The red thread of mercury in the
thermometer outside the Model Garage was pressing 20, and passing citizens
were hurrying along with heads bowed to the icy blast of a north wind, their
overcoat collars turned up around their ears.
Joe Clark, gazing out of the window of
the snug office, grinned widely. "Cold morning," he remarked.
"Bet a lot of people are walking who didn't expect to."
Gus Wilson looked up from some time
and material slips he was working on. "Stop gloating over the
discomforts and misfortunes of your fellow man," he said.
"I'm not gloating," Joe replied.
"But I could be. The first real cold morning always brings a lot of
business, and - " A peremptory ring of the phone cut him short.
"There you go," Joe commented and
picked up the receiver. "Model Garage," he said, and then, with a wry
face, he listened for maybe three minutes. "Yes," he finally put in.
"All right... Of course... As soon as we possibly can. Good-by."
"That was Mrs. Miller," he told Gus.
"Talked so fast I couldn't get a word
in. She says - "
Gus laughed. "You don't have to
tell me what she says - I know. She says her radiator's frozen.
I knew that without her calling. I've been keeping her last year's
antifreeze for her. Three weeks ago I told her she'd better let me put
it in, but she was in a hurry. When it began to get cold yesterday, I
phoned her, and she said she'd come right over. But she didn't.
I'll send Stan over to thaw her bus out."
Gus grunted and went into the shop.
For a couple of minutes he heard a rumble of voices in the office, and then
Dr. Nicholson came out into the shop. He's the new principal of our
high school - he took Professor Hiram Scruggs's job a year or so ago when
that old crab retired and moved away. Doc's a stout, red-faced, hearty
man, as jolly and popular as Scruggs was cross and disliked.
"Morning, Gus," he called out in his
usual breezy style. "In me you see a man who is disillusioned,
perplexed, and in dire need of a friendly helping hand."
Gus grinned, "Meaning that you
couldn't get your car started?" he asked.
"Meaning just that," Nicholson
"And what a blow it was. When I
saw what sort of way we were having, I said to Mrs. Nicholson: This is
a morning when one really appreciates having a car - even if one does have
to pick up three talkative schoolmarms on the way.
"Full of confidence engendered by the
fact that a month ago you had serviced my car for cold-weather driving, I
got into it and stepped on the starter. Nothing happened - no, I'm wrong;
there was a sputter somewhere under the hood, but further steppings on the
starter weren't rewarded by another. So I walked seven arctic blocks
to the bus line, and came downtown that way. I didn't think to phone
my car-sharing schoolmarms, and what they will have to say is something I'd
rather not think about.
And now what should I do?"
"Why, Doc," Gus said, "the wise thing
for you to do would be to go on about your business and let us do the
worrying. There probably isn't anything much wrong - just one of those
cold-morning puzzlers that usually turn out to be pretty simple. We'll
tow it over here and have it fixed up and waiting for you at the school by
the time you're ready to start home."
When Stan Hicks, the Model Garage
grease monkey, towed Nicholson's par-middle-age sedan up to the curb, the
shop floor was crowded, so Gus went outside. He got in and pressed his
foot on the starter. The starting motor turned promptly, but it didn't
start the engine. Gus waited 10 seconds and then tried again - with
the same result.
"Move a car out of the shop, and get
this one in," he told Stan. "Try a motor heater on it, and see if you can
get the engine going. If not, push it in with the wrecker."
Five minutes later he felt a blast of
cold air, and looked around from his workbench to see Stan driving
Nicholson's car into the shop. The grease monkey got out, shut the
shop door, and came over to report: "She started easy after I'd warmed
"All right," Gus said. "Now
check the battery."
"Battery's O.K. boss," Stan called
after he'd been over it.
Gus walked over to the car.
"Then we've got to keep looking. Something keeps the engine from
starting up when it's cold. If the battery's all right, it must he
"Ignition, boss?" Stan queried.
"It could be," Gus replied. He
took a low-reading voltmeter and checked the primary ignition circuit.
There was no voltage drop between the starting motor and the battery
connection on the coil or between the primary connection on the distributor
and the engine block.
Gus put away the voltmeter and went
over the high-tension circuit. He examined the spark coil, distributor
cap, and rotor; they all seemed to be in excellent condition.
The wiring looked good, and there was
no bad connection. Gus then checked the fuel line and found nothing
"It must be the compression after
all," he told Stan. He knew from the last time he'd seen Doc's bus
that it had a case of low compression, but he hadn't thought it would be bad
enough to cause hard starting. "Well, I was fool enough to promise Doc
we'd have his car ready when school let out, so we'll have to get it fixed.
Warm the engine up with the motor heater, and if you can get it going, let
it run for a few minutes. Then take the spark plugs out."
When Gus came back from another job,
Stan was removing the last plug. Gus got his compression tester out of
the glass-fronted cabinet in which he keeps his precision instruments.
Pressing the rubber adapter into a spark-plug hole, he watched the indicator
hand while Stan stepped on the starter. The cylinders tested unevenly,
and all showed rather poor compression. Gus squirted oil around the
piston rings and repeated the test. There was no improvement.
"What's the oil for, boss?" Stan
"It seals the piston rings," Gus told
"If you get a low reading on the first
compression test and a higher reading after you've put oil in the cylinders,
it show that the compression is leaking past the piston rings; if both
readings are low, it indicates leaky valves. I got a barely fair
reading both times on each cylinder; that shows there is some valve leak -
apparently enough to allow enough compression to escape to cause hard
"I knew that the compression in Doc's
car wasn't as high as it should be, but I didn't think it was low enough to
cause any trouble. But we haven't been able to find any other cause
for his grief, so I guess I was wrong. I'll have to go by the book and
reface the valves."
Gus is one of those top-flight
mechanics who get their jobs finished quickly without seeming to hurry.
In an astonishingly short time he had the valves refaced and reseated and
was shouting for his helper.
"Got into the car and step on the
starter when I tell you to," he directed, and poured a little gasoline into
the carburetor. "Now!" The engine started promptly.
"That's the job," Gus said. "Let
the engine run long enough for it to get thoroughly warm. Then park
this bus outside, and bring that Pearson car in and give me a hand with it."
About 3:30 Gus told Stan he'd better
run the Nicholson car over to the school. Stan went out, but three
minutes later he was back. "Hey, Mr. Wilson," he said, "she won't
"What!" Gus yelled. He went out
raised the hood, and told Stan to try again. Stan did. The starting
motor cranked the engine, but the engine wouldn't take hold. "Wait
minute," Gus said. He took off the air cleaner and held his hand over
the carburetor air intake. "Now step on her!" The engine started
Gus's head went under the hood.
When it came into sight again his face was red.
"Stan," he asked, "what's the most
useful tool in a mechanic's kit?
I'll tell you. His eyes.
Don't ever forget that, kid. If I'd used mine, I'd have saved a lot of
time on this job."
"What would you have seen, boss?" Stan
wanted to know.
"Come here," Gus said. He
indicated the automatic-choke control rod. "Notice anything unusual
about it?" he asked.
Stan studied the rod; then he
scratched his head. "It looks like it's bent," he said.
"It is bent," Gus told him.
"I'll just straighten it and adjust the choke setting, and then I'll take
this cold-morning puzzler over to Doc myself. My lunch is past due;
I'll get it on the way back."
Doc Nicholson was waiting with the
three schoolmarms when Gus Wilson reached the school.
"Do you know where the automatic-choke
control rod is?" Gus asked.
Nicholson chuckled. "It's one of
the few things I do know.
"I thought so," Gus said. "Have
you been monkeying with that rod?"
"Monkeying?" Doc looked surprised.
"Well, I did make a slight adjustment
several months ago. A friend told me that automatic chokes frequently
waste gasoline by excessive choking, and that bending the link rod slightly
would conserve fuel by keeping the choke from closing all the way. I
followed his suggestion. Did I do wrong?"
Gus laughed. "You did!" he said.
"In warm weather the change of adjustment didn't cause any trouble - but
when it got down below freezing, the quantity of cold air drawn into the
carburetor leaned down the mixture too much for starting. What fooled
me was that the engine took hold all right after I'd done a valve job on it.
That was because it was warm in the shop. But when I'd finished, I
parked the car outside, and when I got ready to bring it over to you, the
partly open choke caused the same trouble all over again.
"I should have noticed the rod had been
bent," Gus went on ruefully, "but I didn't - and I got myself two jobs
instead of one. Well, anyway, your low-compression valve trouble is
licked now, too."