Gus Wilson, genial proprietor of the Model Garage
and two fishing buddies were on their long-planned vacation at last. And
they were having the time of their lives. On a sheltered cove of a lake in
the rugged wilderness of the northeastern highlands of Minnesota, Gus had
just hooked the biggest fish of the trip.
"Keep him out of the brush!" Pete Vancourt
Elmer Stoddard worked determinedly with the oars
to keep the 14-foot, flat-bottomed skiff away from the shore. Gus, in
mackinaw and tattered hat, leaned into his rod as a monster northern pike
went into the air.
"Whee!" Gus yodeled, and his joyous shout was
tossed back from the forested peaks surrounding the lake.
Gus finally brought the great pike in close.
"Got him!" yelled Elmer, as he batted the fish
over the head with a wild swing of an oar.
"Man, what a fish!" Gus exulted, admiring the
green, pale spotted prize. "This one alone makes the long trip up here
"Sure does," Pete agreed. "We'll fish this cove
Gus looked up at the evening sky. "Right now,
we'd better head for camp - we've got 10 miles of lake to cross."
"Let's go," said Pete. He pulled the starter
cord on their three-horse Lauson motor. "We'll make camp by dark."
The motor sprang to life and the skiff swung
around. As they came out of the sheltered cove they met a stiff headwind
which was beginning to pick the lake up into curling whitecaps and a lashing
of spray came over the bow.
"Hey," Elmer complained, "Quarter those rollers
Pete - what are you trying to do, drown us?"
"Camp," Pete reminded him, "is straight across
the lake. I'm not running in circles for a little blow like this. Water'll
do you good, Elmer - you haven't washed up since we left home."
"We won't make camp by dark," Gus remarked after
a while. "This wind is holding us back. We should have brought Elmer's
six-horse motor along."
"Pete's three-horse is better for trolling,"
said Elmer, tossing a coin expertly in the air and catching it. "Heads, you
do the cooking tonight, Gus - tails you wash dishes."
"I lose either way," Gus protested, grinning
wiping the spray from his leathered features. "Hey, what's wrong with the
Even as Gus spoke the motor suddenly died.
"Can't be out of gas," Pete said. "I just
filled it today."
"Didn't sound like gas to me," Gus said, whipping
out a flashlight. "Keep her head into the wind with the oars, Elmer."
"How can I? I broke one oar on that fish of
yours - all I've got now is the handle."
"Fine," Gus said ironically. "Light the gas
lantern, will you, Pete? It's there under the forward seat."
Gus bent over the outboard and shut off the gas
petcock and the air vent, unclamped the motor and swung it inboard. Spray
lashed over the gunwales.
"This motor," said Pete, "is old perpetual
motion itself. Never have had any trouble with it before."
"You've given it a lot of use," Gus grunted,
taking out the single spark plug. "There's always a first time, even for
"Nothing wrong with it now, I'll bet, but wet
plug or wires - man, that wind is sure picking up to blow."
"Maybe it's just wet," Gus placed a big thumb
over the spark-plug hole and pulled the starter cord. "Ah, so that's it."
"No compression," Gus said. "Likely it's valve
Gus removed the motor skirts, took the cover
from the valve compartment, and peered inside with his flashlight. Darkness
had now come down in earnest.
"Broken valve spring," he announced.
"Cooked?" Elmer poised his lone ear.
"What'll we do now?"
"We'll drift with the wind," Pete said, "until
we hit shore, and bail like our lives depend on it."
"Mine does," said Elmer hollowly. "I can't
"Put on a life preserver," Gus told him, "just
in case. But we won't have to swim. We'll bail and stay afloat until we
"Sounds wonderful," Elmer chuckled, "if we make
We'll make shore all right, Gus thought grimly,
but what shore will it be? The way I've got this wind drift figured out,
we'll hit a mile or so of cliffs that come down sheer to the water, with
boulders sticking up. We won't be able to tell which way to dodge until
we're close in - then it will be too late. These waves would batter us
against the cliffs, even with life belts on.
"Well," he said, "I might as well tinker with
the motor - maybe I can fix it."
"Nice way to get out of bailing Gus," said
Pete. "You can't fix a broken valve spring."
Gus couldn't open up the motor with spray coming
aboard and into the works.
He took a square of canvas they had brought along
for a luncheon ground cloth, and with this covered the motor. Down below
the gunwales on his knees, he could feel the skiff rise on the waves, fall
sickeningly into the trough with a thud. Cascades of spray spattered on the
canvas above Gus's head, and above the howling of the wind came the clatter
of frantically wielded bailing cans.
Gus pulled the carburetor and moved the exhaust
stack, took out the studs and freed the cylinder. He pulled it from the
broken-springed valve stem. As he pulled the valve up out of the guide, the
spring rolled across the floorboards in two segments.
"I wonder," Elmer called out, the wind whipping
his words away. "how far we are from shore? Get to bailing, Pete. Water's
gaining on us."
Gus ducked under the canvas again, thinking
about that mile of sheer cliffs, where they'd have no chance if they
struck. Why, he asked himself, didn't we bring along our spare six-horse
job is best for trolling. We're babes in these woods, I guess. How far
from shore...how much time do we have left? Suddenly, Gus reached out and
dragged his fishing-tackle box under the canvas.
"Hey," Pete yelled, a few minutes later, "we're
close to shore. I can hear the wind in the pines."
Gus came out from under the canvas. His
flashlight beam lanced out through the heaving blackness, revealing cliffs
that stood straight up from the water, angry waves foaming at their base,
exposing jagged rocks.
"Good heavens!" Pete breathed. "We'll be cut
Gus grunted as he swung the motor outboard and
clamped it firmly in place, opened gas petcock and air vent.
"Try her, Pete," he said. "You know her better
"Try her!" Pete echoed. "You didn't..."
"Maybe," Gus said. "Try it, man."
Pete shut the choke, cracked the throttle,
pulled the starter cord, once, twice, three times. The motor coughed,
staggered, cleared its throat and hit smoothly. Glancing at the rocks close
aboard now, Pete opened the throttle wide. The motor didn't respond. It
sputtered, loaded up, began to die. Gus shut the throttle to slow.
"Easy does it," he said. "That valve spring is
too weak to take it fast - slow and steady now, to pull us away."
It was touch and go there for a few minutes, but
slow and steady did pull them away, down to the end of the cliffs and to a
sandy beach. With the boat propped three-quarters over on sticks to form a
shelter, and a roaring fire reflecting heat, the battle of the lake seemed
never to have been.
"This is the life," Pete commented, turning a
slab of pike on a forked stick over the fire. "Now tell us, Gus how you
managed to fix that broken valve spring. 'Seemed impossible to me."
"It was impossible," Gus admitted. "But you
know those heavy piano-wire leaders we brought along for muskellunge? I
wrapped one of those leaders around a screwdriver that had a shaft a bit
larger than the bottom end of the valve guide. The spring I made was too
weak to close the valve fast enough for my speed - that's why she died when
you opened the throttle."
"But it was fast enough," Pete said fervently,
"to claw us off those cliffs.
If we'd hit there we'd have had it."
"You can say that again," Elmer agreed. "I'm
glad you didn't tell me about those cliffs, Gus, out there on the lake, I'd
have been scared to death."
"I was," Gus said and he meant it.