Mel Mowbray's voice as it came
over the wire into Gus Wilson's Model Garage, was one of desperation and
"I'm in trouble, Gus Mel said. My
crop of tomatoes has to get to the cannery by morning, and my truck has
"What's wrong with it, Mel?" Gus
asked with real concern. Mowbray operates a small farm some 20 miles from
our town, and he and Gus are old friends.
"I started to move the tomatoes out
of the field this afternoon," Mel told him, "and on the third load something
happened to the truck. All of a sudden it started to vibrate so bad it
nearly shook me off the seat."
"Any idea what caused it?" Gus
"Sounds like the bearing's gone on
the end of that shaft that sticks into the flywheel," Mel answered. "I'm
afraid to drive for fear I'll ruin the truck. But I've got to move those
tomatoes before morning, and I can't hire or borrow another truck - they're
all tied up this time of year, I know it's a long way, Gus, but can you come
"It doesn't matter about the
distance," Gus put in gently. "But you know how I feel about cutting in on
another shop's business. You've always had your work done at Elmer Peters'
garage out your way.
Hadn't you better get him on this
Mel's voice sharpened, "Elmer
finished a complete overhaul of my truck just a couple of days ago, and he
charged me plenty for it.
Whatever's the matter with it now must
be his fault. I'm through with that know-it-all.
If you can't come out tonight, I'll
tow the truck in to your place."
Gus glanced at the office clock. It
was a few minutes to quitting time.
"I'll be along about half past six,"
he promised his farmer friend.
"We'll wait supper for you," Mel
Three quarters of an hour later Gus
came to the crossroad that led to Mel's farm, steered his smooth-running old
coupe off the highway's traffic-cluttered concrete, and for the first time
in a couple of months heard the crunch of gravel under his tire treads.
Wild flowers bloomed on the grassy
banks that bordered the narrow road, birds sang, and somewhere back in the
field a quail briskly reiterated, "Bobwhite, bobwhite, bob... white!"
Gus squinted into the glare of the
low-swinging sun. "Why does a man live in a town?" he asked himself. Then
he grinned. "Oh, what's the use - what would I do without a lot of cars to
His nimble imagination went to work
on the problem of Mel's truck, and by the time he had turned into the
poplar-bordered lane that leads to the Mowbray house he had thought of half
a dozen things that might be the matter with it.
Gus stopped his car in the
barnyard. Mel, glumness written all over him, was standing there with a
stoop-shouldered, hatchet-faced man who obviously was laying down the law.
As Gus got out and walked toward them, he heard Mel say: "Here's the man
who can fix it if anyone can."
"He'd better fix it quick if you
expect to sell them termaters to me!" the sharp-faced man snapped. "I ain't
goin' to tie up my whole works jest because you don't live up to your
contract. If you ain't got 'em there by startin' time tomorrer mornin' I'll
buy Zack Brown's crop, and you can sell your'n any place you can."
He gave Gus a hard-eyed look,
stalked over to a shiny new sedan, and drove down Mel's lane and onto the
gravel road below.
"That's Duggins," Mel explained.
"He owns the cannery, and he's a hard man to do business with. The price
has dropped since he bought my crop standing, and he'd be glad at an excuse
to get out of his deal.
It would be pretty bad for me - I've
counted on that tomato money."
"Cheer up," Gus encouraged. "Most
balky trucks can be made to run. Where's yours?"
Mel pointed to a tomato-heaped
1-1/2-ton truck standing at the edge of a field near several big piles of
picked tomatoes. Hospitality and anxiety fought a battle in his face - and
"Mary's got supper ready," he said.
"Let's eat. You can look at the truck later."
In the farmhouse kitchen they found
buxom Mary Mowbray, her cheeks a shade redder than usual, waiting for them.
Short notice hadn't kept her from setting a supper fit for any hungry man's
As Gus was finishing his second
ample helping of deep-dish apple pie, they heard a car stop. A moment later
a young man in a snappy summer suit and black-and-white sport shoes came in
without knocking. He looked suspiciously at Gus, who recognized him as
Elmer Peters, the smart-alecky proprietor of the near-by crossroads garage.
"Hello, folks," Elmer breezed.
"Can't stop to eat with you. I'm as busy as a one-armed paper hanger."
He waited expectantly for a laugh
and, when it didn't come, went on: "Dad Duggins stopped by and told me your
truck's down, Mel. I don't see what can be the matter; it was O.K. when it
came out of my shop. That I know - I went over it myself. But I'll
take a look."
"All right," Mel agreed slowly.
"Want to come along, Gus?"
As they followed Elmer out, Mel
whispered: "I'd sure like to tell him what I think.
Reboring the block, new pistons, new
rings, new valves and guides, new bearing inserts - that overhaul cost a
lot. But I don't dare; he's married to Duggins' daughter, and I can't
afford a row now."
They walked over to the truck. "I
left it right here in the field." Mel volunteered.
"It sounded like the motor was tearing
itself apart and I didn't want to drive it out."
Gus watched silently as Elmer raised
the hood and made a cursory inspection.
"Can't see anything wrong," the
local garageman said. "Start 'er up."
Mel climbed behind the wheel,
switched on the ignition, and pressed the starter button. The engine took
off promptly, but there was a loud thumping noise and the truck shook so
violently that he had a hard time keeping his seat.
"Shut 'er off - quick!" Elmer
yelled, and Mel cut off the engine.
"Whatever it is, it's right here
under the seat," Mel told him. "I can feel it."
Elmer scratched his head and looked
helpless. "That's a new one on me," he admitted. "It must be a bearing
burned out. I'll have to take the motor apart to find out.
Probably ain't our fault, but if it
is, I won't charge you a cent, Mel. You tow her over in the morning. Don't
try to drive her."
"Can't fix it tonight?" Mel asked.
"Not a chance," Elmer answered
"My mechanics had gone home, and I
can't do it myself. Gotta take my wife to a social at Dad Duggins' place."
Gus, who had been staring silently
at the truck engine, decided that the time had come to take a hand.
"It could be," he cut in, "that the
trouble is something easier found and fixed than a burned-out bearing."
Elmer turned with a sneer. "You an
expert on truck motors?" he demanded.
"I've had a little experience," Gus
admitted. "Switch on the engine, Mel."
"You're apt to ruin it," Elmer
warned. "I won't be responsible if you do."
Mel looked at the young man, and
then at Gus. He stepped on' the starter button. The loud thumping began
"Listen!" Elmer yapped triumphantly.
Now, Mel's truck has two fan belts.
Gus pointed at one of the pulleys. On each of its revolutions the belt
going round bulged out sharply at one spot.
"So what?" Elmer asked scornfully.
"I'll show you what," Gus told him.
"Cut the engine, Mel."
Instead of going at the fan belt,
Gus got down under the front end. After a minute, he wriggled out again and
"What's happened to the pan under
the front end of the engine?" he asked.
Elmer turned red. "It was badly
rusted, so I didn't bother putting it back," he explained. "Wasn't any use,
"Oh, no?" Gus said. He got a
screwdriver from the toolbox and gently pried a piece of a twig the
thickness of a pencil from under the belt. "Start her up again, Mel," he
This time there was no vibration.
Mel grinned. Elmer's mouth sagged.
"Just one of those things, Mel," Gus
laughed. "You must have run over some brush, cut off this piece with the
fan belt, and had it forced into the pulley V-groove. It couldn't have
happened if that pan had been put back after the overhaul."
He stifled an impulse to chuckle at
the look on Elmer's face. "Well, you're all right now, and I've had some of
Mrs. Mowbray's apple pie. You drive that load of tomatoes over to the
cannery, and when you get back I'll help you with more . . . You'll be
seeing your father-in-law this evening. Mr. Peters. Tell him he'll have
plenty of tomatoes to get started on in the morning. Mel wouldn't want him