During his years in the
Model Garage, Gus Wilson has seen a lot of disgruntled motorists. But
not one of them was more fed up with a car than Val Murdock the day Officer
Cecil O'Toole handed him a ticket for reckless driving at Main and Center
It was strange,
too, about Val. Usually, he is a very careful driver. And it
would seem he had every reason to be pleased with the car. It was
brand new, a super-duper convertible equipped with automatic transmission
and all the other modern improvements - a job to take anyone's fancy.
Gus got into the
case just by chance. It was late Saturday afternoon. As he
stepped from the Men's Shop after buying a couple of shirts, a small object
hit the pavement with a metallic clatter. It had come from the midst
of a crowd gathered around Val's car - stopped dead in the middle of the
Gus looked down - A set of car keys. Stooping to pick them up Gus heard Val's angry
voice; "I'll never drive it again! I'm through!"
The situation must
be bad, Gus decided, if it could cause Val to throw away his keys.
helping clear away the traffic snarl Val had created, Gus heard the story.
Val had been out
of town all week. Only a few minutes after getting home on the
afternoon train, barely able to wait to try out the No-Shift-O Eight that
had been delivered two days before, he had his first disappointment.
The battery was dead.
It was obvious
what had happened. Val, Jr. The key in the ignition, turned to
the left, and the radio on - but not tuned to a station. That was the
first thing Val had found that and a lot of mud on the floor mat.
Val wanted to try
the car, desperately. But what could be done about the battery?
He phoned the Model
Garage. No answer. It was already after four o'clock. If
Gus had closed shop. Val figured there wasn't much chance of finding a
rental battery anywhere.
longed for the old cranking days. If he could get the engine started,
the generator would soon build up a charge. Now that he thought of it,
there was a way. Vaulting the hedge, Val went next door. Yes,
his neighbor would help.
The battery was
easily removed from the neighbor's car. Luckily, he was one of those
rare individuals who keep the corrosion cleaned away and the terminals
coated with petroleum jelly.
battery to Val's garage, they hooked it up in parallel with the dead one,
pressing into service two lengths of welding cable and four C clamps to make
the connections. The engine was soon running smoothly.
Val had returned
the borrowed battery and was just straightening down the cleaned floor mat
when his wife Marge opened the back door. "Oh, Val," she called,
"would you go over and pick up the laundry?"
Traffic was light
on the side street, and after driving a couple of blocks Val began to relax
and enjoy what the salesman had extolled lyrically as clutch freedom.
Automotive engineers really had lot on the ball, he decided. Gears
that shift themselves, and no clutch pedal to bother with!
He overtook an
ancient sedan. The street ahead was clear. He sheered out from
behind the slow-moving car, and pressed the accelerator all the way to the
floor board. The transmission downshifted sweetly, and exultation
flooded Val's middle-aged soul at the smooth surge of power that swept him
swiftly past the old car. Some bus, this baby!
But the Car Keeps Going
ahead a green light blinked to yellow and then to red. Val didn't slow
down - maybe it would turn green again before he got to it. It didn't.
He took his right foot off the accelerator and braked lightly, while his
left foot pawed instinctively for the clutch pedal - which wasn't there.
"Dumbell!" he reproached himself, and braked harder.
But the car kept
right on going! As the stop line flashed under the front wheels Val
really stomped down on the brake. The car slowed, but it was around
the corner into Main Street before he could stop it.
He had shifted the
selector lever to "Neutral," but the engine was racing. Puzzled, he
fiddled with the accelerator. After a few seconds the engine slowed to
idling speed. Funny about that, he thought. Must have done
something wrong. Better be careful.
Pulling into the
parking lot adjoining the laundry, Val eased the car to a halt and,
through habit, reached over and turned off the ignition. Back with the
package of laundry, he suddenly remembered he had intended to leave the
engine running. "Oh, well," he thought resignedly, "there should be
enough juice now to start it once."
Will the Engine Start
In the parking
space next to his a horse-faced man in a battered sedan was regarding the
new car and its owner with an expression that Val classified as sardonic.
disconcerted by this inspection, Val forgot he wasn't in the old coupe.
He reached his left hand out to where the starter button should have been -
but it wasn't there.
"Watch what you're
doing, you dope!" he chided himself. He located the button and pressed
it but nothing happened. There wasn't a peep from the starter.
checked over the controls. There that was it! He had forgotten
to shift the control lever to "Neutral." A neat little safety feature
that! No juice could flow through the starter circuit until the car
was in neutral.
The engine finally
caught, but Val was so badly flustered that he shifted the selector lever
from "Neutral" to "Reverse" instead of to "Drive," with the disconcerting
consequence that when he released the hand brake and pressed the throttle
pedal, the car shot backward. Only his frantic application of the
brakes stopped it in time to avert, by inches, a crash with a delivery wagon
parked twenty feet behind.
Val mopped the
cold sweat off his brow and tried again. This time he manipulated the
selector lever according to Hoyle, and went in the direction he expected to
thickened and slowed as he neared the intersection of Main and Center.
Out on his little safety island Officer O'Toole, tired , nervous, and short
of temper after four straight hours of duty, was controlling the lights
manually, and making the most of every chance to keep the cars moving.
When the last
automatic light before Center Street turned green, the block, between it and
the intersection was clear of traffic.
Val's car was the first
in line, and he took advantage of the break by speeding up to the 23-mile
limit. But just before he reached the intersection O'Toole switched
the Main Street light to red. In an instant Center Street cars
were half-way across the intersection cars were half-way across the
intersection or making right turns into Main, and impatient pedestrians were
flooding the street.
Why Val Threw Away the
foot moved swiftly and surely from the accelerator to the brake pedal.
But again his car kept on going! It missed the rear end of a truck by
a scant inch, and a fear-paralyzed shopper by half as much.
Women screamed. Men
cursed. Horns squawked. Val put everything he had onto the brake
pedal, and the car came to a grinding stop a yard short of the safety
inland. Val jumped out.
blew a whistle blast that set brakes to whining two blocks away, and
switched the Center Street light to red. Then, his face fiery, his jaw
out, and his eyes blazing he stalked over to Val. "What in blazes is
th' matter with you?" he roared.
Val Murdock is a
peppery sort of citizen.
His temper slipped its
leash, and he blew his top. "There's nothing the matter with me!" he
yelled. "It's the crazy gadgets on this car!"
It was then that
Val reached into the No-Shift-O snatched the ignition keys, and hurled them
as far as he could.
By the time Gus
got out into the street, the mutual fury of O'Toole and Val had set most of
the onlookers to laughing. Gus didn't join in - he has seen too often
the tragedy an out-of-control car can cause. After listening a moment,
he worked his way through the crowd to where O'Toole was writing out a
ticket while Val glared. "Hello, Cecil," he greeted. "Hello, Val
- here're your car keys -- you might want 'em. Anything I can do?"
O'Toole looked up
from his writing. "Mebbe you can get this bus out of the middle of the
intersection," he growled. "I wouldn't trust this nut to do it."
Gus and Val got
into the car. Gus pressed the starter button, but nothing happened.
"Oh Lord," exclaimed
Murdock, "I forgot to tell you. The battery's dead. If it was
only the old car, we could get a shove. I don't know if you can push
"You sure can,"
Gus said, "if you know how. Cecil, ask that lead car over there to
give us a fast shove up the street, will you?"
As the other car
nudged its bumper against the rear one on Val's car, Gus moved the
selector lever to "Neutral." Slowly, the cars picked up speed. When
the speedometer registered 20 miles per hour Gus switched on the
ignition and moved the selector lever to "Drive." The engine quickly
"Easy, isn't it?
Gus asked. "You won't do any damage if you do it just as I did.
But you should always remember to move the lever to 'Drive, 'never 'Low.'
And don't push any of these cars faster than 25 miles an hour or more than
For several blocks
the No-Shift-O performed beautifully. Then, when Gus took his foot off
the accelerator, the car didn't slacken speed. Quickly he moved the
lever to "Neutral" and applied the brake. As the car stopped by the
curb, he set the hand brake.
he said. "Let's take a look. If I can't find the trouble right
away, I'll get the wrecker and tow your car in. It's only a few
blocks, but I'm not driving a car with a stuck accelerator even that far."
A few minutes
later Gus straightened up. "The trouble is," he told Val, "that the
accelerator rod, under the treadle, is jammed by the rubber floor mat.
Sometimes it works all right, and sometimes it doesn't - and when it doesn't
it holds the throttle open. There's really nothing to fix - someone
has taken the mat out and replaced it in the wrong position. I'll put
it back so the rod works freely."
Val looked guilty.
"I'm the guy who did it," he confessed. "My kid had tracked dirt all
over the mat. So I took it out and washed it - you know how a fellow
is with a brand new bus. But say, Gus - I'm not sure I'll ever trust
that automatic shift again."
"Of course you
will," Gus reassured him. "As soon as you get to understand it, it's
an improvement - a big one. In a couple of days you'll wonder how you
ever got along without it. And I don't think there's much chance
you'll ever be bothered again with a sticking accelerator. But if you
should, just remember to move to "Neutral" in a hurry.
thing too. A car with an automatic shift device has to be driven, just
as much as a Model T had to be driven, No one ever has built a
human brain into an automobile - and you can take it from me no one ever is