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By Martin Bunn

From the September, 1952 issue of
Popular Science

This story was donated by
Mike Hammerberg

Gus Pulls a Trick Play

To Jefferson High, marooned in the Model Garage
with a busted bus, that opening game meant more
than the Rose Bowl . . . It was no time for
Gus to fumble the ball.

It was not a morning for working, not that morning on that bright, crisp edge of September. Perhaps it was the pungent trace of wood smoke and burning leaves spicing the air. Gus Wilson breathed deep as he lowered the lube rack. Whatever that intangible ingredient was, it had no effect on the Model Garage. Saturday morning was as busy as ever.

Gus backed the old Essex off the rack and rolled it out to the side of the garage to make room. It was then that he noticed a big school bus being pushed past his gas pumps by a bunch of big husky teen-age boys.

"That’s far enough fellows." An older man, who seemed to be in charge, wiped his forehead with a hand that left a greasy smear, and grimaced at Gus.

"I’d be glad to let you have this heap for a thin two bits!"

"I’ll take it," Gus grinned. "But what seems to be the trouble?"

"Trouble isn’t the word for it! It’s ten now, and in three hours Jefferson High is supposed to play the first football game of the year. I’m the coach. We’re scheduled to meet Greeley Prep at Millrace Corners, and that’s 50 miles from here. Now I get halfway there and this bus starts acting up again!"

"Again?" Gus asked.

"Yes, it’s the fourth time she’s gone dead, and don’t tell me I need a new fuel pump! Joe Barnes, the regular driver who ferries the kids during the week, says it’s happened three times during the last week and they put in three new fuel pumps and one carburetor. Now it’s done it again!"

"Well, what seems to be wrong with it?"
"Only one thing is definite. Fuel isn’t reaching the carburetor. Yeah, I know! It sounds like a fuel pump!"

Gus shrugged his shoulders and opened up the hood. "You’re right. It does."

Gus was aware of the tense, impatient interchange of worried glances among the little group of football players who crowded around him as he checked the carburetor. He worked slowly and surely, thinking about the boys, and how disappointed they’d be if their opening game had to be canceled.

"You guys are mighty anxious to get to this game, aren’t you? What positions do you play?"

The boy at Gus’s left shoulder, a wiry keen-looking youngster, spoke up.

"Well, I’m Tom Kendall, sir. Fullback. And this is Willy Horton, halfback, Herby Ashton, center, and old B-B—I mean Bud Black. He makes the extra points with his educated toe."

"A lot of good that toe’ll be if we don’t even get there," the coach groaned. "I can see it now. Paul Thompson. Stenciled on a cot at the poorhouse!" He said it facetiously, but Gus detected a serious note beneath the attempt at humor.

"Why do you say that?"

"Jefferson takes football seriously. There’s a great deal of school pride involved. And we won one game last year! The school board, the alumni, all of them are after my hide. If I don’t pull something out of the bag this year, well . . ." He let it go at that.

Gus finished with the carburetor. There was nothing wrong with it. As the coach had said, gasoline wasn’t getting that far.

He pulled a wrench out of his dungarees and disconnected the line from the carburetor to the fuel pump. But it, too, was perfectly okay.

"Let’s try the rear section of fuel line leading from the tank."

"Can’t you hurry? It’s 10:15 already!"

"If I go any faster, I might overlook something. Just take it easy."

"Easy! It’ll take an hour and a half in this traffic to get there. Fifteen minutes for the boys to change and ten minutes to talk ‘em into the right mood!"

"Why not let them change right now in the garage while they’re waiting?" Gus suggested.

"Swell idea!" Coach Thompson looked more cheerful as he rounded up his players and shooed them inside. "Hop to it, men!"

While the team tramped noisily into the Model Garage, Gus finished dismantling the fuel line running from tank to pump and tested it for obstructions and leaks. There were none.

The outlet on the gas tank, where the fuel line connected, was not blocked. And the tank was almost half full.

He reconnected the line and scratched his head. Then he remembered.

"Forgot about your filter. Sometimes they get overloaded with silt."

"If it was that, why would it run perfectly for a couple of days at a clip after those other mechanics put new pumps in?"
"Well, might as well check it anyway. Never can tell."

He removed the small bowl with its fine-mesh copper screen and found a minimum of silt in the bottom. That was that . . . and he was right back where he started. It was such a simple thing, there being nothing complicated between gas tank and carburetor. The pump was the only item he hadn’t checked, and the reason he hadn’t torn it apart was that it was brand-new. The third new pump installed in a week, and he had been sure there was an outside cause, something else rather than pump failure. If not, then Thompson had been handed a mighty unlikely coincidence. That situation and the previous bunglings of other mechanics left him confronted with a delicate problem . . .

In twos and threes the football players were trotting out now, looking bigger and more impressive in their uniforms, yelling cheerful insults to each other. They seemed to take it for granted that Gus would spot the trouble and get them started in time. Their confidence made Gus all the more anxious to see that they had their chance to play this opening game that meant so much to them . . . And there was Coach Thompson—he seemed like a pretty good egg after all, and his future might depend on whether his team played—and won—today. Gus held a lot of responsibility in his two grease-stained hands. He went back to work.

When he stuck his head out from under the hood a couple of minutes later, Gus almost got conked by a flying football—two of the players were demonstrating their passing prowess—but he didn’t care. He felt he was getting close to a solution to the mystery—at least he knew what wasn’t wrong.

"Mr. Thompson, as you said, you aren’t getting gas to the carburetor, and yet your fuel lines are clear. You know what that leaves?"

Paul Thompson’s face darkened. "The fuel pump! You’re going to suggest a new one?"

"I’m only telling you I’ve checked everything else that could keep fuel from reaching the carburetor. I’m going to take a look in spite of its being new."

"Okay, go ahead. I only hope you have better results than those other birds!"

"It never hurts to try! I’ll make it as quick as I can."

Gus disconnected the fuel pump, carried it inside and began dismantling it. Thompson followed him into the garage. Gus emptied the gas and began looking.

"At least the fuel got this far!"

The diaphragm wasn’t worn. He hadn’t expected it to be, but on second glance, he noticed he could scrape some sort of residue off the diaphragm surface.

"Funny thing, but it is your fuel pump!"

"Oh, no!"

"Sure. See this gummy stuff on the diaphragm? And look at these springs and valves. The gum locked the valves so that the gas wouldn’t pass on to the carburetor. The springs that actuate the valves haven’t got the freedom that they should have, and offhand I’d say it was coming from the diaphragm there. The diaphragms are coated to make them last longer, and that outer surface is flaking off."

"I might expect one lemon, but not three in a row!"

"Oh, it isn’t that. This is a perfectly satisfactory brand."

"Well, what now?"

"We’ve got to find a cause. It’s something the other mechanics didn’t bother checking, evidently. First, we’re going to look at your gas tank. Do you know if the regular driver has been using any gas tank additives—you know, canned tune ups, valve oils, anything like that?"

"No, I’m sure of it. Nothing but high-octane."

"I see. Some of these additives are okay and some are inclined to gum up the engines. All right, that’s one possibility eliminated."

They went out and Gus opened the drain cock on the tank, letting the gas run into a couple of five-gallon cans. He watched the color down to the last drop. There was no sign of anything foreign.

"See anything? It’s quarter to eleven . . ."

Gus didn’t answer. He merely stared at the tank bottom.

It had come from the tank, that gummy business. But what? The gas showed nice and clean. Then he noticed that the gas tank had been patched. He stared at the soldered seams. And suddenly he had it.

"What happened to this tank?"

"Scraped something in the road a couple of weeks ago and picked up a gash in the bottom. The driver had the boys in the metal shop patch it up. Why?"

"Mr. Thompson, whoever did that patching job used an awful lot of solder on the seams. The soldering flux has been seeping out of the seams and mixing with the gas, getting as far as the fuel pump, the softening the coating on the diaphragm and creating that gummy stuff I showed you."

"Can it be fixed?"

"Sure. Let me put the pump to soak, and I’ll tell you what to do."

He dropped the fuel pump into a pan of solvent, then took two cans off the shelf, made a mixture of the two liquids and poured it and the gas into the tank.

"This is wood alcohol and acetone. It’ll neutralize that flux. Just tell the driver to add a pint of each to every five gallons of gas. In a week or so, I think the flux will have worked out."

Gus finished up the job and looked at his watch. "Well, if you hurry, you can make the game on time. I hope you boys win."

Thompson paid up, shook Gus’s hand and hopped into the driver’s seat.

The rest of the day fell into its normal pattern, and Gus was closing up when the phone rang.

"This is Coach Thompson."
"What happened? You miss the game?"

"Heck no! Take a look at your evening paper, and see what one of your local

news photographers found. You got a paper?"

"I think it just came. Hold the line."

Gus found the paper and turned to the sports page. In a four-column photo he saw the scoreboard: seven-six for Jefferson.

Gus picked up the receiver again. "Well, congratulations on your . . ." The photo caught his eye a second time. The rooting section—a card stunt—spelling out "GUS" in big, if somewhat ragged, letters.