By Martin Bunn
From the October, 1956 issue of
This story was donated by
Gus Saves the Livestock
The local critters wouldnt stay alive long unless Gus solved the mystery of Pete Blinstocks crazy driving
By Martin Bunn
When Gus Wilson heard the rumor that Pete Blinstock was getting so old that he was entertaining his second childhood he got a chuckle out of it. The rumor originated with Petes rather excitable neighbors, Ezra Hendricks and Tom Hanratty. These three old codgers, who owned adjoining farms at the edge of town, were really the best of friends. But they took great delight in needing each other unmercifully.
"I tell you, Gus," Ezra Hendricks confided, his gray beard fairly crackling with indignation, "Petes getting so old that hes beginning to slip his cableacts like a Plymouth Rock pullet with her first egg."
"Thats right, Gus," Tom Hanratty declared. "Only yesterday he scooped up my bull and plastered it against a rail fence."
"Scooped up your bull!" Gus breathed. "Now wait a minute, boys . . ."
"Its a fact," Hanratty insisted. "I was leading my bull across the road when here he came, around the corner and down the hill on two wheels in his old rattletrap, foxtail waving in the breeze, scooped up my bull on his front bumper and slewed it into the fence."
"Foxtail!" Gus exclaimed. "Do you mean to tell me that Pete Blinstock is running around with a foxtail on his car?"
"Right," Ezra declared. "And, if you ask me, with scrambled
"Yes," Gus chuckled, "I can. Since Ezra and Tom are always making fun of Petes car, it would be just like him to wave that foxtail in their faces just to get back at them. And it would be just like Tom Hanratty to lead his bull slowly across the road just as Pete Blinstock came along, to get a rise out of him."
Gus didnt see any of the three for a few days. Then, one afternoon, they drove into the Model Garage in Pete Blinstocks car, buzzing like a trio of angry hornets.
"This has gone far enough!" Ezra Hendricks yelled, shaking his finger under Pete Blinstocks nose.
"Weve got the evidence on him this time, Gus," Tom Hanratty declared, holding up three very lively White Leghorn pullets with their legs tied together.
Gus could hardly hear himself think with the yelling and the cackling of the outraged chickens.
"If you werent too dang tight to feed your chickens, Ezra Hendricks," Pete roared, "they wouldnt be pecking around in the county road where they could get scooped up--"
"Easy now," Gus stepped into the mix-up with a broad grin. "Whats this really about?"
"My chickens," Ezra said indignantly, "were taking dust baths in the road, but did Pete slow down? Not on your life. He just leaned on the horn and swished in amongst em."
"So," Hanratty said grimly, "me and Ezra to together for a showdown."
"Showdown my eye!" Blinstock retorted. "If they’d keep their stock out of the county road, Gus, everything would be all right. If there was another way around, besides down that hill in front of their places, Id take it. But there isnt. Now and then my car slips out of gear on the downgrade, and before I can clap on the brakes, away we go. And heres their stock all over the road . . ."
"Hold it." Gus held up his hand. "Lets forget the livestock for a minute. Did you say that your car slipped out of gear on the hill, Pete?"
"Thats right," said Pete, "and thats what Im here about. I wouldnt put it past these two characters to have had a hand in this gear-jumping business. Mighty peculiar, aint it, Gus, that the hill in front of their places is the only hill where my car slips out of gear?"
"I wouldnt know about that," Gus said grimly, "but if your car is slipping out of gear, Pete, youd better have it fixed, and quickly."
"Pay him no mind, Gus," Ezra said. "Thats just one of his slippery alibis. Theres nothing wrong with his car that hasnt been wrong since it came over on the Mayflower. And its only been the past few days that hes taken to cutting up didoes with it, like a teen-ager."
"Maybe," Gus commented, rolling out his tool bench, "but I think wed better take a look anyway."
Guss first thought was to check and see if the studs which held the transmission to the bell housing were tight. When he found that they were, he checked the drive-shaft universal joint for wear and looseness. Finding nothing seriously wrong here, he then checked the U bolts at the rear springs, thinking that looseness might have caused them to shear the centering pin on one spring or the other, causing it to move about and throw the drive shaft out of line.
Gus found his mind occupied with Petes statement that the car only flew out of gear on the particular hill in front of the farms of his two neighbors.
"Lets go for a drive," Gus said.
"Well go along, Gus," Ezra announced firmly. "We want to be on hand when you get the goods on him."
With the trio in the car with him, Gus drove around town, putting the car down the Pine Street hill. Everything seemed to perform perfectly, except the brakes, which certainly did need attention. In fact, Gus was vaguely disturbed because things functioned too perfectly. It seemed to Gus that the last time he had driven Petes car the clutch had been grabby, and that he had recommended that it be worked over. It occurred to Gus that the hill before Ezras and Toms places broke over a rocky ridge and that it made driving pretty rough.
Accordingly, he drove Petes car out to a hill that was similar and started down it, putting the car against compression. He was halfway down when it suddenly jumped out of gear. The sudden release of the holding power of compression caused the car to shoot away like a rocket. Gus slammed on the brakes and managed to come to a shrieking halt that caused the chickens to cackle loudly in protest.
"There," Pete crowed. "You see, it does slip out of gear."
"Probably," Ezra said sourly, "pulled out of line by that foxtail waving around in the breeze."
"I didnt put that thing up there," Pete protested, "and I wouldnt have left it up there if you fellows hadnt got your wind up over it so much."
"You didnt put it up there?" Gus queried.
"No," Blinstock said. "Tony Triesta hung it thereyou know Tony, Gus."
Gus did know Tony, a lad who lived down the road from Pete a couple of miles, who had a shine on a girl over in Stanfield, and a great yen to become a mechanic like Gus.
"How," Gus queried, "did Tony happen to do that?"
"Well," Pete said, sort of shamefaced at being caught in a kindly deed, "you see, Tony hasnt a car of his own and he was in a lather to take that girl friend of his out in Stanfield. So I let him use my car over a weekend. He tied the foxtail on the thing. Hes a nice boy, Gus, and proud. He didnt want to be beholden to me for the use of the car, so he paid me back by putting in a new clutch plate."
"He put in a new clutch plate!" Gus breathed. "I see."
Gus did see. Tony, in his zeal to become a mechanic, had rigged up a workshop in his fathers machine shed, where he tinkered on his friends cars, and worked on the farm machinery.
"Maybe," Gus said thoughtfully, "wed better have a look at your transmission. Lets go back to the garage . . ."
When Gus pulled the four studs that held the transmission to the bell housing, slid the transmission back and shone a light on the two milled faces, he found a small bit of gravel, crushed by the pressure when the stud had been tightened. He cleaned the milled faces and bolted the transmission tight against the bell housing.
"That shop of Tonys--" he asked Pete, "it has a gravel floor, doesnt it?"
"Well," said Gus, "when Tony put on your new clutch plate he picked up a
it of graveljust enough to tip the transmission over out of line with the clutch.
That threw the car out of gear when going downhill against compression."
"No," Gus said flatly, "its not. It wont jump out of gear any more, but you have no business, Pete, running around with such poor brakes, and you know it."
"You might as well talk to a post, Gus," Ezra Hendricks cackled. "Petes so tight that he wouldnt dig up the money for a brake job unless you hog-tied him and pried it out of him with a crowbar."
"Is that so!" Pete shoved his nose practically into Ezras bushy whiskers. "Well, Ill show you a thing or two. Gus, put on the best brake lining youve got. Ezra Hendricks, get your whiskers out of my face or Ill . . ."
Gus winked broadly at Stan Hicks as he prepared to do the brake job. The three old codgers watched him for a few minutes, and then went down to the drugstore together for an ice cream soda.
"Human nature," Stan Hicks remarked, "is sure peculiar."