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Gus Wilson's Model Garage

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June 1967


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by Martin Bunn

 It was a rare day off  for Gus

and he was out for trout-

but when his pal's car started acting up,

 guess who got hooked?

With a whisper of brakes, the big Lincoln Continental pulled up before the Model Garage, where Gus Wilson's coupe stood packed and waiting with Doc Wilder inside.

As the driver of the Lincoln blew his horn, Gus came out of the shop, grinning at the three occupants of the big car.

"Congratulations!" he said.  "Eight o'clock.  Fine way to start a fishing trip."

Sam White, a local used-car dealer who wore a sloppy white hat and a gold-capped grin, nodded.

"Pete and Ed both overslept, but we'll still make the lake by five this afternoon.  We'll even start supper," he added, "so you can eat with us as you wheel that ice truck of yours in, about seven."

"Fine.  I hate to cook," confessed Gus.  "You both going to ride this road locomotive?" he asked the two passengers.  "I have room for one more besides Doc."

"I'll stay here," said Ed Hastings from the front passenger seat.

Pete Vancourt, a lantern-jawed, black-haired younger man sprawled in the back seat, waved a hand.

"Me, too.  Man, this set of wheels is solid luxury.  Why fight it?"

"I'll follow you, just to make sure your crate keeps rolling," retorted Gus.  "You're carrying the tent, and I don't want to sleep on the ground."

"It'll be set up," returned White, "long before you get there."

Throughway traffic was already brisk this Friday morning with people off to an early weekend.  He'd been lucky to get away himself, thought Gus.  Three repair jobs were ready to deliver, and Stan, his assistant, could easily finish the last one this afternoon.  For once, Gus wouldn't be in for the Saturday half day.

The Continental had swept past early in the trip, amid good-natured jeers from its passengers.  Gus had waved them on, holding to the legal speed of 60.  White probably would beat him to the lake.  Gus didn't care.  He was anticipating the quiver of his rod as a fish took the bait, the thrill of seeing a silvery form leap . . .

Miles sped by.  Doc Wilder, his scrawny figure slumped in a manner no posture-conscious physician would have approved, suddenly awoke with a snort.

"Huh?  Are we there?  What's up?"

"You woke yourself, making like a walrus coming up for air.  We aren't there."

"Seen the other fellows?"

"They hightailed past us.  Guess Sam held back until we got on this road, just for the satisfaction of scorching by."

"Grand day," said Wilder.  Glad I came up from Florida.  Getting hot there."

Gus grunted amiably, changed position, and settled back for the drive.

Hathaway Lodge, a synthetic-timbered structure adjoining a fuel-and-service complex, was the place the group had agreed to stop at for lunch.  Gus was surprised to see no sign of the Lincoln, for all three men were hearty eaters who should by now be ordering dessert.  Or was White so intent on being first at the lake that they'd eaten and run?

But Gus and Wilder had just been served when the three men marched in and, after a shuffling of chairs, sat down.

"Stopped for coffee?" asked Wilder.

White harrumphed, his red face sour.  Vancourt opened and shut his mouth without comment.  Ed Hastings yawned.

The meal was less than festive.

Gus pulled out first, reached 60 and waited for the Lincoln to roar by.  It didn't.  In fact, Gus lost it in the rearview mirror twice, and eased up on the throttle.  When the posted limit went up to 65, an increase to that speed left the big car far behind.  Uneasy, Gus slowed again.

A big fuel food rest sign flitted by, and a moment later the Lincoln's horn blared repeatedly.  In the mirror, Gus saw White making frantic off-the-road gestures.  Gus pulled into the stop, and the Lincoln rolled up to a fuel pump.

"Anything wrong besides needing gas?" asked Gus, climbing out for a stretch.

Sam White glared at him.

"We stopped at a service area to look the thing over," he admitted.

"Car's lost all its pep," put in Vancourt,  "It won't do over 60."

"And that's with the pedal down to the floor," growled White, "she guzzles gas like I owned a well.  What it took to get here figures out at something like six miles a gallon."

Gus whistled.  Opening the hood, he looked at the automatic choke and manifold heat valve.  Both were free and in normal position for a hot engine.  There wasn't a trace of gas leakage.  Plugs and wiring harness were almost new, distributor cap looked flawlessly clean.

"Let's hear it," said Gus.

Having paid the attendant.  White started the engine.  Gus listened intently, then walked behind the car and listened some more.  When White joined him, Gus was holding a bit of card against one of the twin tailpipes.  It fluttered with an even rhythm.  Gus moved to the other tailpipe.  The card jerked feebly and irregularly.

"What's that for?" demanded White suspiciously.

"Just a minute," said Gus.  He went into the station and spoke to the attendant, then made a phone call from the office.  When he came out, White was gunning the engine.

"It's two-thirty," declared Gus.  But there's a Lincoln agency in Doverville we can reach before they close at four."

"Hey, now wait.  What for..."

But Gus was already in his own car.  Sorely puzzled, White followed it.

With the Lincoln on a lift, an agency man dismantled the left-hand exhaust system.  When it lay on the floor, Gus picked up  what seemed to be an extra muffler and took it to a workbench.  With a hammer and chisel he opened the casing.

"A hard-head like you would never have believed me," he told White.  "So look."

"Kind of corroded," muttered White.

"Uh-huh.  Which loosened this piece, which was blown up against this, blocking the passage of exhaust gases so it couldn't breathe in.  It was hardly firing."

"No wonder it had no pep."

"You were driving on half an engine.  At full throttle, it could only get you to 60.  I kind of think," added Gus with a grin, "that plate blew soon after you highballed past me back there."

"Okay, don't rub it in.  But if only half the cylinders were taking gas, how come fuel mileage dropped into the basement?"

"You had to floor the gas to do 60, didn't you?" asked Gus.  So what happens with an automatic shift when you jam the throttle down to the floor?  It downshifts to intermediate.  So you were probably driving in that most of the time."

White muttered some harsh words.

Their lake stay over, replete with a day and a half of fishing and of dining on trout and pickerel, the group pulled out Sunday afternoon.  Gus again let the Continental lead and it rapidly pulled away.

There was little traffic this far north, but it gradually thickened.  Late that afternoon Gus and his passenger -- Ed Hastings this time -- reached the eating spot the group had agreed on.  White, Vancourt, and Wilder were already seated.

"Had to wait for a table, muttered White, "or we'd have been out of here."

"You suppose he wants to get back to business so he can unload that lemon of his on some customer?" bantered Vancourt.

"It's not for sale," snapped White.  Thanks for the diagnosis, Gus.  Might've burned the valves if you hadn't spotted the trouble.

Nodding, Gus studied the menu.

"Well now, how about some nice fish?"

A chorus of groans answered him.  Gus stayed behind to get gas after the Lincoln pulled out.  As the attendant put back the cap, a small sports car with a young man and a pretty girl steamed in, vapor billowing from under it.  The driver leaped out and gingerly took off the radiator cap.  A geyser spouted.

"Okay if I take some water?" he asked.

"Help yourself," said the attendant.

The young man swiped aside a shock of hair that eluded his beret.

"I know it's no good asking, but you got a fan belt for this Triumph?"

"You just said it," said the man.  "No good asking.  You aren't going to get a Triumph belt anyplace on a Sunday."

"Don't I know it?  Been trying for 40 miles.  We're due back at Milford College tonight.  That's 160 miles.  With the engine boiling like this, we'll never make it.  The battery was weak to begin with, and now that the generator isn't charging it'll probably go dead pretty soon."

The attendant turned away, shaking his head.  Gus motioned the driver aside.

"That girl of yours," asked Gus, does she go for the Mod look or wear nylons?"

The young man bridled.  "What's it to you?"

"Only that if you can get a stocking from her we might rig you some kind of fan belt."

The glare on the young mans face faded.  He went to the Triumph and spoke quietly.  Bending over, the girl presently handed him a filmy handful of fabric.

Gus took it from him and ran the stocking around the water pump, generator, and crankshaft pulleys.  After making a tight knot with the driver's help, he cut off the excess.  The young man filled the radiator.

When the engine was started, the improvised belt tracked perfectly.

"I've seen this work before," said Gus, closing the hood, but not for 160 miles."

The girl laughed.  I have more nylons."

"The generators charging too," said the young driver.  "Sure am obliged to you."

The little car roared off.

"Busy vacation you're having, aren't you?" remarked Hastings as Gus got in.

"Fellow was in a jam.  But he's just learned something us oldies have known a long time." Gus winked.  "Never underestimate the power of a pair of nylons."


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