July 1925 - December 1970

Gus Wilson's Model Garage

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By John L. Bellah

POB #156 La Habra, California 90633-0156  (562) 301-4507 



Returning from a one-week upstate fishing trip, Gus Wilson, Proprietor of the Model Garage, eased his pick-up/camper combination into a gas station off the interstate. Pulling up to one of the pump islands, he noticed a 1967 Ford Country Squire station wagon with out-of-state plates, parked at an adjacent pump island. The driver, a slight, middle-aged, black woman, seemed to be arguing with one of the attendants. Gus overheard the attendant saying; “Your right-front tire is chunking rubber, lady.” Glancing at the young girl seated in the passenger seat of the station wagon, the attendant continued. “This is a very dangerous situation—and illegal. The state police would issue you a ticket. Look, we can put your car on the rack and you’ll be back on the road in practically no time.” He then bent down to look under the front of the Ford. “Look,” the attendant loudly exclaimed, “Your shock absorber is touching the A-arm! That is a very dangerous situation, and can hurt your little girl. Think it over for a couple of minutes, while I take care of the man in the camper.”

Gus ordered the tank of his camper filled, and walked over to the visibly upset woman. “Look, I’m a mechanic and that man is trying to take advantage of you. When he said the shock absorber is touching the A-arm, is bogus. While your tire is a bit worn, it still appears to be a serviceable tire. You might want to consider having the alignment checked. Pay for your gas and get out of here, quick!”

“Oh, thank you, sir. Say, where do you work?”

Gus reached for his wallet and handed the woman a business card. “Good luck.”

The woman glanced at Gus’s business card. “Oh, you’re in the next town over from my mother’s.”

Gus walked back to his truck as the bald-headed attendant began to raise the hood on Gus’ pick-up. “Don’t bother, oil and water are okay.”

“Are you sure?” Asked the attendant.

“Yes, I’m sure. I checked them this morning before starting out.”

After paying for his gasoline Gus headed for home and the Model Garage—arriving during the early afternoon. He found his assistant, Stan Hicks, standing next to a 1964 Pontiac Tempest which had the hood raised. He noticed it had an aftermarket air filter on the six-cylinder engine.

“What’s up, Stan,” he asked.

 “I did a tune-up on this and the guy complains it’s pinging.”


“I retarded the timing 2-degrees and yet he still complains of the ping. So, I retarded the timing another 2- degrees and he is still complaining. Mechanical and vacuum advance specs are all within what the book says they should be. And now he complains his car has no power.”

“Did you road-test it?”

“Yeah, Gus. I never heard it ping every time when I drove it.”

“Did you road-test it alone?”

“Of course, very quickly. Working solo, I didn’t want to leave the station unattended for more than a few seconds.”

“I understand. When he returns, one of us will have him drive the car and find out what this ‘ping’ really is.”

“Any thing else going on while I was gone?”

“Oh, just the usual. Silas Barnstable dropped by to bitch about the increase in gas prices—while using our air to inflate his tires.”

An hour later a skinny youth with blonde hair, who appeared to be in his late teens, strolled into the Model Garage. “Is my Pontiac ready,” asked the youth, who identified himself as Joe Sammons.

Stan replied; “I think so. Let’s go for a ride to check out your ping.” Handing back the Pontiac owner, his keys, “here, you drive, Joe.”

Driving down Main Street, Sammons accelerated to beat the red traffic signal. “Do you hear the ping, now?”

“Sorry, Joe, but I don’t hear any pinging. What is the noise you are complaining about?”

When Sammons accelerated away from the green light Stan heard a wooshing sound from the intake. “There, that’s it,” remarked Sammons.

“That is not a ping, Joe.”

“Sure it is, Stan. My uncle told me noises on acceleration is pinging.”

“No, it isn’t. A ping is a metallic sound, sounding like marbles being dropped into an empty coffee can. This is air rushing down the throat from the carburetor. Your accessory air filter sort of amplifies the noise. I’ll reset the timing and you should be okay. That noise is not unusual.”

The following morning a Ford Country Squire station wagon pulled up to the Model Garage. Gus recognized it as the car as belonging to the woman he met while getting gas the previous morning.

“Mr. Wilson, I’m Erma Jackson, whom you “rescued” yesterday morning. I want to thank you for your advice yesterday.”

“What can we do for you this morning, Mrs. Jackson?”

“Yesterday, you suggested my car needs an alignment. That’s what I want done.”

“Not a problem. If you care to wait, you can sit in my office. Or there’s a diner across the street where you can have coffee or eat breakfast. Your car will be ready in about an hour.”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Wilson.” Mrs. Jackson turned on her heel and began to cross the street, while Stan drove the wagon on the alignment rack.

An hour later Mrs. Jackson stuck her head in the Model Garage Office. “Is my car ready, Mr. Wilson?”

“It sure is. You’re good-to-go.”

Producing a stenographer’s notebook, Mrs. Jackson asked; “Can I trouble you to ask a few questions?

“Sure. Have a seat.”

“Well, I’m a magazine writer, working on a consumer protection article. What was that gas station trying to sell me yesterday, Mr. Wilson? And, oh, I almost forgot, the man at the gas station said my shock absorbers were touching the A-arm, which you said was untrue. Can you explain that in lay-person’s terms?””

“At a guess, I think he was trying to sell a cheap pair of shock absorbers. Shock absorbers are vital for safe handling. They’re easy to replace and there’s a high profit margin. On your car they are supposed to touch the A-arms as they are bolted to the A-arms of your suspension. Once a shop begins work on your car, say if it on a lift, the car belongs to them. They can place a ‘mechanic’s lien’ on your car for the price of the repairs. You look like a prime target; out-of-state license plates, you’re well dressed, a single female, with a child. A great target for scare tactics. Being from another state, there is little chance of a complaint from a transient tourist.”

“What about other scams? “

“Oh, they’re out there. While the driver is away from the car; buying a soda, candy, or using the restroom Some attendants may raise the hood ‘to check coolant and oil levels.’ The unscrupulous attendant may palm an icepick or razor blade to puncture radiators, coolant hoses, or slice a fan belt and ‘discover’ your problem just in time.”

“Is that it?”

“Oh no, Mrs. Jackson. There are almost unlimited automotive shenanigans out there. Running at high speeds on the interstate causes tires to build up heat. One trick is to use a squeeze-bottle filled with alcohol and soap suds and spray it on a hot tire. The heat makes the alcohol bubble and your ‘friendly, conscientious’ attendant will exclaim your tires are leaking air, so they can sell new tires. There are many other tricks, but these are the highlights.”

“Mr. Wilson, what can I do to prevent being scammed while on the road?”

“Prior to leaving on a trip have your car serviced and inspected by a competent mechanic whom you trust. Stay with your car all the time and don’t let the attendant open the hood. “

“If I were to get scammed, is there any recourse?”

“Most states have a consumer fraud enforcement organization, run by the state’s attorney general, state police, or highway patrol. Document everything, keep your repair orders, credit card receipts, and you might even take pictures.

“What about local authorities?”

“I would try to avoid the locals as they may be ‘buddy-buddy’ with the local garages.”

“What if an engine or transmission goes out while on a trip?”

“Why, as a local and reputable businessman, I would welcome the business, however when far from home, I would recommend going to a dealer as their warranty should spread throughout the country. If I overhauled a transmission here and it failed the next week in New Mexico, I would have a difficult time giving any type of warranty service 2,000 miles away. If you can’t find a dealer, try to get a recommendation for a reputable garage.”

“Well thank you for your good advice, Mr. Wilson. I’ll drop you off a copy of my article by when it is published.”


©John L. Bellah, 2021