July 1925 - December 1970

Gus Wilson's Model Garage

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  Gus Beats The Tar Out Of A Problem

by "Martin Bunn" (Al Richer)


Gus never likes to hurry first thing in the morning, especially on a day with few jobs in the shop.  He was laying out tools and parts for a brake overhaul on a customer's Hudson when the phone shrilled, followed by the muttering of Joe Clark answering,  picked up the phone and growled, "Gus Wilson here, Mr. Pennyfair - what can I do for you?"

      A firm, precise voice answered from the other side. "Mr. Wilson, I recently had my late brother's wartime Jeep shipped to me from his home in Texas. It had not run in a few years, and on getting it here I tried to get it running to no avail. I've changed its oil, charged its battery and cleaned the sparkplugs, but it seems to not want to fill the carburetor with fuel - if I pour fuel down the throat and crank the engine it will start and run briefly. Can you send your assistant down with the tow car and pick it up?"

      "Certainly Mr. Pennyfair - I'll send him down right now. Expect him in the next 20 minutes or so." Gus then hung up the phone and bellowed to Stan, his junior mechanic, to get down to Mr. Pennyfair's and pick up the ailing vehicle.

      "Stan, before you tow that Jeep back here, make very sure that the transfer case is in neutral, and tie it off that way. Don't go faster than 30 or so towing it - those transfer cases and transmissions don't like being hauled fast."

      After 45 minutes or so of pleasant work on the Hudson Gus heard the sound of the returning truck, growling as it hauled the little scout car into the shop. Once disconnected from the tow truck Gus examined it with an experienced eye - noting from the faded paint, cracked tires and clouded glass that it had seen more than a few years in the baking sun and
desert-like conditions of the Southwest.

      Once the tow truck had been parked back out of the garage, Gus told Stan to strip the fuel pump, drain the fuel tank and blow through the lines, after assuring himself that the Jeep Hurricane engine would not pump fuel to the carburetor.

      Gus had time to nearly finish the Hudson before Stan, voice filled with puzzlement, called him over to where the Jeep was up on four screw jacks, with Stan and a large pan underneath.

      "Boss, I took out the drain plug to drain the tank, and got nothing even though tapping on the tank shows she's half-full. I stuck a screwdriver up into the hole...and got this." Stan handed up a screwdriver blade covered with a liberal coating of tarry goo that smelled awful. "This thing looks like somebody dumped a bucket of roofing tar in the tank. I've never seen anything like it."

      Gus winced - the combination of a stored car and the west Texas heat had done its worst with the contents of the Jeep's tank.  "Stan, that goo as you call it, is what's left of the fuel the Jeep had in its tank when Mr. Pennyfair's brother stopped driving it. In the heat and dry conditions of the Southwest the lighter components of gas will evaporate through the tank vents after a year or two goes by, leaving a tarry mess in the tank. This stuff is a lot of trouble to clean up - gas or petroleum solvents won't touch it."

      "How are we ever going to clean it up?" asked Stan. "If gas or kerosene won't touch it we're going to have to replace the tank and all of the lines, carburetor and fuel pump, too."

      Not to worry, Stan - petroleum won't touch it, but caustics will, never fear. Unbolt the tank and get Greg to help you empty it out through the filler neck."

      Gus walked over to the wash rack, selected a 3-gallon galvanized bucket and took it over to the gas ring that was usually used for making coffee. Filling the bucket nearly to the brim he placed it on the gas ring and started it heating. With that in hand he walked back to the jeep and unbolted the fuel pump and the carburetor, taking them over to the linoleum-topped bench he reserved for finicky work like carburetor overhauls. A few minutes' work soon had the two items stripped to their components, and Gus called Stan over to look.

      "Stan, this is what gas will do when left in a car. The gas goes bad like the stuff in the tank, but instead of leaving tar behind the gas turns to varnish and covers and clogs the jets and everything else in the fuel path. The check valves, diaphragms and everything else are all stiff and cracked - the varnish stiffened them up and they broke when Mr. Pennyfair tried to start it. Put these parts in separate baskets and put them in the dip tank - that solvent will cut the varnish and let us rebuild them."

      With this done, Gus and Greg started on the cleaning of the Jeep's tank.

      To the boiling contents of the bucket Gus added several handfuls of washing soda and stirred it with a stick. This was added to the Jeep's tank, which was then filled with the hottest water that could be had from the shop's water heater. Leaving the grease monkey to shake the tank every few minutes, Gus went back to the Hudson and finished its repairs, telling Stan to go over to their parts supplier and get rebuild kits for the Jeep's Carter carburetor and AC fuel pump.

      After an hour, the tank was hauled outside and emptied, a blackish mess of sludge and caustic running off to the drain. After rinsing Stan shone a flashlight into the tanks' gauge opening and exclaimed "It's spotless! How did you know that would work that well?"

      "Simple." remarked Gus.

      "When I was young and had itchy feet I worked in the Southwest for more than a few years. This problem cropped up on irrigation pumps, oil engines and stored cars and trucks. Back then we used to just dump out whatever we could, fill them up with water and washing soda, and park the tank over a fire to boil it out. The tanks came out clean, and a quick scrub with kerosene and steel wool would fix the soot on the outside."

      "Stan, you take the fuel pump - clean it up and replace the diaphragm and the valves, I'll do the carburetor." A few minutes had both done, and a few more had them installed on the little four-cylinder engine. The fuel line was blown out with compressed air, and connected to the reinstalled tank and fuel pump. A few gallons of gas were added, the fuel system primed and with a bit of choke to pull down fuel the little Hurricane engine whirled to life.

      Once warm, idle speed and fuel mixture were adjusted and the little engine ran as well as it ever had for the Army or in Texas. Gus called his partner out of the office, and pointing at the Jeep asked "Do me a favor – look this thing over and write up an estimate for Mr. Pennyfair for the work this thing needs. From sitting out in the sun it needs new tires - these
are sun-rotted - and it could use the rubber in the brake system replaced along with the windshields. That old canvas top is none too good either, and if he intends to use it in the weather that old canvas won't do. If we
call down to the surplus dealers in the city we can probably do the job for him for not a lot of money, and then this thing will be really fit to drive. Once that's done, call Mr. Pennyfair on the phone and tell him it's ready to go home."

      A little over an hour later Mr. Pennyfair arrived - a tall, weatherbeaten man who'd seen his own share of sun and wind. He walked over to the Jeep, and asked "Is it running now?"

      "Running beautifully - hop in and start it up." With skill born of long practice Mr. Pennyfair turned the key and pressed the starter button, and the little four-cylinder started and ran with little fuss, filling the shop with its thrum.

      "That engine is just fine now, but the rest of the car is not. Being out in the sun where it was caused a lot of problems - the windows, the tires and anything made of rubber is pretty well not safe to trust. I've had Joe call down to the surplus suppliers in the city and price up the parts it will need to make it safe and reliable - we can talk to him about it if you like when we go into the office. If you want to do it yourself you're still welcome to the information - on a job like this it's always nice to have a second set of eyes."

      "Certainly, Mr. Wilson - I'll be glad to talk about it. This Jeep is the car my brother and I used for prospecting just after the war - we spent many days out in it for two years there till I got called back North to deal with our holdings here. Sadly, he passed away soon after that but having the old Jeep back helps me feel like he's still here."

      "Let's do have a look at that list and see what we can do to bring it back to its former glory." With that, Gus and Mr. Pennyfair turned and walked to the office, Mr. Pennyfair sparing a fond glance back at the little scout car.

©Al Richer, 2014