LITTLE HOUSE PROJECT
GUS AND THE MIRACLE JEEP
by Martin Bunn
A secret project at the Model Garage
gets the local National Guard unit into deep water.
Curiosity being what it is a good many of the
Model Garage's regular customers wondered what was going on one morning a
few weeks ago. Gus Wilson, its well know owner, had screened off one
corner of his repair shop by stringing an old truck tarpaulin from the
ceiling. Then he had added to the mystery by hanging a large sign on
the tarpaulin - KEEP OUT.
To anyone who asked him about it, Gus
replied with a pleasant smile and a polite change of subject. As a
result, speculation as to what was going on behind the curtain ran wild -
including one, rumor that Gus was working on a top-secret invention for the
Even Stan Hicks, Gus's helper, was
completely in the dark. Gus would tell him nothing. All that
Stan knew was that Ted Stevens, who'd served in the Army during the war and
who was active in our towns National Guard unit, had driven an Army jeep
into the shop late Saturday night and had gone into a long whispered huddle
with Gus. When Stan showed up for work the next morning, the curtain
was up and ever since Gus and Ted had been spending a good deal of time
behind it. Stan guessed that the jeep was behind the curtain too, he'd
heard an engine running once or twice.
"What gives?" Stan finally asked when Gus
emerged from his curtained corner for lunch on Tuesday. "Why all the
Can't you even let an employee in on the big
"There's no big secret," Gus grinned.
"Haven't you heard that the National Guard units in
this area are holding their annual training encampment over at Danesville
starting this weekend? Well, I'm just helping Ted Stevens get his
unit's jeep in shape for the maneuvers."
Stan knew Gus Wilson well enough to know
there wasn't much use asking more questions, so he let it go at that.
Curtain and Jeep Disappear
On Wednesday morning the "Iron curtain," as
Stan jokingly had got to calling it, was gone. So were Ted and the
jeep. They had disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as they had
Stan had pretty much forgotten the whole
thing when about 10 days later, Gus made a suggestion.
"How about driving over to Danesville with
me this morning, Stan? Understand the Guard is putting on quite a
show, and I think we ought to see it."
"But what about all this work that's stacked
up?" put in Stan.
"It'll keep," Gus assured him.
"Besides, it'll do Joe Clarke good to get his nose out of those books and
hold down the fort for a few hours. Wipe that smudge of grease off
your nose and let's get going."
"Okay, boss, if you say so," Stan agreed as
he clambered into Gus's car. Watching the boys in khaki put on a sham
battle might be fun - anyway, it was better than greasing cars on a nice
When they drove into the Danesville camp,
hundreds of visitors from the nearby towns already were wandering over the
reservation. The show turned out to be a series of scattered
demonstrations, with signs directing visitors to go from one to another.
At one spot several squads of guardsmen were building most road blocks and
tank traps. Close by, others were demonstrating chemical warfare
tactics. At a third, a crew was simulating the firing of a World War
II antiaircraft gun. Stan really began to get interested.
Gus Leads the Way
Gus however, paid little attention to
anything until he spied a sign that read, "Vehicle Waterproofing
Competition." An arrow pointed down a hill that led to the shore of a
fair-sized lake that was part of the camp.
"This is us," he said as he led the way.
When they reached the lake Stan saw five Army cars,
their engines running, lined up on the pebbled beach. There were three
jeeps, a carryall, and a scout car. Gus and Stan found a spot on the
hillside where they could get a good view. They had just about settled
themselves on a couple of rocks when a loudspeaker boomed forth.
"Ladies and gentlemen. You are about
to witness a unique exhibition and contest. Each of the five National
Guard units taking part in this two-week training program has been asked to
enter one Army vehicle in this competition. Each unit has prepared
their vehicle for underwater operation. This procedure was common
practice in landing operations during the last war..."
Then the voice went on to explain that on
signal the drivers, wearing bathing shorts, would drive their cars into the
water until they were fully submerged, except for the drivers' heads and the
extended exhaust, air-intake and gas-tank-vent stacks, and would then cruise
parallel to the shoreline. The car that continued to function the
longest would win the competition.
As the voice went on, Stan remembered that
he had read how the motors of Army trucks and cars had been waterproofed for
landings on beachheads by coating their ignition systems with putty, goo,
and a waterproof varnish. He also guessed now what Gus and Ted Stevens
had been doing behind the "iron curtain." And he was sure of it when
he recognized Ted Stevens as the driver of the second jeep from the left.
At a signal from the officer in charge, all
five cars began to move toward the water's edge. With their three
stacks extending above their bodies, they looked like so many waddling
beetles. They all entered the water at about the same time.
The squad car stalled before the water
had reached half way up its hood. It sputtered a few times and died.
One of the jeeps stalled a minute or so after it got fully submerged.
Within the first five minutes three of the cars were out of the race and
their drivers were wading ashore. The remaining two cars - a jeep and
the carryall - were now putt-putting up and down the shoreline. Then,
finally, after about 15 minutes, the carryall conked out, and the winning
driver piloted his jeep toward the shore. Even before the car was out
of the water, Gus was on his feet.
"Let's get down on the beach," he yelled.
"That's Ted's jeep."
Ignition Off, but Engine Runs
By the time Stan and Gus had clambered down the
steep hill. Ted's jeep was up on the shore, still putt-putting away
and surrounded by an amazed group of guardsmen and officers. The
jeep's hood was up and they were peering down at a completely
un-waterproofed ignition system. No goo, no varnish. The
ignition switch on the dash wasn't even turned on, yet the engine was
When Gus shouldered into the group, Ted
waved to him and gave him the now well-known first finger-and-thumb circle
that means success. Then to give added proof as to just how good his
unit's unwater-proofed jeep was, Ted drove it out into the lake again parked
it under about four feet of water, and swam ashore. The engine
continued to run. After a few minutes he swam our again, and drove it
back up on the shore to the cheers of the crowd.
"Okay, miracle man," Stan kidded after
they'd got back to Gus's car and had started the drive back to the garage.
"How did you master-mind that one?"
"I didn't master-mind it," Gus replied.
"It was Ted's idea. I just helped out with
the details and some of the work."
"Okay, okay," Stan said impatiently.
"So what's the gimmick? Automobile ignition systems just don't work
when they get wet.
And besides, the ignition switch on that jeep
wasn't even on. What did you do, stow away gremlins in the crankcase
to push the pistons up and down?"
"Ever hear of a Diesel?" Gus asked.
"Of course I've heard of a Diesel, but
what's that got to do with a gasoline engine in a jeep?"
The Curtain of Mystery Is Lifted
"It's just a matter of principle," teased Gus.
Then, just before Stan really blew his top, he continued. "The whole
thing goes back to Ted's war experiences, when he was attached to the motor
corps of the 213th Medical Battalion of the 96th
"During training, he was stationed at a camp
near San Luis Obispo in California. With the rest of his gang he'd
been taught the approved way of waterproofing cars for beach landings.
Then one day two Corps vehicles showed up at the camp, a jeep and a
carryall. They didn't have any water-proofing, so far as the ignition
systems were concerned. Still they outperformed all the regular
Division cars when it came to underwater operation.
"Ted's always been an inquisitive kid," Gus
went on, "so he asked questions. The underwater trick, he learned,
consisted of drilling one eighth inch holes, one and one-sixteenth of an
inch deep, into the centers of brand-new intake valves. With those
holes in place, the engine, after it had been started and warmed up, no
longer needs a conventional ignition system."
"I still don't get it." Stan said.
"How in the heck can holes drilled in an engine's intake valves take the
place of the hot sparks from spark plugs?"
"That's what I meant about the Diesel,"
explained Gus. "The simplest Diesel engine - some people call them
semi Diesels - have hot spots in each cylinder to take the place of spark
plugs. The hot spot, a knob or button of metal that retains its heat,
keeps hot enough to fire the air fuel mixture after each compression stroke.
"The same thing's true of the holes we
drilled into the intake valves of the engine in Ted's jeep. After a
little normal running with the jeep's regular ignition system, those holes
get filled at the bottom with a deposit of carbon. Carbon retains
heat, so, after a normal start with the regular ignition system, the 'carbon
spark plugs' continued to do the firing, so it didn't matter if the ignition
system got wet and conked out.
As a matter of fact you saw Ted switch his ignition
off once the engine had reached its normal operating temperature."
"Mind if I ask a couple of $64 question?"
put in Stan. "If that system works so well, how come the Army didn't
adopt it instead of waterproofing? And why don't they just do away
with the conventional electric ignition systems on all cars?"
"Well, in the first place," Gus explained,
"it's not a particularly efficient ignition system for general use and,
besides, you have to have a conventional ignition system to run the engine
until the carbon spots heat up. Then there's no way to control the
firing of the cylinders, so the engine is always out of time. As a
result, you lose power, have a rough-running engine, and waste gasoline.
"It was just a trick the Army tried and then
abandoned," Gus added. "But it was good enough to help Ted and our
National Guard unit win this afternoon."
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