|July 1925 - December 1970|
|Gus Wilson's Model Garage|
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GUS GIVES A LESSON IN CAREFUL DRIVING
by Martin Bunn
It was later than usual when Gus Wilson, of the Model Garage, tightened the last nut on a rush job and decided to call it a day. The gray-haired veteran mechanic tossed the spanner into the kit, stretched to straighten the kinks out of his spine, and walked over to the sink where his partner, Joe Clark, was already washing up.
"Manvilles' coming for that bus first thing in the morning," he grunted. "Be sure and tell him -- "
Gus's voice was drowned out in the wailing, tearing screech of rubber being dragged over concrete. The noise terminated in a sickening thud and the brittle tinkle of shattering glass.
"Cripes!" shouted Gus, tossing the soap into the sink and wiping his hands on his overalls as he rushed for the door. "Somebody's got bumped down at the crossing!"
The two garage men ran out into the twilight.
A huddled figure was lying in the middle of the road at the crossing, a few feet in front of a sedan which had slued around and crashed its rear hub against the heavy, concrete base of the traffic light. Behind the wheel of the car a chalky-faced driver was feebly shaking his hands in a state of almost complete nervous collapse. One of the rear windows of the sedan, on the side toward the traffic post, lacked a large section of glass which had broken outward and crashed into the roadway.
Gus and Joe bent over the huddled figure. "It's Rummy Dunkins and he's soused to the eyes!" exclaimed Gus, as he caught sight of the man's face in the glow of the car's headlights and sniffed a heavy aroma of alcohol.
"Sure! Thash me!" grinned Dunkins, suddenly popping to a sitting position. "Only I ain't stewed, not to the eyes yet, but I will be soon!"
"Where'd the car hit you?" Gus asked.
"What car?" countered Dunkins, "Oh, you mean that car, there? He didn't hit me! I wash too quick for him. I fell down first!"
Gus dragged Dunkins to his feet and let him stagger off down the road. Then the garage man walked around to the window of the sedan.
"Snap out of it, mister. Nobody's hurt!" he grinned to the driver, who was staring pop-eyed at the lurching figure of his imagined victim.
"And maybe that isn't a relief!" the car owner gasped, as his face regained its normal color. He fumbled for a cigarette in a limp package and lighted it with trembling fingers.
"Run the service car down here, Joe," said Gus after a quick inspection of the rear axle of the sedan.
It developed that the owner was on his way to visit relatives in the town, so the garage men delivered him to his destination after towing his car to the Model Garage.
The next day, just as Gus was finishing the repair work on the sedan by fitting a new hubcap, the owner arrived.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Montrose," Gus greeted him. "She's just about ready for you."
"Looks as good as new," Montrose smile. "Only thing is, I'm wondering if I've got the nerve to tackle driving again. I haven't been at it long, as you probably guessed, and that affair last night sure took the starch out of me."
"You're less likely to have an accident now than you ever were before," Gus asserted with conviction.
"If I do, it certainly won't be my fault," said Montrose, with equal emphasis.
"I wish Captain Williams of our police force could hear you say that," laughed Gus. "Maybe you don't know that the police departments all over the country are making a drive to cut down the number of auto accidents. They think that when 36,000 people are killed by cars in one year that something has to be done -- and they're doing it, too. But what they've done so far isn't a patch on what they could do if people would really cooperate."
"How do you mean, 'cooperate'?" Montrose asked.
"That's easy to answer," replied Gus. "If the average driver would get it into his head that there just weren't going to be any accidents caused by anything he did, that attitude would make a whole of a difference."
Montrose laughed. "I never knew anybody started out with the idea that he was going to get into a crash."
"They don't directly." Gus explained, "But they do what amounts to the same thing. They are always willing to take a chance. They'd rather trust in Providence and their own good luck than in common sense and careful driving. You know the kind of a fellow I mean. The bird who barges across a blind crossing because he thinks there's not much chance that a car will be coming the other way; the dumb-bell who starts on a long drive with poor brakes because he's willing to take a chance that he won't have to stop quick; the fellow who cuts around the curve on the wrong side of the road, or passes another car when he can't see what's coming, because he thinks there isn't much chance of a car coming the other way -- and that his luck will save him if there is."
"I see the point there, all right," Montrose admitted. "It's the gambler's instinct you should leave at home when you go out in the car."
"That's it, exactly," said Gus. "If you never gamble on what the other fellow is going to do, you'll be ready for him no matter what fool stunt he pulls."
"Always seemed to me speeding causes a lot of accidents, too," Montrose ventured.
"That all depends on what you mean by speeding," Gus replied. "You can run a chance of landing in jail on a homicide charge when you are driving only twenty miles an hour, and yet you may be as safe at twice that speed as you would be at home in bed. It all depends on the time and place."
"How do you figure that out?" Montrose wanted to know.
"Have you an hour to spare?" Gus asked. "If you have, drive over with me to Carville while I do an errand, and I'll show you what I mean."
Montrose readily agreed and the two men climbed into Gus's car.
"Now," said Gus, as they turned into a wide state road, "this stretch is over four miles long, with no sharp bends or concealed turns. There are only two entering roads, and you can see a car coming on either of them nearly a quarter of a mile away. There's no doubt but what this road is safe for forty miles an hour. Of course, there's drivers would say it was safe for sixty, but there's no satisfying that type. If you made the road really safe for sixty, they'd want to do a hundred.
"Of course," Gus went on as the speedometer needle crept up to forty, "this speed is really safe only if the tires on your car are good, the steering gear is tight and in perfect shape, and the brakes are right. On the other hand, a fellow was nearly killed last year on this road because he was going too fast. He was only doing forty miles an hour, and he had the road all to himself, too."
"What happened -- a blow-out?" Montrose inquired.
"Nothing gave way on the car," said Gus. "He was blown off the road! You see there were some icy spots on the concrete, not enough to cause any trouble, ordinarily, but there was a sixty-mile gale blowing, quartering across the road, and as he hit on icy spot an extra hard blast started the car into a skid that ended out there in the field with a busted spring and a damaged mudguard. It sure was lucky for him it happened right there rather than farther along where there's a bank he'd have gone over."
"Blown off the road by the wind!" exclaimed Montrose. "I wouldn't have believed it possible that wind pressure could do anything like that."
"It did, just the same," Gus maintained, "and if you don't believe that a 100-mile-an-hour breeze packs a punch, just get caught in one of those Kansas 'twisters' and see what happens to you."
"So the answer is to watch your step on a windy day if there's any chance of slippery spots on the road. I'll make a note of that one," said Montrose.
"Here," said Gus, "is, where you see the other side of the speed story." They had turned into a narrow street through the densely populated outskirts of Carville. School had just closed, and children of all ages were thronging the streets.
"Twenty miles an hour would be too fast through here, right now," said Gus as they crawled along at a bare twelve miles an hour, "and you've got to keep your eyes peeled and your foot on the brake every second, in case some youngster darts across in front of you. Yet, you could sail through here at thirty miles an hour in perfect safety at two o'clock in the morning. So you see you can't say off hand that any particular speed is safe or not safe till you know all the circumstances."
"I hadn't thought of it before, but the time of day would make a lot of difference," the passenger agreed.
"You bet it does," nodded Gus. "Figures show that the most accidents happen between five in the afternoon and eight in the evening. Twilight coming on, people hurrying home from work, kids out joy riding, everybody a little tired after the day's grind -- everything seems to work together at that time of day."
Gus soon finished his business in Carville and headed for home.
"I suppose slippery roads and rainy weather cause a lot of accidents," Montrose volunteered, as the car picked up speed in the open country.
"Well, that's funny thing," replied Gus. "Of course, slick asphalt or a heavy fog makes driving a lot more dangerous, and does cause accidents. Yet, I was reading, just last night, that four out of five fatal accidents happen on dry roads and in clear weather."
"Well," said Montrose, as they pulled up at the Model Garage, "it looks to me as though the whole problem of safe driving can be boiled down to a mighty simple rule and that is: Never take a chance on either your car or your driving; be sure, and you'll never be sorry -- or worse!"
"That's the whole thing in a nutshell," Gus agreed, "and if the police departments can ever get every driver to paste that idea in his hat and stick to it, there'll be so few accidents that the cost of liability insurance will drop to the price of a new tire."
"That won't mean a thing to Rummy Dunkins," laughed Joe, as Montrose drove off. "He should worry! They say Providence always watches over fools and drunkards!"
"Not when the drunk is behind the wheel of an automobile!" grunted Gus as he started work on the next job.
L. Osbone 2019