It was not a morning for working, not
that morning on that bright, crisp edge of September. Perhaps it was the
pungent trace of wood smoke and burning leaves spicing the air. Gus Wilson
breathed deep as he lowered the lube rack. Whatever that intangible
ingredient was, it had no effect on the Model Garage. Saturday morning was
as busy as ever.
Gus backed the old Essex off the rack and rolled it out to the side of
the garage to make room. It was then that he noticed a big school bus being
pushed past his gas pumps by a bunch of big husky teen-age boys.
"That's far enough fellows." An older man, who seemed to be in charge,
wiped his forehead with a hand that left a greasy smear, and grimaced at
"I'd be glad to let you have this heap for a thin two bits!"
"I'll take it," Gus grinned. "But what seems to be the trouble?"
"Trouble isn't the word for it! It's ten now, and in three hours
Jefferson High is supposed to play the first football game of the year. I'm
the coach. We're scheduled to meet Greeley Prep at Millrace Corners, and
that's 50 miles from here. Now I get halfway there and this bus starts
acting up again!"
"Again?" Gus asked.
"Yes, it's the fourth time she's gone dead, and don't tell me I need a
new fuel pump! Joe Barnes, the regular driver who ferries the kids during
the week, says it's happened three times during the last week and they put
in three new fuel pumps and one carburetor. Now it's done it again!"
"Well, what seems to be wrong with it?" "Only one thing is definite.
Fuel isn't reaching the carburetor. Yeah, I know! It sounds like a fuel
Gus shrugged his shoulders and opened up the hood. "You're right. It
Gus was aware of the tense, impatient interchange of worried glances
among the little group of football players who crowded around him as he
checked the carburetor. He worked slowly and surely, thinking about the
boys, and how disappointed they'd be if their opening game had to be
"You guys are mighty anxious to get to this game, aren't you? What
positions do you play?"
The boy at Gus's left shoulder, a wiry keen-looking youngster, spoke up.
"Well, I'm Tom Kendall, sir. Fullback. And this is Willy Horton,
halfback, Herby Ashton, center, and old B-B - I mean Bud Black. He makes the
extra points with his educated toe."
"A lot of good that toe'll be if we don't even get there," the coach
groaned. "I can see it now. Paul Thompson. Stenciled on a cot at the
poorhouse!" He said it facetiously, but Gus detected a serious note beneath
the attempt at humor.
"Why do you say that?"
"Jefferson takes football seriously. There's a great deal of school
pride involved. And we won one game last year! The school board, the alumni,
all of them are after my hide. If I don't pull something out of the bag this
year, well . . ." He let it go at that.
Gus finished with the carburetor. There was nothing wrong with it. As
the coach had said, gasoline wasn't getting that far.
He pulled a wrench out of his dungarees and disconnected the line from
the carburetor to the fuel pump. But it, too, was perfectly okay.
"Let's try the rear section of fuel line leading from the tank."
"Can't you hurry? It's 10:15 already!"
"If I go any faster, I might overlook something. Just take it easy."
"Easy! It'll take an hour and a half in this traffic to get there.
Fifteen minutes for the boys to change and ten minutes to talk 'em into the
"Why not let them change right now in the garage while they're waiting?"
"Swell idea!" Coach Thompson looked more cheerful as he rounded up his
players and shooed them inside. "Hop to it, men!"
While the team tramped noisily into the Model Garage, Gus finished
dismantling the fuel line running from tank to pump and tested it for
obstructions and leaks. There were none.
The outlet on the gas tank, where the fuel line connected, was not
blocked. And the tank was almost half full.
He reconnected the line and scratched his head. Then he remembered.
"Forgot about your filter. Sometimes they get overloaded with silt."
"If it was that, why would it run perfectly for a couple of days at a
clip after those other mechanics put new pumps in?"
"Well, might as well check it anyway. Never can tell."
He removed the small bowl with its fine-mesh copper screen and found a
minimum of silt in the bottom. That was that . . . and he was right back
where he started. It was such a simple thing, there being nothing
complicated between gas tank and carburetor. The pump was the only item he
hadn't checked, and the reason he hadn't torn it apart was that it was
brand-new. The third new pump installed in a week, and he had been sure
there was an outside cause, something else rather than pump failure. If not,
then Thompson had been handed a mighty unlikely coincidence. That situation
and the previous bunglings of other mechanics left him confronted with a
delicate problem . . .
In twos and threes the football
players were trotting out now, looking bigger and more impressive in their
uniforms, yelling cheerful insults to each other. They seemed to take it for
granted that Gus would spot the trouble and get them started in time. Their
confidence made Gus all the more anxious to see that they had their chance
to play this opening game that meant so much to them ... And there was Coach
Thompson - he seemed like a pretty good egg after all, and his future might
depend on whether his team played - and won - today. Gus held a lot of
responsibility in his two grease-stained hands. He went back to work.
When he stuck his head out from under the hood a couple of minutes
later, Gus almost got conked by a flying football - two of the players were
demonstrating their passing prowess - but he didn't care. He felt he was
getting close to a solution to the mystery - at least he knew what wasn't
"Mr. Thompson, as you said, you aren't getting gas to the carburetor,
and yet your fuel lines are clear. You know what that leaves?"
Paul Thompson's face darkened. "The fuel pump! You're going to suggest a
"I'm only telling you I've checked everything else that could keep fuel
from reaching the carburetor. I'm going to take a look in spite of its being
"Okay, go ahead. I only hope you have better results than those other
"It never hurts to try! I'll make it as quick as I can."
Gus disconnected the fuel pump, carried it inside and began dismantling
it. Thompson followed him into the garage. Gus emptied the gas and began
"At least the fuel got this far!"
The diaphragm wasn't worn. He hadn't expected it to be, but on second
glance, he noticed he could scrape some sort of residue off the diaphragm
"Funny thing, but it is your fuel pump!"
"Sure. See this gummy stuff on the diaphragm? And look at these springs
and valves. The gum locked the valves so that the gas wouldn't pass on to
the carburetor. The springs that actuate the valves haven't got the freedom
that they should have, and offhand I'd say it was coming from the diaphragm
there. The diaphragms are coated to make them last longer, and that outer
surface is flaking off."
"I might expect one lemon, but not three in a row!"
"Oh, it isn't that. This is a perfectly satisfactory brand."
"Well, what now?"
"We've got to find a cause. It's something the other mechanics didn't
bother checking, evidently. First, we're going to look at your gas tank. Do
you know if the regular driver has been using any gas tank additives - you
know, canned tune ups, valve oils, anything like that?"
"No, I'm sure of it. Nothing but high-octane."
"I see. Some of these additives are okay and some are inclined to gum up
the engines. All right, that's one possibility eliminated."
They went out and Gus opened the drain cock on the tank, letting the gas
run into a couple of five-gallon cans. He watched the color down to the last
drop. There was no sign of anything foreign.
"See anything? It's quarter to eleven . . ."
Gus didn't answer. He merely stared at the tank bottom.
It had come from the tank, that gummy business. But what? The gas showed
nice and clean. Then he noticed that the gas tank had been patched. He
stared at the soldered seams. And suddenly he had it.
"What happened to this tank?"
"Scraped something in the road a couple of weeks ago and picked up a
gash in the bottom. The driver had the boys in the metal shop patch it up.
"Mr. Thompson, whoever did that patching job used an awful lot of solder
on the seams. The soldering flux has been seeping out of the seams and
mixing with the gas, getting as far as the fuel pump, then softening the
coating on the diaphragm and creating that gummy stuff I showed you."
"Can it be fixed?"
"Sure. Let me put the pump to soak, and I'll tell you what to do."
He dropped the fuel pump into a pan of solvent, then took two cans off
the shelf, made a mixture of the two liquids and poured it and the gas into
"This is wood alcohol and acetone. It'll neutralize that flux. Just tell
the driver to add a pint of each to every five gallons of gas. In a week or
so, I think the flux will have worked out."
Gus finished up the job and looked at his watch. "Well, if you hurry,
you can make the game on time. I hope you boys win."
Thompson paid up, shook Gus's hand and hopped into the driver's seat.
The rest of the day fell into its normal pattern, and Gus was closing up
when the phone rang.
"This is Coach Thompson." "What happened? You miss the game?"
"Heck no! Take a look at your evening paper, and see what one of your
local news photographers found. You got a paper?"
"I think it just came. Hold the line."
Gus found the paper and turned to the sports page. In a four-column
photo he saw the scoreboard: seven-six for Jefferson.
Gus picked up the receiver again. "Well, congratulations on your . . ." The
photo caught his eye a second time. The rooting section - a card stunt -
spelling out "GUS" in big, if somewhat ragged, letters.