Judge Hodgkins cut off a taxi driver's
excuses with a thump of his gavel. "A red light means stop, five dollars.
Next case," he called and looked about his courtroom. Then his judicial
firmness gave way to a bright smile.
"Hello, there, Gus Wilson," he said
loudly. "Come up here and shake hands." Gus, a witness in a minor accident
case, crossed the railed enclosure in front of the high bench and grasped
the pudgy hand the judge reached down.
"You haven't showed up for our little
Saturday night pastime at the Park House for a dog's age," Sam Hodgkins told
"Too busy for poker these days, Judge,"
"No excuse in this court," Judge Hodgkins
rambled with a wink. "Well, make yourself comfortable."
Gus sat down. The 200-pound judge drained
a glass of water, refilled it, and banged his gavel again, "Next case!"
"Leonard Marshall. Charged with driving
with undimmed lights...." The clerk droned. Policeman, Jim Devine stepped
forward with a tall, bespectacled young man by him.
"Your Honor," he said, "a complaint from
old Miss Carver on Orchard Lane, just before nine o'clock every night for
the last week, while she was airin' her dog, a driver blinded her by
suddenly putting on his bright lights. Last night I proceeded to Orchard
Lane. "At 8:49 a car approached with its headlights dimmed, flashed up its
headlights on reaching a turn in the road 50 yards from Miss Carver's
property." It was driven by this Leonard Marshall."
"Well," the judge growled at the accused,
"what have you to say," guilty or not guilty?"
Marshall's pale face flushed, "I don't
know what to say, Your Honor. When this officer stopped me my headlights
were on full, but they were dimmed when I left home and I didn't switch
them. They went up by themselves, somehow they do that every night just as I
get to that particular turn in Orchard Lane." Someone laughed.
Judge Hodgkins' fat face flushed several
shades redder than young Marshall's and he hit the desk a mighty smack with
his gavel and leaned forward.
"Young man," he roared, "the last
defendant who got fresh with this court, is just finishing up ten days. You
are in contempt of court..."
Gus Wilson stood up, "Your Honor," he
interrupted, "may I say something?"
Hodgkins looked at him, "What is it,
Gus?" he asked.
"I've seen cars do a lot of queer
things," Gus said. "I'll admit Mr. Marshall's explanation sounds phony but
it isn't impossible that the lighting circuit could act that way. May I
suggest you have the car examined?"
Judge Hodgkins gently rubbed his bald
head, "The court accepts Mr. Gus Wilson's suggestion, thanks him for it, and
appoints him to examine Leonard Marshall's car," he said after a moment.
"Case continued until ten o'clock tomorrow morning."
When Gus finished his case in court, he
found Marshall and a "39 sedan waiting for him at the Model Garage.
"Mr. Wilson," Marshall said, "it was
mighty white of you to help me. I'm in bad, but I was telling the truth."
"Well," Gus told him, "we've got to find
the trouble." "When did it first begin?" Marshall ran long fingers through
his hair, "About a month ago," he said, "my beam-indicating light burned
out. I didn't do anything about it, because I was busy, and ordinarily I
don't use my car at night. But just now I have to. I'm a chemist at the
Johnson and Fredericks plant, and for the past week I've had to go down
there every evening about nine o'clock to check on a test I'm making on a
"The first night I drove to the plant,
just before I got to the Orchard Lane turn where Miss Carver lives, my
lights went up. I tried to dim them, but the dimmer wouldn't work. I was in
the lab for half an hour. Before I started home I tried the lights again,
and they dimmed. But after I'd driven a few blocks they flashed up again,
and working the switch wouldn't turn them down.
"I figured that the trouble must be
either a loose connection or a short, so I went over the lighting circuit,
but I couldn't find anything. Then I thought it must be something in the
headlights, so I took them apart and found a lot of side play in the contact
pins in the base of one socket. The insulation on the wires had pulled back
and exposed the copper for about half an inch. That made me think the wires
might have touched when they were jarred. I wrapped friction tape around
them, replaced the headlights, and tested the lights. The dimmer switch
worked. I thought things were O.K."
Gus nodded and asked, "then what?" "The
next night," Marshall told him, "I found I didn't have the trouble licked.
The lights were all right when I started out, but when I got to that turn in
Orchard Lane they flashed up again.
"Well, just on a chance, I got a new
dimming switch the next day and installed it. It worked fine in the garage,
but when I drove to work, the same thing happened."
"Let's have a look at that bus," Gus
said. "By the way, had any fuse trouble?"
"Yes," Marshall recalled, "I forgot to
tell you about that. Night before last the fuse burned out-ends melted right
off. I put a new one in." Gus installed a beam-indicating bulb first. Then
he checked the lighting circuit. There was nothing wrong. A check of the
voltage regulator showed it in working condition. Then Gus tried the lights,
and found that they dimmed when he pressed the switch.
"They always dim all right-in the
garage!" Marshall said.
Gus filled his pipe. Then he said: "When
a car that is run able has you stumped, I've always found that the best
thing to do is to run it and see what happens."
When he got into the driver's seat he
noticed the zero showing on the speedometer's tenth-mile indicator. "How far
is it from your house to where Jim Devine pinched you?"
"A quarter of a mile," Marshall said. Gus
started the engine, switched the lights on, dimmed them, backed the car out
of the shop, and headed up the road. Marshall noticed that he was watching
the speedometer. The numerals on the tenth-mile indicator hand moved slowly.
When the "1" was close to the center of the aperture a ruby spot glowed at
the top of the dial. "They're up again!" Marshall exclaimed. "That's when it
always happens!" "O.K.," Gus said calmly. "That's what I wanted to make
certain of. Now I know what the trouble must be, something is acting as a
thermostat." He switched off the lights, turned and drove back to the Model
Garage. In the shop he began taking the headlights apart. "It's heat that is
making your lights act queer." He told Marshall, "and the only place that
heat could affect them that way is in the bulbs themselves."
He tested the dim filament of one bulb
with an ammeter. For a little over half a minute the reading showed normal
current consumption. Then the hand jumped, the lamp was drawing twice the
"That beam-indicator light is on, isn't
it?" he asked Marshall. "I thought, so! Let's see this lamp... Yes, that's it,
both filaments burning. Well, that locates the grief."
He examined the lamp, "Nothing wrong with
filaments," he decided. Carefully he removed the base.
"There's the trouble," he told Marshall.
"Those filament leads touch." "When the wires get hot, they expand and
touch, causing a short, and as the headlight bulbs are wired in parallel,
that makes both filaments of the other lamp burn, too." "Naturally, with all
four filaments burning, the dimming switch doesn't work." "When did you put
these headlight bulbs in, anyhow?"
Marshall's face got red. "Why, just
before I had my first trouble," he said. "I should have told you that,
shouldn't I?" Gus grinned. "That's one way of putting it," he said. "The
other way is that I should have asked you" "As for the Judge, I'll tell him
all at the poker game tonight."