By Martin Bunn
From the March, 1964 issue of
This story was donated by
Gus Gets Taken for a Ride
It was shortly after he had turned his car onto an old, concrete-surfaced road that Gus first noticed the sedan. A few hundred feet behind, it kept its distance at Guss own brisk speed.
At the Jorgensen mailbox, he slowed and swung into the turnabout in front of the farmhouse. As this brought him back facing the road, he saw the other car roll by slowly, as though also stopping.
"Its Gus, Niels!" cried little Mrs. Jorgensen. "Niels will be
right along. Come have some coffee while you wait."
Headed back to the Model Garage a few minutes later, Gus had to swing around a sedan stopped partly on the road. It was the one that had tailed himan elderly Plymouth with patches of rust and sanded steel on its battered body. The driver, a teen-aged girl, glared at Gus as he went by.
A moment later Gus heard the sedans starter grind and its engine fire up. In the mirror, he saw the Plymouth start off once more behind him. Must have taken the wrong road, thought Gus.
His own car was purring like a steel kitten, and there was a smell of warm earth in the air. Gus relaxed, enjoying the ride and the feel of the road, even the rhythmic bounce of the divider strips in the durable old pavement. At the yellow sign of Billings service station he pulled off again. Seconds later the Plymouth passedand drew off the road a hundred feet ahead.
"Hi, Hank," said Gus, as a lanky crane-like figure stepped out of the office. "Heres your regulator valve. Hope its the right one."
"Sure is," said Hank Billings gratefully. "Now I can get my compressor running again. Come on in and get paid."
Five minutes later Gus drove out, passing the Plymouth, which still stood off to the side. The girl didnt glance at him this time, but he hadnt gone a quarter of a mile when the sedan reappeared in his mirror. Again it kept pace with him.
Surely the girl couldnt be trailing him deliberately, thought Gus.
Now slightly upgrade, the road ran through a desolate wooded area. On impulse, Gus braked and rolled off the highway. The sedan passed, then vanished over a short rise ahead. With a chuckle at his suspicions, Gus started off again, well ahead of a heavy trailer toiling up the grade.
He was taken completely by surprise as he crested the hill. Only a wild swerve saved him from hitting the Plymouth, now stopped squarely on the road. The girl stared at Gus, mouth open. Remembering the coming trailer, Gus made a quick stop, jumped out, and ran to the sedan.
"Get off the roadquick!"
"I cant yet," said the girl.
"Yet?" shouted Gus. "Theres a truck coming. Take off your hand brake."
The girl grabbed at the brake. Gus hooked his fingers around a door hinge and shoved on a fender. Slowly the car edged onto the comparative safety of the shoulder. Like a storm blast the truck roared by, its horn blaring angrily.
Gus was angry, too. "That was stupid. If you must trail me, use some sense about it. Stopping here could have killed you."
The girls eyebrows soared. "Trail you? Youve got a nerve. Every time I stop, there you are behind me."
The absurdity of it calmed Gus. "But I stopped first, every time. Whats going on?"
She flung herself out of the car. "Nothing to do with you. Its just the way this car behaves on concrete roads."
"Try another story. Youre talking to a mechanic."
"Its true! When it quit this time, it wouldnt roll far enough to get off the road." To Guss uneasiness, she now seemed near tears. "If only I hadnt taken this short cut, Id be there by now. It runs just fine on the blacktop roads. Darn, darn, darn! Are you really a mechanic?"
"Yes. Names Gus Wilson."
The girls face brightened. "My father knows you. Im Barbie Winters. Maybe you can fix this car so itll run on concrete. It keeps stopping. I have to wait every time before itll start again and I was in such a hurry I forgot this time. Please! I just have to get to the Little Players Theater by 10."
Watched by pleading eyes, Gus flung up the hood, exposing a rust-flecked engine. "Its past 10 now," he pointed out.
The girl didnt answer. Gus gave the wiring a quick check. He found no loose connections or obvious breaks. The sound of someone running made him look around. Barbie was racing for his car as fast as perfect legs could carry her.
"Hey!" roared Gus. "You come back."
She got to the car before he could break into a run, was in, and had the engine going just as Gus touched the rear fender. It moved off under his fingers.
Not a pop resulted when Gus tried to start the old sedan. Too chagrined to try any troubleshooting, he waited five minutes and tried again. The engine now caught. He tore after his vanished car.
A mile farther on, the Plymouth quit as if somebody had corked up the gas line. Inwardly fuming, Gus waited a couple of minutes and tried the starter, without result. He stretched the wait to five minutes and tried again. The engine fired.
It happened once more just within sight of the cross-country highway. This time he used the five-minute wait to check the flexible fuel line. It was neither leaking nor collapsed.
When the engine started, he turned onto the blacktop. The sedan hummed along for five miles without a skip.
Scratch that guess about a fuel pump out of wack, thought Gus. Then he reminded himself that it was no business of his and rolled toward the converted barn that was the theater.
When he arrived, Gus found cars as thick as ants around a dropped doughnut. He spotted his own car in the parking areathe girl sitting in it. As he walked toward her, a white convertible roared in and slid to a tire-smoking stop. The tall blond boy who leaped out had the highest crew cut Gus had ever seen.
"Youre late!" called the girl, scrambling out of the car. She saw Gus the same instant. "Oh! Come on quick!"
The boy joined her on a dead run. Hand in hand, they scurried into the gloomy depths of the theater. From somewhere came the unmistakable smell of burning rubber.
Gus peered into his car. The smell wasnt from it, and she had left the key. Grumpily, he got in and drove off, headed for the Model Garage.
"Nice day for a ride, Boss?" asked Stan Hicks as the car rolled up the ramp.
Guss answer to this sally from his assistant was a heartfelt snort. He locked himself into his office and tackled the paper work he detested. By midafternoon he was able to remember his mornings adventure with rueful amusement.
Stan was out getting a replacement part when, with a toot of its horn, a Chevrolet convertible rolled into the shop. Nudging its bumper came the old Plymouth. The girl got out and approached Gus.
"I dont know what you must think of me" she began.
"I had a few notions, none good," said Gus sternly.
"Im terribly sorry. It was an emergencyif I hadnt been so
desperatethe tryouts were for 10 sharp, and I knew thered be a huge
"Well, you told the truth about going to the theater," he said at last.
"And now youve come here. So lets just say I lent you my car for a
"I guess this is Bud?" asked Gus, looking at the crew-cut youth.
"Oh, nothats Jerry. Buds only my brother. Its his car and I took it without asking. If you could fix it, he might forgive me, too. Hes tried a new fuel pump, a rebuilt carburetor, a new ignition coil, andoh, yespoints."
An acrid smell of burning rubber caught Guss attention. "Got a short in your car?" he asked the tall young man.
Jerry shrugged. "I thought so, but I cant find any. Its been smelling like that all morning. I stopped twice to make sure I wasnt on fire. Thats why I was so late."
"Wed better check," said Gus.
But no sizzle of sparks or smoking wire appeared when he raised the hood. Gus felt the brake drums. They were cool. Besides, the smell was rubber, not brake lining. It seemed strongest near the engine.
"When were the new plugs put in?" asked Gus, playing a sudden hunch.
"Yesterday. But howd you know?"
"I sort of smelled it," returned Gus.
Getting a pair of long-nose pliers, he looked at the plugs until he found what he expected. He detached the terminal clip from the last plug in one bank, withdrew something, and snapped the clip back.
"Theres your trouble," he said, displaying a scorched, odoriferous bit of rubber. "A rubber insert from the mechanics plug wrench. It holds plugs while he starts them. But when they get oil soaked, inserts often pull out of the wrench. This one stuck on the last plug, so close to the manifold that it burned."
"I shouldve seen that," said Jerry.
"You didnt know what to look for," snapped Barbie. "Mr. Wilson,
couldnt you please fix Buds car, too?"
With a can ready, he unscrewed the gas tanks drain plug. Rusty fluid and solid matter spewed out. He replaced the plug, rocked the car, and drained out some more until clean gas flowed out.
"Never knew gas could make rust," remarked Jerry, an interested onlooker.
"It doesnt, but theres always some water in a tank," explained Gus. "Luckily it settles to the bottom and isnt picked up. But it does rust the tank in time. What killed the engine was that scale I just drained out.
"On the concrete road Barbie came over divider strips bump the car up pretty regularly. That lifted some flakes off the bottom, up to where fuel-pump suction could pull them against the fuel pickup. When enough flakes clogged it, the gas was cut off. Then it would take five minutes or so for suction to die out of the line and let the scale drift away from the pickup. If you tried to start too soon, pump suction would only pull it back again."
The boy whistled. "Course, that could only happen to an old crate like this."
"Or one not so old," warned Gus. "The time to prevent it is while a car
is much newer. Its smart to drain gas tanks every season. Cuts down rusting and may
save you a frozen gas line in winter."
"Like a bandit," said Barbie. "We got the part."
"The bandit bit I get," said Gus, "but one part? For the two of you?"
She sighed. "Two parts like one. Just dreamy . . . Were Romeo and Juliet."