|July 1925 - December 1970
|Gus Wilson's Model Garage
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Gus Helps Catch the Wrong "Hot Rodder"
My greetings to the friends of Gus Wilson down at the Model Garage and to all of you who follow Mike Hammerberg’s “Gus Wilson” web site. Hot rodding has been around since the late ‘40s and has become very popular even up to today. Unfortunately, many young guys and gals chose to make the sport dangerous because of very bad driving habits and risk taking. Just as in any personal endeavor, those making the bad decisions were in the minority. Most of our hot rodding heritage came as a result of kids wanting to enjoy their cars. Many influential car people today, such as Larry Shinoda of General Motors, got their start with cars they built themselves. Today’s young people still love their cars and it’s our responsibility as adults to encourage and appreciate their love of cars.
Gus Helps Catch the Wrong "Hot Rodder”
by "Martin Bunn" (Dave Mantor)
Gus was fishing one of his favorite northern lakes when the reel started its high-pitched squeal as a good sized fish started pulling out line. It was odd, though, as the sound of the reel didn’t sound like his old reel. It was more like a bell or a telephone ringer. Suddenly, the fish, the boat and the lake seemed to disappear as he began to realize it was a telephone – his telephone.
Regretfully rubbing the sleepiness from his eyes, Gus reached for the phone to try to stop the insistent ringing.
“Gus, it’s Ed Bartlett. I’m sorry to wake you so early, but Edith and I don’t know what else to do. We’ve got car problems, and we were supposed to leave really early to go to our son’s place. We’ve got a new granddaughter that we haven’t seen yet.”
“What time is it, Ed…??”
“I hate to tell you, Gus. It’s ten after five. We’ve waited an extra hour before calling.”
Gus, fully awake now answered, “I’ll meet you down at the garage in 20 minutes.”
Walking across the garage’s pavement, Gus could see Ed Bartlett as he was pacing back and forth. The brightness in Ed’s face when he saw Gus was partial payment for Gus’ effort to arrive as quickly as he could.
“Hello Ed. Early morning troubles?”
“I’ll say, Gus. The wife and I were trying to leave town, but I noticed a really loud noise in the car. It seems to be coming from the front end, but I’m not sure.”
Gus was sympathetic with his old customer. “Don’t worry, Ed. We’ll find out what’s wrong and get you on the road as soon as we can.”
Gus was opening the main overhead door when he heard excessive and loud exhaust rumbling going by on the street.
“That young Jenkins boy has opened up his exhaust cut outs again. Didn’t the ticket a few weeks back convince him to keep them closed…?” Gus was thinking these thoughts to himself as Ed pulled the car near the service bench that Gus was directing him to.
As Bartlett’s car moved into position, Gus’ thoughts came back the problem at hand. A noise that throbbed from a low pitched alternating to a higher noticeable grinding and back was Gus’ problem at the moment.
“Ed, it sounds to me a lot like a front wheel bearing,” Gus replied to Ed’s questioning look. Rolling a floor jack over and then positioning it under the left front suspension, Gus raised it up and turned the wheel. No noise. Then he placed the jack under the right lower A frame suspension and raised up the wheel as he had done to the left side. He found it harder to turn and definitely with an accompanying noise similar to what it sounded like when Ed drove his car in.
Gus lowered the wheel just enough for it to touch the floor and removed the wheel cover. After loosening the lug nuts, he raised it back up and popped the grease cap off. When he removed the castellated nut and straightened the cotter key enough to pull it out, he pulled the wheel being careful not to let the bearings fall out.
After examining the hub assembly, he called Ed over to show him what he’d found. “Ed, I don’t believe you’ve paid much attention to your bearings and brakes. Old grease is everywhere, and the bearing race is really scored. Though the bearings don’t look too bad, I’d replace them all, both sides.”
Ed anxiously asked, “Can it be fixed, Gus, so that we can get on the road soon?”
“Ed, this brake assembly needs to be completely disassembled, cleaned and re-packed with new grease. I’ll do it as fast as I can. Since I haven’t opened the shop yet for today, I won’t have any interruptions and should have you back on the road in record time.”
As Gus was watching the lights of Ed Bartlett’s car disappearing down the street after he had finished up, the rumble and flash of another set of loud pipes pierced the early morning.
Gus had a moment as he was finishing up his morning coffee to do some thinking about that hot rod that was running around town. With incredible timing, the phone rang. As Gus talked, he motioned for Stan, his helper, to let in a four door sedan waiting for an oil and filter change.
Gus hung up the telephone receiver and walked over to Stan with a frown on his face.
“What’s wrong, Boss?” Stan queried.
“They’re holding Donnie Jenkins because of that car of his. Police Chief Eldon claims Donnie is the one making all the noise and squealing his tires.” Gus was clearly upset.
Stan asked as cheerfully as he could, “Maybe Donnie has a few ideas to add. Are you going to the courthouse?”
“Yes, in a few minutes.” Gus threw the final statement over his shoulder as he went out the back service door.
Gus was ushered into Sam Eldon’s office. The two men were old friends and often played cards together on Saturday nights.
“Gus, I’m glad you’re here,” were the first words out of Sam’s mouth. “We picked Donnie up because of his prior arrest and conviction. However, there are a few loose ends that I can’t seem to connect.”
Gus looked at his friend, “Loose ends…?? What do you mean…??
“Well, I checked on the tightness of the bolts of the cut offs, and I don’t honestly think he had time to tighten them back up. For instance, the time between the first several reports that came in and the time we pulled him over was too short. Also, he had a grocery bag with cold milk and eggs in his car. We checked with the grocer, and he placed Donnie in his store about the same time as two of the reports.”
Gus was thinking hard about the hot rod that had been driving around near his shop. “What does Jenkins say about it?” Gus asked.
“He said he was hurrying but wasn’t cracking his exhaust. I think he’s pretty scared, but for some reason, I believe him.”
Gus voiced what was evidently also on Sam’s mind. “Do you suppose there’s another kid in town causing all the noise? When I heard Donnie go by the garage last night, it was loud, but I don’t think the cut outs were open. Then a hot rod went by the garage early this morning, it was very loud and the tires were definitely being spun hard. I think it was maybe a different car.”
The telephone suddenly buzzed and Sam answered. After a few moments, he hung up the receiver and had a bit of a smile on his face.
“Well, we just checked on a report of a robbery, and the station manager described the armed thief as being masked and driving a hot rod. He described the dark hot rod down to the red wheels and claimed it must be Donnie Jenkins again. But since we holding young Jenkins, that points to only one thing – another hot rod. Let’s go see Jenkins.”
As Gus and the police chief entered the holding cell, Donnie Jenkins raised up to a sitting position and exhibiting wide eyes.
Both Gus and Sam Eldon smiled at him with the police chief starting the questioning. “Alright, Donnie – tell me what’s going on. We know there’s another hot rod, making lots of noise. He’s gone far enough now to take up armed robbery.
The boy took a few moments to answer, then said, “Chief Eldon, it’s probably Matt Henry from over in Hatsworth. He and I had a drag race, and I beat him. He swore he’d get even.”
Gus spoke up. “Describe the car, Donnie.”
“Well. It’s a pretty sharp coupe done in a dark primer and has red wheels. It really runs good, but not as good as my coupe,” answered Donnie.
Gus asked, “When did you put the red wheels on your car Donnie?”
“I might have, but I’ve just not had the money to do it after I paid my ticket.”
Chief Sam Elliott spoke up, “Well, I believe you, Son. However, we have to do some play acting, okay? We need to have you let Gus here drive your coupe around until we catch this guy. We’ll make sure there’s no damage to your coupe, eh Gus?”
Several days later, Gus was driving on the outer road in Donnie’s coupe, trying to “cruise” as the hot rodders would refer to driving around. Suddenly, he met another car which did a U-turn and quickly closed the gap behind Gus. As the car started to pass, Gus down-shifted and took off in a burst of speed.
Evidently, Gus’ maneuver must have surprised the second car’s driver, but he quickly responded and then pulled out to pass. Gus’ constant radio contact with the police chief alerted all the police cars in the area to converge upon Gus’ rival. Seeing the police cars with their road block in front and the two police cruisers behind, the dark coupe’s driver tried to turn around but was unable to stop and ultimately slid into the ditch.
Gus pulled off by the opposite ditch and stepped out of Donnie’s coupe.
Matt Henry jumped out of his car with a perplexed look upon his face, then looked at Chief Eldon as they put cuffs on him.
“I don’t understand. Where’s the guy who owns that car? He was racing me.”
Eldon’s answer was plain. “This gentleman is a temporary officer and did not at any time exceed the speed limit. You, however, are wanted for armed robbery, so you had better find a dime to make your one phone call. “
“Thanks for your help, Gus.”Gus answered, “I was happy to have been in on catching the wrong hot rodder, and I’ll drop Donnie’s coupe off to him. In the meantime, Chief, don’t be late for our card game tomorrow night! I plan on winning…!!”