"In precisely one hour," Gus Wilson announced.
"I'm going to take the day off."
He and Stan Hicks were opening the Model
Garage. Gus hadn't the faintest inkling that something was in the wind.
For him it was simply eight in the morning on a
July day that promised to be just right for sitting on a shady riverbank.
Besides it was the Fourth of July.
"We have the mayor's car to tune," Stan reminded
him, almost too quickly.
Gus knocked the ashes from his pipe as he
entered the cool interior. "One hundred and seventy-nine years ago today,"
he said, "our forefathers declared their independence of a tyrant king. I
intend to celebrate by declaring my independence of a tyrant mayor." His
eyes twinkled as he observed Stan's worried expression.
"But, Gus," the latter protested, "the mayor
made a big point of wanting it done this morning. And we agreed."
"You agreed," Gus reminded him.
"And the only thing, "he continued with mock
gruffness, "that puzzles me more than the mayor wanting his car tuned on the
Fourth of July is your willingness to do it."
Stan looked down and shuffled his feet. Had Gus
a suspicious nature he would have suspected right then that Stan was up to
something. But Gus, though shrewd, never suspected friends of trickery.
"Besides," he went on, "you can handle the job.
No need for me to hang around."
A look of alarm suffused Stan's face.
"But, Gus, I-er-might find something really wrong
and need you to give me a hand with it."
This time Gus looked at his assistant sharply.
"Since when have you voluntarily admitted that you weren't the world's No. 1
mechanical genius?" Just then the phone rang and to Stan's relief, Gus went
to the office to answer it.
In a minute he was back. "That was Jerry
Corcoran, with whom I have an engagement to go fishing."
Stan paused in the process of donning his
"N-not this morning," he quavered.
Gus was oblivious to his assistant's cold
behavior. He answered, simply. "Apparently not." His voice reflected his
"Now he tells me that he can't get off until
Misreading the look of satisfaction on Stan's face,
Gus continued. "But I'm not going to do any work.
In fact," he exclaimed. "I'm going to spend the
morning doing something I've been wanting to do for months, I'm going to
clean out the storage room." He turned on his heel and was gone.
Gus's storage room is a small space off his
stock room in which he puts things he can't bear to throw away-used
automobile parts, bills, and correspondence. It had become increasingly
evident that more space was needed. The oldest of the bills and records
must go. Gus had resolved.
He set to with a will and began hauling boxes
out into the stock room. He was dragging a particularly big, dust-covered
one when the twine with which it was wrapped broke and the contents spilled
to the floor. Gus stooped to pick them up and his eye lighted on the top
sheet of a neatly wrapped bundle. It was dated July, 1941, made out to Mr.
Griggs, the director of the First National Bank. A new muffler. Gus sat
down on one of the cartons and stared at the bill, a slow smile playing
around his mouth.
It was funny how that piece of paper took him
back. He filled his pipe and almost chuckled out loud as he recalled the
expression on the crusty old banker's face when he learned that a new
muffler would cure his brake trouble. Mr. Griggs had brought his car to the
Model Garage because he couldn't get the brakes to work without pumping.
Gus had gone all over the whole hydraulic systems without finding anything
wrong. Then he had noticed a tiny hole in the muffler right beside the
tubing that carried brake fluid. He had reasoned correctly that the heat
escaping from this hole was vaporizing the fluid, causing the soft pedal.
Gus began thumbing through the old bills. His
resolve to tidy up the storage room was forgotten.
His reveries were interrupted by the appearance
of a harassed-looking Stan Hicks. "Gus," he blurted, "there's a-er-fellow
out front whose car won't start. But everything checks okay. What do you
think I should do?"
Gus sighed. "I'll go and take a look."
"No!" cried Stan. "You stay right here.
This is your day of rest. I'll take care of it.
Just tell me what to do."
What is the matter with the lad, today?
Gus thought to himself. He's certainly flustered about something. But
he was enjoying his ramble through the past so much that he decided to let
him have his way. "How did he get it over here?" he asked.
"How did it sound when it was running? Any
signs of missing?"
"Nope. Sounded good."
"What have you done so far?"
The young mechanic ticked off on his fingers;
"Plenty of gas at the pump and the carburetor. No sign of an intermittent
stoppage. Not hot enough for vapor lock. Checked the points and the
condenser. No trouble there. Plugs are okay."
"Did you check the coil and plug leads to see if
there was a break in the continuity?" Gus asked.
"Will do," said Stan and he returned to the
front of the garage. Gus watched him fondly. Stan had come a long way
since that day in-when was it now? He recalled vividly the day Stan had
come to work for him. He began looking through the bills. Yes, here it
was, November 15, 1943. Stan's boyish signature on a service order. Yes,
sir, he had become quite a mechanic.
Gus was aware that someone was reading over his
shoulder. He looked up and saw Jerry Corcoran, the state trooper, still in
"Hi!" said Gus. "Say, I thought we were going
fishing. Why didn't you get into your old clothes?"
Jerry hesitates. "Well, you see-well, I can't
go just yet. I'm-well-I'm sort of still on duty."
Gus couldn't hide his disappointment.
"You mean no fishing for us today."
"That's about it," Jerry said uncomfortably.
"Not for a while anyway," Gus started to get up.
"What are you doing?" Jerry asked him quickly.
"Going through some old records? Let me see some of them."
"You wouldn't be interested in these," Gus said.
"Oh, yes I would," Jerry said, seating himself
beside Gus. "Do you remember the time-it must have been 10 years ago-when
you and I were fishing and the gypsy stole your battery right out of your
Gus laughed. "He thought we couldn't catch him
without a battery."
"But you wrapped the cable with your
handkerchief to keep it from shorting. I gave you a push to get the car
started, the generator furnished ignition juice, and we caught up with the
thief. Was he ever surprised!"
Stan Hicks appeared again. He was flushed
covered with grease, and worried. He exchanged a glance, which Gus didn't
see, with Jerry Corcoran.
"I checked the plug leads and there's no break
in continuity," he said. "What do you suggest I do now?"
"I suggest I take a look at it," Gus said.
"No!" both Stan and Jerry exclaimed together.
Gus looked at them.
"What's the matter with you guys?"
"Nothing," Jerry said.
"Nothing at all," Stan rejoined hastily. "I'll take a look at the coil. That's probably
where the trouble is." And he darted away. Gus made as though to follow
him, but Jerry said. "How far back do these records go?" and in another
minute Gus had forgotten the customer out front as he and Jerry dug into the
"Here's a good one," Gus said, holding up a bill
dated July 20, 1930.
"Twenty-five years ago. Do I remember this
fellow! He had bought a gadget that was supposed to increase gas mileage by
letting more air into the manifold. He kept stalling on hills and came in
to me to find out what was the matter. I told him what was wrong with his
gadget and then-" Gus laughed," and then I looked into my crystal ball and
told him that it would be impossible to invent something that would
automatically lean out or richen the mixture."
"But isn't that sort of what an automatic choke
does now?" Jerry asked.
"Yup," said Gus. "I hope I'm a better mechanic
than I am a prophet."
Jerry held up a bunch of bills which were beginning
to get brittle and yellow.
"These go way back."
Gus thumbed through them. "Nineteen
twenty-five. H-m-m. December, October, August, July." He paused at the
last bill in the pile. He looked up at Jerry. "Well, what do you know!
"Today is an anniversary! This is-why, this is
my thirtieth year in business here. Look." He proffered the bill he was
holding in his hand. "See? The first Model Garage bill. It was for Mr.
Stevens. Tune-up and checking over his car before he went on a trip. I
remember it as clear-" He looked at his friend and stopped, Jerry's face
was contorted with mirth. He was struggling to keep from laughing. "What
in tarnation is the matter with you?' Gus demanded.
At this juncture Stan Hicks reappeared for the
third time. "Do we have a distributor for a '41 Buick?"
"Nope," Gus told him. "Haven't you found that
fellow's trouble yet?"
"It must be his distributor."
"I'll take a look at it," Gus said.
"Oh, no!" Stan began in a panic, but Jerry
Corcoran interrupted him.
"It's no use, boy," he said. "Gus has just
discovered that this is his anniversary. We can't stall him off any
Gus looked from one to the other sharply. "What
are you two talking about? What are you up to?"
Stan said, "Ulp!" and darted away. Jerry took
Gus by the arm. "It's about this thirtieth anniversary of yours."
"Yes?" said Gus. "What about it?"
"You were the last person in town to know about
He guided Gus firmly through the stock room and
the garage. Gus could see what looked like a lot of cars and people out
front. As he appeared in the doorway, a tremendous cheer broke out. Gus
stopped, blinked his eyes and looked again. Stretching from his garage as
far as he could see down the highway were cars, covered with streamers and
bunting, interrupted with floats. And people! The whole town seemed to be
there. And they were cheering him, waving their hats and calling his name.
Signs on the cars and floats read: YEA, GUS! And THE FIRST THIRTY YEARS ARE
THE HARDEST, and there were others.
The mayor, resplendent in a cutaway coat
(slightly too large) and a silk top hat (slightly too small), was smoothing
his waistcoat, mopping his forehead, and trying not to look as if anything
had gone wrong. Behind him were half a dozen of the town's leading
citizens. The mayor stepped forward with something in his hands. The crowd
"Mr. Wilson," the mayor began, in his best
oratorical manner, "on behalf of the citizens of our town-" He paused and
looked helplessly about him. All at once he dropped the formality. "Oh,
for the love of Pete!" he exploded. "Gus, it wasn't supposed to be like
this. We had planned to whisk you into my car, lead the parade downtown,
and make the speeches and presentation there."
"Speeches?" asked Gus, now completely
"Yes, you old son of a gun! This is your day, I
have officially proclaimed this Gus Wilson Day, in honor of the town's No. 1
citizen. And to commemorate it we want to present you with this plaque of
old-car emblems for your office wall."
A cheer broke out as Gus dazedly accepted the
plaque from the mayor. Someone hollered for a speech, and the crowd took it
up. Gus demurred, but the mayor and Jerry Corcoran led him firmly to a
bunting-covered truck and hoisted him up.
For a moment, Gus stood there. His eyes were
moist as he looked down at his feet and shifted his pipe in one work-worn
hand. Finally he looked up and squared his shoulders.
"Friends and neighbors," he began.
"This a great honor you have bestowed on me. This
kind of a turnout doesn't usually happen except at a funeral, and I don't
think I'm dead yet." That got an appreciative laugh. "Though I liked to
have died," he went on, "when I stepped out and saw all you people standing
here, I knew business had gotten better, but I didn't think it was that
"Seriously, though, 30 years seems a long time
when you look back, until you think of them as being years of friendship and
accomplishment. Then it isn't long enough. I've made a lot of friends
since opening the Model Garage. I've learned a lot about people and a lot
about cars. Cars are like people, you know. Treat 'em right and they'll
seldom let you down. That's all I have to say, except-well-thanks a lot!"
The crowd applauded wildly and Gus jumped to the ground. The mayor shook
"Terrific, Gus!" he exclaimed.
"Now there's just one thing..."
"What is it?" Gus asked.
"Do you think you could get my car started so we
can get on with the parade?" Gus joined in the laughter.
"It serves you right," he said, "for entering
into this conspiracy. I might have known there was something fishy when you
wanted your car tuned up on the Fourth of July. And I should have suspected
that Stan Hicks was up to something this morning."
Stan colored with embarrassment. "I thought I
could fix it," he said, as they walked to the mayor's car at the head of the
line. "But it's a real stumper."
Someone in the crowd yelled, "Maybe it's out of
When the laughter had subsided, the mayor
retorted indignantly. "Even I've got enough sense to check that."
Meanwhile Gus was going over the ignition system
with sharp eyes and deft fingers. "The spark at the coil is weak, but there
is one. H-m-m. Sure looks like distributor trouble."
"Then we're sunk," said Stan.
"Help me pull this distributor," Gus ordered.
"I have an idea." The two men worked swiftly while the crowd gathered.
Even as he worked, Gus sensed something in the
air. A feeling of excitement. This was a challenge. On his thirtieth
anniversary-on Gus Wilson Day-he was being given a real test of his
ability. Gus was the champ defending his crown and the whole town was out
to watch him do it. A tingle of excitement ran up Gus's spine. Would his
hunch work? Would he vindicate the townspeople's faith in him? Somehow he
knew he must or it would spoil the day.
In a very short time the distributor was
stripped down. Gus examined it thoroughly. Then his heart gave a little
extra beat. Luck was with him!
"I think we can fix it," he muttered.
Word was passed along and a cheer went up. "Bring
me a shim," he told Stan.
A few minutes later the distributor was back in
the car, the engine was purring like a baby, and the parade was at last
under way, Stan and Gus were sitting in the back of the mayor's car.
Amid horn honking shouts, laughter, and general
merriment, Stan leaned over to Gus. "You're still the old master."
"Thanks, son," Gus replied.
"What was it?" Stan asked. "Or is it a
"Not at all," Gus said. "What happened was that
the shaft on which the rotor arm sits was worn. When the distributor was
moved in retiming the rotor arm settled back so low that it didn't get the
spark to the cap studs at cranking speeds. At least that's what I guessed.
So I put the shim in, lifting the rotor arm a
trifle. It did the trick."
They rode along without speaking for a while.
Finally Stan said, "I hope you won't have to wait another 30 years for
another day off."
Gus chuckled. "You know, when you like what
you do for a living as much as I do, every day is a holiday."