Mel Mowbray runs a farm quite a distance
from our town, but he stops at the Model Garage to fill up with gas whenever
he is down our way. In the course of the past 10 years he and Gus have
built up a strong friendship.
One winter morning Gus looked up from a
job in the shop and saw Mel's car through the window, so he strolled out to
the gas pump for a chat. Stan Hicks, the Model Garage grease monkey, had
been checking Mel's oil and was holding out the bayonet gauge for the big
"All right, put in a quart," Mel told him
sourly and turned to Gus. "My car is using a lot of oil," he complained, "a
quart every 200 miles."
"How long has that been going on?" Gus
"Oh, just the last couple of weeks," Mel
"It's probably your winter oil," Gus said
reassuringly. "This unusual warm weather thins it out quickly. If you
don't notice an improvement when it turns colder, you'd better have a
Then he changed the subject as Mel nodded
because Mel has always had repairs done at the country garage in his
neighborhood and Gus didn't want to cut in.
"Get that washing machine for Mrs.
Mowbray yet?" he asked.
Mel shook his head a disappointed look on
his ruddy face. "That's what I came to town about," he said. "We've been
promised the machine for the past six months, and now the dealer says we'll
have to wait another month at least."
He paid Stan for his gas and oil and got
into his car. "Stop by and visit us when you're out our way," he told Gus
cordially. "Mary says to tell you she hasn't forgotten how to bake pie."
Gus's grin was full of fond
recollection. "I'll be dropping in one of these days, all right," he
promised. "Tell Mrs. Mowbray her pie is worth a trip twice as far."
That day arrived some three weeks later.
The unseasonable weather had changed and to balance his books Old Man Winter
had sent along a heavy snowfall and followed through with a seemingly
endless succession of days on which the mercury never climbed as high as the
Gus had been on a business trip and was
driving home when he reached the crossroads near Mel's little farm late on a
bitter afternoon. The red sun had sunk below the hills in the west, leaving
behind a gray-green sky against which the bleak pines on the snow-clad ridge
stood out black and hard. A little tired and a lot hungry, Gus pictured
himself in Mel's old fashioned kitchen, a wood fire blazing in the big
range, and stout, rosy-cheeked Mary Mowbray plucking a steaming pie from the
oven. He turned from the clean-swept concrete highway to the snow-rutted
After 20 minutes he came to a
poplar-bordered lane leading from the road a couple of hundred yards to
Mel's farmhouse. Gus looked up the single set of ruts and saw a strange car
at the house.
"Guess I'd better get out and walk," he
said half to himself. "There's no way to get past that fellow, and I don't
want to back the whole way down here."
A biting wind smacked him in the face as
he got out of his car. He bowed his head and started trudging. Pretty soon
his eyes caught a small dark spot on the ice-glazed snow halfway between the
deep ruts. Then 100 feet farther on he saw another, and then another,
another, and another, all about the same distance apart.
Gus was near the house when Mel came out
with a sharp-featured young man who was wearing a sporty overcoat over
"Hello, Gus!" Mel boomed. "You're a
sight for sore eyes. Come on in and have supper. But where's your car?"
"Down at the far end of your one-way
street," Gus grinned. "I didn't think there was room for two of us to
The young man looked inquisitively from Gus to Mel, but the farmer, though
his face grew a shade redder than years of sun and wind had turned it, made
no move to introduce his visitors.
"Thanks for bringing the battery over,
Elmer," Mel said. "I'll have to think about that other job."
"Better take the word of a man who
knows," Elmer snapped. "If you wait too long and ruin your car, don't blame
me. She's pumping oil, I tell you. That war gas and oil filled your
piston-ring grooves with gum, and the rings can't move - the oil just blows
"But $90 is a lot of money," Mel
"Sure it's a lot," Elmer agreed, "but
it's easier to pay for tearing down your engine, cleaning out the grooves,
and installing new rings than it is to get a new car," He turned to Gus, "Am
I right, mister?"
"Well," Gus hedged, "new cars are hard to
"You're right, they're hard to get,"
Elmer snorted. "I'll take you down to the road, mister, if you want to drive
your car in."
"Thanks," Gus said, and got in with him.
"I'll be back in a minute, Mel."
"Peters is my name - I'm in the
automotive line," Elmer announced importantly as he let in his clutch. "I
do business up here in the sticks, but I do it in a big-shop way. My
toughest job is selling these farmers preventive maintenance. Mowbray's
car, for instance, is pumping oil - "
"Have you tested it?" Gus asked
"Test!" Elmer retorted scornfully. "I
know what's wrong without wasting time on tests."
"That's a gift," Gus said mildly. "Well,
thanks for the lift."
Elmer regarded him with suspicion. "Up
here on business, mister?" he asked.
"No, just paying a social call," Gus
replied, and got out.
He drove his own car slowly back to the
house, his eyes on the snow between the ruts. Mel was waiting at the door,
and Mrs. Mowbray welcomed him in the kitchen with: "Supper's on the table,
Mr. Wilson. Make yourself at home and fall to."
Gus did that with a right good will, Mel
was looking worried but his wife chatted happily. Then after dessert - her
famous deep dish apple pie - she burst out with a piece of news.
"The dealer phoned today," she beamed.
"He has the washing machine."
Mel mumbled something and then, when Gus
had finished his coffee, he led the way to the parlor. "I hate to
disappoint Mary," he told Gus quietly. "But $90 to repair the car means no
Gus lit his pipe. "Mel," he said, "I'm
going to do something I've never done before - butt in on another shop's
job. Can I take a look to see what's wrong with that car of yours?"
"Of course," Mel agreed eagerly.
They went into the barn, Mel with a
lighted lantern. Gus had him race the engine while he watched the exhaust.
There was no telltale blue smoke. Then Gus crawled under the car. "Push
the lantern a little closer so I can see the crankcase pan," he said. The
bottom of the pan was streaked with wet oil.
Gus backed out from under the car, got a
socket wrench from his own tool box, and crawled back under. The first pan
bolt he tried required a full turn to tighten, and some were so loose they
took more than two full turns.
"Go ahead and buy Mrs. Mowbray her
washing machine," Gus grinned as he got up, brushing his trousers. "You
aren't going to have any more trouble. The oil-pan bolts are apt to loosen
up and cause a leak on almost any car after it's been driven for a time -
sometimes from vibration, sometimes gasket shrinkage."
"But how did you know what to look for?"
Mel asked bewildered.
"I saw you had a leak when I was walking
up your lane," Gus told him.
"It was yours, all right, because there
were no more spots after Elmer drove down - just one spot every hundred
"Doesn't sound like much of a leak," Mel
"No?" Gus went on. "Well, a drop every
hundred feet is 50 drops a mile. You said you need up a quart every 200
miles. Let's see, 200 times 50. I don't know how many drops there are in a
quart, but 10,000 drops make a lot of oil."
Mel grinned. "Gus," he said, "you're the
best friend I've ever had. Make out your bill, and I'll pay you - even if
"Bill?" Gus laughed. "I'm not on shop
time now. Just call the job my thank-you gift to Mrs. Mowbray for the pie.
And when she gets that washing machine, she'd better invite me back here for