."
"Congratulations," Gus said, and extended his hand.
"I've paid a deposit on the ring," Al went on, "and
I figured to pay the balance with the money I'd get for this car. Now I'm
behind the eight ball. The guy who is supposed to buy the car thinks it's
in first class condition, like it was a week ago. Why, I've even just had
the tires recapped. It wouldn't be square of me not to tell him something's
happened to make it eat up oil. And when I tell him, he'll call off the
deal. What can I do, Mr. Wilson?"
"That's easy," Gus reassured him. It can't be
anything serious. Have you noticed any oil on your garage floor recently?"
"No, sir, not a drop," Al said. "I've looked every
morning, and I've checked everything else I can think of, too. How about
you looking it over, Mr. Wilson? But I'll have to have it back by evening.
My girl lives in Brownsville, 10 miles out in the country, and I'm seeing
her every night until I leave."
"I've promised a job for tonight," Gus told him,
"and I have my hands full tomorrow, too. But suppose you bring your bus
back here in the morning and let Stan look it over - Stan's just a grease
monkey, but he's learning fast. I'll give him a hand if I can, and if he
can't find the trouble, why you bring it back after your date tomorrow
night, and I'll tackle it myself."
The next day when Al drove in, Gus checked the oil
again, and shook his head. "You've lost another quart somehow," he said.
"How about your oil pressure gauge?"
"That's how I first found out that something was
haywire," Al explained. "One day the gauge didn't show any pressure at all,
and a check showed there was hardly any oil left in the crankcase. Since
then I've watched the gauge. It's been all right, but I've had to put in a
quart of oil every day that I've driven more than a few blocks."
"How about the days you didn't drive more than a
few blocks?" Gus demanded.
"Those days it didn't use any oil," Al said. He
hesitated for a moment. "Here's something that sounds screwy, Mr. Wilson,
the bus uses twice as much oil when I drive out to my girl's house than it
does when I drive down to the city and back, but the distance is just about
the same. The only difference is that Peggy - that's my girl - lives on the twistiest old road in the State, and the highway to the city is nearly
straight. But that doesn't add up to anything, does it?"
Gus laughed. "Not likely," he said.
He turned to Al's car as the youth left. After
making sure there were no telltale oil spots beneath the motor, Gus examined
the oil pump on the side of the engine and found it to be in good condition
with all connections tight. Then he called Stan Hicks, the Model Garage's
current grease monkey, told him what he had learned from Al, and instructed
him to make a thorough check.
Stan went over the cap screws securing the lower
part of the crankcase. He saw that they were a trifle loose and that there
were indications that a little oil had seeped out around them.
"That's the stuff," he told himself. "First thing
I look at turns out to be it."
He tightened the cap a screws, but remembered Gus's
orders and continued his examination. Then he made sure that the
valve-cover plate fitted snugly, and that the timing-gear housing was
tight. Starting up the engine, he ran it at varying speeds while he
listened, but it purred smoothly without knocks that would have indicated a
misaligned connecting rod, worn or loose bearings, or loose tappets from
which oil might leak. He got out of the car and eyed the exhaust pipe, but
no blue smoke, sure sign of excessive oil consumption, came from it. An
inspection of the spark plugs showed that they weren't sooty. He put in a
quart of oil and looked up Gus.
"It was the first thing I looked at, Mr. Wilson,"
Stan reported. "But just to make sure, I made a thorough check. The only
place oil was leaking was at the cap screws holding the bottom part of the
crankcase. They are all right now, and the rest of the oil system is as
tight as a drum."
Gus lighted his pipe. "I don't see how a quart of
oil a day could have dripped out at the cap screws," he said, "but I suppose
that's as likely an explanation as any."
Gus was out when Al came for his car, and there was
no word from the youth all day, but at 10 o'clock that evening, just as Gus
was ready to go home, the office phone rang. Al was on the wire, and his
voice echoed despondency.
"I'm in an awful spot, Mr. Wilson," he said. "I
just checked my oil, and the crank-case is practically dry! I'm at my
girl's house, and the Brownsville garage is shut for the night. I've got a
date at ten tomorrow morning with the guy who's going to buy my car. What
had I better do?"
"Keep your shirt on and don't try to drive without
any oil," Gus told him. "I'll bring some oil out to you...Oh, that's all
right, I never get tired. You'll be waiting for me at the edge of town?
Gus hung up, put a can of oil in his roadster, and
started. It was raining hard. A couple of miles out of town he turned off
the highway onto the country road - and remembered what Al had said about it
being the twistiest road in the State. But Gus took the turns at an even
pace, and within 20 minutes his headlights revealed Al waiting for him
beside the road. Gus stopped and Al jumped in.
"Say, Mr. Wilson," he cautioned, "if Peggy's father
comes out, don't say anything about my having to sell the car to buy that
ring. He's awfully old-fashioned...but here we are now."
Al's car was parked under a streetlight, its front
wheels turned sharply into the curb to hold it on the steep grade. A pretty
girl in a raincoat got out of the sedan and came toward them when Gus
stopped his roadster behind it.
"This is Peggy Milden, Mr. Wilson," Al said.
Peggy smiled mournfully. "Oh, Mr. Wilson," she
pleaded, "please get Al's car fixed so he can sell it in the morning."
The import of her entreaty was not lost on Gus.
"Don't worry," he said. "It will be sold, all right. That's a promise."
He got his can of oil and began to empty it into
the sedan's crankcase. "Why the deuce," he asked himself, "did I say that?
I don't know what's the matter with this bus, and the chances are I'll have
to buy it myself to make good," Gus is soft-hearted, especially where
youngsters are concerned.
When he had filled the crankcase, he turned to Al.
"That'll get you to the garage," he said. "I'm going home to bed. Here's
the shop key. Drive your car in and leave the key at the diner across the
road. I'll get at your job the first thing in the morning."
He smiled at Peggy and got into his roadster.
"It'll be all right," he said.
Al Day was waiting in front of the Model Garage
when Gus arrived the next morning. In the shop they found Stan scowling at
"What's happened to this jalopy since I fixed it?"
Stan demanded. "Look how it's leaked all over the floor."
Gus stared at the pool of oil, noticing that the
front wheels of the car were cut sharply to one side, just as Al had left
them. Without a word, he hurried into his work clothes, told Stan to back
the car away from the oil, and crawled under the machine.
"Cut the wheels - sharp," he directed after a few
seconds. "That's O.K." He wriggled out from beneath, and instructed Stan
to run the car up on the greasing rack.
"I'm losing my grip," Gus told Al. "You gave me a
clue when you said your car lost more oil on a twisty road than on a
straight one, but I was too dumb to get it. The new recaps on your front
tires helped to fool me, too. The wheels are out of line, but you hadn't
driven enough on the recaps to make excessive wear show up.
"But, anyway, I've found the trouble now, and it
won't take more than half an hour to fix it. Somehow you bent the tie rod.
The rod kept rubbing against the front of the oil pan until at last it
rubbed a little hole in it, and then the oil dripped out."
Al looked doubtful. "Why didn't the oil drip out
when the car was standing in my garage?" he asked.
"For the same reason that your car wasted more oil
on a twisty road," Gus said.
"When the wheels were straight, the rod was over
the hole, so no oil could be lost. But as soon as the wheels were turned
either way, the rod moved from the hole and the oil ran out... Well, I'll
straighten the tie rod and see that the wheels run true again. Then I'll
solder a thick piece of shim over the hole, and you can sell the car to your
friend with a clear conscience. You can buy Peggy that ring, and you won't
have anything to worry about except the war - and I know that doesn't bother
"Gee," said Al, "I knew you'd be able to fix it,
Mr. Wilson. Thanks a million."