New snow - the third this year - lay
thick on the ground as Gus Wilson walked to the door of the Model Garage
He was glad to see that Stan Hicks had
cleared it off around the pumps and the shop door.
"Better put a recharged booster on the
truck," Gus told his helper. "Temperature dipped last night. There'll be
The first came before Gus got his coat
off. He let Stan take it, and was busy installing a rebuilt generator when a
'62 Olds drove up. Gus raised the door.
He had never seen the car before, but
the young man driving it was Steve Polcheck. Gus had known Steve as a
motor-hungry teen-ager, watched him go through a series of love affairs with
hot rods and jalopies to become a competent mechanic. Gus was pleased when,
following his Army service, Steve opened a little garage of his own in a
But the young man's blue eyes were
troubled as he got out of the car.
"Hi," called Gus. "How's business?"
"Not bad. The shoestring I started on
breaks once in a while," said Polcheck, brushing a hand through sandy hair,
"but till now I've managed."
Gus got out his pipe and packed it.
"With that new Computer Industries branch near you, you'll soon have all the
work you can handle."
"Yeah," returned Polcheck glumly. "The
big question is, can I handle it?"
"Sure you can. If it's the money . .
"It's not the money. It's me," blurted
Polcheck. "And this blasted car. And Mr. Everett Kirk, blast him."
Gus lit his pipe. "Better tell it."
Polcheck leaned against a wall as Gus
hitched himself up on a workbench.
"I've had jobs from people at
CI since it opened. Business was so good I even had a part-timer washing
parts, scraping off gaskets, cleaning up. A good kid.
"Then this guy Kirk drove in for a
full overhaul, taking care to explain it's only his second car - as if he
wouldn't trust me with a good one. He's an electronics engineer at CI, and
pretty important. I'd have sworn I did a good job, even cleaned up the
Kirk seemed satisfied. But yesterday
he drove in again, boiling mad. There was oil all over the top of his
Gus tapped out his pipe. "You made
sure the breather cap was clean, the road-draft tube underneath not kinked
"I sure did. Then I took off the valve
covers to see if the oil-return holes were clear, though I'd checked them
when I did the job.
They were okay, too. I buttoned up
everything, cleaned the engine again, put in a free quart of oil - and
"Good public relations," remarked Gus.
"But you haven't found the trouble."
Polcheck's neck reddened. "I'll say
not! This morning he was back, really teed off. The engine was all oily
again. He swore if I didn't fix the trouble he'd tell everybody at CI what a
lousy mechanic I am. He will, too. It could bust me."
Gus put his pipe away. "Let's look at
Polcheck opened the hood and grinned
wryly. "I cleaned it again, hoping the leak would show on the way here. But
The engine was as clean as a new
skillet. If there were positive crankcase ventilation on this model, mused
Gus, the metering valve would be suspect. But PCV had come a bit later.
Steve had checked the road-draft tube, but it was still possible . . .
"I went over the exhaust system to
make sure there's no back pressure," Polcheck put in. "It's clear. Got any
of that fluorescent powder for tracing leaks?"
Gus nodded, went to the supply locker,
and got a small can and a black fluorescent lamp. While Polcheck put a
little powder in the oil-filler tube, Gus hooked up the lamp and doused
Polcheck started the engine. In the
purplish glow of the ultraviolet lamp the two men watched it. A minute went
by. Then a small luminous green spot appeared at the edge of a valve cover,
"That's got it!" exulted Polcheck.
"Hardly seems enough of a leak to
spray the engine as you said," demurred Gus.
"It may be worse when the engine's
cold," muttered Steve. "Expansion and contraction of the metal. You think
Gus grunted. "Your helper may have
left a bit of the old gasket stuck on where it's oozing. But you should have
"Guess I rushed too much, Gus. Thanks
a million for saving my neck."
"I'm not so sure I did," returned Gus.
Late that afternoon a big sedan with
California plates rolled in, trailing blue smoke. Gus detected a clatter of
hydraulic valve lifters and a skip in the engine.
At the wheel was an elderly woman. She
got out spryly, gave her tweed coat a tug, and looked up at Gus severely
from a height a foot less than his own.
"Are you Gus Wilson? Like to be sure
I've got the right party," she said.
"I am. What can I do for you, ma'am?"
"Mrs. Mabel Murphy. My car just limps
along. Doesn't start right off as it used to, either. It ran fine all the
way from Pasadena.
It's got to take me back there come
April, so I want it fixed."
The smell of the exhaust, reeking of
oil, hung heavy in the air even though she had shut off the engine. Taking a
cue from it, Gus removed the spark plugs. All eight were badly oil fouled.
"The engine's burning oil, Mrs.
"Well, shouldn't it?" she demanded.
"No, ma'am, only gas. When oil burns
in the cylinders, it dirties the spark plugs and makes the engine miss -
limp, I mean. And start hard, too. I can clean the plugs, but they won't
She pursed her lips. "Well! Go ahead."
The plugs were reasonably new and,
when cleaned, fired satisfactorily under test. Gus put them back and started
the engine. It ran without miss, but the blue smoke threatened to fill the
"That smoke is a sign of oil burning,"
explained Gus, shutting it off. "Subject to some tests, it seems you need a
The lady waved a gloved hand. "Because
it smokes? That's just from the stuff I put in for those noisy valves - the
little cans you pour into the gas tank."
"Upper-cylinder oil? You're using that
for noisy valve lifters?" asked Gus.
"Whatever they are, it seems to quiet
them some. I used to buy a can for each tank of gas. I even put some cans in
"How many cans, ma'am?"
"They were selling five for the price
of two at the discount store," said Mrs. Murphy triumphantly. "I put them
all in, of course. If one is good, five must be better; and I got them
Gus bit his tongue to keep from
chuckling. "Guess you don't need a ring job after all, Mrs. Murphy. Your
car's burning that top oil, not engine oil. Five cans was too much, and it
fouled the plugs."
"Oh my! I did goof, didn't I?"
"Don't worry. Each time you get gas,
it dilutes the oil - but don't add any more. And better get your plugs
cleaned again before you start back to Pasadena."
It snowed again that night. The next
day, the phone was ringing as Gus got in.
"This is Mabel Murphy," said the
caller. "My son's car won't start. Would you please come out to Crescent
Gus drove out to a new home in a
development housing many CI people. In the driveway was a '64 Comet.
"Good morning," said Mrs. Murphy. "My
son's gone off in my car. He was already late because of shoveling the
"Guess that's a problem you don't have
in California," remarked Gus.
"Hmph! If I lived here, I'd have me a
sloping driveway like that one," she said, pointing across the street.
"Why?" asked Gus, getting his tools.
"Well, that man doesn't shovel snow.
He just backs his car downhill through it. I saw him do it again this
"That's one way," said Gus.
He checked the Comet's starting
circuit, tightened a battery clamp, and with a booster got the engine
Driving out, Gus glanced at the house
across the street. A new Olds stood in the big garage, but deep tracks
showed another car had backed out. The name on the roadside mailbox was
Everett J. Kirk. Gus headed for Polcheck's garage.
The young mechanic, frankly surprised
to see Gus, raised both eyebrows.
"I'm still wondering about that
oil-leak trouble," explained Gus.
"There was some of the old gasket left
on," Polcheck said. "It must be okay, or Kirk would have been here by now."
Then a horn blared. As Steve opened
the door, the '62 Olds swept in and a short, red-faced man with wire-brush
gray hair stepped out.
"Look at it!" he roared.
Steve hurriedly raised the hood.
"I don't get it," he said at sight of
the oil-spattered engine. "It checked out."
"I'll check you out!" bellowed Kirk.
"You're an incompetent fool who shouldn't be in the business. And when I get
through telling what a mess you made of this car, you won't be - not around
Gus could keep quiet no longer.
"Steve hates to tell the customer he's
wrong," he said. "But whether he likes it or not, I will. That leak is your
"Oh, it is! My car never spit oil
"That's right - not until we had our
first heavy snow, right after Steve finished that overhaul," returned Gus.
"That was when you bulled your way out of your uncleared driveway, right
through the drifts.
"Then, and twice later, snow packed
into the breather tube under the car. The plugged tube made pressure build
up in the crankcase until oil blew out the filler cap. By the time you'd
spotted it and driven here to blame Steve, the snow melted out and there was
nothing to find."
"My wife does it with our new car, and
that has no oil leak," protested Kirk.
"Because it has a positive crankcase
ventilation. It has no road-draft tube to get clogged," explained Gus.
"You sure of this?" Kirk asked Steve.
"Absolutely," said Polcheck. "But I'll
clean the engine one last time free."
"I thought I was dead when I saw that
oily engine again!" Steve said to Gus when Kirk had driven out.
"You caught on fast," chuckled Gus.
Polcheck shook his head in amazement.
"How did you know all that, Gus? Who tipped you off?"
Gus hesitated. "You'll never believe
it. It was a little old lady from Pasadena."