By Martin Bunn
From the September, 1952 issue of
This story was donated by
Gus Pulls a Trick Play
To Jefferson High, marooned in the Model Garage
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.
"Thats 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.
"Id be glad to let you have this heap for a thin two bits!"
"Ill take it," Gus grinned. "But what seems to be the trouble?"
"Trouble isnt the word for it! Its ten now, and in three hours Jefferson High is supposed to play the first football game of the year. Im the coach. Were scheduled to meet Greeley Prep at Millrace Corners, and thats 50 miles from here. Now I get halfway there and this bus starts acting up again!"
"Again?" Gus asked.
"Yes, its the fourth time shes gone dead, and dont tell me I need a new fuel pump! Joe Barnes, the regular driver who ferries the kids during the week, says its happened three times during the last week and they put in three new fuel pumps and one carburetor. Now its done it again!"
"Well, what seems to be wrong with it?"
Gus shrugged his shoulders and opened up the hood. "Youre 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 theyd be if their opening game had to be canceled.
"You guys are mighty anxious to get to this game, arent you? What positions do you play?"
The boy at Guss left shoulder, a wiry keen-looking youngster, spoke up.
"Well, Im Tom Kendall, sir. Fullback. And this is Willy Horton, halfback, Herby Ashton, center, and old B-BI mean Bud Black. He makes the extra points with his educated toe."
"A lot of good that toell be if we dont 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. Theres 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 dont 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 wasnt 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.
"Lets try the rear section of fuel line leading from the tank."
"Cant you hurry? Its 10:15 already!"
"If I go any faster, I might overlook something. Just take it easy."
"Easy! Itll 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 theyre 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?"
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 hadnt checked, and the reason he hadnt 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 Thompsonhe seemed like a pretty good egg after all, and his future might depend on whether his team playedand wontoday. 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 footballtwo of the players were demonstrating their passing prowessbut he didnt care. He felt he was getting close to a solution to the mysteryat least he knew what wasnt wrong.
"Mr. Thompson, as you said, you arent getting gas to the carburetor, and yet your fuel lines are clear. You know what that leaves?"
Paul Thompsons face darkened. "The fuel pump! Youre going to suggest a new one?"
"Im only telling you Ive checked everything else that could keep fuel from reaching the carburetor. Im 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! Ill 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 wasnt worn. He hadnt 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!"
"Sure. See this gummy stuff on the diaphragm? And look at these springs and valves. The gum locked the valves so that the gas wouldnt pass on to the carburetor. The springs that actuate the valves havent got the freedom that they should have, and offhand Id 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 isnt that. This is a perfectly satisfactory brand."
"Well, what now?"
"Weve got to find a cause. Its something the other mechanics didnt bother checking, evidently. First, were going to look at your gas tank. Do you know if the regular driver has been using any gas tank additivesyou know, canned tune ups, valve oils, anything like that?"
"No, Im 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, thats 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? Its quarter to eleven . . ."
Gus didnt 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 Ill 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. Itll 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 Guss hand and hopped into the drivers seat.
The rest of the day fell into its normal pattern, and Gus was closing up when the phone rang.
"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 sectiona card stuntspelling out "GUS" in big, if somewhat ragged, letters.