It was a good thing that Gus
was feeling the way he did, because right at that moment a shiny new
two-door sedan rolled up to a stop and as the right door popped open Gus
recognized the bulbous, overdressed figure of Mrs. Miller, the town's most
talkative woman. Anyone had to be feeling chipper to take her.
"Oh, Mr. Wilson," she all but
sang, "so glad you're here and not just one of your men. I've brought
a customer for you. He's been having all sorts of nasty trouble with
his car and I've told him there's no one like our Mr. Wilson when it comes
to fixing automobiles."
As Mrs. Miller prattled on, Gus
noticed a pleasant - looking, middle-aged man slide out from behind the
wheel of the car and walk toward them.
A Long-Winded Introduction
"Tom," Mrs. Miller burbled,
"this is Gus Wilson. Gus this is Tom Wilkins. Tom and his wife
are old friends of mine from my old hometown. They've been off on a
fall vacation trip and stopped by to see Henry and me for a few days.
They want to get an early start back tomorrow morning and there's something
or other Tom wants done on the car before they leave. Tom, you tell
Mr. Wilson about it."
"Well, it's.. "Tom began, but
that was as far as he got.
"Gus does amazing things," Mrs.
Miller gushed. "Why, about four years ago we were having all sorts of
difficulties with our carburetor, or was it the transmission? Well,
anyway, he.. "
For the next five minutes Mrs.
Miller held forth with a story about how Gus once had made a minor and
obvious repair on an ancient Rolls-Royce the Millers had owned before they
got their present car. Gus, bored, just puffed on his pipe. He
knew better than to try and stem the flood of words once Mrs. Miller got
"Now let's get around to your
trouble, Mr. Wilkins," Gus put in at the first lull.
"Well, as I started to say,"
Tom Wilkins began again, "it isn't much of a trouble, it's just that my hand
brake doesn't hold and I don't want to start the trip home without it.
I was wondering if I could leave the car with you tonight and pick it up
early in the morning?"
"Oh, Tom, I do wish you and
Bessie didn't have your hearts so set on such an early start," Mrs. Miller
broke in. "I did so want you to meet Mrs. Thompson and her two young
daughters, and they're coming over for lunch tomorrow."
"What time did you want to get
started, Mr. Wilkins?" Gus asked, ignoring Mrs. Miller as best he could.
"I'd like to make it around six
o'clock if I can," Wilkins replied. "That would put us on the road at
"We don't open around here
until seven," said Gus, "but I'll tell you what we can do.
You park your car over there just
beyond the shop doors. I won't need the ignition key, so you can take
that with you. I'll fix the brake before I leave tonight and the car
will be right there waiting for you whenever you want to leave in the
Next morning, when Gus drove up
to the garage he was surprised to see Tom Wilkins' car still parked by the
shop doors and even more surprised to see the Wilkins and Mrs. Miller
sitting in the Miller's car parked close by.
Before Gus could get out of his
car, Mrs. Miller had her car window down and was shouting.
"Oh, Mr. Wilson thank goodness
you've come. Something terrible's happened to Tom's car. We've
just been sitting here hoping you'd come soon."
Gus now was more mystified than
ever. The car was all right when he'd left it.
"What seems to be the trouble?"
he asked Tom Wilkins.
"Well, perhaps I'd better go
back a few days so you'll have the whole story from the beginning," Tom
began, as he and Gus, trailed by the ever-present Mrs. Miller, walked toward
"As you can see, my car's
practically brand new. We've only driven it a bit over 3,500 miles,
and everything was going along fine on this trip until we stopped overnight
at a town about 150 miles south of here. The hotel had no garage, so I
had to leave it out overnight in a parking lot."
"How long ago was that?" asked
"Let's see," Wilkins figured.
"We got here last Tuesday, so it must have been Monday night."
"That's right, Tom," chirped
Mrs. Miller, no longer able to stay out of the conversation. "You and
Bessie got to the house just after dusk. I distinctly remember it
because I recall telling Anna, that's our maid, you know, that I did so hope
that you'd arrive in time for dinner."
Gus ignored the nonstop chatter
and turned to Tom Wilkins.
"Next morning, after
breakfast," Wilkins continued, "I went out to bring the car around to the
front of the hotel. When I pushed the button she started all right
even though the morning was kinda cold, but the engine made a terrific
"I knew it wouldn't be safe to
drive very far with it sounding like that, so I nursed it to a garage I'd
seen down the street. The mechanic there listened to it, shook his
head grimly, told me to leave it, and that he'd do his best to have it ready
for me by noon."
"Did he say what he thought the
trouble was?" asked Gus.
"Not then," replied Wilkins.
"Come noon, I went back, and sure enough he had the engine purring along
just as it should. He mentioned something about valves and said the
bill would be $20."
"Twenty dollars?" repeated Gus,
"Yep, $20," Wilkins agreed.
"I thought it was high too, but you can't argue when you're in a strange
town and don't know much about automobiles anyway."
"Tom Wilkins," squeaked Mrs.
Miller, "if you take my advice, you'll drive right back through that town on
your way home and give that man a good dressing down. I'd demand that
he give you your money back. It's disgraceful the way some dishonest
garage owners take advantage of the public."
Gus Breaks Through the Chatter
"Well, what happened this
morning when you came to pick up the car?" Gus asked. His
impatience should have been obvious even to Mrs. Miller.
"The same thing," Wilkins
"We got here about six and when
I started up the engine it made the same kind of noise, so I shut it off
immediately. Here, you can hear it yourself," he said as he slid into
the driver's seat and pushed the starter button. There was a distinct
rhythmic clatter that sounded like a bad case of valve trouble.
"Tell you what," Gus said,
reaching in and turning off the ignition. "There's no sense you folks
hanging around here this frosty morning. Why not go back to Mrs.
Miller's in her car? When I've got yours ready, I'll bring it over."
On the way over to Mrs.
Miller's car, Tom Wilkins edged Gus to one side and pleaded. "Please
try to get me out of here before noon. Another meal with that voice
and I won't be fit to drive."
"I'll do my best," Gus promised
with a knowing wink.
As Mrs. Miller and the
Wilkinses drove off. Gus heaved a sigh of relief. It was almost
a challenge to Gus to get the job done as quickly as possible to free Tom
Wilkins of Mrs. Miller's endless gabbling - sort of like rescuing a fellow
About an hour later, Gus nosed
the car into the Miller driveway. Tom Wilkins, who had been sitting on
the side porch with his wife and Mrs. Miller, bounded down the steps.
"Did you fix her?" he called,
and then, before Gus could answer, he said, "Gosh, she sounds perfect,
doesn't she? Hope she stays fixed this time."
"She will. I'll guarantee
that," Gus said as he handed Wilkins the keys. "I don't think you'll
have any more trouble."
"What are the damages, Gus?"
Wilkins asked reaching into his hip pocket for his wallet.
"Oh," Gus shrugged, "three
dollars ought to about cover it."
"Three dollars - that hardly
seems like enough."
"It'll be more than enough to
cover what I did."
"I don't understand,"
"Well, to tell you the truth,"
admitted Gus. "I didn't understand it either when you first started
the engine back at the garage. As a matter of fact, it had me pretty
well stumped until about 20 minutes ago.
A Puzzle in Valves
"You see, that clatter,
as you called it, sounded just like the noise made by an old overhead valve
engine with tappets badly in need of adjustment. But I knew that
couldn't very well be because your engine, like a good many modern ones, is
fitted with hydraulic valve lifters."
expansion and contraction units placed between the cam shaft and the push
rods that open the intake and exhaust valves," explained Gus.
"Supplied with oil from the
engine lubricating system, the hydraulic valve lifters adjust their own
length to make up for any variation in the length of the push rods, rocker
arms, or valves. Each hydraulic lifter keeps its valve mechanism at
the proper tension so there is no clearance between the various parts, and
naturally, there is no valve noise."
One look at the puzzled frown
on Tom Wilkins' face told Gus that he'd need more than words to get the idea
"Here, I'll sketch it," Gus
said, pulling an old envelope out of his overall pocket, and starting to
draw with the stub of a pencil he always carried. First of all, we
have a cylinder fitted with a ball valve that opens and closes an oil-intake
hole. A piston is held in its uppermost position by a light spring.
This leaves a small chamber in the
bottom of the cylinder, below the plunger."
Wilkins, following Gus's rough
"Now, this whole unit is
mounted between the cam shaft and push rod, with the end of the push rod
resting on the top of the plunger and the bottom of the cylinder resting on
the cam. The chamber between the plunger and the bottom of the
cylinder is kept filled with oil from the engine lubricating system.
"At the start of the
valve-opening operation," Gus continued, "the pressure against the plunger
and the plunger against the column of oil closes the ball valve and the
entire lifter operates as a solid unit.
Then, during the actual valve opening,
a slight amount of oil is allowed to leak out between the plunger and the
Finally, at the valve-closed position,
the pressure on the plunger is reduced, the ball valve opens, and more oil
enters the chamber.
Mr. Wilkins Catches On
"Sort of works like an
automatic hydraulic jack, doesn't it?" said Wilkins.
"That's right," agreed
Gus. "Each hydraulic valve lifter automatically adjusts its length
with each revolution of the camshaft to compensate for expansion or
contraction caused by variations in engine temperatures. The use of
hydraulic valve lifters has eliminated the clackety-clack of valve systems."
"Well, this engine sure
had it," put in Wilkins grinning.
"I know it did, and
that's what bothered me," said Gus. "Then as I fussed with the engine
two facts began to fit together, I noticed that the longer I idled it the
less pronounced the noise was. I also remembered that last Monday
morning, when you had your trouble, was also a bit on the chilly side, like
"Guess I'm dumb, but I
still don't see any connection."
"Remember," Gus pointed
out, "these valve lifters work with engine oil. By the way, Mr.
Wilkins, when did you drain your summer oil and put in a cold weather
"I haven't yet,"
"And that was your
trouble," said Gus, "and why I changed the oil for you. On these
snappy mornings it takes a bit of time for heavy summer oil to loosen up,
and until it does, the flow of oil to the valve lifters is apt to be slowed
down. Without a free flow of oil they don't compensate, and you get
"There's another factor,
too," Gus added.
"When a motor sits long
enough, or in just the right position, oil is likely to drain out of the
chambers and isn't replenished until the oil warms up and flows freely."
"Well how the deuce did
that mechanic down the road get rid of the noise to the time of 20 bucks?"
What He Got for His $20
"Simply by doing next to
nothing," grinned Gus. "Unless I miss my guess, you hadn't got back to
the hotel before he had your car out on the road, driving it just long
enough and fast enough to get it up to operating temperature. Once the
oil thinned out, the noise was gone. Then, all he did was sit around
and wait for you to call for your car - and pay him $20 for his trouble."
"Why, the dirty crook,"
"Now you see, Tom,"
chimed in Mrs. Miller, who hadn't been able to resist the temptation of
joining the two men. "It's just as I said. You were cheated and
you might to do something about it."
"I'll sure enough know
what to do the next time some guy wants to fuss around with the valves,"
"And don't be too cocky
about that, either," warned Gus. "Like any moving part, hydraulic
valve lifters do need some attention now and then. The important thing
is to watch the condition of your oil.
Just remember that valve lifters can't
operate as they should if the oil is too heavy for the time of year or if
the oil is dirty.
It's also mighty important to change
your oil filter every 5,000 miles.
"It's like everything
else about a car," Gus added. "So far no engineer has been able to
devise a mechanical substitute for care and common sense."
And, thought Gus as he
started walking back to the garage, no one yet has devised anything -
mechanical or otherwise - to silence Mrs. Miller.