It had come on cold during the night -
the first real cold snap of the winter. So Gus Wilson and Joe Clark had come
down to the Model Garage earlier than usual that morning. They knew that
they had a busy day ahead of them.
"Yes," Gus agreed with his partner as he
pulled on his overalls in the snug little office, "when winter comes a lot
of automobile grief comes with it. Some of it is unavoidable, of course, but
more of it isn't. Most drivers in this town are careless. Take cold weather
starting trouble for example. I'd say that ninety percent of it is caused by
the lack of a good hot spark. Well, to get a hot spark you've got to have a
fully charged battery. Batteries are likely to run down quickly when it is
cold - they don't function as efficiently as they do in warmer weather, and
they have harder work to do. How many of our customers do you suppose pay
more attention to their batteries in in winter than they do in summer?
Darn few of them! Most of them don't even
bother to throw out the clutch when they step on the starter on a cold
morning. They run their batteries down by making them turn over the
transmission countershaft gears in the stiff, almost solid lubricant in the
transmission case. They don't seem to realize that...."
"All right, all right!" Joe interrupted.
"If people drove cars the way you think they should, we'd soon have to go
out of business for lack of customers. Now, the way I look at it..."
Gus was grinning: it was his turn to
interrupt. "Don't you hear that telephone ringing?" he demanded, and went
into the shop. A little later he heard his partner telling Harry, the grease
monkey to take the wrecker and bring in a car.
Inside of fifteen minutes Harry was back
with Dave Sledd's sedan in tow. Dave got out and grinned at Gus. "You like
mysteries," he said, "so I've brought you one. Why does this car run with
four, five, six or seven spark plugs in, but go dead with all eight of them
in? Figure it out. Quick now!"
"Sounds more like a riddle than a
mystery," Gus said. "What's the big idea?"
Dave lit a cigarette. "Here's the sad
story," he said. "This is the third winter I've had this car, and until last
night I never had a bit of trouble getting it started. Yesterday evening I
drove down to my married sister's with the old bus running swell, and parked
in front of her home about half past eight. We got into a bridge game, and
it was after twelve when I came out. By that time it had turned bitter cold.
When I stepped on the starter the engine turned over a few times in a
sluggish sort of way, and then quit.
"I kept on stepping on the starter, and
quitting, until I'd run down my battery. By that time Vic - he's my
brother-in-law-had come out. He got his car and pushed me for a block. Same
result. Then he pushed my car back to his garage.
"Vic is a good amateur mechanic, and he
knows something about automobiles. His garage is heated enough to be
comfortable, so we really went to work on my bus. We took the battery out of
his car and put it in mine, and then we checked the wiring and the
distributor and the gas line, but we couldn't find anything wrong.
"Finally we decided to check up on the
spark plugs. When I had four of them out, Vic stepped on the starter, and
the engine took off. It made a lot of racket, but it kept on running.
"We thought we had the trouble licked
then; that it was caused by a defective spark plug. All the four I'd taken
out looked O.K. but Vic had some new ones, so we put them in. But when I
stepped on the starter the engine just turned over a couple of times and
then by golly it stopped again!
"Then we started experimenting. He tried
the engine with five and six and seven plugs in, and it ran. But every time
we put in the eighth plug, it would stop as soon as it got started.
"By that time it was after one o'clock,
and we were feeling hungry, so we went in the kitchen to see what we could
find in the refrigerator. My sister came down and made us some coffee, and I
guess we were in there for about half an hour. Vic said he wasn't going to
need his car today, so I could have it, but before we put the battery back
in his car. I gave mine one more kick - and it started right away and ran
smooth as syrup!
"It was too late to do any more trouble
shooting, so I put my battery in the back of my car to bring around to you
for recharging, and drove home. When I got there I started to look things
over again, but my garage isn't heated, and in a few minutes my fingers were
all thumbs. I couldn't figure out what the dickens had been the matter, but
so long as the engine was running again I decided to leave well enough
alone, and went to bed.
"This morning I didn't think anything
about the car until I stepped on the starter. Then the same thing happened -
the engine turned over and then went dead. I tried it several times, but the
same thing always happened. I didn't want to run Vic's battery down the way
I had mine, so I gave you people a buzz on the phone. Now it's your
Gus raised the hood and took out one of
the spark plugs. "I doubt if this is what I'd call a headache," he said.
"Step on her."
The engine started promptly and ran
noisily. "I told you that it would do that," Dave said. "As soon as you put
the plug back it will stop."
Gus walked around to the back of the car
and stood there for a few seconds then went over to his workbench and fired
up a blowtorch. Then he replaced the plug, closed the hood, and went back to
the rear end of the car.
Dave followed him. "What are you going to
do?" he wanted to know.
"Get your engine running right for you,
of course," Gus told him. He began playing the blowtorch flame over the
muffler outlet pipe, and in a few seconds water began dripping from it.
"Your only trouble is that water condensed from the exhaust can't get out,
so of course it sets up a back pressure which kills the engine. Taking one
of the plugs out leaves a hole through which the back pressure can escape,
so your engine runs. Savvy?"
Water was trickling out of the pipe in a
stream now. Gus got an old file from his bench, and worked it up into the
pipe a few times. Then he picked several chunks of ice out.
Dave Sledd's face got red. "I'm a
bonehead," he said bitterly. "Why, last night I had the explanation right
under my eyes, but I was too dumb to dope it out."
Gus laughed. "You mean that you noticed a
pool of water on the garage floor under the rear end of your car when you
came out from that free-lunch session in your sister's kitchen," he guessed.
"Naturally, the ice in the muffler melted after the car had been standing in
a heated garage for a couple of hours. That was a tip-off of course, but -
well, every man to his trade. Try her now."
The engine ran smoothly and quiet.
"That's fine," Dave said. "But how can I keep the same thing from happening
"Well, I fixed one last year by drilling
a small hole in the underside of the muffler," Gus told him. "That let most
of the water drain out. But to be on the safe side, in really cold weather
race your engine for a few seconds just before you switch it off. That will
blow out the condensed moisture before it has a chance to freeze."
Ten minutes after Dave Sledd had driven
on his way, Joe brought an elderly man whom Gus didn't know into the shop.
"This is Mr. Sinclair," he said. "George Knowles sent him around to us. He's
having a little starting trouble."
"That's putting it too mildly" Sinclair
protested. "I'm having a lot of starting trouble. It's this cold weather, I
suppose. I'm a salesman, and I stayed here in town last night. Left my car
parked in that lot back of the hotel. When I tried to get it going this
morning the starter worked, but I couldn't get even a cough out of my motor.
After I'd tried for a while, and my battery was getting weak, the fellow who
runs the parking lot gave me a push with his car, and after a block the
motor took hold and ran all right. Thinking that I wouldn't have any more
trouble, I went into George Knowles's store, and sold him a bill of goods.
When I came out and stepped on the starter, it was the same as it had been
before - not a cough. George got me going by pushing me, and suggested that
I'd better come in and see you. My car's outside, with the motor running. I
was afraid that if I shut it off I couldn't get it started again"
Harry drove the car into the shop. The
engine was running normally. "Cut it off," Gus told him. "All right. Now
step on it."
The engine wouldn't start. Gus tilted his
cap over one eye as he reflectively scratched behind his right ear. Then he
looked over the coil, switch, and wiring. Everything seemed to be in good
order, but there wasn't any spark.
"I had a new switch installed, and the
wiring gone over, only a week ago. Everything was all right then," Sinclair
Gus nodded and began to examine the
distributor. "Here's the cause of your starting trouble," he said after less
than a minute. "And the cold weather hasn't anything to do with it. Take a
look at these screws - the ones that hold down this plate to which one of
the points is fastened. Notice that they are a little loose? Some one who
was working on your car forgot to tighten them thoroughly and they gradually
worked so loose that now there isn't any electrical connection, so of
course, you can't get a spark."
He cleaned the part of the plate under
the screw heads carefully, and then tightened the screws. "Step on her,
Harry," he directed. The engine started promptly.
"That's quick work," Sinclair said. "But
there is one thing which I suppose is clear to you, but which just doesn't
make sense to me. You say that it was because those screws were loose that I
couldn't get a spark to start my motor. I'm willing to take your word for
that. But I'd like to know how the dickens I got a spark to keep the motor
running after some one had started my car by pushing it."
"That's easy, Vibration," Gus explained.
"As soon as your engine began turning over fast, it set up vibrations in the
distributor that caused contact. Then so long as your engine was running you
had an electrical connection, and a spark. As soon as you shut it off, you
lost both. Well, it's all right now."
Jobs came into the Model Garage fast that
cold day, and Gus and Harry were busy thawing frozen radiators and adjusting
carburetors while Joe played a merry tune on the cash register. But for
once, it didn't make Joe look very happy.
"What's eating you?" Gus finally asked.
"Oh, as soon as real winter steps in, I get a cold," Joe grumbled in
"So!" observed Gus. "Kind of sore because
you've got to give Doc Marvin a few of your hard-earned dollars? Remember,
there's one consolation. In this weather, cars can catch cold, too!"