Littlefield moved into our neighborhood about six years ago. He and
his wife, Joan had bought the old Marvin farm 18 miles south of town on the
west branch of the river, and had converted it into a comfortable country
inn for summer vacationers. Whenever Ken came to town for provisions
and supplies he always stopped by the Model Garage to fill up with gas and
have a chat with the proprietor, Gus Wilson. He and Gus had built up
quite a friendship, and the river beside Ken's little rambling hotel had
become one of Gus' favorite fishing spots.
Three weeks ago, on one of those hot
days we had early in June, Gus glanced up from an ignition job to see Ken's
old but shiny station wagon pull up beside the pumps.
"Hi, Ken," Gus greeted. "Got
your place in shape for the summer folks?"
"Just about, Gus," Ken answered, as he
unlocked the cap to his tank so Stan Hicks, Gus's assistant could fill it
up. "And not too soon either. Our first guests arrive in two
weeks. But here's my big problem," he added, pointing over his
"I was wondering what you were doing
with a spare motor in back," Gus said.
"It's a rebored and rebuilt engine for
this old buggy. Only cost me $142, plus shipping charges. Now
all I've got to do is install it. I figure that with a block and
tackle on the barn tie beam, I ought to be able to handle the job. Not
that I'm trying to do you out of business, Gus, but this is a time of year
when things are pretty tight with us," Gus's smile told him there was no
need to worry on that score.
"By the way, Gus, " Ken continued, as
he paid Stan for the gas, "you haven't been out to the place since last
Fall. How about coming out for some fishing one of these afternoons?
Joan'll buy you dinner."
"I'll be out," Gus promised.
It was about ten days later when the
fishing urge and the promise of a home cooked meal made Gus decide to take
up Ken's invitation.
As he drove along the road toward
Millstown - that's the little crossroad hamlet a few miles from Ken's inn -
Gus got to thinking about the Littlefields, and what nice people they were.
They'd bought the Marvin place on a shoestring, and had done most of the
Ken was a handy man with tools, and
Joan was no slouch with pots and pans or needle and thread. Their
first two years had been rough, but the place had caught on. Last
summer, their ten rooms had been filled all season.
At this point in his reminiscing, Gus
spied Ken's freshly painted sign - Settler's Inn - and turned into the
private lane that led to the main house.
"Well, if it isn't Mr. Wilson," Joan
greeted him as he maneuvered his car into a parking spot. "I'd almost
given up hope of seeing you before we opened."
Ken's Not at Home
Joan hadn't changed a bit in the eight
or ten months since Gus had seen her last. Hard work seemed to agree
"Ken isn't here right now," Joan
apologized as they climbed the steps to the broad veranda that rimmed the
house. "Why don't we just sit here on the porch until he gets back,
and you can catch me up on all the gossip."
Gus had just finished telling her about old pinchpenny Barnstable's
recent brush with the law when he recognized the Littlefield sedan turning
into the land. Ken had someone with him.
"Here's Ken - and that's his young
brother Dave with him," Joan explained. "Dave wants to go into the
hotel business when he gets out of college. He's going to work for
board and keep for the summer - sort of on-the-job training. It's a
break for us."
Ken waved a greeting as he opened the
porch door and spied Gus.
"Gus, this is Dave - he's my kid
"Glad to know you, Dave," Gus shook
the young man's hand. "Well, Ken, I've taken up your invitation."
"Good," said Ken, "but afraid you'll
have to fish alone. Dave and I've a job to do. You know where
the skiff's tied up, and the bass and pickerel are running strong."
What's Up at Settler's Inn?
As Gus sat in the skiff, rod in hand,
he had a feeling that something was wrong at Settler's Inn. Ken had
looked worried and tired and it wasn't like him to let Gus go fishing alone.
Two hours and three small mouth bass
later, Gus decided he'd better head back to the Littlefields'. He
wanted to get back in time to clean his fish, wash up, and be ready for
The dinner was one of Joan's
usual-chicken and dumplings with lots of thick creamy gravy, hot homemade
bread made with biscuits, strawberry shortcake and the kind of strong coffee
that Gus liked but seldom got in restaurants. Gus was enjoying every
mouthful of it when he noticed that neither Ken nor his brother was eating
much. He suddenly realized that most of the conversation had been
between himself and Joan.
"What's the matter, Ken?" Gus asked.
"Something bothering you?"
"Oh, nothing in particular," Ken
replied without looking up from his plate.
"Anything I can help you with?" Gus
"No, Gus. It's nothing. It'll
"Now look here, Ken Littlefield," Joan
admonished. "You know right well it's something Gus could help you
with, and I think you're just being downright childish not to tell him about
it. You've been acting like a bump on a log all afternoon and if you
don't tell him, I will."
"Well, there is something," Ken
finally submitted. "But I don't want you to think I asked you out here
just to - "
"Nonsense Ken. "Let's have it."
"It all goes back to the last time I
stopped by the Model Garage," Ken began. "Remember, that rebuilt
engine I had in the back of the station wagon?"
"Well, after Dave got here last
weekend we spent all our spare time taking out the old engine and getting
the re-built job into place. Everything went fine until we stepped on
the starter. She ticked right off.
But when I idled her back there was a
bad knock. After checking everything this afternoon we've decided they
shipped us and engine with a bum main bearing. At least that's what it
sounds like. About all we can do now is rip it out again, send it back
and wait for a replacement. That means we'll be hamstrung with nothing
but the sedan and paying guests due any day."
"Whoa, Ken, maybe things aren't so
black," put in Gus. "Mind if I try my ear on this knock of yours?"
Two minutes later, the three men were
in the barn.
"There's my headache," Ken indicated,
switching on the lights.
As Dave started the engine, Gus stood
beside the open hood and listened. The knock was there all right.
No doubt about it. Gus reached in and moved the throttle rod to the
carburetor back and forth. The noise was just as noticeable at all
"Doesn't sound so good," Gus admitted.
"Got a screwdriver handy?"
Ken handed him a long screwdriver from
a nearby bench and Gus used the metal shank to short out one spark plug
after another. It had little effect on the noise.
The rebuilt installation didn't
include a new head or manifolds, but Gus had worked on Ken's station wagon
before and didn't think anything was wrong there. Then he had an idea.
"Have you had that old head off since
you first installed it?" Gus asked.
Ken shook his head.
"Let's take it off and have a look at
the rebore job," Gus suggested. "You'll have to take it off anyway if
you decide to send the motor back."
Ken agreed, and he and Gus set to
work. When they had the head off, Gus ran a finger annual the inner
walls of a cylinder.
"A nice job," he said. "New
valves as well as new pistons."
For a moment Gus studied the top of
the motor. "That gasket come with the block?' he asked.
"No, we bought that. David got
it down at the crossroad service station."
"Mr. Littlefield," said Gus, "I think
we've stumbled on your bum main bearing,." He grinned as he picked up
the gasket. "Got a sharp knife and a file?"
Puzzled, Ken and Dave watched the old
garageman go to work on the gasket, as he carefully enlarged each hole that
fits over the cylinders about a quarter inch. Then, putting the gasket
back into place on the motor block, he said, "Now let's get that head back
on and see what happens."
Still puzzled, Dave and Ken did as
"Now start her up," said Gus when they
had pulled the last bolt up tight.
Ken stepped on the starter and all
three cocked their ears toward the hood. There wasn't a sour note.
The engine purred. Ken raced it, still no noise. He idled her
down, not even a tiny knock.
"Well, I'll be darned," exclaimed Ken
as he switched off the ignition and slid from under the wheel. "Purrs
as purty as a kitten. But I still don't get it."
"Frankly, I didn't get it either,"
admitted Gus, "until I saw that gasket. Then I knew you'd made the
understandable mistake of not realizing that a regular size gasket doesn't
always go well with rebored cylinders and over size pistons. That
gasket had just enough of a lip extending over the rims of the rebored
cylinders to be hit by the pistons every time they came to the top of their
stroke. The result - a noise that sounded like a knock."
As Gus drove back to town late that
night, he was pleasantly happy and pleasantly tired. He'd had good
fishing, he'd been able to help the Littlefields out of a spot. What
more, thought Gus, could he want?"