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Gus Wilson's Model Garage

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January 1942


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by Martin Bunn 

Joe Clark may think it is poor business to rib a customer,

but the Model Garage proprietor is

willing to pass up cash now and then

for the sake of a laugh ...

It was eight o'clock on a bright winter Monday morning.  Joe Clark, his hands full of time-and-material slips and his eyes serious behind his rubber-tired spectacles, was fussing around the four or five cars standing in the Model Garage shop.  "Piling up on us again," he said fretfully.

Gus Wilson stretched himself and interrupted his partner with a loud and impolite yawn.  Then he grinned widely.  "Take it easy, Joe," he advised good-naturedly.

"Starting a week's work by getting yourself all hot and bothered trying to do half a dozen things at once is just about as sensible as trying to drive 50 with a cold engine."

Joe went into the office a little huffily.  Gus grinned after his indignant back and thought that after a while he'd make some excuse to go in and kid him along enough to smooth down his ruffled feathers.   Just then a horn began to honk outside the closed shop door.  Gus turned to Wally, the latest of a long succession of grease monkeys.

"Open the door," he said, "and let that squawker in."

Wally slid the door open and a well-kept sedan of last year's vintage was driven in, a haze of steam issuing from under it.

From the sedan emerged a large and flashily dressed man with a red face, and before the visitor's highly polished shoes had hit the cement floor Gus saw that he was blazing mad.

"This -- this -- this -- car is driving me crazy!" he sputtered.

Gus smothered a grin by looking sympathetic.  "They can do that sometimes," he admitted.  "What's the trouble?"

"Don't stand there like an idiot asking me fool questions!" snapped the visitor.  "Do something!   Can't you see that my motor's red hot?"

Gus Wilson isn't used to being spoken to in that tone of voice, and he felt his own face getting red.  Then he thought better of it, and laughed.  "Your radiator is boiling a bit," he conceded.  "Switch off your engine, will you?"

The engine stopped.  Gus raised the hood and unscrewed the radiator cap cautiously.  From the filler pipe there erupted a large cloud of dry-looking steam.

Gus whistled.  "You ran it mighty close that time, mister," he said.  "There can't be more than a gallon of water left in your whole cooling system."

Wally, anxious to be useful brought over a pail of cold water and prepared to pour it into the radiator. 

"Hey -- not yet!"  Gus cautioned him.   "Pouring cold water into a bus that's as hot as this one is -- why, kid, it's just asking for a cracked cylinder head or engine block or warped valves.  Let her cool off for a while."

"I'm in a hurry!" snapped the large man.

"Are you, mister?" Gus said coolly.  Then he added:  What name did you say?"

"Pickett -- Robert J. Pickett," the other told him importantly.  "Does it mean anything to you?"

"Sure," Gus said promptly.  "Pickett's Charge -- Battle of Gettysburg."

Unexpectedly Pickett's face split in a broad grin.  "One hundred percent wrong," he said.  "My first principle is not to let anyone charge anything.  I'm Pickett's Cash Stores -- got a round dozen of 'em in upstate cities."

"Oh," Gus said without enthusiasm.  "That Pickett.  I bought a pair of fishing pants in one of your stores last summer.  Most of the buttons came off the fist day I wore them, and I threw them away."

"You should have taken 'em back," Pickett told him breezily.   "Now about my car.  How soon can you fix it?"

"That depends mostly on what's the matter with it," Gus said.  "When did you begin to have trouble with overheating?"

"Saturday morning I smelled steam," Pickett told him, "and saw that the hand was way over beyond 200 degrees.  I had to stop for water two or three times and each time after I'd had the radiator filled up she'd go along all right for 15 miles or so.

"When I got into Newton about noon I drove right to a garage and told 'em to fix up whatever was wrong.  I was busy in Newton all afternoon and evening, and stayed there Sunday playing golf, and didn't use the car.  I've got a very important engagement down in the city today, so I started early this morning.  The garage mechanic who brought the car around to the hotel said that the overheating had been caused by a loose fan belt, and that he'd put on a new one.  He said it ran too cool, then, but that he'd fixed it.  On my way back upstate I'm going to stop off long enough to get that smart aleck fired!   How far is it from Newton here -- thirty miles, ain't it?  Well, I've had to stop for water seven times -- and now I'm laid out here.  What the devil's the matter with my car, anyhow?"

"Well," Gus said reflectively, "the trouble is one of two things -- either your engine is producing too much heat, or your cooling system isn't doing enough cooling."

Pickett started at him suspiciously.  "You ain't trying to kid me are you?" he demanded.  "That ain't healthy, mister!  Oh, well, let it slide.  I've got to get down to the city.  Whatever's the matter with my car, for the love of Mike, fix it so that I can get going!"

"That's easier said than done," Gus told him.  "I've got to find the trouble before I can fix it, and that may take anywhere from ten minutes to a couple of hours.  And there are jobs in the shop that will have to come before yours.  You had better fill up your radiator and take your bus to some other garage.  Or you can leave it here, get a taxi to take you to the railroad station, and go down to the city by train.   If you want to do that, give me a phone number where I can reach you in the city, and I'll call you when I've found out what's the matter with your car and how long it will take us to fix it.  That's the best I can do for you, Mr. Pickett."

Pickett both stormed and coaxed, but Gus wouldn't give way an inch, so finally the cash--store magnate, growling went off in a taxicab.

After the irate Pickett had departed, Gus looked at Wally and grinned a little sheepishly.  "Don't take the way I talked to him as an example of the way to talk to our customers," he warned.  "He was a special case -- the kind of big-mouthed guy I always take down a peg or two when I get the chance.  Besides, one of his stores skinned me on those fishing pants.  Do you know how to go about checking a car that's overheating?"

"Sure," the new grease monkey proclaimed confidently.  You see if the radiator is stopped up."  He grabbed up his can of water and started for the blue sedan.

"Go easy with that water," Gus warned him.  "Start the engine, and pour in just a little at a time.  That's right.  Now let the engine idle for five minutes."

He came back when the five minutes was up.  "Put your hand on the radiator, near its bottom," he told Wally.  "That's right.  Now near the top.  Which is warmer, bottom or top?"

"There ain't no difference," Wally reported.  "Yes there is, too.  The top's a little the hottest."

Gus made the same easy test.  "Right," he said.  "The top feels just a little warmer, but there's very little difference between top and bottom.  That shows that the radiator isn't clogged.  If it were, the top would be a lot warmer than the bottom.   Let's see now."

He checked over the cooling system, and shook his head.  "Nothing wrong there," he decided.  "No signs of a leak anywhere.  Overflow pipe is O.K.  Hose is all practically new.  Let's see that water pump . . .  Working fine . . .   The fan belt was new a few days ago, but it might have -- no it's all right . . . I'll have a look at that thermostat, though.  Always check the thermostat when you're up against a case of overheating, Wally.  If it fails to open properly it makes the engine run too hot, and if it fails when it's in the open position it lets it run  too cool."

He removed the thermostat and took it over to his workbench.  Then he filled a small can with water, dropped the thermostat into it, put a thermometer beside it, and set the can on a lighted gas plate.

When the thermometer registered 100 degrees, the thermostat opened.  Gus fished it out of the can with a piece of bent wire.  As soon as it was in the air it closed.  "Nothing the matter with that," he said.  "Jack up the rear end and we'll have a look at the brakes."

But the brakes weren't dragging.

"It must be the engine," Gus said.  He replaced the thermostat.  Then he checked the carburetor and the timing.  Both were O.K.

Gus whistled tunelessly as he stared at the engine.  The he went over to the glass--fronted cabinet in which he keeps his instruments and precision tools, and came back with a compression tester.  "What's that thing for?" Wally wanted to know.

"It shows up leaky piston rings, for one thing," Gus told him.  "Sometimes a bad piston or bad rings cause overheating.  He took out all the spark plugs and dropped about a teaspoonful of carbon remover in each cylinder.  "That'll help loosen any gum that has formed on the rings or valves," he explained.  "You get into the car, open the throttle all the way, and step on the starter when I tell you to," he instructed Wally.

Then he pressed the tester's rubber adapter in a spark-plug hole and commanded "shoot!"

As the engine turned over, the hand of the tester moved across the dial and stopped at a little over a hundred pounds.  A test of each cylinder gave the same reading.

"O.K." he said.  The compression is good, and every cylinder is the same.  Put the spark plugs back in, Wally."

He went over to the glass--fronted case and came back with another instrument.   "It's a vacuum gauge," he said just as Wally got his mouth open to ask a question.  "When an engine is normal the indicator hand shows 18 inches or more of vacuum and stays steady."  He connected the tester's hose with the intake manifold.  "Start her up . . .  Now keep her running steady at just a little over idling speed."

The hand moved to 18 inches and stayed there.

Gus nodded.  "That's all right," he observed.  "There must be something else."

He did a half minute of heavy thinking.  Then he drew the bayonet gauge out of the oil filler, and dabbed at it with his fore-finger.  "Mighty heavy oil," he said.  "What's on the clock?"

"Huh" Wally said.  "Oh I getcha."  He looked at the speedometer.  A couple of hundred over 35,000.

Gus walked around to the front end, and examined the bumper.  Scratches showed that the license plate had been moved from the right side to the center.  "That cuts off some air," he said.  Then he knelt down and looked through the radiator grille.  "That's funny,  he said.  "I can't see a thing."

"What should you see?" asked Wally.

"Light.  Specially with the hood raised, Gus replied.

He got up and looked down behind the grille.  A large, oblong piece of black cardboard was leaning close up against the grille.  With a slight pressure, Gus shoved it back and it almost completely covered the front of the radiator.

"By gosh.  That guy who put in the new fan belt and then fixed this car so it wouldn't run too cool sure fixed it!" he said.  "I don't think this car ran too cool anyway.  The fellow probably never gave it time to warm up.  No, the minute the engine starts, the fan pulls the cardboard back against the radiator and shuts off all the air.  Maybe that mechanic should be fired, like Pickett said."

About closing time, Joe Clark came into the shop after the day's time--and--material slips, and was surprised to find his partner looking decidedly crestfallen.  Joe picked the slips out of the cigar box in which Gus drops them.  "What the devil is this?"  he yelped after few seconds, "one pair of pants $1.79."  He read the name and address at the top of slip.  "Robert J. Pickett, hey?" he said.  "He's a big shot, but what about the pants?"

"They're those no-good fishing pants I bought in one of Pickett's stores last summer," Gus said grouchily.  "I've always been sore about them, and when Pickett came in here today with his radiator steaming I saw a chance to get even.  So I put 'em on his bill.

Joe looked shocked.  "What did he say when he saw that item?" he asked.

Gus's face got red.  "Not a word."  Then he had to laugh.   "Robert J. Pickett is quite a boy," he admitted.  He just talked along for a while about how successful he had been running a strictly cash business.  Then he got into his car and stepped on the starter.

"Wait a minute, I told him.  You've forgotten your bill."

"'No, I haven't forgotten it,' he came back at me.  'And I haven't forgotten that pair of pants you've put on it.  Charge it, brother -- and try and get it!"


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