A few minutes earlier the hands of the
Model Garage clock had pointed to quitting time. Wrapped in heavy coats and
mufflers, Stan Hicks and Greg Jones, the grease monkey, were leaving. Gus
Wilson was still at his bench, working over a carburetor.
"Merry Christmas, boss," Stan waved.
"Don't eat too much turkey."
"Same to you," Gus grinned. "Have a good
A splatter of fine rain swirled through
the door as Stan and Greg stepped out into the storm. Gus turned back to
his job. He still had more than two hours before the Police Department's
annual party for kids. Gus was to play Santa Claus this year.
At six o'clock he put away his tools,
wriggled out of his coveralls, and washed up. Then he unwrapped the
well-padded Santa Claus outfit and it on. Grinning widely, he studied
himself in the mirror over the wash basin. He held the false whiskers up to
his face for a minute and again looked in the mirror.
"Just try 'em on for size," he murmured.
Gus put the whiskers aside and stepped to the front window for a look at the
weather. The temperature had dropped a few degrees and the rain had changed
to snow - big, wet flakes that were beginning to whiten the highway. Across
the road, the lights of the diner gleamed dimly. Occasionally, the lights
of a slow-moving car showed up through the gloom. By morning, Gus thought,
there'll be a lot of drivers wondering why they didn't get their chains
fixed before they put 'em away last spring.
As he turned from the window, headlights
flared and a horn sounded. Someone had turned into the garage driveway.
Gus hesitated, wondering why he hadn't thought to turn out the shop lights.
He glanced at the clock, saw he had time to spare, and rolled the shop door
A 1936 sedan, showing its years only too
well, rolled slowly into the shop. Gus shoved the door shut and turned to
see a young woman smiling at him.
"I'd just about stopped believing in
you," she said, "but I'm certainly glad to see you right now."
Gus stared at her for a moment, and then
remembered his costume and grinned.
"Oh, this get-up," he said, looking down
at his overstuffed red suit. "I'm Santa Claus at a kids' party this
evening. Guess I got dressed up for the occasion a little ahead of time."
"Well, I hope you have a gift for me, or
for my car, at least. It could do with one."
"What's the trouble with it?" Gus asked.
"I don't know," she said. "It just
doesn't want to run. And it's got to run. I've got to get to a kids' party
too, and it's a hundred and fifty miles from here."
Gus started to say that it wasn't a night
for anyone to be driving that far, much less a girl, but then something in
her eyes told him it would take more than a snowstorm to stop her.
"I suppose the car's just getting old,"
she went on. "It's a '36 model. My husband drove it sixty thousand miles
before the Army sent him overseas. Then after - after the war I had the
motor rebuilt, and I've driven it over thirty thousand since then. I travel
for a cosmetics company and my job keeps me moving around a lot."
"How does it act?" Gus asked.
"The motor misses and stalls almost every
time I stop," she answered. "It must have been about two months ago, when I
was in Chicago, that it started. I noticed too that it was using up an
awful lot of gasoline.
The man at a garage there told me that
gasoline was running down into the crankcase and diluting the oil."
"What'd he do about it?"
"Put a new fuel pump on. Not a rebuilt
one. I asked about that, but he said it had to be a new one. And it didn't
do a bit of good. I didn't get more than six or seven miles to the gallon
when I drove to Detroit."
"Somebody in Detroit should have known
what was wrong," Gus smiled.
"That's what I thought too," she said.
"I thought people there would know all
about cars. But they didn't. At least not at the garage I went to. They
put on an electric fuel pump. The man said that would stop the trouble
because an electric fuel pump doesn't connect with the crankcase."
"Apparently that didn't do the trick
"No, it didn't. It was just as bad as
ever. Then I drove to Cleveland. Two big places hadn't helped, so this
time I tried a little shop on a side street. The mechanic went all over the
motor and said the valves were causing the trouble. He ground the valves
and put in new valve guides. After he finished the job, he tested the
compression - whatever that is - and told me it was okay and that I wouldn't
have any more trouble."
"But you have," Gus said.
"I certainly have. The car still uses
too much gas, it keeps missing and gas still gets into the oil. The trip
from Cleveland was nightmare. I stalled at a traffic light down the road
and a motorcycle cop told me to try your place. He said he had just been by
here and noticed your lights still burning, so he knew you hadn't closed."
Gus looked at the clock again and then
back at the girl. There were tears in her eyes. She looked down and began
fumbling in her handbag for a handkerchief.
"Make yourself comfortable over there by
the radiator," Gus told her. "I'll see what we can do about getting you
rolling on your way home again."
"Thank you." She opened her coat and
pulled a chair up to the radiator. But in a moment she was up again. "Try
to do something quick," she urged. "My two kids are at my parents' home -
that's standard procedure with war widows, you know - and I've just got to
get there in time to have their presents under the tree in the morning."
She pointed to a pile of packages in the rear seat.
"Take it easy," Gus smiled, "we'll get
you there in time."
The girl smiled and dabbed at her eyes.
After several attempts, Gus started the balky engine. He wasn't so sure
about getting her home in time. The engine ran roughly and stalled as soon
as he released the throttle. He switched off the ignition, got out of the
car, and pulled out the oil stick. It showed the crankcase oil was over an
inch above normal level. He rolled a drop of it between thumb and finger
and found it much too thin. He sniffed it and found a smell of gasoline.
"How long since you had the oil changed?"
"Only yesterday," she answered.
Gus turned back to the engine and thought
for a minute. "Where have you been keeping your car during this cold
weather - in a garage or outdoors?"
"In parking lots," she said. "They're
much less expensive than garages."
Her frankness about expenses turned his
thoughts to the two kids a hundred and fifty miles away. He unclamped the
upper radiator hose and saw there was no thermostat in the cylinder-head
"This explains some of the trouble," he
told her. "No thermostat. That's why you're using so much gasoline and
why a lot of it is getting into the crankcase."
"Why?" she asked.
Gus grinned. "When some cars are parked
outdoors in cold weather, as much as a gallon of gas is used while the
engine is warming up. Some of the gas is burned, of course, but some of it
seeps into the crankcase. I can fix that in a hurry by putting in a
high-limit thermostat and also a shield in front of the lower half of the
radiator. Together, they'll cause the engine to heat up quicker. You won't
have to choke it so much and less gasoline will get into the crankcase.
What does will evaporate faster. Get it?"
"No," she said, "I don't. But if that
will fix it, go ahead and do it."
"One other thing," Gus said, "what kind
of antifreeze do you have in the radiator--, permanent or alcohol
"It's the permanent kind," she answered
quickly. "I know. I watched the man put it in the radiator and it said on
the can that it was permanent. The man told me that if my radiator didn't
leak, I wouldn't have to bother with it until Spring."
"That's good," Gus said, "because the
radiator shield and the high-limit thermostat won't do with a low-boiling
antifreeze in the radiator."
As Gus went about installing the
thermostat and fitting the shield, the girl came over to watch. "That's
fine, fixing that," she said, "but what about the motor acting the way it
does? That's worse than using too much gasoline. Tonight, anyway."
"Yes," he admitted, "we've still got to
lick that." He tightened the hose clamps and started the engine. It ran
roughly, as though the carburetor was in bad shape.
"See/" she said.
"Could be the idling jet," Gus mused, "or
it could - yes, that could be it." He cut the engine, jumped out of the
car, and took off the air cleaner.
"What's that?" the girl asked.
"Air cleaner," Gus answered, "and there's
the cause of the missing and stalling." He pointed to the filter element
that was heavily clogged with dirt. "The filter is so dirty that nowhere
near enough air can get through. Much too rich a mixture is being drawn
into the cylinders. A lot of it can't burn, so it seeps down into the
crankcase and dilutes the oil. This filter, plus the excess choking needed
with a cold motor, was wasting plenty gas."
Within ten minutes he had washed the
filter in gasoline, re-oiled it, and replaced the air cleaner. When he
started the engine this time, it ran smoothly.
"There you are," Gus said, "all ready to
roll. Seems like one of those mechanics who worked on your car would have
found that filter, but no matter, now. You won't have any more trouble,
and unless you get snowed in you'll have those presents under the tree
before the kids come down in the morning. But I'm afraid you're going to
have a tough drive."
"I can take it," the girl said. She
opened her purse. "How much do I owe you?"
Gus grinned and held open the car door
for her. "We'll call that a Christmas present from Santa Claus to the
kids," he said.
"All right," she said, "if that's the way
you want it." Quickly she slipped her arm around his neck, pulled his head
down, and kissed him. "That's a present from the kids to Santa Claus."
She backed the car out of the shop,
turned it, and headed out the driveway through the whirling snowflakes. Gus
stood in the doorway and watched until the car's taillights were out of
sight. Then he closed the shop door and started back to wash up and put on
his Santa Claus whiskers. Joe Clark, his partner, was leaning in the
doorway from the office to the shop, grinning at him.
"Saw the shop lights and stopped in," Joe
explained. "Been working overtime?"
"Just a little emergency job," Gus said.
"Well," Joe laughed. "sometimes those
emergency jobs pay off pretty well."
Gus tied his false whiskers in place and
turned from the mirror. "That's right," he agreed, "sometimes they do.
Going to the kids; party, Joe?"
"I sure am," Joe said. "I'm full of the
Christmas spirit - same as you."