"Stan Hicks had just opened the Model
Garage when the phone rang. With a look toward the pumps for early
customers, he picked up the phone.
"This is Joe Halloran," said the
voice. "You did a brake job for me a month ago-a blue 1962 Buick.
"Sure do. How are the brakes?"
"Fine, but the engine seems to miss a
bit at high speeds. I drive 20 miles to commute from your railroad
station, so could you pick the car up there today? I'll come to your
shop about five tonight."
"Can do. Where'll I find it?"
"How about the supermarket lot a block
from the station? I can walk to the train."
"It's a pretty big lot," demurred
"That early it'll be almost empty, so
I'll pick a spot at the west end and leave the keys under the seat."
"Okay," agreed Stan hastily as a horn
beeped at the gas pumps.
Early calls kept Stan and his boss,
Gus Wilson, busy until nearly noon. Then Stan got a ride from a
customer driving toward the station. He had no trouble spotting the
blue Buick in the parking lot. To his disgust the keys were in the
"Sure is asking to have it swiped,"
Stan muttered as he started the engine.
It ticked over smoothly enough.
Nor was Stan surprised to find that it ran normally in traffic. Just
outside town he swung onto a high-speed turnpike. The car rapidly
picked up until the needle hit 40. Stan's foot nudged the throttle
down farther. The engine took no notice.
Deliberately he slowed down to 30,
then floorboarded the gas. The car accelerated like a flash-a flash
that fizzled out at precisely 40 miles an hour.
Again Stan eased up on the gas.
The car kept rolling at the speed. A station wagon roared by at 70.
Stan reached for the right-hand lane and stayed there.
Once more he floored the throttle.
He might as well have punched the cigarette lighter. He made for the
nearest exit at a sedate 39 miles an hour, and soon afterwards drove into
Half an hour's checking brought no
solution. The points were good-they appeared almost new- and the dwell
meter showed them to be set exactly right. A timing light check proved
only that timing was on the nose. The spark advance worked.
Pulling the plugs, Stan found that two
had a slightly oversize gap. He adjusted them, checked low-and
high-voltage ignition wiring for loose connections and internal breaks,
found none, and took the car out again.
It still refused to go faster than 40
miles an hour.
Crestfallen, Stan drove back to the
Model Garage. To check the gas flow, he disconnected the line at the
carburetor and cranked the engine. Gas squirted abundantly into the
can held under the line. As Stan reconnected it, Gus came over.
"Doesn't seem to be ignition, and it
sure isn't the fuel pump," concluded Stan after describing the car's odd
behavior. May be the carb, but there's no spitting or coughing.
It's more like a governor cutting out."
"Let's see if it can happen here."
Hooking an ignition analyzer to
ground, Gus held the probe to a high-tension lead. As Stan started the
engine, the instrument's needle swung well over. Briefly Gus gunned
the motor. The needle held, then suddenly dipped, only to pick up
again as the revs fell.
"The ignition cuts out at high speed,"
said Gus as Stan killed the engine. I think it's either the cap or the
Taking off the distributor cap, Gus
inspected it; no carbon deposits, no visible cracks. He lifted off the
big, flat rotor and placed it upright on the cabinet of a spark plug
checker, then held the high-tension lead to the contact segment.
At once a spark snapped loudly.
Gus picked up the rotor and examined it, then repeated the test. Again
a spark snapped.
"Can't see any cracks, or carbon
tracks either," he said. "Buy it's shorting all the same. Hey!
Take a closer look..."
He passed the rotor to Stan, who
squinted hard at it. "What do you know-a pinhole. But how could
that short out the ignition over 40?"
"Because at that speed the centrifugal
weights fly out just far enough to get under the hole. Then the spark
shorts to them." Gus chuckled. "You couldn't get a better
governor-if you wanted one."
Leaving Stan to put in a new rotor and
button up the Buick, Gus was about to enter his office when a black
Chevrolet with police insignia rolled in. Chief Eldon unfolded his
gaunt frame from it.
"Hi Chief. Got some hot coffee.
How about a cup?" offered Gus.
"Nope. Its service I'm after,
not that warmed over brake fluid you dish up."
"Police garage given up on a tough
one?" asked Stan with a grin.
"Guess I've given up on the police
garage," admitted the lean chief of police. "There's a bad yank to the
left every time I use the brakes. Could cause an accident especially
in the kind of driving I sometimes do."
"How old are the linings?" asked Gus.
"The shoes were relined and new
cylinder cups installed 4,000 miles back. The trouble first showed
after the car had been laid up a week, waiting for an engine part. Our
mechanic tried loosening the adjustment on the left wheel and tightening on
the right. Made no difference at all. The left drum was scored a
bit, so he had it turned down. Still no good. Then he put in new
lining on that side. Now he thinks it needs a front-end lineup."
Gus frowned, took out his pipe and
thoughtfully punched in some tobacco.
"Jack up the front end, Stan."
With both wheels raised and Eldon
applying the brakes, neither could be turned by hand.
"Take off the left wheel," ordered
Gus, and while Stan did so he himself removed the right-hand wheel.
Both linings were apparently good, with no trace of glazing or oil.
The right hand drum was smooth.
"How about if I sandpaper the linings
and then road-test it?" asked Stan.
Gus shook his head. Let's check
that right-wheel brake cylinder."
"It held fine only a few minutes ago,"
"All the same, get in and step on the
pedal-just a bit, and real slow."
As Stan did so, Gus and Chief Eldon
watched a brake shoe move out.
"Okay!" yelled Gus. "Ream out
this cylinder and install new cups, Stan."
"But that was done just 4,000 miles
back." Protested Eldon, as Stan started to remove the shoes. "And
anyway, why this one? It's the other wheel that grabs. We just
saw these shoes move out."
"You know how unreliable witnesses
Eldon grunted. Stan slid out one
of the metal pistons and its rubber cup. An exclamation escaped him as
he went for the other piston.
"It's jammed solid," he muttered.
Getting a punch and hammer, he tapped
out the recalcitrant piston. Gus took it from him, and passed it to
"You saw one brake shoe move," he
said. "The other didn't. Either this piston wasn't cleaned when
they put it back, or that brake fluid's contaminated. Anyway, that
week-long shop layup gave corrosion time to freeze it in the cylinder.
The other shoe braked the wheel, but with much less power than the two shoes
working on the left-hand one. So you got a hard pull to the left."
Inside the car, the police radio
squawked. Eldon grabbed the mike and acknowledged. As a voice
spoke with measured urgency, the chief made a few notes.
"Great! Here I am with my wheels
down," he said to Gus, " and we just got a report of a car stolen from the
supermarket lot-a blue 1962 Buick."
"Stan won't take long," promised Gus.
Want to check blue Buicks? You can start on that one over there.
Whose is it, Stan?"
"Fellow named Halloran. He
"Too danged many cars look alike these
days," grumbled Eldon, with a brief glance at the car Stan had driven in.
Report says this one belongs to a store-fixture salesman named Holt.
He was doing an estimate job, left the keys in the lock, the registration in
the glove compartment, and doesn't know his license number!"
"Want that cup of coffee now?"
"Might's well. Here's Holt's
idea of a hot clue-and maybe it is, remarked Eldon, sauntering after Gus.
"Cars got something wrong-it can't be driven at any speed over 40 miles per
A wrench clattered to the floor.
"That was the trouble with this car
until we fixed it," Stan said. "Let's look at that registration."
"Plain enough how it happened," said
Eldon after a radio report from a police car. "The car you want is at
the east end. Your customer is one of those people who can't tell east
from west except at sunrise."
A police car braked hard outside, and
from it emerged a rotund little man. The worried look on his face
deepened into a satisfied scowl when he saw the Buick.
"I'm Lemuel Holt," he announced.
"Driver's license, please," said
Holt handed it over. "Why check
up on me? I'm the one whose car was stolen."
"Just wanted to see if a man who
leaves his keys in the lock really did pass a driving test," said Eldon
"I was in a hurry," mumbled Holt.
"Did you get the thief?"
"There wasn't any." Eldon explained.
To the amazement of all, a smile
overspread the little man's face.
"That's the best news I've had in a
month. The grief that car's given me! Maybe I left the keys
because I hoped somebody would swipe it."
He turned to Gus. "Three
different mechanics worked on it. They replaced the points, plugs, and
distributor casing, rebuilt the carburetor then installed a brand-new one.
They soaked me for a new battery, coil, wiring-even a new starter. If
you licked it, I'll pay any reasonable bill and be darned grateful, to
Shortly after the happy owner of the
Buick had driven it off, Stan finished bleeding the brake system on the
police car and went with Eldon to road-test it. The brakes held well,
with no side pull.
Instead of returning to the shop, the
chief drove downtown and stopped at the east end of the supermarket lot.
"Might as well get the car you came
for," he said gruffly.
"Er-thanks." Stan got out and headed
for the Blue Buick so hastily he never saw the grin on the chief's face.
The key was under the seat.
"Halloran's car was missing at high
speed, all right," Stan told Gus after the owner had picked it up. Six
of the plugs had gaps you could drive a Volkswagen through. Besides,
they were the wrong heat range for this kind of driving. I put in new
ones and tried it out."
"Been pretty busy today, haven't you?"
"Yeah. Wonder what I'd have done
if that guy Holt had run out and caught me taking his car. What a spot
to be in!"
"Shucks," said Gus. "He had a
car problem, didn't he? You'd have quick-sold him a diagnosis and
repair job, of course-at the Model Garage."