Clanging to the door of the Model
Garage, a hubcap rolled a foot or so before Stan could grab it.
"Third thing I've dropped today," he
said. "Wonder what that means."
"Greasy fingers," said his boss, Gus
"Threes! Got a feeling
something'll happen in three today, Bet you a buck,"
"On a long shot," declared Gus, "you
get odds. Your buck against a steak."
Stan grunted agreement, and whacked
the hubcap on with the heel of his hand.
As he stood up, a '63 Olds, gleaming
under a wax job, rolled in. It was driven by a spare, gray-haired man
Stan vaguely remembered seeing around town.
"Name's Ben Starr of Four-Star
Realty," said the driver. "One of my salesmen recommended your shop
when I was beefing about a squeak I have under the hood."
"When does it sound off?" asked Stan.
"Usually when I'm parking."
"I'll take a look at your power
steering pump and belt. Will you shut it off?"
Star did so.
Stan felt the tension of the thin V belt that ran over the crankshaft, water
pump, and hydraulic-pump pulleys. It was a little too tight.
"Shouldn't be the pump," said Starr.
"They overhauled it a month ago. When I complained about the noise,
the mechanic said the belt hadn't worn in yet."
Stan shook his head, then crouched to
sight along the belt.
"It'll wear, alright," he said, "the
way they installed it. The belt is over one-eighth inch out of line on
the pump pulley. When you load the hydraulic system by making a quick
turn, the misaligned belt rubs on one flange and squeaks."
"That bunch of plumbers! They
got the pump out of line?"
"No, the pulley. On this model
is can be put on backwards. That's what they did."
As Stan got to work removing the belt,
Gus greeted Starr, whom he knew slightly.
"Jeff Hornsby was saying he'd bring
his car to you," said the real-estate man. "So I thought I'd let you
look at mine."
"Glad if we can help," said Gus.
"I read that Jeff had been wounded in Vietnam and sent home, and was back
"A good man. What he needs is a
better car. A salesman can't afford one that lets him down, the way
his did recently."
Soon after, having reinstalled the
pulley, Stan got in and cramped the wheel over several times. There
was no belt squeak. Starr drove out pleased.
"Power-steering problem number one,"
said Stan. "Bet we'll have two more."
Returning from a road call about noon,
Gus found a '57 Plymouth on the floor. A dark young man, leaning
morosely against a fender, straightened and smiled at sight of Gus.
"Morning, Mr. Wilson. It's like
old times to be seeing you again."
"You too, Jeff. I'm glad to see
you home safe, and busy," said Gus.
"Yeah, I like selling," said Hornsby.
"But this crate's letting me down badly. Already cost me a commission
I couldn't afford to lose. Some people came back for a second look at
a place I'd shown then. When I couldn't start my car, the senior
salesman horned in and made the sale."
"Tough. But let's see what we
can do to keep that from happening again."
"I dunno if you can. The battery
doesn't stand up, though it's fairly new. It's only good for cranking
a few seconds-I had to get a push again this morning."
"What happened the first time?"
"Absolutely nothing, I mean nothing at
all worked-no lights, no horn, and, of course, no starter. The radio
hasn't worked since, but I guess that's something else."
"Maybe. Maybe not," said Gus.
He went for a meter, which he hooked
up across the battery. Then he reversed the leads. Finally he
started the engine and took some more readings at the regulator.
"Okay, shut it off, Jeff. Your
generator polarity is reversed, charging the battery backwards. It
made a complete flip through zero to reverse polarity, which is why it went
"That means a new generator and two or
three days lost time in the shop? groaned Hornsby.
"For the battery, yes, I'll have to
discharge it and bring it up on a slow charge."
"I'm sunk! You see, Mr. Wilson,
that senior salesman-Tom Sharp is well named. There's an office record
of every salesman's calls, and Sharp has a sixth sense for knowing when a
deal's warming up. I have a couple keen on the big Larkin place.
They promised to call me this afternoon to have another look at it. If
I don't have a car to take 'em or if it doesn't start, Sharp will take over
again. I tried to rent a car but there's a small convention in town
and every rental car's out."
"Mine isn't, announced Gus. Take
my hardtop for today. By tonight your car'll be ready, with a loan
battery in it.
After seeing Hornsby drive off in the
hardtop, Gus removed the battery from the Plymouth. He connected a
resistor across it, to discharge it in preparation for recharging.
Despite its misadventure, the
generator showed no traces of thrown solder, high mica, or sticking brushes.
Turning to the regulator, Gus found the cut-out contacts somewhat burned.
He filed them carefully parallel to the armature, avoiding crossfile marks
that might cause sticking. Then he turned to the battery cables and
ground connections, removing and cleaning them.
"Hey, how about some service?"
Startled, Gus looked up. A '62
Chevrolet had rolled into the shop. The man, who sported a hairline
mustache accentuating two front teeth that gave him the look of an earnest
"Wondered if I could get a quick oil
change," he said. Got an appointment."
Seeing that Stan was finished with his
brake job, Gus called him over.
"I think we can do it," Gus told the
Chevy's owner. Do you want to wait?"
"Yep. I'm Tom Sharp of Four-Star
Realty. Heard about you from young Hornsby, one of our salesmen."
"Doesn't this old Plymouth belong to him?"
"Uh-huh. He was in about an hour
ago," said Gus as Stan put the Chevy on a lift.
"Going to have it ready soon," asked
"Tonight," said Gus. Have to
check some more and repolarize the generator."
Sharp nodded. Gus saw oil gush
from the Chevy's drain. A moment later Stan approached Sharp.
Want the filter changed, too?"
"Did that last time," answered Sharp.
Stan shrugged. The oil's awfully
dirty. Thought you might want to take a look."
Sharp did. "Okay change the
filter. But sometimes I wonder what good it does."
When he had dropped the old cartridge,
Stan wondered too. There wasn't much oil in the case, and the
cartridge was, considering the state of the oil, remarkably clean. But
one glance where the filter case fastened to the engine block made Stan call
Sharp over again.
"You're 100% right. That filter
did you no good at all, because no oil ever went through it. See how
the gasket pinched in the groove around this plate? You have to put in
a new one with each cartridge, but the old ones very tough to get out unless
you take out these two bolts and the round plate forming the inside of the
"This third offside hole in the
plate," Stan went on, removing the bolts, is the oil inlet. But
somebody put the plate back a half a turn around, so this hole didn't
register with the block inlet hole. The plate blocked it, and all oil
had to go through the bypass instead of the filter."
"Hmmf! I got nothing out of the
last filter I paid for, and now I'm paying you for a new one," growled
"Yes but if I hadn't opened it, you'd
still be driving on unfiltered oil."
Sharp turned away. Stan pulled
out the gasket, replaced the plate properly, and installed a new gasket and
Under Sharp's stare, Gus put a freshly
charged battery in Hornsby's Plymouth. The he clamped a jumper to the
regulator ARM terminal and flicked the BAT terminal, making small sparks.
He disconnected the jumper and hooked up a meter, then checked the air gaps
of the regulator contacts. When he started the engine, the meter
showed the generator charging correctly.
Gus put on the regulator cover, closed
the hood, and slipped an exhaust hose onto the tailpipe, letting the engine
run to raise under-hood temperature and warm up the regulator before he
"Takes a while to repolarize a
generator, huh?" asked Sharp with a rabbity grin,
"A tenth of a second. When you
saw those sparks, a jolt remagnetized it,
"I though you said Hornsby'd be
without wheels until tonight?" muttered Sharp.
"Oh no," said Gus. "He has
An almost comic play of disappointment
ran over Sharp's face. "Good!" he boomed heartily, "He has a big
deal pending today. Wouldn't want him to muff it. He's showing
the right stuff in our office."
"Why not?" asked Gus. "He did
that before, the hard way - in Vietnam."
Driving Gus's car in much later,
Hornsby blew a triumphant triple toot on the horn.
"I did it, Mr. Wilson! Took that
couple out in your car and sold them the place for a big commission.
Starr's happy. Even Sharp managed a kind word."
"Fine, Jeff," said Gus. "And
your car's ready. In a day or so we'll see how your battery comes
"Then you found out what made my
generator reverse its polarity like that?"
"Well it can happen from hooking up a
booster battery backwards, but only if the regulator contacts stick.
In your case I'd say it was excessive resistance between the headlamp or car
body, ground, and the battery ground. It sometimes develops on an
older car. If it does, the headlight current may find it easier to go
to the regulator ground, through the regulator contacts, to the normally
negative side of the field winding, out the other side of the armature, and
through its windings to ground."
"The trouble is," explained Gus, "that
this current is going backwards through the field windings so it
magnetizes the field backwards and the output polarity reverses. But
that's taken care of."
Reaching into the car, Gus flipped on
a switch. Music welled up.
"I don't fix radios," said Gus with a
grin. "But your is the kind that won't work unless the car has a
negative ground. For a while, it was positive and the radio simply
quit. Gave me a clue, in fact. Stick around-we'll celebrate your
"Where do you want to eat that steak,
Stan?" asked Gus.
Shaking his head, Stan produced a
rumpled bill. "Here's your buck, Gus. We did have three
customers from one place but all their jobs were different. I was
betting there'd be three alike."
"Uh-huh. We had a reversed
pulley, a backward-to filter plate, and a flipped generator and battery.
There's three reverses in a row. The steak's on me-for three."