Gus had just started walking away from
his rooming house to open the Model Garage when a bright-red hardtop zipped
to the curb and stopped down to show the red face of the town's fire chief,
"Answering an early call?" asked
"Trying to stop one from coming in,"
grunted Maloney around his cigar. "Come on, Gus. Get in."
Mystified, Gus entered. The car
roared away. "Where is this no-alarm fire you're in such a hurry to
The chief savagely bit his cigar.
"Monday we got a call from a woman on Eucalyptus Street reporting a garage
fire. Time we got there the garage was empty, the car gone.
Yesterday morning another woman called. She swore heavy black smoke
was pouring out of that same garage.
"This time I got there in time to
block the driveway just as the fellow was pulling out. His car was
smoking like Vesuvius. I gave him the devil."
"What for?" asked Gus
"What for!" roared Maloney angrily.
"Because nobody but nobody has a right to cause two false alarms in two
days. Okay - I know he didn't turn them in. But his car caused
"He says it's been smoking like that
every morning when he starts it up, for nearly a week. Now this I want
to see. So I threatened him with the regulations - didn't say which
ones because I'm not sure myself - if he starts that car before you and I
For a time the chief drove in silence,
lips clamped over his soggy cigar. "Sorry if this makes you late
opening, but it's important," he finally said. "Can't have false
alarms, or ask the neighbors to ignore that sort of thing."
"Sure, Mal. And don't worry
about the shop," said Gus. "Stan will be there by now."
Maloney zoomed to the curb on a
pleasant residential street. As he and Gus walked toward the house, a
worried-looking, middle-aged man came out. He wore a checked jacket
and denims that hung loosely.
"This is Mr. Flynn," said Maloney.
"Gus Wilson's our car expert, Mr. Flynn. Let's go look at yours."
"It smokes only when you start it?"
asked Gus as they walked to the garage.
Flynn nodded nervously. "But it
stops after I've driven a few blocks. Then it behaves. It smokes
again when I start home from work, but not so much."
He opened the garage door, revealing a
1956 Ford sedan.
"Don't start it until I say so,"
requested Gus, opening the hood.
For its age, the V-8 engine was fairly
clean. There was no sign of oil leakage, no oil-burn stains on the
Noting that the car had dual exhausts, Gus wedged
the heat-control valve in the open or hot position, which would channel the
exhaust from each cylinder bank to its own muffler.
He closed the hood, walked out of the
garage to where he could observe both tail-pipes, and signaled to
Flynn. The engine caught at once.
Immediately the rear of the car was
engulfed in a huge cloud of blue-black smoke.
Sounding the horn, Flynn backed cautiously out.
When he stopped in the driveway, the engine was still belching smoke - all
of it, Gus noted from the right-hand tailpipe
"Can't blame those women for turning
in those alarms," grunted Maloney.
"Somebody'd probably do it again
if the car were in the garage."
He walked up to Flynn. "Okay,
I've seen enough. You get this crate fixed or I'll slap a ticket on
you. Think you can help, Gus?"
Gus nodded. "If you want to run,
Mal, I guess Mr. Flynn will give me a lift back to the Model Garage."
The chief nodded, strode back to his
car. A raucous radio voice spoke briefly from it as it pulled away.
"I don't know what else to do," began
"Can't afford a new car, or even a
ring job, just now. That's what the mechanic said it needed."
"You said 'what else," remarked Gus
Just what has been done, and why?"
"The car had no pep. Compression
was poor on three or four cylinders. The mechanic said I might try
adding tune-up solvent to loosen carbon and free any stuck rings, I did, and
the engine ran better. Then this smoking began. I was on the
early shift last week, leaving before daylight so nobody saw it.
Monday I went on the late shift, and neighbors spotted the smoke. The
car's using way more oil than it did, too."
Gus freed the heat-riser valve, then
looked at the oil on the dipstick. It was black with dirt.
"Change your oil often?"
"Mm - not as often as I should, I
guess," returned Flynn. "But I only make short trips to work and
Gus grunted. Short trips are
what overwork engine oil most.
"I need some tools," he said.
"Suppose we drive to my shop. Things are handier."
They were halfway there when Flynn
swung into a gas station. "Mind if we stop a minute? When I
wasn't sure I could use my car, I called a friend to ask for a lift to the
plant. He's getting his oil changed here, I'll ask him to stop at your
place just in case.
A short, round-faced man wearing work
clothes and a sour expression was arguing with the gas-station attendant.
Seeing Flynn, he rushed over.
"Good thing you came," he burst out.
"Looks like I'll be asking you for a ride instead.
This kid's done something to my car. I have to call a garage for a
Flynn shook his head dolefully.
"That's tough. Mr. Wilson here is a garageman. I'm on my way to
his shop with my car now."
The short man bobbed his head.
""My name's Sutton. That's my Chevy on the lift. It's got the
Lucky thing I stuck around and checked
the oil pressure light after he changed the oil. It won't go out."
The gas jockey, a lad just out of his
teens, nodded glumly. "That's right, but I put back the drain plug and
the new oil's right up to the dipstick mark. It ain't my fault that
light stays on. Maybe it's shorted."
"There no oil pressure. That
could ruin my engine!" snapped Sutton.
"How long did the crankcase drain?"
Gus asked the attendant.
"Well, there was a rush at the pumps
just then. Maybe 25 minutes."
"So what?" demanded Sutton.
"You willing to tow my car to your shop?"
"If it's necessary," returned Gus.
"Put a floor jack under the front of the car," he told the boy, "and raise
it about six inches."
While the puzzled attendant did so,
Gus and the other men walked over. Slowly the car lifted, to assume a
"Try the engine now," said Gus.
"But we did, three times," protested
Sutton. "What difference - oh, okay."
Reluctantly he got in and switched on
the engine, which caught at once.
"The light's still on! Gotta
Gus held his hand just as Sutton was
about to shut off the engine. An instant later the indicator light
"Hey, it - how come?" spluttered the
short man. "What did you do?"
"On this 283-inch Chevy engine," Gus
explained. "long draining can empty the pump, making it lose its
prime. It then spins in air and can't lift oil. Raising the
front end tilts the oil level back to the pump so it can pick up its prime
again. No sweat."
"Not when you know," murmured the gas
jockey. "I'm glad you turned up."
"So am I," agreed Sutton. I'll
go along to see if Flynn needs that ride."
Stan had opened up and was at work
when Gus and Flynn drove up to the Model Garage, followed by Sutton.
Gus at once checked the plugs in the right cylinder bank of Flynn's car.
The first two plugs, though old, were
fairly clean. The rear two were badly oil-fouled. Gus cleaned
and replaced them. Then as Flynn and Sutton watched, he loosened the
Oil gushed out even before he raised
The valve mechanism was thick with sludge.
Wiping away what he could. Gus probed for the oil-drain holes in the
head, ran a wire through them, and finished with a spurt of air.
"The engine's dirty from over-age oil
and oil and short runs," Gus told Flynn as he replaced the valve cover.
"The oil passages to the rocker arms were at least partly clogged, cutting
down the oil supply. The drain holes were plugged too. Then you
added tune-up solvent to the engine oil. Being under pressure in the
supply passages, it opened them. More oil came up. But there was
no pressure to clean out the drain holes.
"With more oil coming in but not much
draining out, the valve chamber filled up above the top of the valve guides
of the two rear cylinders. This didn't show in driving. But
overnight, oil would seep through the guides into the cylinders and exhaust
manifold. By morning there was enough of it to lay a smoke screen when
you started the engine."
"And when that burned away the car
quit smoking?" asked Flynn.
"Sure, until it stood idle long enough
for more oil to seep in," said Gus. "It won't smoke now, but you
should have the engine thoroughly cleaned soon."
"If you can do it today, I'll leave
the car now," said Flynn, and when Gus agreed turned to Sutton. "I'll
take that ride to work now."
A bright-red hardtop rolled into the
Model Garage later that afternoon.
"Where's that car wrecker who thinks
he's a mechanic?" demanded Maloney.
Gus emerged from the office to grin at
the red-faced fire chief.
"Well, we've taken care of the
false-alarm department." He said genially. "That's kept us
"Then I'm not going to get any more
false alarms coming in from Eucalyptus Street?"
"Guess not," returned Gus.
"There's Flynn's car. It won't smoke up the neighborhood any more."
Maloney grunted. "Thanks for the
assist, Gus. You may have saved the department some useless calls."
"Hey Chief," called Stan from
underneath the grease rack.
"Gus handled another false alarm at
the Ace Service Station, too. All by himself."
"Oh yeah?" asked Maloney suspiciously.
"It was a different kind of fire,"
"Uh-huh," chuckled Gus. "It sure
wasn't your kind. Only thing to worry about there was a car owner who
was burning up. And you know how we put it out? By pouring oil