Gus Wilson was trying to give a finicky little speedometer repair job the
100 percent concentration it demanded, but the horn outside the Model Garage
shop hooted and squawked practically continuously.
After a full two
minutes Gus gave up, slammed his pliers down on the workbench, and pushed
the door open.
A man and a
woman were getting out of the opposite front doors of a big, expensive car
that had slumped into shabby old age. The man was burly, scarlet-faced, and
obviously hopping mad; the woman was small, sharp-featured, and even madder.
Neither of them
gave him so much as a glance. They were too busy glaring at each other.
“It’s driving me nuts!” the man yelled. “If that dopey brother of yours—“
Harold dear, it’s all George’s fault,” the woman cooed. Then her voice
jumped an octave. “That’s you all over, you big drip! If it wasn’t for
“If it wasn’t
for George,” Harold sneered, “I’d be a lot better off. I ain’t sore at
him. I’m just sorry for him because he has to try to run a garage when
everyone knows he ought to be in a home for the feeble-minded. Why, that—“
His eyes met
Gus’s, and his voice trailed off. The woman smiled sweetly. “Tell the man
what’s the matter with the car, Harold dear,” she advised.
glared at her. “I have the devil’s own job getting it started—have to crank
it oftener than not,” he growled. “Battery must be run down again.”
“Had it checked
lately?” Gus asked.
Harold smiled balefully. “I had it recharged two weeks ago—but my
brother-in-law who did it must have—“
“I’ll check it,”
Gus broke in. “Drive into the shop, and cut your engine.”
Stan Hicks came
in and Gus told him to take up the car’s floorboards. Then he got a
voltmeter and tested all three of the battery’s cells. “It’s way down all
“That’s what dopey George said, but this time I had sense enough not to let
him monkey with it. Last time after he had recharged it, it wasn’t much
better than when I took it to him—and now it’s next door to dead.”
“It could be
that you’ve got a defective switch that has discharged your battery,” Gus
told him. “Or perhaps your battery is just plain worn out and you need a
new one—how long have you had it?”
months,” Harold said, “and it was okay until Mrs. Smith’s bright brother
went to work on it.”
“Never mind my
bright brother!” Mrs. Smith snarled. “Tell the man why you had to have the
battery recharged—because you came home plastered and forgot to turn the
car’s lights off after you managed to get it into the garage, and they
burned all the rest of the night and half of the next day, and ran the
Harold said in an outraged voice. “I have a couple drinks just for
sociability and you say I was plastered!”
it anything you want to!” his wife shrilled. “Why, two days later you still
were seeing things—after George had recharged the battery you were afraid to
drive the car because you thought the whatd’yacallit—the ammeter was reading
the wrong way!”
“So it was!”
Gus switched on
the lights and watched the ammeter indicator move over to discharge.”
“Well, it’s reading right now.”
admitted, “but that’s because the battery’s in the wrong way.”
“The only way
George could get the ammeter to read the right way was to put the battery in
backside front,” Harold explained.
George Made It Work
Gus stared at him. Then he checked the cable connecting one of the
battery terminals to the car frame. It was a little corroded, but its
connections were moderately clean and tight. He put the positive terminal
of his voltmeter on the post, the other across the cell, and saw the
indicator move in the right direction. “The positive pole of the battery is
grounded to the frame,” he told Harold. “That’s right for this model car.”
terminal connections caught his eye. He examined them more closely, and saw
that the smaller cable’s lug had been forced over the larger terminal, and
that the larger lug had had a shim inserted in it to make it hold on the
smaller terminal. “What sort of mumbo jumbo is this?” he wondered out loud.
gratingly. “That’s dopey George’s work,” he said. “When he had to switch
the leads to make the ammeter read the right way, he did it to make ‘em
his head. Then he looked at the shop clock and saw that it was close to
four. “There’s something screwy about this,” he told Harold. “You’d better
leave your car. Maybe your battery is worth recharging—do you want me to do
it I think it is?” Harold nodded assent. “All right, then—come in late
departed, still bickering noisily. Gus went back to the job they had
interrupted. By the time he got back to the Smith car it was near quitting
battery on the charger, and see what happens,” he told Stan. “It’s probably
pretty near done for, but maybe there are a couple of months more service in
Gus was plenty busy the next day—so busy that it was along toward three
o’clock before he thought of the Smith job. “How about that battery I told
you to put on the charger?” he called to Stan.
“It’s okay, I
guess,” Stan reported. “It took a charge.”
Gus said. “Put it back and call me when you’ve got it hooked up.”
later Stan called him. Gus got into the car and pressed the starting
button. The starter had a good kick to it, and the engine took off
promptly. Gus speeded it up, and watched the ammeter.
moved over into the “discharge” division of the scale!
yelled. “How the heck did you hook up this battery?”
the same way it was hooked up before I took it out,” Stan told him in an
Gus switched off
the engine and then switched on the lights.
moved into the “charge” division of the scale!
Gus turned off
the lights, and sat thinking. Then he took up the floor boards and put his
voltmeter across the end cell, its positive terminal on the grounded post,
just as he had the day before. The indicator jerked below the scale. He
put the same meter terminal on the post at the other end cell. The needle
moved the right way.
Gus laughed, and
rapped the side of his head hard with his knuckles. “The old bean sure is
slowing down,” he told his puzzled helper. “Switch the battery around.”
Is a Positive Not a Positive?
“Okay,” Stan said obediently. “But I don’t get any part of this, boss.
Yesterday the ammeter read the right way. I hooked the battery up just the
same way today—and now the ammeter reads the wrong way. And yesterday when
you checked the battery pole that’s grounded to the frame it was
positive—and today it’s negative. But I don’t see what I did wrong.”
Gus gave him a
friendly poke in the ribs.
“The only thing
you did wrong,” he said, “was charge the battery right…. I’ll tell you about
the battery in the car. Then Gus checked the job. With the lights off and
the engine on, the ammeter indicator moved into the “charge” division of the
scale, with the engine off and the lights on, it moved into the “discharged”
said. “And just in time. Here come the Smiths—still scrapping!”
scrapping they drove out in the car. While Gus was washing up later that
afternoon he noticed that Stan was very busy making diagrams with a red and
black pencil. “Hey, kid,” he reminded him, “It’s time to go home.”
muttered absently. “I’ve been tryin’ to dope out about that battery. You
said you’d tell me about it, but—“
Uncrossing the Double Cross
“Sure I’ll tell you about it,” Gus said.
“It’s not so
tough if you start at the beginning—which was when our friend Harold got
plastered and ran his battery down by leaving his lights on for several
hours. Well, he took it over to his brother-in-law George, who put the
battery on the charger the wrong way—with the charger’s positive lead
connected to the battery’s negative pole.”
gasped. “What would you do to me if I ever did that, boss?”
“Shoot you, or
bash your head in,” Gus assured him cheerfully. “A battery treated that way
isn’t long for this world…. Well, George’s charger overpowered the battery
and gave it a reverse charge, which changed what had been the positive pole
to the negative, and the negative pole to the positive. When he put the
battery back in the car and connected it the right way, the ammeter read the
wrong way. So he turned the battery around—botching up the terminals to do
it—and the ammeter read the right way.
“Of course that
poor misused battery didn’t have much moxie, but with a little help from the
hand crank it started the car—for a while. Then it gave up the ghost, and
Harold brought it in here. You put it on the charger the right way—and the
charger overpowered what was left of the reversed charge, changing the
original positive pole back to positive, and the original negative pole back
“I hooked the
positive lead of the charger up to the bigger terminal post on the battery.
That’s right, isn’t it?”
“Sure. But when
you put it back and connected it up just the way it was before you took it
out, the ammeter read the wrong way again. And then when you reconnected it
in the opposite way—the way it always should have been connected—the ammeter
read the right way, because the battery polarity was back where it
belonged… Got it, kid?”
“All I got,”
Stan groaned, “is a heck of a headache!”