"Lady to see you, Gus," Stan
called through the open office door of the Model Garage.
"I have to go out on a
call," answered Gus Wilson, hanging up the phone. "But I guess it can wait a
minute . . ." He looked past his young
assistant. Seeing who the customer was, he grinned.
"A minute won't do for Daisy
Allen," Gus amended. "I'll leave her to you, Stan."
Stan groaned. "Not me, Boss
. . ."
"Get with it," insisted Bus.
He let himself out the back door as Stan trudged morosely back into the
shop. "Mr. Wilson's on a call. Can
I do anything, Mrs. Allen?" Eyeing the '53 Ford six she had driven in, Stan
remarked, "That isn't your car, is it?"
"No, it's my parents',"
replied Daisy Allen. "I'm staying with them this month while my husband is
on a business trip. They take it to a garage in Newton, but I think it's a
nice change for a car to be taken to a different garage sometimes, don't
"Yes, ma'am," said Stan
"Of course there's nothing
actually wrong with it - nothing you could fix. I told my father, but he's
old and doesn't understand, and wants it looked at. I did want to go
shopping, so I brought it here."
"Sure, Mrs. Allen. But what
is - I mean, what's supposed to be wrong with it?" pleaded Stan.
"Oh, it skips or misses.
Like a naughty horse that doesn't want to leave its stall. And for the same
"I'll check it out,"
promised Stan. "Please call back later."
Daisy Allen bobbed a hat
strewn with improbable blossoms. "I will. But don't do anything drastic to
it, because it runs fine once it's a few miles away from home."
Meanwhile, Gus, turning off
onto Wayne Avenue, rolled along the paved side of the newly widened highway,
noting that the other side was still under repair. Three miles farther on he
swung into the gateway of a housing development for senior citizens and
stopped in front of number 17.
A woman came out, almost
girlish in a shift house dress. She had silver hair and snappingly bright
"I'm Mrs. Townsend. Mr.
Townsend is asleep, and I'd rather not wake him. He didn't want me to call
you. Please come here." She led the way to the
attached garage and stood by as Gus raised the door, revealing a popular V-8
sedan. There was a strong odor of gasoline.
"Smell it?" she asked. "It
even gets into my kitchen, which is right alongside. I'm afraid to light the
stove some mornings. Usually I open the garage to get rid of it, so when my
husband gets up it's not so strong. Sometimes I don't smell it at all. But
today it was so bad I left it shut and called you. My husband insists
there's no gas leak in the car, but I think there must be."
"Does seem that way," agreed
The woman went into the
house. Gus inspected the carburetor, fuel pump, sediment bowl, and fuel
lines. Everything was tight and dry.
Whistling softly, he went
behind the car, lay down, and shrugged himself under the gas tank.
A dry film of road dust
testified to its soundness - except at one end. Here a moist stain showed
where gas had seeped around the corner of the tank and dripped to the floor.
Gus felt up the curve of the filler pipe. It was slippery with fuel. He
wiped it dry.
After a minute or two, he
checked it again. Only a faint trace had reappeared. Sliding out, he almost
cracked his head on the bumper as a voice startled him.
"Didn't find anything, did
Rising, Gus's eyes traveled
up a stocky little figure in shorts. Gray eyes under an egg-bald skull
repeated the question. In one hand the little man cradled a large pipe,
while the other was knuckled over a lighter.
"I wouldn't light that just
now," said Gus mildly. "Smell the gas?"
Townsend sniffed. "Tell the
truth, I don't. Had a cold all week. But don't tell my wife. She fusses." He
put pipe and lighter away. "Mean to say there is a leak?"
"When did you last fill the
"Midnight, after the late
shift at Murdock's. Got a part-time job there."
Gus nodded. "Looks like it's
lost all it's going to, so we won't drain any. You see, that gas was cool
when it went in. Then the car stood in this sun-heated garage. The gas had
to expand. With the tank full, it had no place to go but out the edge of the
filler cap, down the pipe, and onto the floor.
"Even when you get gas
daytimes, it comes from a cool underground tank. Fire departments get
complaints every hot day about cars spilling gas because they're parked in
the sun. Just don't say 'fill it up.' Leave some room for expansion."
Townsend nodded. "I should
have thought of that myself. What do I owe you for setting me straight?"
Gus told him. As Townsend
handed over the price of a road call, he cocked his head apologetically.
"Would this cover a bit of advice about my power mower?"
"Why, sure," agreed Gus.
"It's a two-cycle rotary
that worked fine last year. But it's lost a lot of pep this season. I had
the carburetor cleaned, and put in new points and a plug. That didn't help
Townsend had pulled the
"Don't start it," said Gus.
Pulling the cable off the
spark plug, he tilted the machine enough to put a wrench on the nuts that
held the exhaust pipe on the cylinder.
Squeaking protest, they came
off. Gently Gus wriggled the pipe free. The exposed exhaust port was rimmed
with a thick black edging of carbon.
"There's what mower owners
usually skip when tuning up fuel and ignition systems," explained Gus. "That
carbon deposit cuts the size of the exhaust port way down. Back
pressure then fights the engine, reducing power. Sometimes it causes
pre-ignition and overheating.
"Crank the engine over so
that the piston is out of the way, and scrape out the carbon. Take care not
to scratch the opposite cylinder wall or nick the port edges, though. You'll
find the old pep is back. I always yank off the plug cable first, because
these one-lungers could start up when you pull the blade around by hand -
and I need all my fingers."
"Me, too," said Townsend.
"I'm a machinist. Thanks for both jobs of trouble-shooting. All I got to
worry about now is telling my wife she was right."
On his return, Gus found
Stan sweating from more than the day's warmth.
"Got Mrs. Allen straightened
"Boss, I can't even
straighten myself out. She told me the engine misses, but not to fix it
because it runs fine away from home. I locked up for five minutes to drive
it around the block. No miss."
The telephone shrilled.
"No, Mrs. Allen," said Gus
as soon as he could wedge a word into her chatter. "The car ran well when we
test-drove it. Exactly when does it seem to miss?"
"Only when we drive it away
from the house, of course. After a few miles it knows who's master, and
behaves. It just likes to stay in the garage."
"Mrs. Allen, you say it acts
up only when you drive away? Not other times?"
"Of course not. And it runs
nicely all the way back, too, the way horses used to do when they knew they
were going back to their stables at - "
"Sorry, Mrs. Allen,"
interrupted Gus in desperation. "Somebody at the pumps."
He hung up and went back to
"According to Daisy Allen,
we've got a homesick Ford on our hands."
Stan grinned fiendishly.
"See what I mean about that dame, Boss?"
"At least she has an open
"Yeah. A hole in the head,"
muttered Stan. "Look, Gus. Compression checks out good. Fuel pump ditto. The
carburetor is new, and it's the right one. Float level's okay, the choke
works, ignition points are good and gapped right, spark is hot and regular,
timing right on the button, plugs clean. Now what," Stan demanded, "could I
"Whatever makes it miss when
it's headed away from the garage."
"Boss! You don't believe
that horse-to-its-stall flap?"
Gus shrugged. "In
trouble-shooting, you listen to every tip and then parlay your hunches. I
had a man complain his car went clickety-clack only on Webster Avenue.
Couldn't find a thing wrong, so I drove it there myself. Sure enough. It was
an echo from a picket fence."
"Okay, I'll drive the car
where she . . ."
Stan fell silent.
"Well, what're you waiting
"It's her folks' car,"
explained Stan. "I don't know their name or address."
It was Gus's turn to grin
fiendishly. "Then you'll have to wait and drive there with her when she gets
"Oh, no," wailed Stan as
Daisy Allen minced up the ramp. He put her in the car and came to the
"They live in that
development for retired people out Wayne Avenue. It'll take about half an
hour, I guess."
"Wayne Avenue?" mused Gus.
"Stan, want to play one of my hunches?"
"Sure do, Boss," said Stan
"Try Hickman Road first. If
the trouble shows up there, come right back."
Ten minutes later, Stan
returned with the car and Mrs. Allen, voluble as ever..". .. didn't dream it
would act that way anywhere else. My father is right. I do hope you can do
something . . . of course, it could be just temperamental . . ."
Gus emerged from the office.
"There's a cup of coffee for you on my desk, Mrs. Allen. Want to sit there
With fluttery thanks, she
"Don't know how you guessed,
Boss, but it bucked like a rodeo steer on that rough road. On pavement, it's
"Let's look for loose
With the engine running, Gus
and Stan checked every terminal on the battery, regulator, coil,
distributor, and ignition switch. All were tight. The switch itself was
sound; wiggling the key in it caused no skip in the motor's idling beat.
Then, together, Gus and Stan rocked the car violently side to side on its
The motor coughed a little
but kept running.
"It's flooding," said Gus.
Taking a drop-light and a hammer, he shone the light on the glass bowl of
the carburetor, then shorted out a plug with the hammer head. The engine,
which had settled back to a smooth idle, rocked as that cylinder cut out,
then sputtered as before. Inside the bowl, Gus saw the float rattle from
side to side.
"See that? The float hinge
in this new carburetor is too loose," he told Stan. "On a rough road, the
fuel level jumps all over. The engine floods, bucks, and the float gets
shaken up even more."
"Got it, Gus," said Stan
Turning off the engine, he
lowered the bowl and gently squeezed the eyes on the float hinge closer.
With the float free to move up and down but not to shake sideways, he
replaced the bowl and again checked the float level. On Hickman Road, the
car performed faultlessly.
"Funny about her," said Stan
as Daisy Allen drove out. "She tries to tell you the facts, but you have to
throw out the hokum to spot 'em. Like that flap about the car bucking when
it leaves home but running okay on the way back."
"That was no flap."
"Aw, Boss. Don't give me
that. I'm still trying to figure out how you knew the trouble would show on
"Because it's a rough dirt
"Yeah, but I remember that
development has paved streets, and Wayne Avenue is a two-lane concrete
"Last time you looked,
maybe. They've been widening it since," said Gus. "The northbound lane is
finished, so the car ran fine when headed home. But the southbound lane -
the one coming this way - is all torn up. As Daisy Allen said, that car
knew it every time it was leaving home. The bumps told it."