Gus stood in the door of the office at the Model
Garage. "Not today," he said firmly. "Nor tomorrow or any other
The sharp-featured salesman facing him
pushed his hat up a bit and planted a foot squarely on the desk chair.
"Look here, Wilson, you don't run this
place for your health. Gotta look out for Number One, or who else
will? Now here's a perfectly good brake fluid for two-fifty a gallon.
Why pay six?"
"Because," retorted Gus, "I've got to
know what I'm getting."
"I'm telling you-first-class stuff,"
the salesman countered. "Can't tell the difference from a brand-name
"But my customer might," said Gus.
"Them jerks? Most drivers don't
care what you pour into their crates, so long's they run. Besides, by
the time any trouble shows, they figure it's wear and tear, so get a new job
out of it."
"Get lost," said Gus, turning away.
The man hitched down his plaid vest.
"Look, I don't usually tell Sears about
Montgomery Ward, but"-his voice sank to a confidential whisper-"know who's
been buying this stuff from me almost a year? Ideal Garage, down in
Newton. That's a good shop, does more business than you-"
Gus swung around, grabbed the man by
his coat collar and the seat of his pants, and goose stepped him rapidly out
"Next time." Gus promised with grim
emphasis. "I won't be so gentle. Get!"
Grinning widely, Gus's helper rolled
out from under a car as Gus stalked back in.
"Good floor show from here, Boss."
Gus merely grunted.
"He's a crumb, sure," Stan went on.
"But if ideal does buy that stuff, it can't be so bad. Lot cheaper,
"Anything can be sold cheaper by
somebody," returned Gus. "First it was war-surplus fluid meant for
airplane hydraulic systems. That played hob in cars. Now
creeps like this sell home-brewed fluid, cardboard oil filters, and other
"A filter that goes to pieces sure
could clog oil lines," said Stan. "But we've always used a standard
brake fluid, so I don't know what could go wrong with other kinds."
"Some cheap fluids are just too
volatile," explained Gus.
"When the brakes get hot-say when
you're tooling down a mountain grade-the stuff boils and forms vapor.
That could leave you with a sponge instead of a brake pedal. I'd hate
to lose a customer that way.
"Some of today's heavy cars develop so
much brake heat they call for heavy-duty fluid, one with a higher boiling
point. Use ordinary fluid in one of those and you're asking for brake
"Bootleg fluids can be tricky in other
ways, too. I've got a stunt to show you what can happen if they have
petroleum products in 'em, but it'll wait till I get back from town.
Did you take care of Mosshart's car?"
"That screwball '51 with only half a
front seat in it?" asked Stan. "The one we put up on blocks last
summer? Sure, I let it down, checked oil and water, and put in the
battery we'd kept on charge here. She started up fine, first try."
"Good work," Gus went briefly into the
stock room and toward the back door, pausing to drop something into the tank
of degunking fluid on his way out.
A laboring, overstrained engine
brought Stan to the door of the shop some time later. He had an uneasy
premonition when he saw that it was Mosshart's car, barely moving. The
two-door sedan crawled up the shop driveway and shuddered its way into the
garage. Stan hastily directed the driver to a vacant spot on the
floor. Steam poured from the overflow as the driver shut off the
overheated engine and got out.
"You-you-"spluttered Mosshart, a tall,
slender man with amazingly long fingers.
"I pay you to lay up my car while I am
in Europe six months. I pay you to come put it into condition to drive again
Tonight I'm playing with the City
Philharmonic, so I start for my most important rehearsal. What
happens? My engine has no power. The car crawls. It boils.
Even my brakes feel wrong. But with such an anemic engine who needs
Stan opened the hood and cautiously
loosened the radiator cap to release pressure. He found the oil level
just what it had been in the garage. But when he tried to push the car
within reach of a water hose, it wouldn't budge.
The hand brake was off, the shift in
neutral. Stan stepped on the brake pedal. It was stone-hard,
with no free travel at all.
"Your brakes are locked," he said.
"Impossible!" snapped Mosshart.
"Before I left, I had new linings put in, the drums trued, and the wheel
cylinders rebuilt. It's an old car, but specially arranged to carry
Opening the right hand door, he
revealed a huge black instrument case of roughly triangular shape. "My
harp, a magnificent instrument. And it won't fit into any ordinary car
or taxi. You'll have to fix this one at once!"
Stan breathed in deeply and took a
chance. "Looks like the rubbers swelled in the master cylinder and
they're blocking the relief port. The fluid can't get back from the
wheel cylinders, so it holds the brake shoes out. Happens in old cars
Mosshart flexed his fingers nervously.
"So fix it. And in a hurry!"
Uneasy because he'd made a snap
judgment, Stan nevertheless phoned for a master cylinder to be rushed over.
By the time it arrived he had the old one off. He filled and bled the
replacement on the bench hooked it up, and bled the wheel cylinders.
Little air came out. He filled
the radiator, started the engine, and drove out. His uneasiness
returned when he felt the brake pedal go hard after the first inch.
The car was so logy he turned back after two
blocks. When he had urged it back into the shop, the brakes were
undoubtedly again locked, and Stan was relieved to see that Gus was back. Evidently Mosshart was telling him his
troubles, for after watching the car limp in Gus turned back to the customer.
"Since you've told me how urgent it is
for you to reach the city, Mr. Mosshart," he said. "I'd better find
you other transportation. Your car needs more work. You take out
your harp while I make a phone call. I don't own a station wagon, but
I think I can fix you up."
With the deftness of habit Mosshart
slid out the huge instrument case. Then, glaring at Stan, he lugged it
outside as rapidly as his bulky burden would permit. Gus followed, and
soon Stan heard two doors slam and a car drive off.
Stan had jacked up the front end of
Mosshart's car. He bled one wheel. To his surprise, it remained
locked. So did the other.
"Did you bleed them before putting in
that master cylinder?" Gus asked the puzzled Stan on coming back into the
Stan shook his head. "Should
have, but he was in a tearing hurry, and as I could work on the car where it
stood, I barged ahead. Sure goofed."
"If it's what I think," said Gus, "he
needs lots more than a new master cylinder. Let's pull the wheels."
It took more than pull. The
shoes gripped the drums so hard they had to be tapped off. Gus removed
the shoes and the rubber dust covers on one cylinder.
Both pistons could be seen well out from the wheel
cylinder and with a soft mallet drove out both pistons. They were
blotchy with a gray-white deposit.
"No wonder they jammed," muttered
Stan. "But how come they're covered with this stuff?"
"It's corrosion that builds up on
aluminum in contact with salt or acid-which might be present in some phony
"This sure proves it. Hey, this
morning you said you'd show me, but how could you have known-"
"That Mosshart's car would be our
guinea pig? I didn't. But go fish out what's in our degunking
Stan sauntered back a moment later
with the small round black object Gus had dropped in the tank.
"It's a dust boot with the size
marked-one inch. But it's twice that big."
"Swelled up in that petroleum base
cleaner," said Gus. "Some cheap fluids have petroleum products in
them. So there's another reason not to use them-or to flush out a
brake system with kerosene or gasoline.
"Bet you'll find all the other wheel
pistons on this car corroded the same way. Standing six months, the
fluid had plenty of time to act. If the car had been used, the pistons
might not have jammed, but they'd be etched and pitted all the same.
Better order four new wheel-cylinder assemblies."
Corrosion had indeed jammed the
pistons in the other three wheel cylinders also. Stan removed them,
drained out the old fluid, and flushed the entire system with pure alcohol.
Then he installed the new cylinders, which came with pistons and dust boots
in place. Refilling the system with good fluid, he bled all four
wheels. When he took the car out for a thorough road test, the brakes
"So it was brakes, not my engine?"
boomed Mosshart when Gus explained the trouble next morning. He nodded
at Stan. "I owe this fellow an apology, and that other garage Ideal-it
owes me one, eh?"
"Ideal!" snapped Stan.
"Gus, maybe that salesman told the
truth for once."
"When Ideal gets the claim for what
this job costs," said Gus, "that fellow will be out a customer. Sorry
I couldn't get you better transportation yesterday, Mr. Mosshart, but that
case of yours-"
Mosshart waved his long fingers.
"No matter. I got to rehearsal. And I played wonderfully last
night. It brought me luck. Riding in that car." He laughed
"What did you get to haul that thing
in, Gus?" asked Stan.
"Oh, I happened to meet Joe Safford
uptown yesterday," replied Gus. "He said he was going to the city to
bring back a special-er-container. So when this emergency came up I
asked him to give Mr. Mosshart and his instrument a lift."
"Mr. Safford?" burst out Stan.
"But Mr. Safford is a-"
"A very obliging man," finished
Mosshart. "When he let me out it impressed the Maestro very much.
But it was the first time a harpist ever arrived at very Symphony Hall in a
beautiful big, black hearse!"