man behind the wheel of the elderly sedan honked his horn as he drove into
the Model Garage.
Gus Wilson, walking over to where the
car had stopped just inside the doorway, saw his young assistant, Stan
Hicks, frantically beckoning to him from behind the glass office partition.
"Be with you in a minute," he called
to the customer and joined Stan.
"Turn that job down Gus. It's
"Loaded?" Gus asked.
"Yeah," Stan explained. "Bill
Dart down at the City Garage has been stuck with it for more than a week.
The guy driving it is Dart's brother-in-law from Belleville, Al Pierce."
"I got it," Gus said, rubbing his chin
Bill Dart, a young mechanic who had recently taken over the rival garage,
was all out to cut into Gus's business.
"Sure, Gus. You fix it, Bill
Dart takes the credit. You fail, and he'll spread the word one way or
"What tipped you off, Stan?"
"Oh, I get around. Dart sold
that car to Tom Morgan with a guarantee. Now some trouble has
developed that he can't fix. He's stalling Morgan off, saying he's too
busy to get at it. Won't admit being stumped as a mechanic."
The sound of impatient honking came
from the shop. "Thanks for the warning," Gus said.
As he went into the shop, the man
sidled out of the sedan and introduced himself. "Just came in for a
tune-up before leaving on a trip."
"Okay, Mr. Pierce," Gus said, lifting
the hood. "Start the engine."
The garage-man listened to a smooth
idle. He reached over and slowly advanced the throttle at the
carburetor. The engine picked up nicely, then roughened, shook on its
mounts, getting rougher as speed increased. Either the high-speed jet
was fouled, Gus figured, or the carburetor float level was set too low, so
the motor starved for gas at higher speeds. He began to pull the
"Spotted something right away, eh?"
Gus detected a note of sarcasm in the
man's voice, and as he took the carburetor down on the bench he realized
that Bill Dart had undoubtedly already gone over it several times.
Pierce knew that Gus was wasting his time. And as it turned out, he
was. The float level was set to factory specifications and the high
speed jet was clean as a whistle.
"Sure you can put it together again?"
said Pierce as Gus began to reassemble the carburetor. "Good as it
was, I mean."
Gus ignored him. Then, still
working on the theory that the car was starving for gas at high speeds, he
ran a test on the fuel pump, checked hoses and gas lines for lose
connections, brakes, air leaks, hose breakdown, flattening or obstruction.
He checked the gas-tank air vent, then tightened the manifold studs, went
over the gasket for leaks, ran a vacuum test. Everything seemed to be
in order. He started the car, and again it roughened with the engine
"Have fun," Pierce said smugly,
crossing his arms over his chest. "I drive the car in here, running
fine, and ask for a simple tune-up. Now listen to it."
"You're welcome to try the City Garage
down the street." Gus said patiently.
"Take your time. I'm in no
Now Gus knew that Stan Hicks had been
right and that he had to find the trouble. Otherwise the rival garage-man's
brother-in-law was all set to spark snide rumors about the Model Garage.
Gus wasn't worried about that. He just refused to let himself be
flummoxed by a couple of smart alecks.
Just then Stan Hicks, who had been
watching from a corner of the shop, tumbled up the test machine.
"Thought you might be needing this, Gus," he said, giving his boss an I
"Thanks," Gus said, turning his
attention to the ignition system. He checked the timing points,
distributor cap, ran a test on the coil and condenser. Nothing wrong.
In each place there were indications that Bill Dart had been working there
before him. Gus removed the spark plugs, cleaned them, ran a breakdown
test. Glancing up, he caught Pierce grinning.
"Let's take her for a run," Gus said.
Out on the street he tooled the car
through traffic. It ran as smoothly as a jeweled railroad watch.
On the road, Gus stepped on the accelerator. The car picked up nicely,
then roughened, slowed, missed, threatened to quit entirely with a hollow
sound that seemed to signal gas starvation.
As he drove, his companion silent at
his side, Gus recalled several cases where the hollow sound had signaled
ignition trouble instead of lack of gas. But there was nothing wrong
with the ignition system of the car. Or was there? His eyes on
the ammeter, he picked up speed. Just as the car began to run rough
there was a flickering of the ammeter needle.
With a clean ignition system it
shouldn't have occurred. Still, the flicker could have been caused by
a slight short somewhere else in the car under speed pick-up vibration, or
even by a bouncing generator brush.
Back at the Model Garage, Gus stuck
his head under the hood again. He spotted a new gasket under a
cylinder head that also seemed to be new. "Had a new cylinder head put
in recently, I see."
"Yeah," Pierce said. "It had a
weld and I wouldn't buy it until the used car dealer installed a new head."
With this clue, Gus was off on a new
tack. As he inspected the new head, it seemed that the coil mount was
a bit farther from the distributor than the original had been. If so,
the primary wire from the coil to distributor might be a bit short.
He started the engine. As it
speeded up, he noticed that the automatic spark advance caused the
distributor to rotate, increasing the distance between the coil and where
the wire was attached pulling it taut. "Could be," Gus said to
himself, picturing the wire tightening and loosening with every change of
With his back to Pierce, he removed
the wire and replaced it with a jumper wire.
"Okay, Mr. Pierce, let's take another
This time the car accelerated with
velvet smoothness from 10 miles an hour to 60. Gus turned around
taking silent satisfaction from the surprised look on the face of the man
next to him. When he drove into the Model Garage and got out.
Pierce slipped behind the wheel, taking out his wallet.
"How much do I owe you?"
"Not so fast," Gus said, reaching over
and turning off the ignition. "You tell that brother-in-law of yours,
Bill Dart, that I'll deliver this car to him personally - and the bill,
The man's face reddened. He
started to protest, thought better of it, and got out. "Well," he
said, shrugged his shoulders, "it's no skin off my back. I'll tell him
When Pierce was gone, Gus called Stan
over. Together they examined the old piece of wire, cutting open the
insulation. As Gus had suspected, all but a few of the copper strands
inside were broken. He explained to his assistant.
"You see, at slow engine speed, with
the automatic spark retarded, the broken ends of the wire came together so
that it delivered normal voltage. But at high speeds, with the ends
pulled apart it wasn't capable of carrying full voltage to the ignition
Gus replaced the jumper wire in the
car with a new wire having the same colors as the old one.
He rubbed it with dirt and grease to
hide the newness.
Stan chuckled. "Bill Dart will
never know what was wrong."
Gus pulled out his pipe and began
filling it. "Well, Stan, that was my idea, but I've changed my mind."
He rubbed the dirt and grease off the new wire.
"Young fellows like Bill Dart, just
starting, can use all the tips they can get."
"Wait a minute, Boss," Stan objected.
"This turning the other cheek' can go
too far. Bill Dart will take all the credit and Morgan won't even
"I'm not so sure about that, Stan."
"What makes you think so?"
"Well, a couple of things. For
one, as we drove through town just now Tom Morgan was coming out of the Post
Office. I'm sure he recognized the car. If he can add two and
two..." Gus struck a match and held it to the bowl of his pipe.
Stan waited. Then: "You
said a couple of things?"
"Yes, reckon I did," Gus said, puffing
a cloud of smoke. "I was thinking of you, Stan. I've never known
you to hide our Model Garage light under a bushel."