"This the fan belt you wanted,
Boss?" asked gangling Ted Beamish, the Model Garage's teen-age helper. "The
parts man said he doesn't get much call for these wide ones any more."
"Aren't many '41 cars like Mrs.
Flanders' around," returned Gus.
"Got any real work for me? Like
on a car, maybe?" pleaded the young helper.
"Well, the Flanders car is over
there," said Gus. "Think you can put on that fan belt?"
"Oh, sure," returned the boy
loftily. "That's just basic training in high-school auto shop."
"Go ahead then. But remember
to--" Gus found himself talking to empty air. Ted had grabbed the new belt and
scurried off. Then the phone rang, making Gus forget what he'd meant to say.
A horn sounded outside and Gus
opened the big doors. A '59 hardtop rolled in to the accompaniment of a
jackhammer racket from a street-repair job outside. Gus lowered the door to
restore comparative quiet. The driver of the car, a burly, black-browed man in a
checked shirt, sat scowling until Gus came over.
"I've got a noise in this car
that's driving me nuts," he said. "Listen!"
Gus put his head inside on the
driver's side. Over the engine's tick came a sound midway between a squeak and a
rattle. Nearby, Ted raised his head to listen.
"Seems to be coming from the
steering column," muttered Gus. "But it could be telegraphed from farther down."
The driver jerked up a chin
like a cliff. "The last garage I went to said the same thing. They thought it
might be the directional-signal plate. I had to wait three days for them to get
one. They put it in, but when I drove out, the noise was just the same. Now they
tell me to drive it a few days more and see if it stops. I'll go crazy first!"
The man put a cigarette in his
mouth and lit it with shaking hands.
"Give us a couple of hours,"
said Gus. "All we can promise is to try."
The customer got out of the
car. "My name's Meeker. I'll be back in a while."
Gus stretched out on a crawler
and rolled under the car, letting the engine run. The noise was still audible
below. He held the edge of the splash pan and grasped each end of the tie rods
in turn. The sound persisted. Gus rolled out just in time to see Ted jockeying a
floor jack under Mrs. Flanders' car.
"What're you doing?" he asked.
"Putting on that fan belt,"
answered Ted, a defensive quaver in his voice.
Gus spied the old belt on the
floor. It had been cut apart.
"Tough getting that off?" he
"Boy!" retorted Ted feelingly.
"I never saw one so tight. Even with the generator slacked off. I had to saw the
old belt apart to get it out.
That new one's worse yet.
Course, I could pry it on if I had to - "
"Not in this shop," said Gus
sternly. "That goes for any belt, on any car, new or old. The cords in a belt
have not stretch to 'em - they're designed not to have any. Pry one on, or use
that trick of some all-thumbs mechanics - forcing it over by cranking the engine
- and you know what happens?"
Ted swiped oil-streaked red
hair out of his eyes. "No, I guess I don't."
"That belt looks good as ever.
But after a few days the strained cords tear. Then it's unbalanced. The belt
turns over in the sheave groove and just rips itself apart. When you put on a
new belt in my shop, Ted, take the time to yank the generator or do whatever's
necessary to install it without straining its guts!"
"Well, gosh, that's what I'm
doing," returned Ted plaintively. "I wasn't going to pry it. On this crate the
front motor mount's conked out and lets the engine down so far I can't push the
belt in between the pulley-damper and the splash pan. So I'm going to lift the
Gus shook his head. "Put the
jack away, Ted, before you break that motor mount."
Crestfallen, the boy did so.
"What I tried to tell you
before you took off," Gus went on, "is that the vibration damper has two flats
on it. Its rim is so near the splash pan you can't slip the belt between. But
turn either flat down and it's a cinch."
"So that's it!" sighed Ted.
"Okay, I'll give it the old try."
Gus watched as he pulled out
the ignition-coil cable and twitched the motor around with short starter bursts
until it stopped in the right position. The boy slid the belt into place.
"Never had one like this in
school," he said with great relief.
"No," agreed Gus soberly. "They
just don't make 'em like they used to."
Driving Meeker's car around the
block, Gus heard the annoying squeak-chirp turn into a buzzing rattle on
acceleration. He began to understand how it could get on Meeker's nerves.
"I have to go downtown on an
errand, Stan," Gus told his senior helper on returning to the shop. "Track down
this noise. Some other shop already did work on the wheel; but you might check
inside the steering column. It's a fair bet it's in the linkage."
Going out to where his car
stood at the curb, Gus was surprised to find Meeker standing near it, apparently
absorbed in the street-repair job and untroubled by the racket. He exchanged a
few words with him and went downtown.
Stan removed the horn ring, the
steering wheel, and a directional signal plate that was plainly new. He found
the rubber steering-shaft bushes intact. The noise persisted even when he
pinched the shaft tight, eliminating any possible vibration. The shift-linkage
shafts were not touching anywhere inside the column.
Stan replaced the signal plate,
wheel, and horn ring, and left to answer the phone. He was still on the phone
when Meeker walked through the office door.
Ted spotted him. "No, sir, he
hasn't found the noise yet," Ted told the big man. "Say, maybe if somebody rode
with you he could listen other places than up front."
"I never tried that. It might
help," agreed Meeker, cracking long, calloused fingers nervously. "I'll wait."
"What for?" asked Ted, seeing
Stan still at the phone. "Come on, I'll go along."
Meeker got behind the wheel.
The sound of air hammers, as the shop door opened, alerted Stan Hicks in time to
see the car pull out.
Ted sat up front, head cocked
and rigidly attentive. The noise still seemed to come from near the steering
"Hold it," said the boy. "It
could be telegraphed from any place. Let me ride in the trunk. If it's from a
rear spring or shock, I'll hear it there."
Meeker stopped. He seemed
dubious when Ted jumped into the trunk and told him to close the lid.
"Sure that's a good idea?"
"Got to, or the lid will
clatter and the hinges squeak," the boy insisted. "I'll be okay."
Meeker shut the trunk. In pitch
darkness scented with rubber and gasoline, Ted curled his gangling frame into a
The car moved off.
To his disappointment the noise
was inaudible. Soon the sound of jackhammers signaled their return to the Model
Garage. Meeker stopped near the pumps, where Stan was putting gas into a car.
"Just leave it," yelled Stan
over the racket. "I'll move it in later."
Meeker nodded, got out with the
keys, and, reaching for the door, accidentally banged his hand against the edge
instead. The keys flew out of his hand and slid along the apron. Stan picked
Meeker pointed toward the
trunk, said something Stan didn't catch, and trudged off. Another car pulled in
for a tire change. Stan was just finishing this when Gus returned.
"Seen Ted?" Gus asked as Stan
got out of Meeker's car after driving it into the shop.
"He drove off with the man who
owns the car and didn't come back."
"Strange. Okay, Stan, you
Stan raised the hood over the
running engine. He disconnected one shift link from its arm on the column shaft.
The squeak - and an echo of jackhammer pounding - persisted. He replaced the
link rod and disconnected the other one.
The rattling ceased.
Stan inspected the arm. The
metal ring or grommet, that the rod rested in was loose in the arm. With a punch
and hammer, Stan collapsed it and drove it out, the sound of his blows echoing
strangely. He set in a new rubber grommet and replaced the rod. There was no
"That was it," Stan said as Gus
came up. "Guess the other shop had a car where the noise was in the column, and
thought it was here, too. Hey! Is this bus haunted?"
Gus shut off the engine. A dull
pounding remained. The thuds evidently came from the trunk. Stan unlocked it and
Ted sat up, blinking.
"So that's what the man meant!"
The boy clambered out. "I
thought maybe that noise was telegraphed from in back. So I rode in the trunk.
But it wasn't. Am I fired, Boss?"
"No, but I think you're cured
of riding in trunks," answered Gus. "Finding car noises takes common sense,
patience, and luck. If you can hear it with the car standing still, as in this
case, you ought to know it probably isn't in the shocks, springs, or drive
"Engine vibration can kick up a
racket, though, from a loose splash pan, clip, tubing, or even sloppy steering
joints. You check by looking for such things, holding them tight, or
disconnecting them. When the noise quits or even just changes pitch, chances are
you've closed in on it."
"I get it, I think," said Ted.
"But how come Meeker was so jumpy from a little noise? Bet he has a really
"Not exactly," returned Gus.
"Mr. Meeker's job is running a jackhammer."