Gus Wilson, half owner and chief mechanic of the Model
Garage, always claimed that he could tell by the sound of the telephone bell
when the party at the other end of the wire was in serious difficulties.
It was not strange, then, that he chucked a wrench back into the toolkit and
stood up with a yard-long scowl on his face as the telephone rang sharply
and insistently. The ringing stopped abruptly, and a few seconds later
Joe Clark, his partner, popped out of the office where he kept track of
customers' accounts and did the bookkeeping.
"Ding bust it!" exploded Joe. "Al Taylor from
Ridge Street has got himself all mussed up down at the bottom of Smoke Hill
and he wants to be hauled in right away. Can we make it?"
"Make it?" said Gus, disgustedly. "Sure we can,
but how about this job for Mrs. Jenkins? You know we promised it this
morning. Can you lay off those bills long enough to - ."
"Sure," grinned Joe. "That's where I shine as a
mechanic - finishing up jobs when all hard work is done."
Gus answered with an unintelligible grunt, cranked up
the wrecking truck, and rattled out of the garage with the mudguards
flapping like the wings of a bedraggled and much frightened chicken.
The wrecking truck was built for service, not for looks.
Smoke Hill, about three miles south of town, was
commonly spoken of by motorists as a "cork-puller."
A sharp turn at the bottom prevented any chance of
rushing the grade, which was mild enough for the first hundred yards.
And the ease with which this part of the hill could be negotiated proved the
undoing of the inexperienced motorist, for it became gradually steeper and
steeper until, near the top, the grade was so stiff that few cars could make
it without changing to second or even first.
Gus found Taylor about halfway up the hill. His
car was off the road and the smashed mudguard and broken rear wheel jammed
against a large oak tree testified mutely to the cause of the accident.
The unlucky motorist rushed over to the truck as Gus
applied the brakes and began volubly and excitedly to explain just how it
"No need to go into details, Mr.
Taylor. I can see how you got into trouble," interrupted Gus.
"This is where you would have to shift into second. I suppose you got
rattled and couldn't get the gearshift."
Taylor appeared surprised and a bit crestfallen.
"Then it was my fault? Gosh, I thought something
had gone wrong with the transmission, and I was so rattled I never thought
to put on the brake until it was too late. I suppose I'll have a nice,
fat repair bill," he added
Gus backed the truck into position to hoist the rear
end of the car preparatory to towing it.
In a few minutes the two men had everything shipshape,
and when Gus cranked the winch, the rear end of the damaged car left the
ground on a perfectly even keel.
"Tell me, Gus, what did I do wrong?" Taylor asked as
they drove carefully down the hill in the direction of town.
"Well - no offense meant, Mr. Taylor - but you are a
new driver, and almost everything a new driver does is wrong. The
thing you did is one that often trips up the man who hasn't had a whole lot
"Go on," said Taylor, "you can't hurt my feelings.
I thought I was the real thing as a driver. Now I know I'm not; so go
right ahead, and maybe next time I won't be so dumb."
"You see, Mr. Taylor, gear-shifting is mostly a matter
of practice and knowing what happens inside the transmission case when you
work the lever," said Gus. "Also cars are just like horses. You
must be wise to the particular whims of the critter you happen to be driving
because no two are exactly alike. That's why a man who can handle one
car in fine style often makes noises like a beginner when he is driving
"Huh," said Taylor, a bit peevishly. "Nobody can
say that I can't shift gears quietly! I snap 'em in before they get a
chance to grate!"
"Sure," Gus went on; "and that is just where you make
your big mistake. You 'snap 'em in ,' as you say, without any regard
for the relative speeds of the gears you are trying to get into mesh, and
everything goes fine and dandy until you get caught because the difference
in speed is too much. Then they simply refuse to snap in, and you end
up by trying to push over a two-foot tree. You ought to be thankful
the tree was there to stop you. You might have had a doctor's bill to
pay in the bargain!"
Taylor shivered involuntarily.
"That's a pleasant thought," he said, more humbly.
"Go on - I haven't any right to be proud."
Gus said nothing for a few seconds, for they were
approaching a crossing and the wrecking truck with its trailing load claimed
his undivided attention.
"Look at that fellow there who is waiting for the
trolley," he exclaimed suddenly.
"Watch him when he tries to jump on. See, he
stood still and the trolley nearly pulled his arm out by the roots."
"There's a good example of what happens when you try
to shift gears by snapping them in. If the speeds of the two gears are
somewhere near alike they go in with a jerk. If they are not, then
they won't go in at all, and that's what happened to you. That man who
hopped the trolley could have saved himself the yank on his arm if he had
turned and run in the direction the car was going."
"You know, of course, that with the lever in first
gear the motor in an automobile turns over much faster in proportion to the
speed of the car than when the gears are in high. Now, when you throw
out the clutch, the motor is disconnected from the gearbox, but the section
of the clutch that is fastened to the gears just naturally keeps on turning.
That means you have to figure out some way to slow it down when you are
shifting from a lower speed to a higher one, or to speed it up if you are
changing from a higher speed to a lower one."
"Sounds familiar," said Taylor, smiling.
"The man who taught me how to drive used to run off a
talk something like that, but I never could understand how to apply it to
driving an automobile."
"All right, then," Gus answered, "let's put it in a
rule-of-thumb way. Just remember one simple rule: Take your foot
off the throttle when you shift to a higher gear and keep it on when you
shift to a lower one. This works on most cars, because the slight drag
in the clutch makes the free part of it speed up or slow down with the
engine. If you remember that one simple rule, then all you have to
watch out for is the time interval, and you can get that by practice.
"Of course, it doesn't make any difference to other automobilists on the
road whether you tear the whole transmission out or not, so long as you are
on level ground, but if you are on a steep hill, it's another story.
Suppose there had been a bunch of cars right behind you today!"
"Oh, don't rub it in, "said Taylor. "I'm a
muttonhead all right. But suppose you just show me how it ought to be
done on this hill we're coming to. Then maybe I can get it through my
"Good idea," said Gus. "Now you watch carefully.
I'll have to shift into second about 100 feet from the bottom."
Taylor kept his eyes glued on Gus's feet. When
the engine began to show up, down went the left foot on the clutch pedal
just far enough to disengage the clutch, and almost simultaneously the gear
lever went into neutral. The right foot remained on the throttle and
when the motor had attained just the right speed. Gus eased the lever
into second and released the clutch pedal without a suspicion of clash or
"Gee, that was as smooth as silk," said Taylor
admiringly. "It looks like nothing at all the way you do it."
Gus's wrinkled face creased in a smile.
"Just like everything else, Mr. Taylor; it's easy when
you know how. As far as auto transmissions go, you can make one last
at least twice as long if you treat it right."
A few minutes more and they were in the garage, and
Gus busied himself arranging blocks so that the axle would be supported when
the car was lowered.
"How soon will the old boat be ready again?" Taylor
"Well," said Gus, with a quick glance around the
garage to check up on the jobs that should be finished before Taylor's,
"about Thursday afternoon, I guess - yes, I'll promise it by then. I
suppose you will steer clear of Smoke Hill after this," he added, with a
twinkle in his eye.
"No, sir!" said Taylor. "I'm going up that hill
if it's the last act of my life!"
"Better get in some practice on level ground first,
then," said Gus; "and, by the way, Mr. Taylor, if you really want to get
into the expert class as a driver you might like to know how to do the
"I'll bite," said Taylor, looking puzzled. "What
is it - a joke?"
"Double clutching is no joke," answered Gus.
"It's something that most auto drivers know nothing about, yet it certainly
is a good thing to know if you happen to want to make the other fellow eat
the dust on a bad hill."
Taylor was interested immediately. "Fine!" he
said. "Give me all the dope on that. I never did like the taste
of dust anyway!"
"I don't know whether I ought to tell you or not,
seeing as how you haven't mastered the regular way of shifting gears yet,"
Gus began. "However, if you'll promise not to blame me if you rip out
the transmission trying it, I'll explain double clutching."
"Remember how I shifted into second on that hill?
You noticed, of course, that I waited till the old bus had slowed down quite
a bit before I tried to shift. Now, if you were trying to race a man
up that hill, you naturally wouldn't want to wait till the car slowed down;
you would want to make the shift while the car was still going good and
"The only way you can drop from high into second when
you are going fast is to use the double clutch. Otherwise you would be
almost sure to make a lot of grinding noises."
"Here is how you do the double clutch. The minute the
car starts to slow down in high, jam your foot on the clutch pedal and throw
the gear-shift lever into neutral. Keep the accelerator pressed down
hard. Of course, the second the clutch is thrown out and the load of
the car is taken off, the motor will start to race to best the band. With
gearshift lever still in neutral, let the clutch in quickly, push down on
the clutch pedal again right away, then immediately throw the speed lever
into second and let the clutch in again."
"What happens is that while the gear lever is in
neutral, the gears you intend to mesh are speeded up by letting the clutch
in so that when you push out the clutch and throw her into second there will
be practically no clash. That is, if you get the timing right. The
only way you can get that is to practice."
Taylor threw up his hands in despair.
"Gosh!" he exclaimed, as he turned to go:
"nothing doing on that for me. Guess I'll stick to plain driving.
I can't afford a new transmission just for the pleasure of beating some bird
up a hill."
"Drat it!" mumbled Gus to himself as he stared after
Taylor's retreating form. "Say, Joe, why is it that every bird who
succeeds in scraping through the driver's examination decides right away
that he is the real thing as a driver and tries to navigate around in heavy
traffic just like an old-timer?"
"It would be a lot better for him and for the other
fellows on the road if he would spend a lot of time on lonely roads
practicing gear shifting and maneuvering the car until he really knew how to
do it right."