Gus Wilson was sitting on a
stool in front of his bench in the Model Garage repair shop reading a letter
and munching one of his lunchtime sandwiches.
"You Gus Wilson?"
It was a harsh, rasping voice,
and Gus looked up to find its owner to be a large, bulky man who seemed even
bulkier than he was because of the fur-collared storm coat he was wearing.
"That's right," Gus answered,
putting the letter and his sandwich on the bench and slipping down off his
"Supposed to be quite a man
with automobiles, aren't you?" the big man boomed sarcastically.
"I'm a mechanic," Gus replied.
"Why, the way I hear it, you've
never been stumped by anything that runs on gasoline," the bulky man boomed.
At that point, Gus had an
overwhelming desire to answer sarcasm with sarcasm, but before he could
speak his visitor went on. "My name's Purcell, William J. Purcell of
Gus knew the name only
too well, but he was blamed if he was going to acknowledge it. William
Purcell was the wealthy owner of a lumber mill just outside Evansville,
about an hour from our town.
He was a sharp trader who'd made
millions in one way or another and who'd never been known to spend any of it
on anyone but himself.
He held the unenviable position of
being one of the most disliked men in our corner of the state.
A Big-Mouthed Big Shot
"You've surely heard of
me," the big man boasted. "I own the biggest darned lumber mill in
these parts - built it up from nothing. I. . ."
"Something we can do for
Gus interrupted coolly, wiping his
hands on a scrap of waste.
"Of course of course,"
Purcell blustered. "I don't drive a hundred miles just to pass the
time of day in a crossroads service station.
Something' wrong with my car and I
want you to fix it. But I warn you, no guesswork. I've already
been taken by most mechanics in Evansville and I don't intend to start
supporting one in this town."
"What's wrong with it?"
"What's wrong with it?"
Purcell repeated. "Why ask me, man?
That's just what I've come to you for.
All I want to know is can you fix it?"
"Well, Mr. Bucell." Gus
answered, "we can't very well fix it if we don't know what's ailing it.
Where is the car?"
P-U-R-C-E-L-L, "the big man spelled out. "The car's outside, and if
we're lucky we may be able to get it inside."
At that moment, Stan
Hicks, Gus's third arm, who had just come back from his lunch started
busying himself around the shop.
"Stan," Gus called, "will
you go out front and drive Mr. Rochell's car into the shop so we can have a
look at it?"
"The name's PURCELL," the
big man exploded. "Confound it man, if you can't remember a name for a
minute how the devil can you fix cars?"
Gus ignored the blast.
"Now, Mr. Purcell," he
said, when Stan had maneuvered the car into the center of the shop, "let's
get down to symptoms and maybe we can put our finger on the ailment.
What's wrong with it?"
It's Cold Start Trouble
"Blamed thing won't
start," Purcell explained, and then added, "that is, it won't start with the
starter after it's been standing two or three hours. If the motor's
warm, she'll tick right off when you push the starter button, but if she's
cooled down she won't start unless I get someone to push me for a block or
so. Once she does start, though, she runs fine. No trouble on
the road, but park her for a couple of hours and you're in trouble."
"You've tried to have it
The big man's face
reddened. "Take a look at these, "he grumbled as he pulled a sheaf of
dog-eared bills from the pocket of his big coat and shoved them at Gus.
Although Gus is always a
stickler for good workmanship and honesty, he had to chuckle inwardly as he
riffled through the stack of bills. The mechanics in Evansville not
only had tried just about everything, but had charged Purcell fancy prices
to boot. The slips showed that the car now supposedly had a new
condenser, a new coil, a new set of points, new plugs, a new distributor
cap, a new battery, a new fuel pump, and a rebuilt starter motor.
"Well, can you fix
it?" Purcell bellowed as Gus studied the bills.
Gus Asks Some Questions
"Maybe," Gus replied
bluntly. "Tell me, how does the motor act after it's been standing
idle for a few hours and you try to start it? Does it pop or
"Doesn't do a darned
thing. Just acts deader'n a door nail, and I can turn her over till
the battery's dead and still nothing happens. But if I can get someone
to push me, she'll generally take hold and purrs along."
"Well, I won't promise
any miracles," Gus said finally, "but if you want to leave it here we'll do
"Fine," Purcell agreed,
"but mind you, no fancy prices. I've a deal on here in town today so I
can give you until five-thirty. If you haven't found the trouble by
then, I'll pay you for your time. If you have found it, and fixed it,
I'll pay you what you ask plus a bonus." With that, before Gus could
reply, he stomped out of the shop.
"And who's that stuffed
shirt?" Stan asked as the shop door slammed. "He acts like he owns
half the county."
"That, Stan, is Purcell, William J.
Purcell of Evansville," Gus mimicked, "and in the eyes of some people -
particularly Purcell's - he does own half the county. What he hasn't
made in the lumber business, he's made on mortgages. Well, enough
Let's get at this fancy car of his.
We've only got a few hours."
Others Had Tried and Failed
In checking over the
bills again, Gus realized that most of the obvious possible causes for the
trouble already had been taken care of without much in the way of results.
"Any ideas?" Stan asked
as Gus dropped the bills on the bench next to his half-eaten sandwich and
the letter he'd been reading when Purcell had come in.
"One thing's for sure.
The mechanics in Evansville seem to have taken care of the obvious things,
including the great Mr. P's pocketbook," Gus admitted. "But there's an
off chance that the carburetor could be the culprit."
With that the veteran
mechanic slid in behind the wheel turned the ignition key, and pushed the
starter button. The engine ticked off immediately. Then Gus
tramped down hard on the gas pedal, pushing it down to the floorboards.
The engine took it without a balk or a splutter. Next, he idled it
down and let it run awhile.
There wasn't the slightest sign of a
roll or a gallop or of choking up.
Or Is the Starter the Clue?
Gus shook his head. "No, but
come over here and see if you hear the same thing I do. Stick your
head down under the hood there while I run the starter."
Stan did as directed and
Gus pushed the starter button.
"Hear anything?" Gus
"Yeah, sortuva bubbling
sound, like water," Stan agreed.
Gus walked around to the
front of the car and unscrewed the radiator cap. "Now, hit that
starter button again."
As the starter ground,
"Okay, cut it," Gus
called after a few seconds. "Seems to be an awful lot of circulation
in that radiator - more than most water pumps can put out. Let's try
Loosening the generator
bracket, he slipped the fan belt off.
"Now hit that starter
button once again," Gus directed as he peered down into the radiator filler
opening again. "There's water circulation even when the pump is
disconnected," he called, signaling for Stan to take his finger off the
"Now we're getting someplace."
Crack in the Head Gasket
What does that show," Stan asked, "a
leaky head gasket?"
"It does unless my third
hunch is wrong," Gus agreed. "Here, give me a hand getting this head
After they had lifted the
head off and placed it on the bench, Gus pointed to small cracks in the head
gasket and signs of water seepage into four of the cylinders.
"There's our trouble."
Gus pointed to small droplets of water. "Put in a new head gasket.
Stan and I think Mr. Purcell's hard-starting troubles will be over."
"Gus," Stan said as he
tightened the last of the cylinder-head bolts. "I still don't see how
water leaking into the cylinders could have caused the trouble. And if
it did why didn't it show up in other ways?"
"That's my fourth hunch
for the day,"
Gus admitted with a grin, "but I'm
more than sure of this one. I reckon it this way.
There wasn't enough of a gasket leak
there to cause compression loss, but there was enough of a leak to allow a
little bit of water to seep into those four cylinders when the engine hadn't
been run for two or three hours. Every time Purcell tried to start his
engine under those conditions the little water in each cylinder would foul
Stan Gets the Answer
"But what about it starting when he
got someone to push him?"
"After several blocks of
pushing, the cylinders were able to clear themselves."
Gus explained. "Then the engine
"On the other hand," he
continued, "while the engine was still hot, any water that seeped in would
vaporize. Then there'd be no shorting out of plugs and the engine
would start with the starter."
Gus was busy on another
job when Purcell walked into the repair shop at about five-fifteen.
"Got my car ready?" he
"Right over there," said
Gus, pointing with a wrench.
"Fix it?" asked the big
man as the two walked across the garage.
"Well, I think your
starting troubles are over, Mr. Purcell."
Purcell slid behind the
wheel. "Sure you fixed it now?" he asked suspiciously.
"Try her yourself.
She's been sitting here cold for more than three hours."
Purcell grinned and
pressed his foot on the starter. The engine caught immediately.
"That's more like it," he said almost pleasantly. Then he soured up
"What're the damages?"
said Gus. "And if it isn't really fixed, bring it back."
The Big Shot Balks but Pays
"You certainly aren't cheap,"
blustered Purcell pulling a roll of bills out of the pocket and peeling off
two tens and a five.
"But it you've fixed it for good, I
guess it's worth it.
"And here's that bonus I
promised," he added reluctantly peeling off another ten and handing it to
As Purcell's car
disappeared down the highway, Stan said, "You did two things just now I've
never seen you do before - overcharge and accept a tip. How come?"
In reply, Gus handed Stan
the letter he'd been reading earlier in the afternoon. Then he said.
"Purcell doesn't know it, but he's just made his first contribution to
Stan looked at the
letter. It was a Christmas appeal from the local orphans home asking
for money to help pay off the mortgage.
"And guess who holds that
mortgage?" Gus asked with a wink.