About ten months ago, one of the big electrical
companies put up a branch plant and laboratory just outside our town. Part
of that industrial decentralization program I've been hearing about, I
guess. Anyhow, it brought quite an influx of new people into our community -
most of them engineers and scientists.
One is a young fellow by the name of Jim Harrison. Jim, a veteran and
unmarried, came from Indiana, where not too long ago he graduated from
engineering school, thanks to the G.I. Bill. Right now, he's staying at Mrs.
Paley's boarding house.
Everyone who knows Jim likes him, especially Gus Wilson whose Model
Garage is one of Jim's favorite stopping-off places. Not long ago, Gus had
helped Jim do a first-rate job of grinding his valves. Than back last
summer, when Jim had just bought his second-hand car, Gus had shown him how
to re-time the motor, adjust the carburetor and hook up a water injector,
put in a new exhaust pipe and muffler, and replace a cracked windshield.
Under Gus's direction, Jim had worked over the old car until he had
practically rebuilt it.
Gus hadn't seen Jim for several weeks when one night recently Gus was
strolling down our main street doing a little window-shopping. Suddenly he
heard someone shouting his name. It was Jim and he was running across the
street toward Gus.
"Gosh, am I glad to find you," Jim gasped. "Been looking all over town
for you. Can you spare some time? I'm in a spot, and you can help out."
"Sure thing, Jim," Gus said. "But let's stop off here at Dan's Grille
"Now, what's it all about?" Gus asked after they'd settled down on their
stools and Dan had served up two steaming cups.
"Well," Jim began hesitatingly. "You may remember that I'd been hoping
to take my two weeks vacation and drive along home to see my Mother and Dad
at New Year's."
"I'd planned to start out tomorrow night right after work," he went on,
"but I guess that's all off now."
"What's the matter?" Gus inquired. "Work at the plant too heavy and
they've asked you to put off your vacation?"
"No, it's not that," Jim replied glumly. "I can still have my vacation.
It's my car. Something's gone screwy with it and I'm blamed if I can spot
it. It started acting up last night on my way back to town from the plant. I
was breezing along the outer road at about forty and took my foot off the
gas to slow down for an intersection. Instead of slowing down, the fool car
just took the bit in her teeth and never slackened. Before I could throw out
the clutch, I was through the intersection. Then all of a sudden, the engine
began to spit and sputter
and finally died."
"Would it start again?" put in Gus.
"Not right away," Jim replied. "So I got out and lifted the hood to take
a look. As I started to poke my head in under the hood, I heard a distinct
"A metallic click?" questioned Gus.
"Yeah, you know, like something snapping back into place," explained
Jim. "I couldn't find anything that looked wrong, so I decided to try the
starter again. She kicked right off."
"Did the motor run evenly?" Gus asked.
"Never ran smoother," Jim pointed out, "but about a half mile further
down the road she took the bit in her teeth again and continued to roll
along at forty, accelerator or no accelerator. Then, just like the first
time, she gasped and died. She did that about four times before I got into
"Sounds like something's binding somewhere in your throttle linkage,"
Gus offered. "Probably sticks when you've pushed the gas pedal down far
enough to hit forty, stays there for awhile, and then pops loose."
"That was my first guess, too," Jim confessed, "but no luck. Besides,
that wouldn't account for the dying act."
"No, you're right, it probably wouldn't," admitted Gus. "How did she act
"Same business all over again," Jim grumbled. "Took me an hour to get to
"Where's the car now?"
"Out in the garage in back of Mrs. Paley's," Jim said eagerly. "Will you
come over and take a look at it?"
Ten minutes later, they were in Mrs. Paley's garage and Gus, hat on back
of his head, was peering down at Jim's balky motor.
"The throttle linkage seems okay, just as you said," Gus muttered as he
moved the throttle rod back and forth. "Doesn't bind at all. Have you looked
to see if there's dirt or anything that might be jamming the throttle
But before Jim could answer, Gus had lifted off the air cleaner and was
peering down into the carburetor's throat.
"Looks clean," Gus announced. "Let's take a little spin and see if
she'll do a repeat performance for me. Got a flashlight?"
"She'll repeat all right. I'll guarantee that," Jim grumbled as he slid
in behind the wheel, pulled a flashlight from the glove compartment, and
handed it to Gus who had climbed in beside him. "I'll bet we don't get a
quarter mile out on the state road before old Nellie here runs away and then
dies gasping for breath."
Gus noticed that the car started easily enough, and, as Jim weaved his
way through town, he marveled at how well the car ran in spite of its age.
Things happened just about as Jim had predicted they would. They'd no
sooner hit the state road and gotten the car up to forty when, at a nudge
from Jim, Gus looked down at the floor boards. Jim's foot wasn't on the
accelerator, yet the car was rolling along at about forty-two miles an hour.
"Automatic pilot," Jim said with a chuckle, but his laugh was
interrupted by sputterings from his motor. He maneuvered the coasting car to
the shoulder of the road, and, almost before the car had come to a stop, Gus
was out, had the hood up, and was directing the beam of the flashlight at
the engine. Just as Jim had joined him, there was a click and Gus noticed
that the throttle rod to the carburetor snapped back into what was evidently
its idling position.
"Did you see that?" queried Gus.
"I think we're getting some place," Gus said hopefully. "Let's try her
After the two men had climbed back into the car, Jim pushed the starter
and the motor caught without a falter.
"Now bring her up to forty again slowly," Gus instructed, "and the
minute she runs away and then begins to sputter pull over to the side of the
They didn't have to wait long before things started to happen again, and
when they did Jim followed his instructions. Gus jumped out of the car,
flipped open the hood, which he'd left unlatched, pulled off the air
cleaner, and aimed his flashlight into the carburetor's throat.
"Take a look down there," Gus said after a quick inspection. "Even a
carburetor's throat can develop tonsils."
Jim looked. There was at least a half-inch of white ice blocking the
throttle valve. As he watched, he could see the ice melting and suddenly
there was that familiar metallic click he'd been hearing each time after his
engine had died.
"There's your trouble," Gus said, tapping a metal tank mounted on the
fire wall that held the water supply for Jim's water injector. "Your
carburetor has been icing up because of the water you've been adding to your
"But Gus, the temperature hasn't dropped below freezing for weeks," Jim
reminded him. "I know the manufacturer's instructions said not to use the
injector when the weather dropped below thirty-two, and I haven't. As a
matter of fact, when we left the house tonight it was a balmy forty-two."
"Outside, yes," Gus corrected, "but not inside your carburetor."
"Well, what a dope I've been," Jim groaned as he thumped his forehead
with his fist. "A fine budding engineer. Of course, the venturi effect in
the carburetor acts like the expansion valve in a refrigerator - it lowers
"Right, and the temperature in the throat of a carburetor can be quite a
bit below freezing even if the outside temperature is above freezing," Gus
explained. "What's been happening is that first just enough ice has been
forming at forty miles an hour to hold your carburetor throttle valve open
at that position. Then as more and more ice has formed it has choked off the
carburetor throat and starved the engine. Finally, when she did stall, it
didn't take long for the heat of the engine to melt the ice and you were all
set to go again." "Live and learn," Jim grinned as he reached in under the
hood and turned the petcock that shut off the water for the injector. "I
guess about the only alibi I've got is that I'm an electrical engineer."
"Well, at least you were a dogface and not a fly-boy in the last war,"
Gus said as they started back to town. "If you'd been a pilot, you'd have
known that airplane carburetors often ice up under certain damp weather
conditions in the summer when the outside temperatures are soaring in the
nineties. That's why they put heaters in 'em."
"Well, since I don't have a heater in mine," Jim replied, "I guess I'll
just have to forget about my water injector until warmer weather sets in
"Not necessarily," Gus corrected. "You can always add enough alcohol to
the water in the tank to prevent freezing. As a matter of fact, the alcohol
will add to the pep of your engine. Some injectors are designed to operate
only on an alcohol-and-water mixture."
"Thanks a million, Gus," Jim said as he slowed the car to a stop in
front of Gus's house. "Now I can take off for home tomorrow night on
schedule. Mom and Pop sure would have been disappointed if we hadn't been
able to get together. Happy New Year, Gus."
"And a Happy New Year to you, Jim," Gus said shaking Jim's hand. "And
while you're driving, look out for those holiday-happy goons who think they
can mix alcohol and gasoline without an injector."