It was ten-thirty and long
past Gus Wilson's usual quitting time when a pair of dim and doleful
headlights turned in to the Model Garage and a 1940's sedan pulling a
trailer limped up. Three teen-age boys and a middle-aged man hopped out.
"We're having battery
trouble," the tallest of the boys said. Throwing an impatient look at the
middle-aged man, he added, "Again!"
The man came forward, his
eyes behind his rimless spectacles as dim and doleful as the headlights of
the car. He removed his felt hat and scratched the fringe circling his bald
"I fear there is something
very wrong with my battery," he said in a precise voice. "Although it is
virtually brand-new, this is the third time in three days we have been
compelled to have it recharged."
Gus Smells Trouble
"Sounds like a short," said
Gus easily. He lifted the hood and began probing around with his
flashlight. There was a familiar hot-insulation smell, but it was too faint
The little man peered over
Gus's shoulder. Three pairs of youthful eyes followed the beam of Gus's
The boy who had first
spoken said, "Mr. Wismer, would it be a good idea to find some place to
spend the night, since we may be stuck here for quite a while?"
"An excellent notion,"
exclaimed the man. "I'll do that right away."
"Might try the Commercial
Hotel," Gus suggested over his shoulder. "I have a couple of rooms there
and it's mighty comfortable."
"Thank you. Do you have a
"Right by the door," Gus
said without looking up.
When Mr. Wismer was out of
hearing, one of the boys exclaimed, "The only good thing about this rig is
The tall boy chuckled
loftily. "Thanks, Arnold. Made the whole thing myself," he explained to
Gus. "Started out with a front axle from the junk yard."
"So," said Gus. He loosened
the clamps on the battery cable. "We might as well give it a quick charge
while we're looking for the short."
"The Whizzer insisted we
use his car," Ned told Gus. "Felt responsible, didn't even want me to attach
my trailer. He was afraid something would go wrong. Something went wrong,
all right, but with his precious car, not my trailer."
Mr. Wismer returned from
the phone. He shook his head sadly. "No vacancies."
"Where are you bound for?"
Gus inquired, clipping on the leads from the quick charger and easing up the
replied Ned. "They're holding the finals of the National Early-American
Crafts Exhibit there tomorrow. All the winners of the state contests are
competing. We're representing our state. My trailer's full of our stuff."
"What time do you have to
"We have to check in not
later than tomorrow at seven p.m. At this rate we'll never make it."
Arnold, by this time tired
and discouraged, could contain his impatience no longer. "Gee, Mr. Wismer,
I should think you would have had your car checked before we left."
"I did, Arnold," replied
Mr. Wismer patiently, "right after my last history class, the day before we
left. I had it thoroughly checked over."
"Probably had his wife
sweep out the back seat with a whisk broom," one of the boys muttered. Mr.
Wismer didn't hear him, but Gus did.
"Tell you what, boys," the
proprietor of the Model Garage suggested. "There's a hamburger joint across
the street. Why don't you run over and stoke up? It's going to be a long
night. If you took turns driving, you could get to Williamsburg easily by
"Not with this old crate
breaking down every hundred miles," Ned retorted.
"Bring back a pair of
hamburgers and coffee for your teacher and me," said Gus. "While you're gone
we'll scout out the trouble."
The last statement elicited
an anonymous hoot as the boys turned and headed across the street.
"They don't have much faith
in us, do they?" Gus observed, puffing thoughtfully on his pipe.
Mr. Wismer coughed
apologetically. "They're pretty discouraged by now. You know how kids are.
They think that because I teach history, I don't know anything else."
Gus turned back to the car.
He couldn't help liking the little schoolteacher who stood beside him. He
rocked the trailer with his hand.
"Seems pretty sturdy," he
Mr. Wismer nodded. "Can't
blame this trouble on the trailer, I'm afraid."
Gus turned his flashlight
on the under-part of the trailer, ran it along the steel supports, over the
wooden body and back to the two tail lights.
"Where are these plugged
in?" he asked.
"On the other side," Mr.
Wismer replied. He led Gus to the left rear tail light. "Right here. Ned
made an attachment for plugging in the trailer lights."
Gus bent over and pulled
the plug out. The wire was suspiciously warm.
"I think we've found your
trouble," he said quietly. He examined the prongs of the plug and ran an
expert eye along the wires, which were stapled to the side of the trailer.
He looked at the bewildered little schoolteacher quizzically.
"What do you say we teach
those young smart alecks a lesson?" he suggested. "Do you mind a little
deception - in the interest of education?"
Mr. Wismer's pale eyes
twinkled. "In the interest of education, why not?"
Mr. Wismar is Nonchalant
A half-hour later, when the
boys returned, they found the garage dark and the doors locked. Gus had gone
home. Mr. Wismer was seated at the wheel studying a map by the illumination
of the dome light. He accepted the hamburger and coffee that the boys
"Where did the garageman
go?" one of the boys asked.
"He recharged the battery
and went home," Mr. Wismer replied.
"Did he fix the trouble?"
"He just went home," Mr.
"That square didn't know
anything about cars," Arnold announced.
Mr. Wismer let that pass.
"We might as well get
going," Ned suggested. "We probably won't get far, but we can't sit here
The boys piled in. Mr.
Wismer carefully folded the map and put it away. There was a moment or two
of silence as they waited for their teacher to start the car. Instead, Mr.
Wismer thoughtfully drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.
"By the way, Ned," he said,
"after the garageman left, I took the liberty of going over the wiring on
The air was electric with
surprise. Ned was the first to find his voice. "Sir?" he ventured.
"I noticed that you
grounded one of your wires to the frame of the trailer."
"Y-yes, I did."
"And the frame of the
trailer is attached to the chassis of my car."
"That's right," said Ned.
"I also observed," Mr.
Wismer went on, trying not to show how much he was enjoying himself, "that
one of the prongs of your plug appears to carry current from the battery
while the other goes to the grounded wire. Is that right?"
"Why, yes, sir."
"Of course," Mr. Wismer
said modestly, "I'm only a history teacher and don't know anything about
wiring, but" - he paused; in all his teaching career he had never had quite
so much attention from his students - "but I probed around a bit, and I'm
afraid, Ned, that you overlooked something."
"But, Mr. Wismer," Ned
protested, "that's how you're supposed to wire them. You have to have a
ground wire and the ground wire--"
"The ground wire must be
attached to the frame," Mr. Wismer said.
"What happens," Mr. Wismer
continued, "when the wire from the battery goes directly to the ground?"
There was a thoughtful
silence as the import of his question sank in.
"I guess," Ned said, "there
would be a short."
"Exactly!" exclaimed Mr.
Wismer. He opened the car door. ."Come around here and let me show you
The three boys followed
their teacher to the back of the car. Mr. Wismer took out his flashlight and
directed its beam at the place where the tail light was attached to the
socket on the car.
"Well?" Ned's voice was
Mr. Wismer pulled out the
plug and let it drop, apparently by accident, from his hand. "How careless
of me," he said. "Plug it back in, will you, Ned?"
Ned quickly inserted the
"Tsk! Tsk!" muttered the
teacher reproachfully. "Just as I thought. You are a bit careless, Ned."
"But, sir--" Ned began.
Mr. Wismer pulled the plug
out, twisted it, and re-inserted it. "There," he said. "It just takes a
twist of the wrist."
Ned bent down to examine
the connection more closely.
"That's just what I did,"
"Not quite," explained the
teacher. "The way you connected it, the prong wired to the ground was, most
regrettably, making contact with that part of the socket that leads to the
battery. A short circuit would have been - as I'm afraid it has been - the
lamentable result when the lights were switched on."
glimmered on the faces of all three boys. "Shall we go on our way?" Mr.
Gus Gets a Salute
They pulled out of the
garage and headed down the dark street in silence.
Finally Ned spoke up. His
voice was respectful. "I guess you know a lot more than we gave you credit
for," he said.
They were passing the long,
friendly front porch of the Commercial House. A man was seated there in a
rocking chair, smoking a pipe.
Mr. Wismer gave two sharp
toots on his horn and waved. The man waved back.
"What did you do that for?"
Arnold asked, looking around blankly.
"Just giving credit where
credit is due," said Mr. Wismer.