A heavy December snowstorm was in
progress when the call from Cynthia Andrews came to Gus Wilson's Model
"Mr. Wilson," Cynthia Andrews said,
relief in her voice, "thank goodness you haven't closed for the night."
"What's your trouble?" Gus asked
hoping that he wasn't going to be called out into a storm like this at seven
o'clock in the evening.
"My son George just telephoned me that
the car is broken down in the snow. I can't think what might be wrong
with it. I used it only yesterday, when I went out into the country to
buy a Christmas turkey from a farm."
"Things like that happen," Gus said.
"Maybe I shouldn't have given George
permission to use the car," Mrs. Andrews continued. "He's only 17, you
know. But it wasn't snowing when he left, and it's only two days to
Christmas. George wanted to take his girl friend, Lydia Turner, for a
ride, hoping to find out what she would like for a Christmas present."
"Well, Mrs. Andrews," Gus interrupted,
"if you'll give me the address I'll get going."
"Address? I don't know exactly.
It's somewhere on North 128th Street. Do you know where
"I'll find it," Gus said grimly and
hung up, picturing what it would be like now out on 128th Street,
which had been newly bulldozed out of weed-ridden lots, at the very edge of
the Meadowville housing development.
"Kids can get themselves into the
darnedest jams," Gus said to his helper, Stan Hicks, as he climbed into his
service truck. "Sorry, Stan, but I guess you'd better stick around
until I get back. I may need your help."
Gus drove slowly through the swirling
snow. As his windshield wipers labored to keep the glass clear, the
long rows of newly built houses in Meadowville passed in ghostly procession.
Snow whipped at Gus's face as he
stopped to play his spotlight beam on a street corner sign - 120th Street.
He counted the streets as he progressed, finally arriving at 128th,
then turned north, hoping that he wasn't already north of the stalled car.
He proceeded slowly, sweeping his spotlight back and forth across the thinly
graveled thoroughfare, along which houses in various stages of construction
stood like rows of snow-clad-skeletons.
When he finally spotted the Andrews
car it was so snow blown that at first he took it to be a snowdrift.
At his approach, lights snapped on and George Andrews leapt out, waving his
Gus wasted no time. He swung the
truck around, backed close, got out and cranked down the winch chain.
"Mr. Wilson!" George exclaimed.
"Am I glad to see you!"
"You don't seem to be in deep enough
to be stuck," Gus said. "Couldn't you pull out?"
"Sure," George said, "if there wasn't
something wrong with the car. It won't pull and there's a grating
noise in the rear end."
"Sounds like a stripped differential
gear or a broken axle," Gus said. "How come you're way out here on a
night like this?"
"I was taking Lydia home. We
couldn't see the street signs for snow and drove too far out. When we
tried to turn around something went wrong," George groaned. "Dad will
blow sky-high when he hears about this."
"Maybe not," Gus said, "Let's get
rolling." He stared thoughtfully at the car for a moment. "With
rear-end trouble, maybe we'd better play it safe and hook on to the back
instead of the front." He moved the service truck around to the rear,
attached the winch chain and hoisted the rear end up.
"Okay," he told George, "Here we go."
As soon as he got into the Model
Garage, Gus telephoned the Andrews. John Andrews, George's father,
"I've pulled your car in, John," Gus
told him. "There's something wrong, but I haven't had time to trace it
"Whatever it is, fix it," Andrews said
irritably. "But mind you, don't charge it to me. Make the boy
pay for it. It's his responsibility. I'll call a taxi and come down
there and drive the car home myself."
"Better give me an hour or so first."
Gus said, and hung up.
As he raised the rear end of the car
on a floor jack, Gus found himself under the scrutiny of two very worried
"What did George's father say?" Lydia
asked. "Was he very angry?"
"Well - not very," Gus said with a
smile. "He'll be down later to drive you home."
"Treating me like a kid again," George
declared moodily. "I could drive home just as well as he could."
"Sure," said Gus agreeably. "Now
let's see what's wrong."
With Stan Hicks easing the car into
gear, Gus listened underneath. There was a definite grinding noise,
which seemed to come from the differential. The wheels ran jerkily.
Gus lowered the wheels to the floor and found that both stopped with the car
in gear, motor turning. But now the grinding noise increased in
volume. Gus asked himself; a broken axle? or a stripped ring and
He jacked the rear end up again.
When tests showed that the axles were sound, he settled on the differential
gears and pulled the differential housing cover for inspection. What
he saw astonished him.
The gears were in perfect condition.
"Strange," he mused, "Start the motor,
Stan, and turn her over again. Slowly now. That's right.
Now put on the brakes."
With the motor turning in gear, the
rear wheels locked with the brakes, Gus checked to see if the pinion gear
was turning against the ring gear of the differential. It wasn't.
The grating noise continued. He ducked under the car, sure now that
the grinding sound had been merely telegraphing down the torque tube to the
differential housing. He ran his ear along the torque tube.
"Aha!" he exclaimed. "It's in
the universal joint."
Taking the universal down, Gus saw at
last what had happened. The splined yoke, where it fitted over the
drive shaft, had split open, causing the splines to jump over each other so
that they failed to drive the rear wheels under load.
Gus installed a new universal joint,
and the Andrews car was ready to roll.
Young Andrew was at his heels when Gus
went into the office.
"I hope this isn't going to cost too
much, Mr. Wilson," he said nervously, "so Dad won't hit the roof when he
sees the bill."
"Your father won't see it, George,"
said Gus. "He said you must pay it."
"He did!" George grinned again.
"Gee, Mr. Wilson, I've been socking away part of my allowance for months
now, and I've only enough to buy Lydia's Christmas present."
"I'm sorry," Gus said.
"How much money do you have?"
"That," declared Gus, "is just the
amount you owe me."
"Gee," the boy exclaimed, handing Gus
some crumpled bills, "now I'm completely broke and Christmas is only two
Just then the senior Andrews entered
the office. "Did you get the car fixed, Gus?" he asked.
"Yes, and George paid the bill."
"Fine," Andrews said. "Well, get
in the car, George, and we'll take Lydia home."
"Aren't you interested in knowing what
was wrong with your car?" Gus said to the parent's retreating figure.
"Sure," said Andrews pausing.
"What did George manage to break this time?
And how much did it cost him?"
Gus picked up the broken universal
joint. "It cost him a Christmas present for Lydia. Ten dollars,
to be exact - which was all he had."
"I see," Andrews said. "What
were you saying he did to the car?"
"This universal joint split open at
the splines, but only because there was an old crack in it that had been
there so long it had rusted. It might have gone at any time, John -
yesterday, for instance, when your wife was out buying that Christmas
Andrews bent over to examine the
broken part. "You're sure of this, Gus?"
"I'm positive John," Gus said.
"In that case," Andrews said slowly,
"I made the boy pay for something that wasn't his fault at all."
"Looks that way to me."
John Andrews stood silent a moment.
"I'll slip the 10 dollars in his
wallet after he's asleep tonight. Tomorrow I'll explain about the
"That will almost do it, John," Gus
aid. Then seeing the new question on Andrews' face, he continued, "the
storm is about over, maybe you could ride in the back seat on the way home.
When a boy takes a girl out for a drive, he wants her to feel that he's
competent to drive her home again."
Andrews looked intently at Gus, "Say,
how come a bachelor like yourself knows so much about kids?"
"I'm an important observer," Gus said,
smiling slowly. "If I had a son, I'd probably be tougher on him than
"Maybe so," Andrews said. "But
I'll take your advice this time, anyway. And, Gus.. a Merry Christmas