"It's really desperately
urgent," said the feminine voice on the phone. "It won't even start.
Could you come right away?"
"I'll come," promised Gus
Wilson, and went out into the Model Garage shop.
"I have a service call,
Stan," he told his helper. "You mind the store."
Making certain he had a
booster battery and a can of gas aboard the truck, Gus got in and headed out of
town for the newest subdivision.
Ten minutes later he
rolled to a stop behind a small sedan standing in a carport. In a driveway
of the house next door, a man was hunched over the engine of a Chevrolet
hardtop. A woman opened a side door adjoining the carport, greeted Gus,
and pointed unhappily to the sedan.
"Please hurry, Mr.
Wilson," she said.
The sedan's keys were in
the ignition lock. Gus opened the hood, made sure that the choke and
fast-idle cam were in normal cold-start positions, and tried the starter.
It ground away briskly.
The engine's only response was a single, half-hearted snort. Noting that
the fuel gauge read over a third full, Gus got out but left the ignition on.
He pulled off a cable, held it near the plug terminal, and triggered the
solenoid by hand. Bright sparks snapped over, as regular as drum beats.
Gus turned off the ignition and began to remove the air cleaner.
The side door opened again
and the woman came out-a small brunette in her forties, dressed for town.
I hope it won't take
long," she said. I'm due at a citizen's meeting on urban renewal right
after lunch. Meanwhile, I'll pop in on a neighbor.
"One thing, Mrs. Larkin.
Is that gas gauge right?" asked Gus.
"Oh yes. I've never
had the least bit of trouble with it."
Removing the air cleaner.
Gus looked down the carburetor throat as he pumped the throttle by hand.
Fluid gushed visibly from the accelerating jet.
"How many, mister?" asked
a treble voice in the region of Gus's waist.
He looked down into the
pixie face of a small boy, perhaps five years old, with a freckled nose and
"How many what?" asked
playing gas station."
Gus grinned. "Oh,
you can give me about 10 gallons," he said.
"Okay," said the lad with
businesslike cuteness, and scampered off. Despite all the fancy new toys
around, mused Gus, kids still invent their own fun on the run.
Replacing the air filter,
he shook his head. With a spark at the plugs and fuel in the carburetor,
the engine should show more life than it had. Barring something drastic,
like a stripped timing gear...
"Wait!" protested a
childish voice. You gotta take off the lid first."
Another voice answered.
Still pondering his no-start problem, Gus glanced toward the kids-and almost
tripped over himself getting into action.
A chubby, round-faced lad
was triumphantly holding up the gas cap of Gus's truck, while the redhead was
maneuvering the nozzle of a garden hose into the tank.
Gus grabbed it in time to
deflect the pistol-grip spray head. Struggling in frustration, the redhead
squeezed the handle. A mushroom spray hissed out. The other boy
squealed as he caught the edge of it, and Gus snatched the filler cap from him
as he scooted off.
"You said 10 gallons!"
muttered the redhead, releasing the trigger at last.
"My tank's full," answered
Gus. Besides, this isn't my brand."
"But you said 10 gallons!"
"I made a mistake,"
confessed Gus, a suspicion growing in his mind. "Now Mrs. Larkin's car
there won't start. I wonder if it's out of gas?"
The boy shook his head
"How do you know it
isn't?" asked Gus.
"Because I put some in
right after breakfast," was the reply.
Gus drew a deep breath.
"You've been a big help, son. Now I know how to fix it."
"My pop fixes cars, too,"
said the boy, pointing next door. "He's Mr. Bennett."
"Then he can help me.
Let's go over," said Gus, replacing the gas cap.
Hand in hand, with Gus
carrying the hose, the two approached the hardtop. A young man with
anxious eyes and hair that matched his son's greeted them.
"Hello. This fellow
"He was going to put gas
in my truck." Answered Gus with a grin, from that fancy nozzle on your yard
hose, which he'd already used on Mrs. Larkin's car."
the young father, looking even more harassed. "I'll give him what-for
later; now, I've got to finish putting in new points. Sure picked the
wrong day for the job. My wife's started labor pains-I may have to rush
her to the hospital any minute."
"Could I look in your
garage for an empty can or two to drain the tank?"
"Sure thing. Timmy
will show you."
He bent over the motor
again as Timmy led Gus to the garage. There was an empty anti-freeze can
and a big oil can. Returning with them to Mrs. Larkin's car, Gus got down
and slid under the gas tank.
It had no drain plug.
Crawling out, Gus thrust a
siphon tube into the filler neck. It encountered a bend or baffle a few
inches down and would go no farther. After fruitless maneuvering, Gus gave
it up and crawled under again to examine the tank mountings. Rusted
hard-to-reach bolts promised to make removing the tank a long job.
"What, for goodness sake,
are you doing down there?" demanded a tense voice.
Gus crawled out to face a
tense, harried-looking Mrs. Larkin.
"Well!" she exploded when
he explained the trouble. "Stop shilly-shallying. Empty it and put
in new gas. And hurry."
The house door slammed
behind her. Gus emptied and replaced the carburetor bowl. He removed
and dried out wet plugs. Then he set the can of gas from the wrecker on a
padded fender. Detaching the fuel line at the carburetor, he ran apiece of
tubing from the petcock on the can to the carburetor, slipped an extension hose
on the fuel pump and led it to an empty can.
The engine started on the
second turn, its fuel pump sucking watered gas from the tank into the empty can.
Gus opened the throttle a little further. When the can was full, he
substituted the other empty one.
The pump sucked dry at
last. Gus put some fresh gas and a can of drier into the tank and emptied
that also. The he poured in a few gallons of gas. The Chevrolet next door
backfired, but it was Mrs. Larkin's voice, taut with tension, that made Gus jump
as he reconnected the line.
"Aren't you through yet?" she inquired.
Gus nodded and started up
"Here!" she said
imperiously. I'll get my change later. Just get that-that truck
thing of yours-out of my way. Some things just can't wait."
Wondering how urban
renewal could be in that much of a hurry, Gus backed the truck. As he hit
the street, the young man pounded for him, shouting.
"Need help! It won't
run right. My wife..."
Gus parked the wrecker and
followed Bennett, who got into the hardtop. The engine caught sluggishly,
not at all eager to run. The exhaust burbled like a motor boat's.
From the corner of an eye, Gus saw Mrs. Larkin's car back out briskly.
"Quits dead if I put it in
gear," said Bennett. "I just put in new plugs, points, distributor cap,
and rotor. Never would have if my wife had warned me how close she was.
She says I get too excited."
Once more Gus wrapped a
cloth on his hand and pulled off a plug cable. A good spark jumped from it
to the terminal.
"I gapped all the plugs
right." Insisted Bennett. Points, too-there's the dwell meter I borrowed."
Gus nodded. The
put-put exhaust suggested a compression loss-or mistiming. He followed
each plug cable to its distributor tower. The firing order was correct.
"Ever have any sticking
Bennett shook his head.
Gus scratched a mark on the distributor casing, loosened it, and gingerly
advanced the timing. The result was a loud pop in the carburetor.
Bennett jumped. Gus hastily retarded the timing. The engine faltered
and almost died. He put it back on the marked setting and hooked up the
dwell meter. It showed a correct 30-degree dwell.
Stopping the engine, Gus
unsnapped the distributor cover. At sight of the big, flat rotor, he drew
a breath of surprise. The brass sweep arm, which normally lay between two
molded bosses had broken one boss and twisted aside. The whole rotor was
cocked at a slight angle.
happened?" said Bennett.
"You're not the first one
to put one of these rotors on backwards," said Gus. Loosening two screws,
he lifted the big rotor and turned it over. "This little round projection
and that square one fit into matching holes in the plate. But you got the
round one in the square hole. It dropped in, but the square one sat on top
of the round hole.
Without a word, Bennett
rushed off and rummaged in a trash barrel. Gus maneuvered the distributor
weights about and fished out four bits of the shattered boss.
Bennett came back with the
old rotor. "Looks okay," pronounced Gus. He set it on properly and
tightened the screws. Two of the caps contacts were scarred but the
plastic wasn't cracked. Gus snapped the cap back on. The engine
started easily, with none of the previous exhaust static.
"With new points, the
timing should be checked," said Gus. But it'll do now."
The young man sighed with
relief. "Sure was lucky you were around. I don't see how the engine
ran at all, with the timing off by 180 degrees.
"The rotor was off 180,"
explained Gus. "But timing was one full crankshaft turn out-remember the
distributor is geared one to two. That should have fired the plugs at the
start of the intake stroke, and the engine probably wouldn't have run."
"But with the rotor cocked
up on one side, that sweep contact hit on its first turn and was knocked back
about an eighth of a turn. Instead of firing the fourth cylinder ahead, it
pushed the third, in which the piston was halfway down on the intake stroke, and
the valve almost closed. The engine ran-but only just."
Bennett nodded, then
jumped as if stung. "Got to see about my wife!"
Gus was headed for his
truck when a frantic hand spun him around.
"She isn't there!
Nowhere in the house. Where could she go, in her condition? That
Larkin woman was here. I'll ask her-"
"Hold it," said Gus.
"She drove off-in a hurry. Try phoning the hospital."
Bennett rushed indoors.
Gus was writing out his bill when the young man reappeared, a happy glaze in his
"It's a girl! She
had Mrs. Larkin take her-thought I'd be too nervous. Got there just in
time. How come you knew?
Gus chuckled. "I
didn't think Mrs. Larkin could get all that excited about urban renewal.
Seems she had another kind of renewal in mind."