It was just turning dark outside when
Joe Clark came into the Model Garage shop and found his partner Gus Wilson
sitting on the end of his workbench placidly smoking his pipe and
contemplating a floor entirely clear of cars.
"If you haven't got anything to do,"
Joe said a little caustically, "I should think that you'd pick out a more
comfortable seat to do it in. I don't see how the dickens you..."
The telephone in the office
"There's the 'phone, Joe," Gus said.
Joe hurried away. Gus continued to smoke placidly. After half a minute he
heard Joe call him, and went into the office.
"Elmer Jones on the wire," his partner
informed him. He says he's stalled four miles out on the dirt road, and
wants you to tell him what to do about it."
Elmer is a mild young man who clerks
in the local chain store and who, in his off hours, enjoys wandering about
the surrounding country in an old crate which seldom actually breaks down
but which always has something or other the matter with it. His voice over
the wire sounded deeply discouraged.
"I'm sure stuck this time!" he
"Had to walk pretty near a mile to get
to this phone, and it's colder than the dickens out here. I've never had
anything as bad as this happen to me before. I don't know what I'm going..."
"What's the matter with your car?" Gus
cut in on his talk of woe.
"I dunno," Elmer groaned. "She just
won't run, that's all. She began to misfire, and I stopped the motor to
find out what was the matter. I couldn't find anything wrong, but when I
tried to start her up she wouldn't even turn over. I've tried pretty near
everything I know, and it's getting dark and awful cold!"
"Take it easy - take it easy," Gus
said soothingly. "I'll come out. Just where are you now?" Elmer told
him. "All right, I know the house," Gus said. "You stay there and keep
warm. I'll pick you up."
The last of the daylight was fading
and snow rode a blustery gale when Gus turned his old but immaculate
roadster off the cement of the highway onto the icy ruts of a little-used
country road. It was black dark before his headlights picked up the white
farmhouse at the roadside from which Elmer had telephoned him.
Elmer, who had been waiting on the
porch hurried out and jumped into the roadster nervously. "I'm worried
about my lights - I didn't turn 'em on," he fussed.
"I pushed my car a little off the
road, but someone might run into it."
"They might - but there isn't much
chance that they will. There isn't much traffic on this old road," Gus
reassured him. He drove on steadily, and in a few minutes they stopped
alongside of Elmer's balky sedan.
Gus got into it and stepped on the
Nothing happened. "Feels to me as if
your battery has gone dead," he said. "Well, the first thing is to get your
job back to town - when we've done that it'll be easy enough to find out
what's the matter with it. Get in. I'll give you a push. You slide her
into gear after I get her rolling. That'll start your engine if it's true
the trouble is a dead battery."
Elmer got into his jalopy, and Gus
maneuvered his roadster behind it and then edged it out onto the road.
Then, starting slowly and evenly, he gave it a long push.
But the engine stubbornly refused to
Gus swore under his breath - Elmer had
been right about it being cold out here in the country. "Guess I should
have brought the wrecker," he said. "But I didn't, so we'll have to do the
best we can without it.
Let's see, now," he got his
flashlight, raised the hood, and started a quick inspection.
"How long have these distributor
points been in?" he demanded after a minute.
"Only a couple of weeks," Elmer told
him. "They're almost new."
Gus grunted. "They're badly burned
and pitted," he said. "Probably that is why your car won't start when we
push it." He got a file out of his car's tool case, and worked at the
points until they were clean and bright - and until his hands were almost
numb. "Well, let's see what another push will do," he said.
Again he pushed Elmer's car down the
road. For perhaps 20 yards nothing happened. Then the engine started,
sputtered noisily for a moment, and then ran smoothly. Elmer stuck his head
out and looked back. "Keep going!" Gus yelled at him.
"Don't let your engine stop, for
Around a curve down the road
headlights gleamed whitely from an approaching car.
Elmer switched on his lights in a
hurry. Gus saw them flare up to abnormal brightness - and then go black. A
moment later a car roared past, its driver yelling something at them. And
with a dying sigh, Elmer's motor stopped again.
Gus got out and went up to the other
car. Elmer seemed close to tears. "She missed a few times, and then went
dead on me," he explained.
Gus looked at his watch. "No use
fooling around any longer," he decided. "I haven't got a tow chain or rope
with me, so I can't haul you in. I'll push you down to that farmhouse that
you called me from, and phone Wally to come out with the wrecker and bring
your car in."
"That's all right," Elmer said, "but
how much is all that going to cost me? I've just paid for some work I had
done on this darned bus, and I'm sorta broke."
"Don't worry too much about that," Gus
told him. "I'll make the towing charge light - I should have come out in
the wrecker in the first place. That's my mistake."
Gus telephoned to the garage for the
wrecker. Then they parked Elmer's car in the farmyard, and started for
home. Gus dropped Elmer at his boarding house. "I'll look over your job in
the morning," he said.
"Right now I'm heading for the Park
House and my dinner. When I've finished eating it, all I'm going to do is
to find me a good hot radiator and sit on it until bedtime. Boy, am I
That night the mercury nose-dived to
five below, and all next morning Gus was kept busy with frozen radiators and
the numerous other motoring mishaps which always crowd repair shops the
morning after an exceptionally cold night. As a result, he and his
eager-to-learn but highly inexpert mechanic Wally weren't able to make a
start on Elmer Jones's trouble-shooting job until after lunch hour.
Then Gus looked at the distributor
points, and saw that they were as badly burned and pitted as they had been
before he had cleaned them the afternoon before. He turned to Wally. "You
get the floor boards up and test the battery," he told the grease monkey.
Ten minutes later Wally came over to
his workbench with a hydrometer in his hand.
"The battery's O.K., Boss," he
reported importantly. "The hydrometer readings of all the cells are pretty
near the same and they're all over one point two fifty."
"Well, what does that prove?" Gus
"It proves the battery's charged,"
Gus nodded. "That's right," he
"But if the battery is charged, why
won't the starting motor start the engine?"
Wally scratched his beardless chin and
shuffled his large feet. "I dunno," he admitted at last. "Why won't it?"
"I dunno either," Gus said. "Let's find out."
Just then Elmer came in, still looking
"Hello," Gus greeted him. "Get
yourself thawed out yet? I'm just getting started on your bus - had the
shop full of hurry-up cold-weather jobs all morning."
He went over to Elmer's car and turned
a flashlight on its exposed battery. Both its braided ground strap and its
battery cable were covered with poisonous-looking green corrosion and closer
inspection showed that the battery cable was broken a couple of inches from
"There's your trouble, Elmer," Gus
"It's your own fault too - you've been
too careless to keep your battery connections bright and clean, the way they
always should be, and acid that has spilled out of the battery has corroded
both the ground strap and the cable - two of the most important links in a
car's wiring system. The ground strap hasn't fallen apart, so far, but when
you got on that rutted road yesterday afternoon the jarring snapped that
corroded cable. That allowed the full voltage of the generator - which goes
considerably higher than the voltage of the battery - to pass through your
wiring system. Naturally with the battery cable broken the starting motor
couldn't start the engine, and when we got it started by me pushing your car
with mine the excessive voltage from the generator both burned out your lamp
bulbs and burned your distributor points so badly that the engine couldn't
keep on running. ."Well, here's the bad news, Elmer - and it isn't nearly as
bad as it might be. New points, a new battery cable, and new lamp bulbs
will get your bus running again. I don't say that you will have a wiring
system that I'd trust too far, but your car will run - for a while, anyhow."
Elmer's face got red. "To tell you
the truth, Mr. Wilson, I had an engine overhaul job done at a shop down in
the city - they gave me a low price, and they said that my wiring system was
O.K. Could that be why the motor doesn't run as well as it did before they
monkeyed with it?"
"More likely than not," Gus told him.
"You're always likely to have ignition
trouble after an engine overhaul if you leave the old wiring in. Putting
new pistons, rings and valves in an engine - you had all that done, didn't
you? - always increases the compression. Well, that higher compression
usually shows up ignition-system weaknesses that weren't noticed when the
compression was lower.
Elmer did a job of serious thinking.
"Well," he said at last, "I know that what you say about cars is always 100
percent right. Suppose you check over all my wiring, and phone me what
should be done, and how much it will cost me? I've got to get back to the
"O.K.," Gus agreed. "I'll give you a
call just as soon as I know the bad news."
Elmer hurried out. For five minutes
Gus went over the car's wiring with his instruments. "Too much resistance
everywhere," he said finally. "resistance, Wally, is a thief that robs you
of your battery's juice. No wonder Elmer's engine hasn't been running
"What makes resistance?" Wally wanted
"Oh, lots of things," Gus told him.
"Loose connections, and corroded and frayed cables are among them, Cable
that isn't big enough to do its job is a big resistance-maker.
Sometimes when cables are replaced the
new ones that are put in aren't of as large gauge as the old ones were. Bad
insulation causes voltage drop. It lets the juice leak out. If insulation
is broken, frayed, hard, brittle, or oil-soaked, the cable or wire should be
While he had been talking Gus had been
looking at and feeling various cables wires, and connections. Now he shook
his head, got out a pad, and began to figure. "There's only one cure for
Elmer's trouble," he said.
"That's an entire rewiring job."
He went into the office and gave Elmer
the bad news over the telephone. When he told him how much the rewiring job
would cost there was a lengthy silence at the other end of the wire. Then
Elmer's voice said, a little weakly, "O.K. - go ahead."
Late that afternoon Joe Clark came
into the shop and found Gus ripping wiring out of Elmer Jones's car "What
the dickens are you doing?" he demanded.
Gus grinned at him. "Oh, just a
little wire pulling," he said. "We all have to do it now and then."
Joe grinned back. "Well, wire pulling
is a good way to get ahead," he commented.
"Sure it is," Gus agreed. "And when
the wiring system on a car is as thoroughly rotted out as it is on this bus,
it's the only way to get ahead - or to get anywhere else."