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  pfmteched@yahoo.com

Returning from lunch on a blustery Saturday, Gus Wilson, burly proprietor of the Model Garage ran to answer the telephone. “Gus, it’s Lou Heck, and I’ve got a problem,” said the voice on the other end.

“Yeah, Lou. What do you need?”

“My daughter has a Ford Pinto, and it doesn’t run right. Can I bring it in later this afternoon?”

“Yeah, Lou, things are slow today. Bring it in anytime.”

An hour later Heck drove a Pinto station wagon with fake wood trim on the sides into one of the service bays of the Model Garage. “What’s going on with your car, Lou?”

“Just listen to it, Gus, it will barely idle. I took it to the Tune-Up Shack in Stanfield. They advertise; ‘no tune-up in excess of $49.00 and they did a complete tune—plugs, points, condenser, distributor cap, and rotor. It runs about the same as when I brought it in.”

Gus sighed, “So what did they do when you complained?”

“Well, they sold me another set of spark plugs, and plug wires—charged me for ‘em, too!”

“Did they adjust valve clearances?”

“No, I don’t think so, Gus. Why, does that make a difference?”

“It can. Most of today’s cars have hydraulic lifters, however there are still some vehicles, such as your daughter’s Pinto, and many imports, which require periodic valve adjustments. Low-lead or unleaded gasoline can sometimes cause valves to tighten up. Normal operation requires periodic valve adjustments. If the valve clearances become too tight it will cause a rough idle, make acceleration sluggish on take-off, affect fuel mileage and if neglected for too long you can have burned valves. Come back in about an hour and we can tell you where we’re at on this.”

Gus called out to Stan Hicks, his assistant. “Stan, check the valve clearances on Mr. Heck’s Pinto.

“Can do, Gus. Can you order a valve cover gasket for this? It has the 2000 engine.”

“Got it. Be back within an hour.”

After Stan readjusted the valves, Gus started the engine, which settled down to a choppy idle. Hearing a slight hissing from the deceleration valve, Gus put his finger over the vent hole. In doing so, the idle smoothed out.

“Got it,” muttered Gus. Grabbing a screwdriver, Gus quickly replaced the diaphragm in the deceleration valve and readjusted the idle mixture.

“You’re good to go, Lou.”

“Fine, what do I owe you?

“Well, you owe for the valve adjustment and the decel. valve diaphragm. Unfortunately, many Pintos are diagnosed as needing a tune-up when all that is needed is the deceleration valve diaphragm replaced or the valve clearances adjusted.”

As the Pinto was driving away from the Model Garage, a 1966 Buick drove up to the pumps. Gus recognized the driver as Silas Barnstable, Gus’ stingiest customer, and the town’s most notorious tightwad.

“Hi Silas. Need gas?”

“Nossir! Motor ain’t runnin’ right.”

“What’s it doing?”

“Well, it’s got a miss when I accelerate. Seems to pop back through the carburetor. Mebbee it’s just a spark plug.”

“Move over and let’s go for a drive.”

Gus slid behind the wheel and drove out of the station. “This is a nice car, Silas. You took this in for another mortgage payment?”

“Yep, actually two mortgage payments. I hope to make a few bucks on this one. That is if you can fix it cheap, Gus.”

Gus accelerated when the traffic signal turned green and the Buick hesitated briefly, misfiring as it got to speed. Each misfire sounded like a pistol shot, repeatedly backfiring through the intake. Gus made a U-turn and parked the Buick in front of the Model Garage.

“Silas, this is going to cost you. The camshaft has some flat lobes.”

“Oh fiddlefaddle! Just replace the tappet.”

“It doesn’t work that way, Silas. When did this begin?”

“Well, I changed the oil before I druv to Chicago. It begun to act up when I was drivin’ home.”

“What type of oil did you use?”

“I got me a deal on oil at the discount store. Much cheaper than that expensive oil you sell.” Opening the trunk, Silas removed a quart can of oil and handed it to Gus.

“Here is your problem, Silas, and you caused it all by yourself. See where it says ‘ML’ on the can? This is the wrong oil for this car. Aside from that, it is an off-brand.”

“Oh, horsefeathers, Gus! Oil is oil. ‘Tain’t no difference. All the oil companies do is add fancy names to jack up the price. Everybody knows that!”

“Silas, unfortunately, there is a difference--a big difference. What you put in your car is best termed as “non detergent oil. It would probably be okay in your old Model A or in a lawn mower engine. That oil is intended for ideal conditions—no extreme temperatures, hard usage, no stop-and-go driving. It has no additives to reduce scuffing, foaming, and sludge, or to hold contaminates in suspension, vital in today’s engine oil for modern cars. What your high-compression, high-performance V-8 needs is the best of engine oil, rated as ‘MS’ for severe conditions. Not having anti-scuff additives wiped out some of the lobes on your camshaft.

Additionally modern oils, filters, and Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) are the reason you can have extended oil drain intervals, instead of having to change at every 1,000 miles.”

“Well can you fix it cheap?”

“Sorry, Silas, this is a big job where you have to remove the front engine timing chain cover, intake manifold, accessories, such as the alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning condenser, radiator, valve covers and rocker arms. You should replace all of the hydraulic lifters so you don’t wipe out the new camshaft. It would also be a good idea to replace the timing chain and gear as long as the engine is apart.

It is the old story of getting what you pay for or paying for what you get, Silas. If you hunt for a bargain job, it may backfire if the job has to be done over again. Remember, we guarantee our work, and we can recharge the air conditioner.”

Reluctantly, Barnstable sighed. “Yeah, Gus, go ahead and fix it. Change the oil, too.”

“You want the timing chain and gear changed too, as long as we have everything apart? You’ve already paid for the labor.”

With a big sigh, Silas replied; “Yeah, go ahead, Gus.”

Later, Stan remarked. “I guess the old coot realized it would be poor economy if he hired his neighbor kid do the job and then he has to pay us to straighten things out. Maybe he’s getting smarter in his old age.”

“Ya never know, Stan.”


©John L. Bellah, 2021