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Put Your Best Foot Forward

By Tom Carnegie
Illustration by Fred Wattenburger

Jesse is fiddlin' up a storm. This time it isn't his older brother Hayes backing him up on guitar. It is Patcho. Patcho just sort of showed up in Baton Noir. He's been here about two weeks and he's quite a novelty. I suppose at a point in time the newness will wear off, but for now most people consider him fun and interesting, if not harmless. Patcho may not have been born in the U.S. Nobody knows where he was born for sure. Some folks say it was Slovakia or Slovenia or Slobovia or some such thing, but most everybody thinks that he talks funny and looks a little foreign too. With the addition of Jesse, Patcho's band is twice as big as it usually is. Patcho's talent is playing a whole host of instruments at the same time. He has various percussion instruments that he manipulates with his shoulders and elbows and pedipulates with his feet and knees. At the same time he plays a squeezebox and a mouth organ. Sometimes he plays a trumpet with his right hand and the bass on the accordion with his left. He has been known to add a penny whistle to good effect. Right now he is happy to let Jesse take the lead for a while. Jesse keeps sawing away, and a pretty good noontime crowd shows up at the Model T Garage. As Jesse plays away he stamps his right foot like one of those horses at the fair that can count and do simple math. Butch, the kid of the shop decides to try an experiment. He walks over and grabs Jesse's leg. The tune breaks down. "Why'd you do that?" Jesse glares at Butch. "I just wanted to see if you could play without using your foot." Joseph Vant, the shop manager comes out about this time and informs his workers that it is time to get back to work.

"Why is the till drawer open? There has been a rash of thefts in this town in the last while, so it doesn't make sense to me to leave the till drawer open" Joseph gives this speech as he quickly makes a cursory count of the money in the till. "It looks O.K." he says as he slams the drawer shut. He then addresses his number three mechanic. "Butch, run over to Harvey Shoehorn's place and see if you can fix his carburetor. He bought a needle and seat from us for his N.H. Holley, and complains that it won't stop leaking. I swear, everything he buys from us he botches up somehow then blames on us." Butch hops into his 1911 torpedo and heads across town to Harvey's place. Butch is not looking forward to this as Harvey is a bit of a curmudgeon on his best day. Today Harvey is looking after his ten-year-old nephew. Harvey's younger sister is ill, so begrudgingly Harvey has agreed to do this. That is not to say that he is a bit happy about the situation. As Butch approaches Harvey's door he walks past young Norman. Norman is Harvey's nephew. He has a wad of modeling clay that he is happily fashioning into a series of figures that could represent maybe trees or maybe soldiers. When Norman proclaims that they are "dirty huns" and the shooting begins, Butch decides that they must be the latter. Butch doesn't even have time to knock before Harvey greets him at the door. Harvey has already worked himself into a fair-sized dither. "Everything that I buy from your shop is not only overpriced, but is poor quality. We wouldn't have been able to beat the hun in the war if you folks had been supplying parts for our troops." "I'm sorry sir, please let me take a look at your carburetor."

We wouldn't have been able to beat the hun in the war if you folks had been supplying parts for our troops.

Harvey grunts then leads Butch around to the back of the house where his T is parked. Butch crawls under and turns the fuel on at the tank. As he turns the lever he can hear the sound of the gas rushing into the carb. After a few seconds, the gas begins to pour out of the throat of the carb. He turns off the gas, crawls out, then lifts the hood to look at the carburetor. He chuckles to himself as he notices that Norman has been at work. Every head bolt has a neat little dome on its top made of modeling clay. Butch is sure that the float is stuck. He crawls under one more time and turns on the gas. Again, he hears the carb filling up. He slides out from under the car and taps on the side of the float bowl with a wrench. The gas continues to pour out of the carb. On a whim Butch turns the high-speed adjustment in. The leak suddenly stops. "That's strange." thinks Butch. Butch then shuts off the gas and removes the float bowl. Everything looks normal. Butch then removes the carb from the manifold. He turns the carb upside down and sucks on the fuel inlet. It holds a good vacuum on his tongue. "The float must be hanging up somehow." The float seems to be free though. "I'm going to have to take this back to the shop, I can't spot right off what the problem is." "All right", grunts Harvey. Back at the shop, Butch explains the symptoms to Joseph. Without even looking at the carb, Joseph says, "I know what the problem is. I will give you a few more minutes to see if you can figure it out. Here's a clue. Hook up our little one gallon tank to the carburetor, then lower the carburetor into a coffee can with the float bowl removed and watch what happens as it fills and raises the float. I'll bet that it doesn't leak." Butch does as Joseph directs, and is surprised to see the float rise until it shuts the gas off cleanly. Butch thinks for a minute, then says to himself, "The float has got to be hanging up on the bowl somehow. I'll bend the hinge so that the float is as far away from the bowl as possible." Sure enough, this time it doesn't leak after it is reassembled. Joseph looks at the carb and says, "Butch, you've got the bowl gasket skewed. Straighten it out and you'll find that it will leak again." Butch does, and it does. "I give up Joseph, what is wrong with this infernal carburetor." Joseph answers, "The float bowl vent is plugged. The gas never fills the bowl, but rather is forced out the main jet." Butch checks and finds that the vent has been neatly packed full of modeling clay. Norman's work, no doubt.

Butch takes the carb back to Harvey and presents him a bill. "We'll see if I pay this", says Harvey. "I just installed a new ring and pinion into my rear axle and by cracky, you'll hear from me if it's defective!"

Butch heads back to the Model T Garage. About a block from the shop he slows as he passes Patcho putting on a concert in front of the dry goods store. Butch hasn't been back at the shop very long before he spots Harvey creeping down the street in his model T. After a few minutes Harvey drives up and gingerly noses his car up to the wall of the Model T garage. He leaves the motor running as he leaps out and begins to shout at Joseph. "I swear, you folks are inept crooks. That ring and pinion set that you sold me is cut backwards!" Joseph tries to remain calm as he asks Harvey what he means. "You get in that car and try it and you'll see. The only thing that I did was change the ring and pinion, and now forward is reverse and reverse is forward. I drove all the way over here with my foot on the reverse pedal." Joseph is fairly laughing by now as he realizes exactly what the trouble is. Harvey has installed the carrier assembly backwards on his rear end. He is about to explain the problem to Harvey when he is interrupted by a commotion on the street. A man is being chased down the road by a whistle-blowing cop. It is Sgt. Mc Gillivray. Sgt. Mc Gillivray is a very large man, yet he is running with remarkable speed after his felonious target. The felon, sensing a desperate situation decides to seize the opportunity and take Harvey's running car as a get away vehicle. He shoves Harvey to the ground then crawls into the driver's seat and immediately proceeds to plow into the side of the building. This guy is a pretty quick study and it doesn't take him too long to learn that forward is back and back is forward. Away he goes backing down the road as fast as he can. It doesn't take too long before he loses control and runs into a fire hydrant. All the bystanders expect a geyser of water, but it doesn’t happen. When he gets to the scene of the accident, a panting Sgt. Mc Gillivray snaps the cuffs onto the dazed driver.

Over the course of the next few days our "wrong-way" felon confesses to the series of thefts that took place over the past few weeks. It seems that he had an accomplice. Patcho would give a concert, and while the people would be distracted, "wrong-way" would make his move. The Model T Garage avoided being victimized because Butch caused the tune to stop unexpectedly, so "wrong-way" didn't have time to do his deed. Harvey's T is a total wreck, and he still hasn't paid his bill.

(end of story)

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