The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Coupons Required

Jimmie put the ruler into the tank. He held it up, but it was dry.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 17, 1945.

“This is going to be a tremendous year,” said Jimmie Frise, “for maple syrup.”

“It’s going to be a tremendous year,” I remarked, “for various other reasons.”

“Aw, yes,” admitted Jim, “but once history is written what does it matter? Whereas, you can eat maple syrup.”

“What a horrible philosophy!” I protested.

“Now don’t get excited,” soothed Jimmie. “If war was as important as you like to think, why haven’t wars taught mankind anything in the past? Name one war that ever did mankind any good.”

“The Napoleonic war,” I announced. “It halted an earlier Hitler in his tracks.”

“It did nothing of the kind,” stated Jim. “It just delayed the revolution 100 years, until now.”

“What revolution?” I demanded indignantly.

“Why, the human revolution,” said Jim. “The revolution to set men free from monstrous masters. The revolution to bring about the brotherhood of man. It’s been going on for untold ages.”

“Puh!” I said.

“The French revolution,” explained Jim, “was one of the biggest explosions in that never-ending revolution. It shook all Europe. It shook the whole world. And so dangerous did it appear to all the kings and aristocracies of Europe that they felt if they didn’t destroy France immediately the thing might spread and put an end to all kings and all aristocracies. So they ganged up on France.”

“Aw,” I snorted, “you’re just trying to draw a parallel with the way the modern world ganged up on Russia. How did Napoleon come about, then?”

“Napoleon,” stated Jimmie, “didn’t come on the scene as emperor until the new-born republic of France was in danger from every side, and when all the diplomacy of Europe had brought about a league ready to destroy the subversive experiment of France.”

That ain’t the way I heered it,” I scoffed.

“Naturally,” agreed Jim. “All the kingdoms of Europe ganged up and destroyed Napoleon and France. They bottled the world up for another century. And, naturally, they wrote history the way they liked it.”

“Napoleon betrayed the revolution,” I recalled. “He made himself emperor.”

“Of the republic,” said Jim. “And he didn’t do that until the whole of royal and aristocratic Europe had furiously leagued themselves against revolutionary France. Then, to save his country, not the revolution, Napoleon took charge and made himself dictator – or emperor, in those days, because the common people could understand it easier.”

“And where did the great revolution get off?” I inquired mildly.

“Remember the Duke of Wellington?” inquired Jim. “He had quite a hand in destroying Napoleon and France. He went home a hero. He was an iron god to the British. They gave him £700,000 and made him prime minister.”

“A just reward,” I said.

Not Gold, But What?

“But you asked where the revolution got off,” inserted Jim sweetly. “Well, the revolution had got loose all over the world. And the Iron Duke got himself pelted with cabbages in the streets of London. The mob attacked his beautiful mansion, called Number One, London. He was kicked out of office. And the Reform Bill of 1832 was passed. That is how you and I, my good man, got the vote!”

“Hmmmmm,” I mused.

“The revolution never stops,” said Jim. “Even in the Golden Ages, and there have been any number of Golden Ages in history, the revolution goes relentlessly on. It isn’t gold mankind wants.”

“I wish somebody,” I complained, “could find out what it is mankind wants. When are we ever going to settle down?”

“Not,” replied Jim, “until everybody in the world loses the notion that they are more worthy than others. It is self-esteem that wrecks each nation, each class, each era. So long as anybody on earth still thinks he deserves more than others, so long as he thinks he works harder, is cleverer, smarter, more industrious, more deserving – you are going to have war. And revolution.”

“Then,” I concluded, “we will never be free of war. Because there ARE people more worthy than others. And always will be.”

“But they shouldn’t collect their worth,” explained Jim, “in money or power. Can’t you imagine, a world in which the worthy people will be content with their worth?”

“In about 1,000 years,” I growled.

“Then wars will end,” decreed Jim, “in 1,000 years.”

“The world is too hard-boiled,” I enunciated, “to swallow that idealistic stuff. Even the labor unions are out for themselves.”

“That is what they have said about all revolutionaries since John the Baptist,” smiled Jimmie. “But whether a revolutionary knows what he is doing or not, he is doing good. Because at the end of all struggle to set one man free, all men will be free.”

“It doesn’t look like it in the world these days,” I submitted. “The whole world divided into half a dozen prison camps of violent opinion.”

“The fiercer the fight,” replied Jim, “the sooner the freedom. You don’t get freedom merely by sitting and thinking. If so, the ancient Greeks would have given freedom to the world four centuries before Christ. Because they stated it completely. There have been no additions.”

“What do you think we will have,” I speculated, “by the end of this wonderful year, 1945?”

“Two gallons of maple syrup,” said Jim. “Each.”

“Back there, eh?” I muttered bitterly.

“This is going to be one of the greatest maple syrup years,” said Jim, “in a long, long time. At least in these parts. Very little frost in the ground and deep snow. That’s the makings of a tremendous maple syrup crop.”

“A lot of good that will do us,” I assured him. “Coupons are required for maple syrup. Sugar coupons. Do you know how many coupons a gallon of maple syrup requires?”

“I’m saving coupons,” said Jim, “and all I want is two gallons. I am not going to use it right away. I am going to put it down in the fruit cellar until the fall.”

“Maple syrup,” I informed him, “is at its best in the early spring, fresh from the sap kettle.”

“Utterly wrong,” said Jim. “It is at its best in fall and winter. On a nasty, cold November day a plate of hot pancakes, slathered in butter and drowned in rich, pale, amber maple syrup. In February, when your spirit fails within you, a couple of crumpets, their holey texture saturated with maple syrup. Or a big hunk of sponge cake, in a fruit dish, sloshed in maple syrup.”

“I like a good gorge of maple syrup in April,” I confessed.

Essence of Spring

“Wasted,” asserted Jimmie. “Utterly wasted. Maple syrup is the essence of spring. It is the very distillation of spring. It has mighty powers. It has a flavor both wild and infinitely bland and tender. It is the very blood of the veins of our native land, Canada. It comes from our national tree. To a Canadian there should be something almost religious about maple syrup. Something festival.”

“That is how I gorge it in the spring,” I explained.

“Ah,” countered Jim, “but in the spring there are so many other forces to revive you – the smell of April earth, the coming warm winds, the green things shooting, the birds returning. I like to keep that vernal juice of April to help me in the darkness of December.”

“Only two gallons?” I inquired.

“Look,” said Jim, taking a letter from his pocket. “Here is a note from my Uncle Abe inquiring if you and I would care to come down and lend him a hand with the maple syrup.”

“We’d have to pony up the coupons,” I protested, “even if we helped make it.”

“My idea is this,” explained Jim. “We run down over the week-end and help Uncle Abe collect the sap. He can run the sap kettles, but it is collecting the sap that is hard for him with his lumbago at this time of year…”

“Yah, lumbago,” I interjected.

“Well, you can’t prove he hasn’t got it,” declared Jim.

“He always gets it,” I observed, “at haying and harvest or whenever there is any real work to do.”

“The point is,” said Jim, “we go down and help him make it. While there, we can gorge ourselves on it. Remember my aunt’s tea biscuits with maple syrup …?”

“Aaaahhhh,” I remembered

“We can get our two gallons for nothing, except the coupons,” went on Jim, “in payment for our work. But in addition, all through the summer and next fall, whenever we get a craving for a gorge of maple syrup, why, we are always welcome at Uncle Abe’s. They can’t refuse a feast of maple syrup when we helped make it. And you know how it is in the fall? When you get a craving for maple syrup it is worse than a drunk craving whiskey. Why, I remember…”

“Okay,” I said, “okay. Just one little thing. How many gas coupons have you got left?”

“Me?” said Jim. “Why, I figured we would go in your car. It’s lighter. And the way the roads will be right now I’d hate to take that old stoneboat of mine. We’d be mired before we ever got there.”

“Jimmie,” I announced quietly, “I have no more coupons. I used my last only Sunday.”

“Hmmmm,” said Jim, studying Uncle Abe’s note.

“Besides,” I suggested, “you’re wrong about a light car being any good in the mud. Your old schooner would bust through a mudhole like a tank. My little job would simply slither to a stop half way through…”

“I,” said Jim solemnly, “have only one coupon left. Three gallons.”

“Any in the tank?” I inquired.

“A little,” said Jim cautiously.

“Let’s go by train,” I offered.

“It’s six miles from the station to Uncle Abe’s,” said Jim. “And he says here the road isn’t open yet. He can’t come for us.”

“We could hitch-hike,” I hoped.

“Nobody goes out Uncle Abe’s way,” said Jim. “Certainly nobody who would give us a lift.”

“If they knew we were going to his place, you mean?” I supposed. “Well, okay, let us call it off.”

Jim read the letter again. He licked his lips and made a smacking sound.

“It’s 29 miles out to Uncle Abe’s,” said Jim. “Twenty miles to the gallon? That’s 60. And a bit in the tank? Say 70 miles of fuel?”

A Buck and a Kick

He folded Uncle Abe’s letter and put it in his pocket.

“I’m going,” he announced firmly. “I can think of no more fitting, no more patriotic, no more spiritual use to put our last gasoline coupon to than to drive out to Uncle Abe’s sugar bush to participate in the festival of the maple. The true Rite of Spring!”

He picked me up at 8 a.m. Saturday – our day off on The Star Weekly.

I looked at the gas gauge and it was very low, between empty and a quarter.

“Good,” I said. “Let’s run until she shows empty. And then load up with our last three gallons at the nearest pump.”

“I got the gas last night,” said Jim.

“Last night!” I cried, as we bowled along, “But she shows almost empty.”

“Aw, that gauge hasn’t worked for years,” said Jim.

“You didn’t do any driving last night?” I inquired anxiously.

“Just a couple of errands for the house,” said Jim. “Don’t worry. I know my own car.”

“How far did you …?” I began.

But Jimmie just speeded up suddenly which is his way of showing his temper. So I let it go.

The highway was fine, despite a little sleet. and when we got off on to the side roads they weren’t too bad. A few ruts. But none of the pitch-holes I had feared.

The whole world wore the look of the Ides of March, the wood lots had a kind of wet glow to them, and we knew the sap was ready to rise if not already rising. And Jim and I regaled each other as we tooled along with reminiscences of the various times we had eaten maple syrup over our long and hearty lives.

Only two miles or a little less to Uncle Abe’s, when the engine bucked.

It ran a few yards, then bucked again.

“Dirty spark plug,” exclaimed Jimmie eagerly.

It ran another few yards, then bucked three or four times, violently.

“Dirt in the fuel line,” said Jim, revving up the engine.

She sputtered and conked. Came on again, and conked again.

“Pull over to the side,” I commanded grimly.

“That timer reeds attending to,” said Jim, in a thin voice, getting out.

He put the ruler into the tank.

He held it up.

Dry.

“I certainly can’t understand,” began Jimmie.

But there it was. The last drop of the last pint of the last gallon of the 1944-45 issue of AA category coupons by the grace of the Oil Controller of Canada.

On a side road in the sleet, beside a rail fence, and far from home.

“I can borrow a couple of gallons from Uncle Abe,” said Jim blankly.

“You cannot!” I informed him sharply. “That is against the law.”

“But, for Pete’s sake,” cried Jim, “do abandon my car here …?”

“By law, you do,” I enunciated.

“Surely there is some provision…” wailed Jim. “We were bent on patriotic business… maple syrup, from Canada’s national tree…?”

So we walked to Uncle Abe’s. And he got the team out. And we walked back behind the team and towed the darn schooner all the way to Uncle Abe’s shed.

And there she stays until the first of April.

And we came home by train, talking about the Duke of Wellington in the smoker.

Jimmie put the ruler into the tank. He held it up, but it was dry.

Editor’s Note: The Reform Act 1832 introduced major changes to the electoral system of England and Wales.

Ration coupons were introduced in World War Two to ration scare resources.

The microfilm image is reproduced at the end.

Yellow Sally

“Why, she looks new,” cried Jim, walking around the beauty. “Oh, I had her washed up.” admitted Mr. Gitch, frankly.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 13, 1937.

“At last,” said Jimmie Frise, “at long last, I am about to buy a new car.”

“Jim,” I congratulated him, “it’s about time. What make are you choosing?”

“When I say a new car,” stated Jim. “I do not mean a new car in the full meaning of the word. It will be a used car.”

“Oh, not another second-hand car,” I protested.

“A used car,” repeated Jim. “There ought to be a better word than used car. Matured car. Ripe car. Car tuned in or broken in.”

“Broken in,” I assured him, “is the word. Will you never learn to profit by other people’s mistakes?”

“I do profit by other people’s mistakes,” said Jimmie, “Profit very neatly too. And the only mistake they make is turning in a car just when it is getting prime.”

“You’ve never yet bought a new car,” I accused him. “In eighteen years you have never had anything but used cars.”

“I would just as soon,” declared Jim, “pick a green banana off the tree and eat it as buy a new car. I like my cars to be run in and matured before I get them. Let somebody else pay for a lot of shine and a stiff engine. Let somebody else have the grief of seeing dents and scratches come on that investment. Let somebody else have the doubtful pleasure of driving it during its infancy at twenty-five miles an hour for the first 500 miles and thirty miles an hour for the next 500 miles.”

“If you have never had the pleasure of driving a beautiful smooth new car, Jim,” I informed him, “you are hardly in a position to judge that pleasure.”

“Let somebody else,” continued Jimmie, “have the fun of paying for all the adjustments and replacements that have to be made on a car before it is right.”

“New cars,” I advised, “are guaranteed for 90 days.”

“Yes,” said Jim, “and for the first 80 days you own a new car, you are conscious of it every time you are in it. You take special care of it. Give it oil. Treat it with consideration. There is blame little likely to happen the works of a new car in the first 90 days. But in about 180 days, you lose that first fine rapture and begin to put the car really to work. You have lost your silly pride in it. You step on it. You neglect its oil and grease a little. Whatever defects there were in it come to the surface. And our proud first owner has to pay for those corrections.”

“You make me feel,” I said, “as if I had been a fool for fifteen years.”

“There always have to be fools,” said Jim kindly. “But I have a line on a car, a swell sport model Allnox Eight.”

“What year?” I asked.

“A 1930,” said Jim. “But it has belonged to a man who has spent most of his time abroad and down in Florida. A rich guy, apparently. And it has spent most of its life in a garage. It has only gone 16,000 miles.”

“The price?” I asked.

“Prepare yourself,” said Jim triumphantly. “Get set. Take hold of something for support. Only $400.”

“There must be something wrong with it,” I said. “A new Allnox Eight is $2,200.”

With a Weasel Smile

“I Telephoned this guy last night,” said Jim excitedly. “It’s a private deal. No dealers, he said. He’s going on another trip abroad and he says he sees no reason for keeping this car laid up in his garage all the time. But he realizes it is a 1930 model and he is willing to let it go at a nominal figure, despite its wonderful condition.”

“What color is it?” I asked.

“Daffodil yellow,” cried Jimmie. “And he says it looks as if it had just come from the factory.”

“Are you going to see it?” I inquired.

“Am I going to see it?” shouted Jim. “Have I got the $400 in my mitt? Have I an appointment to see it at noon to-day?”

“How about …?” I began.

“Certainly,” said Jim. “I expect you to come with me.”

The neighborhood to which we drove to inspect the Allnox Eight was hardly the type of district a rich man would choose to live in. As a matter of fact, we were doubtful if we had the right house when we rang the bell because there were “roomer” signs in the windows. But this was all explained by Mr. Gitch when the landlady called him to the door.

Mr. Gitch was a small lean man who looked as if he were wearing somebody else’s clothes. He had a smooth tapered face that made him look like either a fox or a greyhound, and his eyes had that slitty, greyhound appearance of being able to see around to the back. Still, lots of men look rather funny by the time they are rich. You can’t get rich for nothing, I always say.

“Gentlemen,” said Mr. Gitch, softly, coming out on the porch, “I have the car around at the back. You will pardon my diggings here, but as I explained to you, I am seldom in Toronto; and whenever I am, I stay with this dear old soul who was a chum of my dear mother.”

He led us around the narrow side entrance and through a yard full of junk and boxes, to a lane. All the way through, he continued to explain in his soft, tender voice.

“After stopping at such places as the Ritz in London,” he smiled, “and the Ambassadoria in Rio and the Hotel London in Shanghai, you would imagine I would find it a little irksome to stop in a neighborhood like this.”

He smiled up at us from under his forehead and shook his hand delicately at the junk around. It seemed to me I had seen a weasel smile at me like that in the instant it had appeared and disappeared in the grass along a country fence.

“But this dear old body,” he chuckled, “would be simply heart broken if she heard I was in Toronto and had not stayed with her.”

He pushed through a hole in the back fence where a plank was off, and there, there, stood the Allnox Eight.

Daffodil yellow, sure enough and gleaming, flatly, indeed, as if she had come straight from the factory. Not a dent or scratch marred her satiny glowing surface.

“Why, she looks new,” cried Jim, walking around the beauty.

“Oh, I had her washed up,” admitted Mr. Gitch, frankly.

Inside, her upholstery was covered with dust covers of a snappy color and design, securely fastened down with tapes. It seemed to me that here and there, faint signs of age showed on her, such as the nickel of the lamps and the felt around the windows. I wordlessly placed my fingers on these slight omens, but Jimmie ignored my hints and walked around the car with increasing excitement.

“Nature is Completely Honest”

Mr. Gitch followed him with a curious softness of foot and voice that made me think of a cat.

“Hop in,” said Mr. Gitch. “We’ll take a spin.”

He drove. We rolled smoothly along the lane and into the streets full of bakers’ wagons and under-school-age children. Mr. Gitch raced the engine to show its power, since, obviously we could not let her out in these narrow streets.

“Listen to that,” cried Jim. “Has she ever got power!”

“At 16,000 miles,” said Mr. Gitch.” these American cars are on a par with European cars such as I am familiar with, I should say she was just nicely run in.”

He steered her around the block and back into the lane, where we dismounted.

“How about it?” asked Mr. Gitch and while I could not be sure, it seemed to me I saw his hands clutching and unclutching the way a hawk’s talons do.

“It’s a deal,” said Jim. “Can you drive her downtown to my office? We’ll drive down there and meet you and close the deal.”

“That,” said Mr. Gitch, “would suit me perfectly.”

“Meet me in half an hour then,” said Jim, “right in front of the office. I’ll be waiting there.”

We hastened out to my car and as I slammed the door, I cried:

“Jim, there’s something phoney about this whole thing. Call it off. Have the car examined by a mechanic.”

“What’s that?” demanded Jim, coming out of his trance.

“Something phoney,” I repeated. “I don’t like the man.”

“It’s the car we are buying,” retorted Jim. “Is there anything wrong with the car?

“Nature,” I declared, “is pretty honest in puting on the outside of all her packages a description of the contents. A crow is black and evil looking. A fox is sly and slinky. A deer is graceful and timid and shy-looking. If a man looks like a pig, you are generally pretty safe in assuming that he is a pig. ‘If a man looks like a fox, he is generally sly. If he…”

“What are you giving us?” snorted Jim.

“It’s a fact,” I assured him. “Nature is completely honest. She rarely fakes the outside of a bad package. Men are different. They can fake up the outside to look like a million dollars. That man reminded me of a fox, a weasel and hawk. I don’t like him.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “if we went around buying stuff only from the people we liked the look of, where would we be at?

“We would be a lot better off,” I stated.

“I guess,” smiled Jim, “you’re just a little jealous. As a new car buyer, you are just a little ribbed on seeing what kind of deals can be made if you look around. Oh, boy, can you see me sailing around in that yellow baby? That’s a sportsman’s car. Can you see me going to the races in it? Or out in the country, on a fishing trip?”

“Jim,” I said, “it’s phoney. It looks all right, it seemed to run all right. But that man is a weasel.”

“Haw, haw,” laughed Jim.

So we came to the office and parked my car and went and stood in front of the building to await Mr. Gitch. As we stood there waiting, our old friend Constable McGonigle came sauntering along and stopped to have chat with us. He belongs to the anglers’ association and is one of the most distinguished pike fishermen in the country despite his enormous size. Most good anglers are on the small side, but Constable McGonigle is a notable exception. We chatted merrily about the fast approaching season, Jimmie keeping a weather eye open for Mr. Gitch and Constable McGonigle keeping a weather eye open for sergeant; and suddenly Jimmie cried:

“Here he comes.”

Waiting For Delivery

Mr. Gitch in the magnificent yellow car was slowing down to come in to the open space where we were standing.

But suddenly he seemed to change his mind. He swung the wheel and stepped on the gas and with a roar of the engine leaped away and all we could see was the great yellow car vanishing along the street swaying in the traffic.

“What the dickens,” said Jim.

“What was all that?” asked Constable McGonigle.

So we explained to Constable McGonigle about the impending purchase and arranged to take him along with us on the first fishing trip in the new car which, in honor of the trout fly of that name, we agreed to call Yellow Sally. And he sauntered on, leaving Jimmie and me to wait for Mr. Gitch to come back around the block.

“Maybe,” said Jim, “he was just showing us how it handles.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, “he thought this space wasn’t big enough for him to park.”

We waited five minutes, ten minutes: no Mr. Gitch. We walked up to the end of the block both ways and looked. No Mr. Gitch. We walked right around the block and met Constable McGonigle again but he said he had noticed no yellow car.

At the end of an hour, we decided to go back to Mr. Gitch’s and see what had happened. A sad little old lady opened the door and we asked for Mr. Gitch.

“Mr. Who?” said she.

“Mr. Gitch,” we explained, “the gentleman we called for this morning about a big yellow car he was selling.”

“Oh, him,” said the landlady. “He only rented the room for an hour this morning. I never saw him before.”

“Ah,” said Jim.

“But,” said the lady, “maybe you could get him at a garage three streets over. I forget the name, but they have a big garage three streets over. I noticed that big yellow car backing out of it only yesterday, the same one he had in the lane this morning.”

Hastily Jim and I drove along to the garage which we found without trouble and we asked for the boss.

“A big yellow car?” he said. “Sure, we did the paint job on it just this week.”

“Paint job,” said Jim.

“One of the best paint jobs we ever did,” said the boss. “It set him back $70. But he insisted. We did a swell paint job and we trimmed up all the nickel and we sewed down a new set of dust covers on the seats and you wouldn’t know it from a new car hardly. That is, by the looks.”

“Was it in pretty good shape?” asked Jim.

“Pretty good shape?” asked the boss. “It was the worst old wreck I ever had in this place. He got it for $50 and he spent $70 on it. Can you imagine that?”

“Heh, heh,” laughed Jimmie.

“But he said in his business – he’s a salesman,” explained the garage boss, “he says appearances are everything.”

“Well, if he turns up,” said Jim, “tell him a couple of people were looking for him.”

“I doubt if he’ll be back,” said the boss. “He told me he was heading for California.”

So we drove back down town, and on the way, we stopped and bought a nice box of cigars for Constable McGonigle.

And Jim says it is always best to take a mechanic along with you when you got to look at a used car.


Editor’s Notes: “Allnox 8” is a made up car name, and is a play on words for cars of that era. The “8” would be an indication that it was an 8 cylinder engine, and “Allnox” is a joke on the term “Nonox” which meant “No Knocks”, an engine that would not “knock” thanks to additives to gasoline like lead. It would only be later that it was discovered that leaded gasoline was bad for the environment and for human health.

$400 in 1937 equals $7,400 in 2021. $2,200 would be $40,600. $50 would be $925.

Just a Push

Standing in the middle of the road was a stout man with his hand up in a commanding manner…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 11, 1939.

“Ah, what’s the use.” cried Jimmie Frise, “of being in a bad humor?”

“There’s little in the world today,” I assured him, “to be good humored about.”

“Even so,” persisted Jim, slackening the speed of the car as he always does when he feels a speech coming on, “even so, what can bad humor do to help the state of the world?”

“I think,” I submitted, “that if we all got mad, it would clear the air. If everybody, all of a sudden, just got raging mad, mad clean through, you might see some surprising results. Suppose, all over the British world, if everybody, young and old, men and women, rich and poor, just jumped up with a wild yell and started out the front door. Suppose all the streets of all the cities of Britain, in Edinburgh and Dublin and London and Montreal and Cape Town and Calcutta and Regina, suddenly filled with angry men and women, roaring and bellowing with rage.”

“At what?” demanded Jim.

“At the way the world’s going,” I stated. “Do you know what one of the major causes of world confusion is right now?”

“What?” asked Jim.

“British good nature,” I declared. “The serene good nature of kindly men and women, of tolerant. easy-going, gentle-minded men and women, young, middle-aged and old. I can see all the cities of the British, all the towns and villages, all the farms, in England, in Canada, in Australia, full of solid, quiet, good-humored people. You can’t jar them out of their good nature. They are shocked at the rest of the world. But they let it go at that. Why don’t they get mad? Why don’t they leap up out of their rocking chairs and start smashing things? I bet you a good big burst of British temper would settle all the racket in this world the way the roar of a lion quells all the silly tumult of the desert. All the jackals quit their snarling, all the monkeys cease their chattering, all the querulous birds are still.”

“It will take a lot to rouse British temper,” said Jim. “What we’ve been through the past three years proves that. We dethroned a king without a tear. We have respectfully withdrawn our navy and our armies, here, there, everywhere. With polite bows, we have rationalized and understood. We have evacuated, stepped aside, gone visiting up hills, and sent notes of protest so polite the receiver thought they were fan letters. Maybe we haven’t any anger left. Maybe our anger is exhausted.”

“I’d like to send a valentine,” I declared, to certain quarters of this globe.”

“Good-nature conquers, in the end,” said Jim.

“I bet the dinosaur was a good-natured beast,” I agreed. “Whenever we dig up a dinosaur. it always has a good-natured grin on its face.”

“Without good-nature,” decreed Jim, “no human accomplishment ever amounts to anything.”

“Good-nature has its place,” I corrected. “Good-nature is the spirit of enjoyment of something we have won. But good-nature doesn’t enter into the winning or the defending of that thing.”

“A good-natured man can get far more than an ill-humored man,” countered Jim.

“I deny it,” I retorted. “The most successful men on earth are the ones capable of the most powerful ill nature.”

“What a terrible thing to say,” protested Jim.

“Suppose,” I offered, “that we had gone into the Battle of Vimy filled with good nature. Can you imagine the result? Instead, we went into that battle like tigers. Trained tigers. They trained us for six weeks solid, day and night; marching us endlessly to make us hard: feeding us like prize fighters to make us strong: filling our minds with fear and hate to make us alert; and when we did the trick, we did it like a tornado. And it was a great success. No, sir; good-nature has its place, but it isn’t in winning or defending something we deem precious.”

“We’ve had such a long spell of the dumps,” pleaded Jim. “Ever since 1929, we’ve been going around with our tails between our legs. Now you suggest that we go in for a spell of bad temper.”

“We should have gone into a temper in 1929, instead of into the dumps,” I declared. “We should have recoiled on the people and the forces and the influences that wrecked us. We should have cleaned house then, the way you do when the plaster falls. Instead, we were gloomily good-natured over the whole mess. Our good nature is our curse.”

“What we need now,” said Jim, “is a supremely good-natured leader who can overcome the forces of evil by the sheer power of human good-will massed behind him.”

“Mr. Chamberlain is good-natured,” I replied, “Mr. Roosevelt is good-natured. Mr. King is good-natured, Mr. Hepburn, Mr. Aberhart, everybody is good-natured. I tell you, there never was such an opportunity for a bad-tempered politician as right now. What we are craving is a bad-tempered, ill-natured, cantankerous statesman. And one will arise, before very long, and you’ll see the whole British world catch hold of his coat tails.”

“I wonder what this bad-tempered gentleman wants?” interrupted Jimmie, taking his foot off the gas and starting to brake the car.

Standing in the middle of the road was a stout man with his hand up in a commanding gesture. He was a middle-aged man, dressed in patched trousers and red sweater. On the side of the road was an aged and dilapidated car.

And on the face of the gentleman signalling was an expression of fury.

“Pass him,” I suggested. “What’s he want, holding us up as if he were a cop.”

Since he was standing resolutely in the middle of the road, and as Jim always likes to be of help to people, we could not pass him, and we drew to a stop. Jim running down the window that the irate man could speak to us.

“Gents,” he said, angrily, “would you mind giving me a push?”

“Not at all,” said Jim. “Is she stalled?”

“Stalled,” the stranger gritted fiercely. “The blankety blank blank blank!”

“I’ll back up and come around,” said Jim eagerly.

“You’d think it was the car’s fault,” I muttered, as Jim started to back up and the stranger got into his car and slammed the door.

Stranger Gives Orders

We eased up gently to the rear of the old car. Its bumper was bent and askew. but Jim got a grip on it with his strong front bumper and with a slight grinding of gears, started the old bus moving.

The stranger steered into the middle of the highway and held it straight.

“Well,” I demanded, “why doesn’t he get it going?”

The stranger was sitting perfectly straight, making no visible effort to work his choke or his gears or anything else.

“Why doesn’t he put it into second gear?” I demanded again.

And Jim and I sat watching through the window ahead and seeing nothing but the head of the stranger as he sat serenely at his steering wheel.

“I’ll ask him what’s the idea?” said Jim, slacking speed so that the car ahead rolled free and came to a gradual stop. We drove up behind and Jim waited for the gent to come out. But he didn’t. He just sat in his car, not even turning his head.

Jim got out and walked ahead.

“It won’t start,” Jim explained, “if you don’t put her into gear.”

The stranger glared at Jim out of red-rimmed eyes.

“Okay,” he said, “okay, brother, give us another shove.”

So we got into position again and got the bumpers engaged and started. We could feel the resistance as the stranger let in his clutch and engaged his gears. We shoved for about 50 feet and then the stranger let out the gear again and we bowled him along at a neat 20 miles an hour.

“He must be out of gas,” said Jim. “We’ll just shove him along to the next gas station.”

Since we were nearing the suburbs of Toronto, there was a gas station likely to appear any minute. We cheerfully pushed the stranger ahead of us the better part of a mile before a gas station hove in view.

But the stranger showed no intention of turning in, as we drew near, and Jimmie started to slacken speed. Out the window ahead came the hand of the stranger, beckoning us to go on.

Jim slowed down and the stranger proceeded straight ahead, coming to a halt in the middle of the highway. We turned into the gas station.

“I’ll pretend I need gas,” explained Jim.

The stranger got out of his car and walked back on to the gas station gravel.

“Out of gas?” he inquired sharply.

“Yes,” said Jim. “I thought maybe you were out of gas… when she wouldn’t start after you put her in gear.”

“I’ve got gas, all right,” stated the stranger coldly.

Enough is Plenty

He stood waiting. Jim ordered three gallons, though he didn’t need it, and asked the boy to look at his oil and water. The stranger stood waiting and watching.

“We don’t want to leave my car out there in the middle of the highway,” he informed us, a little hotly.

“Just a minute,” said Jim, “how far do you expect me to push you?”

“I’m trying to get it started,” snarled the stranger, growing very red in the face and angry of eye. “Do you begrudge a little shove to a man who can’t get his car started?”

“Look here,” said Jim, growing a little angry, himself, “we’ve shoved you more than a mile, and you haven’t made the slightest effort to get it started. We’ve been watching you. You just sit there and steer.”

“Didn’t I let her into gear?” retorted the stranger, very hot.

“Why don’t you run it in here and let this gas station man help you?” inquired Jim, in a friendly tone.

“And get gypped,” roared the stranger, “for doing something I can do perfectly well myself! Listen, mister, if you don’t want to give a little shove to a fellow motorist on the highway…”

“Okay, okay,” said Jim, eagerly. “I’ll be right out.”

“Jim,” I said, “I never saw such nerve as this guy’s got. What the Sam Hill you are wasting our time shoving this bird …?”

“One more try,” said Jimmie.

So we got going, after a few preliminary bumps and false starts and drove him a good half mile down the highway.

“Jim,” I said, “why not let us help him get it going. Between us, we know the rudiments of an engine. Instead of us shoving this bird at 20 miles an hour all the way into the city let’s get out and have a look at his engine and see if we can get it started.”

“That’s an idea,” said Jim, honking his horn and signalling to the stranger to turn off to the side of the road. He did not pay any attention, so we slacked speed and left him to roll on to a stop.

We followed and parked behind him and got out.

“Look,” said Jim, “we can’t go on shoving you indefinitely. Let’s have a look at your engine. Maybe we can …”

But as Jim started to lift the hood of the engine, the stranger let out a bellow: “Hold on there, mister,” he shouted angrily. “None of that.”

“None of what?” shouted back Jim.

“You leave that engine alone,” commanded the stranger, clambering out of the car.

“What’s going on here?” roared Jimmie, fiercely jerking the hood and opening it.

A Very Nice Bluff

A comical spectacle met our gaze. There was no engine. Well, there was a cylinder block and a lot of odds and ends hanging to it, but no carburetor and no generator and none of the things that naturally meet the eye when you lift the hood of a car.

“What is this?” hissed Jimmie, furiously peering into the stranger’s face.

The stranger seemed to dissolve before our gaze. All his anger and fury vanished.

“Tell me,” choked Jim, “what’s the big idea?”

“Well, you see,” said the stranger wearily, “I was just bluffing.”

“I’ll say you were bluffing,” shouted Jim, furiously, pointing in at the gutted engine.

“I bought this,” explained the stranger meekly, “in Brampton. For $10. I thought if I got it home, I might tinker with it and pick up some spare parts and things. You see, I’m unemployed. I haven’t any money and I always wanted a car and I never had one.”

“You haven’t got one yet,” I suggested, looking at the ratty vehicle in detail.

“I did $10 worth of work,” went on the stranger sadly, “and took this car in payment. Then I got shoves. Some people gave me little shoves and others gave me quite long ones, longer even than you.”

“You mean to say,” I cried, “that you’ve got shoves all the way from Brampton to the outskirts of Toronto?”

“Yes,” said the stranger meekly. “After all, it’s just like hitch-hiking, sort of, isn’t it?”

“Like heck it is,” said Jim.

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” said the stranger, “how much good-nature there is in the world. All going to waste. What’s the harm in using a little of it when you can? Lots of people who shoved me seemed pleased to have the chance.”

“Did they know you were deceiving them?” I inquired, as a moralist.

“Oh, no,” said the stranger. “But I did find that the ruder I was, the better service I got.”

“Oh, did you?” said Jim.

“Yes, it’s a curious thing,” said the stranger, who now appeared to be quite a gentle little man. “If I stood in the road and smiled, they drove right by. If I glared, they stopped. If I asked politely for a shove, they replied that they had engine trouble and couldn’t help me. But if I looked angry and swore and held my breath so my face got red, they were only too anxious to help me.”

“That’s a curious thing,” we agreed.

“Not at all,” said the stranger. “The worse-tempered a man is, the more good-natured are the people around him. They’re cowed, see?”

“Ah,” said Jim. “Cowed. Well, mister, do you expect us to shove you any further?”

“Oh, no,” said the stranger, gently. “Not at all. I’m very grateful to you for helping me on my way. I’ll have no trouble getting another shove.”

So we bid him good-by, and as we drove away, I looked back and saw him taking up his stand in the middle of the road again, hunching up his shoulders, holding his breath to make his face red, and generally assuming an attitude of power and fury.


Editor’s Notes: All of the politicians mentioned were contemporary to the article, Neville Chamberlain (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), Franklin D. Roosevelt (President of the United States), William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister of Canada), Mitchell Hepburn (Premier of Ontario), and William Aberhart (Premier of Alberta).

Depending on where you start and end, the distance between Brampton Ontario and the “outskirts” of Toronto, would be between 20-30 kilometers.

To Err is Human

“Hey,” cried Skipper from the back seat, “don’t be crazy. You’re hitting 65.” And did I ever have her leaping when we passed Eddie!

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 10, 1939

“The trouble with going four in a car,” said Jimmie Frise,”is, you can’t hold conversation.”

“The more the better,” I differed.

“That’s a common mistake,” stated Jim. “The perfect setup for purposes of pleasant conversation is two people. Like man and wife, for example. Why did polygamy die out of the more civilized world? Because a man couldn’t carry on a decent conversation with five wives.”

“I don’t agree,” I declared. “When two people engage in conversation, it generally boils down to a one-sided conversation. You rarely find two people of equal wind.”

“Some people are natural born listeners,” pointed out Jim.

“I like about three or four people in a group,” I explained, “because then, if there is one windbag in the party, the three others can generally work up enough between them to sort of balance the windbag.”

“Then,” said Jim, “you will be happy today. Because Skipper and Vic will very nicely help me hold the balance against you.”

“I resent that, Jim,” I informed him.

“I always hate to get into a car with you and several people,” said Jim, “because the minute you see three people you think it is an audience and you begin making a speech.”

“Is this the spirit,” I demanded, “in which to start off on a nice trip to the country?”

“If there were only two of us in our car,” said Jim, “I could let you drive and then I could go to sleep. I’ve often worked that scheme.”

“I never knew you to be so unpleasant,” I protested. “What’s got into you?”

“Oh, nothing,” sighed Jim. “I just feel like having a fight with somebody.”

“Jim,” I consoled, “I often feel that way myself. Life gets humdrum, not from having to do the same things over and over forever and ever, but because it gets so eternally pleasant. Life gets pleasanter all the time. I don’t think human nature can stand it.”

“You’re right,” agreed Jim. “Look at all the inventions of the past 30 years. All to make life pleasant. The motor car, to take us quickly and pleasantly wherever we get the whim to go. The movies, to give us the pleasant thrill of romance for 35 cents. The radio, so that with a click of a button we can get any sort of entertainment we desire, from a symphony to an educational talk about how to kill potato bugs.”

“Life is getting too pleasant,” I concurred. “Why, even the poor can’t be poor any more. They are hounded and chased and given food and clothing and life made as pleasant as possible for them. Criminals can’t even find any real unpleasantness in life because they are making jails into educational institutions.”

“At the rate we are going,” decreed Jim, “there will be no escape from pleasantness except in our own natures. The more perfect the conditions of life are made, the worse our characters are going to become.”

“Nobody wants perfection,” I admitted.

“It is the struggle for perfection,” explained Jimmie, “that makes life interesting. To attain perfection must be a horrible thing.”

“We can always figure,” I reassured, “on things going wrong, however we perfect life and all its arrangements.”

“No,” said Jim. “the way we are heading now, life is going to be made perfect. For all. There will be no more poor, no more underprivileged, no more unhappy. The whole vast force of humanity is right now in the throes of a gigantic struggle toward perfection, Hitler going one way. We democracies the other. But back of it all, a countless army of scientists, thinkers, workers, politicians, all striving day and night to find some road to perfection for all mankind. It will be a technical perfection as well as a social perfection. We will have pleasant ways of going where we want to go as far ahead of the motor car and airplane as they are far ahead of our grandfather’s buggy. They will have pleasant ways of being entertained and amused as far ahead of movies and radio as they are ahead of the ham actor touring theatrical companies and elocutionists of our grandfather’s time.”

“But always something will go wrong,” I assured him.

“No, sir,” prophesied Jim. “As they have taken out the defects of the motor car, progressively, over the past 20 years, so will they take out the defects of the social system during the next hundred years.”

“What a smooth running world it will be,” I mused.

“And,” said Jim, “life being perfect, we will turn to our own natures for a little relief. We will turn into cantankerous, mischievous, troublesome and altogether miserable creatures, just for a little relief.”

“Just for an occasional surprise,” I agreed. “Because if we get things perfect in this life, we take out all the surprise. And what is life without its surprises?”

“You’re right,” said Jim. “Of all the deadly dull people to have to live with, the perfect characters are the worst.”

“They never surprise you,” I admitted, “even with their perfection.”

“I wish somebody would surprise me today,” sighed Jimmie, sinking back into his former gloom.

“Look here,” I suddenly thought, “we can surprise Skipper and Vic, even if I can’t surprise you. You know that speed cop on the highway between Orangeville and Shelburne?”

“Eddie?” said Jim. “What about him?”

“Look,” I chuckled, “we’ll have Skip and Vic in the back seat. Eddie usually takes his stand on that long hill about five miles north of Orangeville. When we see him ahead, you call out and warn me. Make sure the others hear you. Then I’ll say, ‘Aw to heck with speed cops. I’m not afraid of speed cops. And I’ll step on the gas and shoot her up from 50 to as high as she’ll go.”

“Swell,” laughed Jimmie, quite refreshed.

“And we’ll go by Eddie at 70 miles an hour,” I exulted, “and Skipper and Vic will think I’ve gone nuts.”

“This is a swell idea,” agreed Jim. “I wish it was on me you were playing the trick. I’d like somebody to give me a thrill.”

“Well, you can have the second-hand thrill,” I pointed out, “of imagining how Skip and Vic will feel.”

Something Up Your Sleeve

So when we came to the time to pick up Skipper and Vic it was with that good-humored feeling you have when you’ve got something up your sleeve. In fact, it was a very jolly party that sped in the late afternoon out of Toronto northerly and westerly to visit some friends in Owen Sound and have a little early morning trout fishing the next day.

“No hurry, no hurry,” shouted Skipper from the back seat. “This is swell. Let’s take it slow enough to see the scenery.”

Which you can see from an open car in a fashion unknown to those addicted to closed cars.

So I slowed down to a lazy 40 and under; and when we passed through Orangeville, I slowed her even more, so as to make the surprise all the more exciting.

“Speed cop ahead,” suddenly cried Jim.

And sure enough, half a mile ahead, Eddie’s motorcycle sparkled modestly in the shadows and there stood Eddie, watching the great sweep of hill before us.

“Speed cops don’t worry us,” said Skipper, from the back seat.

“Oh, don’t they?” I retorted a little indignantly.

And I started stepping on the gas.

“Hey, hey, hey,” warned Skip. “There is a cop there. I can see him.”

“Aw, who cares about speed cops,” I shouted over my shoulder. And put my foot right down on the floor boards and the old car picked up all she had and flew.

“Hey, hey,” cried Skipper, from the back seat. Don’t be crazy. You’re hitting 65.”

“I’ll make it 75 by the time we pass that guy,” I shouted, amidst the wind of our passage.

And did I ever have her leaping when we passed Eddie!

Jim was sitting beside me and behind sat Skipper and Vic almost out of sight so did they huddle. The fear of a speed cop is curiously ingrained into the human species. And it was with a feeling of having committed blasphemy that the two of them crouched as I drove the car at a mad pace past.

Eddie was magnificent. I cast him a sly smile over my shoulder so as to tip him off to chase us. And hidden behind his goggles, he put on an expression of outrage and indignation it is impossible to do justice to. Just as we are intimidated by the sight of a speed cop – other than a friend – is a speed cop astounded and hurt by indifference.

“Have You Gone Nuts?”

In the rear view mirror I watched, as I still tramped on the gas, and sure enough, with every indication of outrage, Eddie grabbed his cycle and with a run and a jump was after us.

“He’s after you; he’s after you,” wailed Skipper, looking back. “Slow up, slow up. Have you gone nuts?”

“Let him catch me,” I roared, holding the speed.

“The guy’s gone nuts,” shouted Vic, leaning forward to grab Jim’s shoulders and shake him. “Turn off the ignition!”

“Aw,” replied Jim loudly, “what we need is a little excitement. Let him go.”

“Excitement,” groaned Vic, relapsing back.

“Yes,” said Jim, turning around so he could see the rapid approach of Eddie on his motorcycle, but with an air of bravado also, “a little excitement. We’re sick of going through life with nothing happening.”

“Turn round, turn round,” hissed Skipper at Jim. “Let on you don’t see him.”

“Aw, I see him all right,” shouted Jim, half raising in his sent and looking over their heads back at Eddie, who was now within 30 feet of us and gaining fast however hard I tramped down the gas. In fact I had it on the floor boards.

I made plenty of room for Eddie by keeping well over to the side. I didn’t want any accidents to mar our little fun.

Eddie went by with a final wild rush. It was magnificent. He blew his horn as he flew by and veered in ahead of us, forcing me to slack speed. His arm flew out to signal us to stop. I slacked and drew into the shoulder of the road, and Eddie dismounted ahead of us.

“Aw, what’s the matter!” I roared hotly “We were only doing 50.”

Eddie swung off his cycle, turned, walked slowly back, lifted his goggles – and it wasn’t Eddie.

It wasn’t Eddie. It was a white-faced cop I had never seen before and hope never to see again. His eyes were blazing in his face. He stood and looked for a long steady minute at me, while I slowly shrank and shrank.

“First,” said this stranger, “permit me to smell your breath.”

I permitted him.

“Next,” he said, “permit me to behold your driving license.”

And he suited the action to the word by producing his own little notebook. I fumbled numbly through several pockets and finally found the little black case I always carry in the same pocket.

“Is there any explanation,” inquired the stranger frigidly, “for your actions in increasing your speed when you approached me and continuing to accelerate your speed though you had full knowledge that I was in pursuit of you?”

I tried to speak, but it just went gug.

“I think,” put in Skipper in a rather weak voice, “that he went a little nuts for a minute, officer. He’s had a lot of work lately, he’s overworked, he works night and day, he’s a tremendous worker, and maybe he just went a little nuts for a second.”

“Did you go nuts?” demanded the constable grimly.

“May I speak to you a minute privately, constable?” I inquired.

“Certainly,” said he. He sounded like a university graduate.

I crept out of the car, steadying my legs under me and grasping the fender for support. I walked up ahead of the car and the constable followed me. In a low voice, up beside his motorcycle, I explained to him how I knew Eddie so well and I just thought would have a little joke on my two friends the back seat who were very high strung, jittery fellows.

“Jittery, are they?” said the policeman.

So he gave me his arm and we returned to the car.

“I think one of you jittery gentlemen should take the wheel,” suggested the speed cop.

So Skipper did.


Editor’s Note: 35 cents for a movie ticket in 1939 would be about $6.50 in 2021.

That’s Gratitude

By Greg Clark, December 12, 1936

“Let’s see,” said Jimmie Frise, “how long is it to Christmas?”

“Yes,” I said scornfully, “how long have we left to be hard boiled and grasping and normal and natural until the one brief day when we are filled with sweetness and light?”

“Oh, hold on,” protested Jimmie. “The spirit of Christmas is a little wider than that I can feel the Christmas spirit now. You begin to feel it even in November. And I am sure it sort of lingers through until about the second of January.”

“It seems dreadful to me,” I declared, “that we should segregate our better feelings into certain times and seasons. Patriotism on July first. The spiritual at Easter. Moving on May first. Marriages in June. Why should we concentrate all our tenderest sentiments at the one Christmas season?”

“Thank heavens,” said Jim. “there are seasons that inspire us. I begin to get the Christmas urge along about now. I find myself looking tenderly at my family. I note a certain generosity in my handouts to bums. A mysterious expectation begins to stir in me, as if something very beautiful and unexpected but highly deserved might happen to me.”

“Personally,” I stated, “I feel pretty normal until about five p.m. Christmas Eve. That is about the time the family expects me to carry the Christmas tree in from the back yard and make it stand up in the living room. I guess it must be the sentimental smell of the evergreens. But about five p.m. the Christmas spirit hits me with a bang.”

“How long does it last?” asked Jim.

“It’s almost unbearable by midnight Christmas Eve,” I admitted, “when I find myself sneaking in for the fourth or even the fifth time to peek at the kids asleep. It lasts all Christmas morning and right through Christmas dinner, which is about one o’clock noon. But by four p.m. Christmas Day I’m pretty well over it. I’m sound and sane again by, say, five p.m.”

“That’s twenty-four hours,” figured Jim.

“Yeah,” I said, “by five p.m. Christmas Day I’m my old practical self once more. I’m through with nonsense. I want all the colored paper picked up. I want the toys and presents carried to their proper rooms and put away. I want the electric trains and that sort of junk removed from the living room floor and taken to the attic where they belong for the remainder of their life. I want a little quiet and peace in the house and I send the neighbor kids home.”

“By five p.m.?” said Jim.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m pretty average.”

“It seems a pity,” sighed Jim, “that when we are aware of the Christmas spirit we don’t seize on it and hold it all the time. I mean, if we were ignorant of the possibilities of human nature it wouldn’t be so bad. But when we DO know about Christmas how is it we willingly surrender that knowledge? It’s like knowing about sunshine, like knowing about a day in early June, with the sun glowing like a dream and everything green and lovely and the last iris on the stems and the first roses blooming and then deliberately choosing to have a day in November.”

Aching To Do Good Deeds

“As regards the Christmas spirit,” I said, “human nature is sound. It knows there are days in June and also days in November.”

“Are we never to do anything,” cried Jimmie passionately, “about human nature?”

“You can’t change human nature,” I pointed out, “any more than you can change oak nature or horse nature.”

“We’ve done something with horse nature,” said Jim, “and I don’t doubt we could do things with oak nature if it was worth the trouble.”

“But human nature,” I explained, “is tougher. Nobody has ever done anything with human nature yet.”

“The Christmas spirit,” cried Jimmie, as we sailed along the gravel highway, “is on me. I feel like doing glad and kindly deeds. I am prepared to think you are a merry and artless little man. If I were to see some poor old man carrying a bundle along this cheerful country road I would be inclined to stop the car and give him a lift.”

“The bundle,” I said, “would probably contain something loose and smelly.”

“Or if,” cried Jimmie, “I were to see a farmer along here stumping or maybe lifting big stones on to a stoneboat I’d be inclined to stop and help him.”

“We’ve got a two-hour drive to Toronto,” I warned him.

“I need,” said Jim loudly, “to do a good deed. I feel I will have bad luck if I don’t do a good deed. Something dark will befall me if I fail to live up to this feeling in me.”

“The good deed you can do,” I informed him, “is attend to your driving and spare my nerves by not weaving all over this gravel. That would be a kindness.”

But Jimmie was turning his gaze eagerly from side to side, looking for something to vent his goodwill upon. In the broad farm country there was nothing to see.

“A fence I could mend,” he was muttering. “Anything at all. A kind deed, in the name of Christmas.”

Ahead a car was standing by the roadside and, as we drove near, Jim let out a shout of joy.

The hood of the car was lifted. And nobody was in sight.

“Here’s the answer to my prayer,” said Jimmie, stopping opposite the derelict and shutting off the engine.

“What are you going to do?” I demanded. “It’s four o’clock and we said we’d be home for dinner.”

“Some poor fellow,” cried Jimmie, switching off his overcoat and digging into the pocket of the car door for an old pair of cotton work gloves he always carries there, “some poor fellow has gone for help, and it’s three or four miles to the next village. When he gets back his car will be fixed.”

“Don’t be fool, Jim,” I protested. “Maybe he doesn’t want anybody tinkering with his engine.”

But Jimmie had walked back to the other car and started his inspection.

“O.K.,” he called “He’s left his key in it. Just as I expected. Some gentle, innocent fellow, with no knowledge of mechanics.”

I got out and joined him.

“We’ve no time to waste,” I declared.

“It won’t take me five minutes,” said Jim. “You know me, I’ve owned all the crocks that are made. What I don’t know about engines hasn’t been invented yet.”

“It may be some serious injury,” I warned him. “Like the rear end gone or something. You might only wreck it.”

The Role of Unknown Friend

Jim got in and stepped on the starter. The starter hummed and turned the engine over. But there was no responding ignition.

“There you are,” cried Jim gaily. “Ignition. Or dirty points. Or carburetor trouble. I’ll find it in two shakes.”

“I wish you’d leave it alone,” I insisted.

But as he went to work with his wrench, taking out plugs and examining them, and rapidly checking over the wiring, he told me:

“If he isn’t back by the time I’m done, I’ll fasten down the hood again and leave a note. ‘Fixed. With the compliments of an unknown friend.’ Can you imagine the feelings of the man?”

“Suppose,” I asked, “he has gone and got a garage man? Suppose they come away out here in a tow truck? What will the feelings of the garage man be?”

“This car,” said Jimmie, “bears every evidence of belonging to a poor man, a man who cannot afford to hire tow trucks. I think he is more likely in one of those farm houses ahead, asking some farmer to come back and help him.”

“Hurry up,” I urged him. “It’s four-fifteen.”

So Jim wrenched and examined. He tested all the plugs and all the wiring. He removed the carburetor, cleaned it and put it back. I sat in the car, and as each step in the overhaul was completed, Jimmie asked me to step on the starter and see if she responds. But she did not respond.

“I would also say,” said Jim, resting his back, that this car belonged to a careless, happy-go-lucky man. Probably a very lovable type of person. Everything is neglected. The plugs were filthy. The wiring is almost rotten.”

Carefully adjusting the mixture on the carburetor, he asked me to step on her again. I did so.

“Jim,” I cautioned him. “I think by the sound of it this battery is getting weak. We’d better not do much more stepping on it.”

“Oh, it’s all right,” he said, bending into the vitals again.

He checked the starter connections and the timing. He followed all through the battery connections and removed and cleaned the terminals, which were caked with green corrosion. I stepped on it, still it wouldn’t go.

“Jim, this battery is certainly getting weak,” I insisted, “Let’s get going. You’ve done enough. You’ve done your best.”

“My best, ha?” said Jim, now quite greasy and smudged. “You’ve not seen my best yet, my lad.”

“What are you going to do now?” I begged.

“It may be water in the cylinders,” said Jim, “or leaky gaskets, or it might be the valves so sticky they won’t let go. In any case, off comes the casing.”

“Aw,” I said, getting out and starting to walk up the road in the hope of seeing the owner coming in the distance. But nobody was coming. And no smoke came from any of the chimneys of the distant farms. And no birds or animals or dogs moved.

The Owner Appears

When I got back, Jim had the car practically disemboweled. With the casing removed the valves stuck up black and gummy and decayed-looking Jim was wiping them and feeling under them with a nail file.

“The gasket was entirely worn out and retted,” he said, “He’ll have to have a new gasket anyway.”

“How will he get it?” I inquired. “Walk back for it or will we run his messages?”

“He’ll probably have a garage man with him,” said Jim easily. “I hope he has. What time is it now?”

“Four-fifty,” I said quietly.

“Step on it again.” said Jim

I stepped on it. But nothing happened. The starter suddenly stuck.

“There,” I said, “the battery’s quit.”

“She’ll be all right in a minute or two,” said Jim. “Well, it isn’t the valves and tappets.”

With the big wrench, he began to work on the nuts of the cylinder head.

“Wait a minute, Jim.” I shouted. “That’s a major operation.”

“It will have to be done by somebody,” he replied, with Christian fervor. “And now that I’m at it…”

He bent and swung at the corroded nuts. One by one he loosened them, drawing out the long pins and bolts. One of the corner nuts would not budge. He left it to the last. Then he went back at it with determination. With a grunt, it broke off, level with the top.

“A fine condition to let a car into,” cried Jim, angrily. “Now she is in a mess.”

“Anyway,” I informed him, “here comes somebody.”

Up the road, in the distance, a figure approached. He was carrying, we saw as he neared, a gasoline can. When he saw us at his car, he began to hurry. He was a small man, dark, foreign-looking.

“Hello, vot’s diss?” he called as he hastened towards us.

“We were just seeing if we couldn’t make your engine go for you,” replied Jim, heartily.

“You couldn’t make it go widout gas,” said the gentleman, and then he saw his engine. “Oy, oy, oy, oy!”

“It must be,” said Jim, “water in the cylinders.”

“It’s gas it run out of,” cried the little man, wildly. “And now you got it in pieces.”

“It was in bad shape,” said Jim. “I cleaned up your plugs and points …”

“Bad shape?” wailed the little man. “Bad shape? It was a good car. All she needed is a little gas.”

“She was positively dangerous,” stated Jim, heatedly. “In a dreadful shape.”

No Sense of Gratitude

“Fix her together again,” commanded the little man with sudden angry dignity. “Fix her right away together again.”

He pointed dramatically at the ruin.

“Well,” said Jim.

He tried to screw the cylinder head on but the broken nut at the corner left slight gape that both Jim and I knew would be fatal.

He fastened the lid back over the tappets, but there was no gasket except a few rugged tags of rotted cork. And he knew that would be bad.

Meanwhile the owner poured his can of gasoline into the tank at the back.

“There,” said Jimmie, hopefully, “get in and start her up.”

The stranger got in and stepped on his starter. No response. He trumped and stamped.

“You killed my battery,” he accused angrily, “Crank her.”

He got the crank and handed it to Jimmie. Jim cranked and yanked and swung. No results. The little stranger was getting madder every moment. He rolled his eyes to heaven in helpless expostulation. Jim rested a moment and the stranger leaned out the window:

“What do you want to fiddle with my car anyhow?” he asked

“You wouldn’t understand,” said Jim. “It was just an impulse to do a kindly act.”

“She was running beautiful,” wailed the stranger. “And how she won’t run at all. Crank her again.”

Jim cranked and I cranked, and we adjusted the carburetor and altered the mixture and choked and unchoked.

Suddenly the stranger got out.

“Look,” he said, “I’m a business man. I got business. I’m in a hurry. I tell you I’ll take your car and you take mine. When you got her going bring it here, and get your car back.”

“No you don’t,” said Jimmie.

“No I don’t?” shouted the little man furiously. “I leave my car and go to get some gas. I come back and two…”

“All right, all right,” said Jim. “We’ll drive you back into town and pay for the garage man to come out.”

“I got business,” said the stranger. “It’s me will drive you into town and you come back with the garage man…”

And that’s the way it was, Jimmie going in as a passenger in his own car and returning in half an hour, in the dark, with the tow truck. The garage man towed us in the stranger’s car to his repair shop, refastened the cylinder head, twiddled this and that and cranked her, and away she went. Four dollars.

It was seven p.m.

“Jim,” I said, as we drove carefully homeward in the rickety car, “the least you can do, the Christian thing, would be to have his battery recharged.”

“To heck with him,” said Jimmie “He has no sense of gratitude.”


Editor’s Notes: Some jurisdictions had traditional “moving days” in the past when leases would come due and many people would move. In New York City, it was May first. It was the same in Quebec, until moving day was moved to July first, in 1973. It still exists today.

Give Us Enough Rope

By Greg Clark, October 21, 1933

“Jimmie,” I said, “a fellow named MacQuorquodale has offered me an old one-ton truck if I’ll remove it from his premises.”

“What would you want it for?” asked Jim Frise.

“I want a dog van for my hounds,” I explained. “I’ve got so many now, I can’t carry them all in my car. So I’ll got this old truck and build a kind of chicken coop on it with slats. And it will be perfect for carrying the hounds out to the country.”

“Well, what about it?” asked Jim.

“I thought maybe you would help me tow it home,” I said. “You drive me up in your car and tow me home in the truck.”

“‘It isn’t working, eh?”

“No, Mr. MacQuorquodale said it would take ten or fifteen dollars to fix it up,” I explained.

“Sure, any time,” said Jim.

So the other evening Jim picked me up and drove me to North Toronto to Mr. MacQuorquodale’s coal and wood yard for the old truck.

Mr. MacQuorquodale was sitting smoking in the little shack which is his head office when we arrived in Jimmie’s big car shortly before seven o’clock.

“There she is, boys,” he said, as we got out in the wood yard. “Not much to look at, but there is stuff in her.”

“It’s very kind of you,” I assured him.

“Don’t mention it, I’ll be glad to see the last of her,” said Mr. MacQuorquodale.

“Now,” I said, “as to tying her on to Jim’s car.”

“You brought a towing rope?” asked Mr. MacQuorquodale.

“Jimmie, I suppose you have a towing rope amongst your things in a big car like this?” I asked.

“No,” said Jim, as matter of fact, I haven’t.”

“Have you got a bit of rope around here I could borrow?” I asked Mr. MacQuorquodale. “Or some hay wire or anything?”

Mr. MacQuorquodale looked at me narrowly.

“I haven’t,” he said, “and it’s a funny thing a man coming to tow away a car wouldn’t bring a tow rope. Do you know anything about towing a car?”

“What there is to know,” I answered. “It was just an oversight. Is there a corner store nearby and I can skin down and get a clothesline.”

“You can’t tow a car with a clothesline,” objected Mr. MacQuorquodale, with growing impatience. I felt any minute he might change his mind about giving me the old truck. So often the kind of men who give things away are short tempered.

“I was thinking of doubling the clothesline,” I explained.

A Little Job of Towing

Mr. MacQuorquodale used bad language as he turned away and went into the shed behind his head office. He came back lugging an enormous armful of heavy half-inch rope in huge coils, half of it trailing on the ground.

“Now lookit,” he said, throwing down the rope. “Here’s a good rope off a block and tackle. I’ve had it for years and it cost a lot of money. It’s just the right length for a block and tackle, and I can’t give you any piece off it either. So I’ll just let you, borrow the whole rope, because I’m dead anxious to get rid of that eyesore out of my woodyard.”

“What will we do with the rest of it?” I asked.

“Just use one end,” shouted Mr. MacQuorquodale, “and fasten that old cooking pot of a truck on to your limousine, and coil what is left over of it inside the truck. Then you can return me the rope in the morning. Is that fair enough?”

“You’re very kind,” I said. “Very kind indeed.”

“All right, now,” said he, loudly. “Fasten her up and get out because I want to go to a meeting.”

Jim and I picked up the heap of rope. It weighed half a ton.

“My goodness, how much rope is there here?” I asked.

“There’s three hundred and fifty feet,” said Mr. MacQuorquodale. “Every inch of it in good shape, too.”

Jim and I worked out one end of the rope and passed it a couple of times around the axle of Jimmie’s car and then we tied a few good hitches on the front parts of the old truck. We wove it under the front axle and around a couple of shackles and then up around the radiator. We made a good strong job out of it, and then tied a knot.

We used about eighteen feet of the rope. The rest of it we picked up, still attached to the part we were using, and laid it, in a big coil, in the back of the one-ton truck.

“How’s that for length?” I asked Jimmie and Mr. MacQuorquodale. The truck was tied about seven feet back of Jim’s car.

“All right, all right.” said Mr. MacQuorquodale, walking to the gate of the wood yard to see us off.

“Does she steer pretty good?” I asked, mounting into the cab of the truck.

“Fine,” said he.

“Brakes any good?”

“They’ll need attention,” said he. “She’s been lying here two winters.”

“O.K., Jimmie,” I called.

We jerked and rolled nicely out of the wood yard and I managed a polite and grateful wave to Mr. MacQuorquodale in the gateway. Jim, looking back through the window, asked with his eyebrows if all was well, and I waved him a highball.

And we rolled pleasantly along the street toward Yonge.

The Smell Stayed With Us

Driving a towed car, you have to be wide awake all the time. You can’t take your eyes off the road for a minute to look at anything interesting in passing. The slightest check in the driver leading and you are liable to crash into his rear. I explain this, in case you ever have to drive a towed car. I would like you to realize that what happened was in no way due to my carelessness or any want of watchfulness on my part.

Jim is one of those fellows who never like to drive on the main streets. Personally, I prefer them. Perhaps you can’t skip along just as lively, but you at least don’t have that awful sensation at side streets that you experience when you are trying to take short cuts.

Once or twice, as we sailed along across Yonge St. and wended our way by all sorts of side streets I had never seen before, we came to cross streets with cars coming up or down them, and there was lots of time for Jim to get across, but my heart was in my mouth, because how did those drivers know that I was being towed? They might expect me to stop or slow down. And of course I couldn’t.

I will admit that a couple of times I tramped on the brakes almost instinctively as we came to cross streets with cars approaching. It is just a sort of habit. I realized it would do no good. But your feet get trained to act automatically.

It may have been these times when I half tramped the brakes that caused the knot in the rope to weaken. I admit that. In fact, I don’t attempt to assess the blame in any sense whatsoever. And the way Jimmie tells this story is his own affair.

Anyway, about six blocks west of Yonge St. I noticed the first smell of smoke. I tried to pretend at first that it was just some factory we were passing. But the smell stayed with us and grew more distinct. It was a very queer smell, like oil burning, and yet like cloth burning. A very nasty and suspicious odor.

As I say, I did not have much time to look around. Jim was hauling away at a merry clip, turning corners and passing parked cars on some of those narrower residential streets, and I needed all my attention on Jim’s car in front.

Suddenly I saw smoke swirling up through the floor boards of the truck and past the windows.

I know now that it was only the old and dried brake bands that were smoldering. But how was I to know it might not be the engine, the transmission or even the car itself?

I suddenly saw myself being dragged along at a high rate of speed in a flaming truck, unable to jump, unable to escape from my blazing prison, my screams unheard by Jimmie until it was too late. I could almost smell my flesh burning.

What would you do under these circumstances? What I did was to stamp on the silly, worthless brakes and to sway the car from side to side as much as I dared in an effort to attract Jimmie’s attention and slow him down until I could let go the steering wheel to signal him to stop.

Jimmie explains now that he felt the tugging and swaying but he thought it was just my mode of driving anyway.

What happened was that instead of attracting Jim’s attention, my tactics merely loosened the knot that Jimmie and I tied on the front of the truck. The knot slipped.

And the rope began paying out!

My horror, as I saw Jim drawing away from me, it is impossible to impart. Foot by foot, I beheld Jimmie pulling ahead. For a joyous instant, I thought the rope had broken. But by sitting up I could see the rope still between us. and I realized the full horror of the situation. The coiled rope in the back of my truck was paying out slowly, but still had enough purchase in the knot we had tied to keep me trolling merrily along behind him.

I tried to think. I tried to hope the rope would all pay out and then I would be free. I wondered how long it would take.

Jim drew thirty, forty, fifty feet ahead. Seventy-five, a hundred.

He turned a corner and disappeared!

Still drawn relentlessly on, I came to the corner and made the turn, practically certain that a car would meet me at the crossing with disastrous results. But in the dusk of the evening nothing was in sight except Jimmie bowling easily along, now a good hundred fifty feet ahead of me.

Could I dare leave the wheel and cut the rope? Did I even have my pen knife with me? Should jump and let everything go hang, and perhaps endanger lives as that truck dangled helplessly and wildly after Jimmie? Anyway, it was going too fast for me to jump.

Jim turned around another corner and vanished.

Suddenly I felt the truck slow down. The rope slackened and I saw it drop to the ground.

“Hurray, Jimmie had stopped! ! !

I was about to leap from the truck and rush ahead around the corner to meet Jimmie when I saw the rope tighten with jerk, and at a breakneck speed I was yanked down the street and around the corner, just in time to see Jimmie’s car vanish around another corner to the right.

What happened was this. Jim turned the corner and looked back to see if I was still with him.

I had disappeared. He instantly stopped. He thought the rope had broken. But he recalled feeling the jerking and yanking I had been giving him, so he presumed I was just up the street a way, so rather than make a turn in a narrow street, he decided to run around the block and come on me from behind and perhaps push me out of traffic’s way until we could tie a new hold.

He could, of course, see no rope when he looked back. It was lying on the ground, slack.

So there he was speeding around the block in search of me, and I coming after him, smoking like a Viking funeral ship, and steering around corners at a pace I shall remember in my nightmares all the rest of my life.

Fortunately, at a little before seven o’clock in a quiet residential neighborhood, there is not much traffic and few children are out on a dampish October evening.

I think I recall a half dozen pedestrians standing open mouthed as the strange procession went three times around those two blocks while Jimmie hunted for me. He knew I could not be far off. He had seen me and felt me not two minutes before he lost me.

One motorist came up the street and saw the rope in time to slow down, and there he parked as I came bouncing by in the old truck, a great cloud of smoke billowing after me, drawn by some unseen power.

I was not, as Jimmie now claims, unconscious. I was just resigned to my fate. I was fully conscious. If I had been unconscious, I am sure I would have thought nothing of steering the truck into a tree or something to end the farce.

Jimmie made the rounds of one more block, in great mystification, before he decided to drive back the route he had come from Mr. MacQuorquodale’s. He felt he would surely meet up with me somewhere along that route, although by this time he was beginning to fear I had gone straight up in the air, truck and all.

So he ceased circling blocks, and steered a straightaway course which at last pulled me into full view, three hundred feet behind him. Because when the rope came to its end, there was a knot on it which effectively tightened the knot Jimmie and I had tied. In fact, it took Mr. MacQuorquodale himself to untie it. That is, if did untie it. Because we left the truck rope back in Mr. MacQuorquodale’s for him to find in the morning.

Jim, as he drove straightaway along the way we had come, kept watching down all side streets for me, because he felt I was somewhere around.

And out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of something coming behind him, something erratic, and belching smoke, and generally acting in a most untrafficky manner.

He slowed. Took a long, keen look.

And then backed up to me.

I was on a lawn, lying down resting.

“Goodness,” he said.

“Jimmie,” I said weakly, from the ground, “don’t try to explain!”

He got a pail of water from one of the houses and poured it on the brake bands. We coiled the rope back into the truck, and this time Jim pushed me in the truck ahead of him.

We went back and left it in Mr. MacQuorquodale’s wood yard.

“Because,” I pointed out, “it is hardly the type of thing I wanted for a dog van anyway.”

Nuts!

By Greg Clark, September 21, 1940

“This war,” stated Jimmie Frise, “is completely different from any previous wars.”

“I’ll say it is,” I admitted, “with air bombings and …”

“No, no,” interrupted Jim; “I don’t mean just the weapons. A thousand years ago they used giant wooden catapults to heave barrels of burning tar over the walls of cities. There is really no difference in the tools of war. The difference I refer to is that in old wars they wanted big, strong, tough men for the army. Now they want trained intelligences.”

“Machines call for something more than brawn,” I pointed out.

“In old wars,” went on Jim, “all we lost were the biggest and toughest of our population. Now we are risking our more precious possession – our intelligent men.”

“Maybe it is time the brainy ones took a share in defending the country,” I suggested. “In old wars the strong guys marched away and the brainy ones stayed at home and profiteered.”

“I think the strangest thing I have met with in a long time,” said Jimmie, “was a young man of my acquaintance, a big, magnificent specimen of a 23-year-old who broke down and wept because he hadn’t his matriculation and couldn’t get into the air force.”

“That’ll teach him,” I remarked.

“But one of the good things about this war,” continued Jim, “is that it is stressing the importance of intelligence and training. All the talk about education and schooling of the past 50 years didn’t stir up the young men and youth of the world the way this war will.”

“I suppose we’ve got to think up some good out of the war,” I admitted.

“Think of the way everybody’s mind is being stirred up,” said Jim. “I bet there was more geography learned in the eight months between September, 1939, and May, 1940 than was learned in all the schools and universities of the world in the past century.”

“Even the knitting is becoming more intellectual,” I added. “Last war the girls knitted socks and mufflers, and occasionally a brave girl would try a balaclava helmet. But you should see the complicated things they are knitting for this war. Navy mitts, with flaps for the trigger fingers to come out. Flying helmets and complicated chest protectors.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jim, “this war is bringing out the brains. When this war is over there will be 100,000 expert motor mechanics in Canada.”

“A man who can take a Bren gun apart,” I agreed, “won’t be stumped by a mere outboard motor.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim, “this war is showing up a lot of rackets. The motor repair business is one of them. If all those hundreds of thousands of youngsters can learn motor mechanics in a matter of a few days, there is no reason why anybody, especially intelligent people couldn’t do their own motor repairs and do them better than any garage that is trying to pay the rent by slapping 50 jobs through each day.”

“I think it’s the grease and oil that scares me off,” I admitted. “Like so many pioneers’ grandsons, I hate getting mucky. My ancestors got too mucky. I’m the reaction.”

Attempting a Valve Job

“What I’m working up to,” confessed Jim, “is my car needs a valve job. And in times like these I can’t see any reason why I shouldn’t do it myself.”

“Go ahead,” I urged him. “Go right ahead.”

“I mean,” said Jim, “with motor mechanics so scarce now, I wouldn’t be gypping anybody out of a living by doing what they ought to do. And besides, I haven’t got the money.”

“Go right ahead,” I assured him. “It’s one of those things you have to make up your own mind about.”

“Well, I was hoping you’d perhaps be interested enough to want to share in the experience,” said Jim. “Somebody would have to help me.”

“Get your brother-in-law,” I suggested. “He’s more your height for lifting things. Any time I help you I always get the low end.”

“What I really need you for,” confessed Jim, “is to help me follow the book of instructions I’ve got. You’re so good at that intellectual stuff.

“I might come over,” I said.

And I did.

Jim has a book all about engines. It is called “Your Engine.” It is filled with drawings, showing machinery, with dotted lines, and hands lifting things off, and arrows pointing. Jim and I went down to his garage and turned on the lights. He has a big box full of all the tools he has ever had with all his cars, and as he never turns the tools in with an old car, he has about 200 pounds of them.

While I sorted out tools Jim sat on the running-board and read the chapter entitled: “Removing Carbon and Grinding Valves.”

“Remove spark plugs and unscrew cylinder head, retaining nuts at X, X, X,” read Jim.

“Where is XXX?” I asked.

“Never mind – that’s on the diagram,” said Jim “Let me read it all through, and then we can go over it, sentence by sentence suiting the action to the words.”

He read on and on, while I punctuated it with tools on the cement floor. It sounded rather terrible as he proceeded. The tools were mostly rusty and many of them seemed injured or broken. But I had them strung from the front of the garage to the back by the time Jim concluded the chapter on removing carbon.

“I tell you,” I said, as Jim stood up and spit on his hands. “Let’s get a mechanic to come over. He could just sit here, on his night off and watch just to see we don’t go wrong.”

Jim gave me a look. “Do you mean to say,” he burst out “that a couple of high-class, intelligent men like us can’t follow a book of rules?”

He swept the engine hood cover off his car and exposed the large, cold, rusty and sullen-looking engine.

“Hand me the thingummy,” he said. “You know. Unwinds spark plugs.”

It is that bent jigger you use to change tires with, too. There were seven of them on the floor, and I picked the newest-looking one.

Unwinding a Lot of Nuts

Jim unwound the spark plugs and with a large wrench started in on the lid that hides the works. There were a lot of wires from the spark plugs, and he laid them aside. The iron lid of everything did not seem to be any freer when the nuts came off, so he got me to help him, and we drove a cold chisel along the crack and pried the lid off. It was heavy, and when it gave it gave suddenly and fell over on the far side, crashing into the carburetor and one thing and another. But we dragged it out and laid it on the floor.

Revealed now was a most unholy pickle of oily rods, springs, rockers, like the inside of a grandfather’s clock.

“Now,” said Jim, briskly, looking at the book, “take wrench and remove rocker arms and tappets. Hand me wrench.”

Out of the pile of wrenches on the floor I gave him a couple of 1926 and a 1934. He selected one and proceeded to seize hold of the oily wreckage, like a gentleman starting to carve the carcass of yesterday’s chicken. He pulled this way and that, and presently, without the least trouble, pulled out a long thin rod as long as a skewer. Bending down, he located several of these and drew them out and then, after loosening all the nuts that showed, the rocker arms fell off with a loud clank.

“Now remove cylinder head,” said Jim “Lend a hand there, lad.”

“Can I unwind nuts, too?” I inquired.

“Sure,” said Jim “Go to them.”

So I on one side and Jim on the other, unwound nuts until we each had a pile of them on the running boards and several on the floor.

Jim heaved the cylinder head and it came over my side, crashing on to the generator, the starting motor and bending the oil intake pipe. It was very heavy, and the sets of springs sticking up from it caught in various projections, so that we had to rig a rope over one of the scantlings of the garage roof and haul it out of the engine and even at that it brought several other things with it, including the rod that is attached to the choke. We hoisted it and then eased it down on to the floor.

Now we could see right into the engine, with its pistons and cylinders and carbon was to be seen on all sides.

“To remove pistons.” said Jim, “pan must be first removed.”

We looked for a pan, but none was visible.

“Well,” said Jim, “you can’t scrape carbon off the cylinders until you take out the pistons. Maybe they come out some other way.”

We pried at them, rapped them, undid several small nuts here and there, but if pistons are those things that fill the cylinders the way the porridge part of a double boiler fits the water part, then we couldn’t budge them.

“Would the pan be underneath?” I asked.

So Jim took a flashlight and disappeared under the engine.

“There is a kind of a big pan under here,” said Jim, hitting it with a wrench. “Hear it?”

“Take it off,” said I. “It won’t hurt.”

“Come on down,” invited Jim.

Trying to Get ‘Em Back

We found the pan was attached with large nuts, and these required one man to hold the big 1927 wrench and the other to hit the wrench with a hammer. It is curious how different a hammer is when you are lying down aiming east instead of south. Jim let me do the hammer part until I hit his head, which was three feet from the wrench. Then he let me hold the wrench for a rest. We got all the nuts off but the last one.

“Easy now,” said Jim as he unwound it; get under here and get ready to hold it with your arms and knees.”

The nut came off and down came the pan, teetering, and in it were two gallons of old black oil, most of which Jimmy got on top of him, and I got the rest of it by lying in it and absorbing it from below.

“Why didn’t you think of that?” I cried as we struggled from under the pan and got to our feet. But Jim, wiping oil out of his eyes, was studying the book, “Your Engine.”

The taste of oil is sickening. I wonder any mechanic ever looks as well as he does.

“Now, how about the pistons?” said Jim “Pistons may be removed from main shaft.”

But we could not find the main shaft. We looked everywhere except underneath for it, and of course neither of us intended to get underneath any more that night. The floor was half an inch deep with gravy.

“If I were to start the engine now,” suggested Jim, “I bet everything would fall out, pistons and all, so we could get at them. But I don’t want to sit in the seat with all this oil on me.”

So we went back to removing nuts and bolts and laying them in neat piles.

“When do you start grinding the valves?” I asked.

Jim picked up the book, which was already soaking up quite a lot of oil, and read:

“Insert valve-grinding tool. Do you see a valve-grinding tool anywhere there?”

“What’s it like?”

“I don’t know, it will be a sort of file or something. Look around you’ll see one.” But I could find nothing that resembled a valve-grinding tool.

“Jim,” I asked, “what time is it?”

“Ten-fifteen,” said he, in some surprise.

“I’ll have to be going,” said I.

“Going?” cried Jim. “What do you mean, going? Good heavens, we have just started. You’ve got to help

me put this all back again.”

“Nothing doing,” said I. “I said I’d come and help you unassemble it, but I don’t intend to sit up all night over your car.”

“Here, just a minute,” said Jim. “Let’s put it together again, and I’ll pass up grinding it. We’ll just throw it together in a few minutes.”

“I’ll stay a little while and help you with the heavy bits,” said I.

“Let’s put that pan on,” said Jim.

“Leave it till morning,” said I. “Most of the oil will be run off by then or dried up.”

“Then this big cylinder head,” said Jim.

“Hold on,” said I; “we took a lot of little nuts out since then. And these pins. Get everything back the way we took it out.”

Calling for the Expert

And that was where we began to tire of the job. Because none of the nuts fitted. They all seemed to have shrunk or swelled. Jim bent down and breathed heavily on his side while I grunted and spat on my side, in the best mechanic style, but pretty soon we both straightened up and leaned back to rest our backs, and looked at it.

“Have you got any on yet?” asked Jim

“I’ve got two on, but they don’t go on very far.”

Jim came around to my side and then we both went back to his side. There seemed to be far more places for nuts to go on than there were nuts.

“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle,” said Jim.

“Go and telephone for a garage man,” said I. “Unless you don’t want your car this week.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Jim, reaching in with his wrench. There was a clatter and a clunk and Jim had dropped his wrench and it had gone down somewhere into the machinery. “Hand us the flashlight.”

We both peered and felt and fiddled, but we could not see or feel that wrench. My hand being oily, I felt the flashlight slipping and it suddenly fell into the works. Its light went out, and no matter how we probed and fumbled, we could not feel the flashlight. And the garage light was a fixture in the roof.

“Go and telephone a garage,” said I.

So Jim went in and called a garage and came back and sat on the running board with me. The garage man came with his derrick car, and when he saw us and the car be put his cap back on his head and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Gees,” he said.

“How much is a carbon and valve job?” asked Jim.

“Oh, about $16 on this car,” said the garage man.

“Well, we’ve got it all open for you, said Jim; “that ought to cut some of the labor cost.”

“I was just figurin’,” said the garage man. “It would cost about six dollars more to get all them nuts back and that pan in place. You’ve clean disemboweled her, ain’t you?”

“We’ve lost a wrench and a flashlight in her somewhere,” said Jim.

“And these nuts and pins,” said the garage man. “How did you happen to get them piled up so nice?”

“How long will it take you?” asked Jim.

“About all day tomorrow,” said the garage man doubtfully, walking all around the car and sizing up the piles of stuff.

So I drove Jim to work the next day.

Demonstration

By Greg Clark, August 31, 1940

“Look at that,” exclaimed Jimmie Frise under his breath.

Across the street, a brand new light blue car was pulled up at the curb and a man and his wife were circling slowly and daftly around it while right behind them, an eager expression on his face, another man, obviously a car salesman, followed them close.

“We ought to be pleased somebody has enough money to buy a new car,” I submitted.

“I hope they don’t buy that one,” said Jim. “I had one of those in 1930. Of all the lemons I ever owned!”

“That’s a pretty good make of car now,” I corrected. “In 10 years they can improve a car a lot.”

“The makers of that car,” stated Jim, “are not interested in making cars. All they’re interested in is making money. I like a car made by people who have all the money they want and who therefore go in for making cars.”

“Nobody ever has enough money,” I disagreed. “Just because man has a hundred million dollars, do you think he will quit? Never. He will dig in with fresh zest to see if he can have as much fun making the second hundred million as he had with the first. Don’t ever delude yourself with the idea men will get tired of making money.”

“I hope he doesn’t buy that car,” said Jim anxiously, as we watched the neighbor get in behind the wheel of the light blue beauty, while his wife and the salesman got in the back seat.

“What the dickens has it got to do with you?” I demanded. “Relax, brother.”

“There is really only one car on the market,” stated Jim. “I’ve got my second one now …”

“Oho, Jim,” I scoffed, “not that thing you drive! That’s not a car that’s a truck. You don’t …”

“I suppose,” said Jim, bitterly, “you would recommend the make of car you drive? When two weeks after you bought it, you were threatening the people who sold it to you that you would drive ’round the streets of Toronto with a big sign on it, “This Is a Lemon’.”

“Every new car takes a little time to break in,” I confessed. “I admit I was a little hasty about that car. It’s certainly okay now. But that poor old lawn mower of yours. Why, Jim, there isn’t a week goes by that I don’t hear you cursing and moaning about your car…”

“Just a habit,” cut in Jimmie. “Just a habit. A man gets into the habit of cussing out his car. It’s only a trick for covering up his own neglect of the car, not getting the little things attended to greasing, tightening up and so on. I tell you, a car has to be a good car to stand up to the treatment I give it.”

“It seems to me,” I said, “your car has been in the repair shop twice in the past three weeks?”

“Well, it’s a year old.” explained Jim, “and just nicely broken in. It needed the clutch relined and then the other day I heard a kind of whine in the rear end. They put in a new bearing or two. That’s nothing out of the way at the end of a year. Why, the car I had in 1930 of that make across the road there, had to be torn apart and entirely rebuilt with spare parts in the first six months I owned it.”

Selecting a New Car

“The wise guys tell me,” I stated, that the sure way to get a good car is this: Inquire around the garage as to which make of car had the most grief last year. Then buy one of that make this year. The makers having suffered a severe lesson one year go the limit to ensure a good car the next year.”

“There they go,” interrupted Jim. The lovely car across the road gave a grind or two of new and unaccustomed gears and slowly moved into action. Smooth as a canoe, it crawled into speed and vanished, so fresh and graceful, up the street.

“Just like a bride,” mused Jimmie. “A man with a new car is a man in love.”

“Selecting a new car,” I mused too, “is like marriage. For better or for worse. You make your choice. And what comes of the match depends not only on how you treat the car, but what the car has in it. Like wives, lots of cars can be treated terribly and still stand up and play the game. And others, no matter how you pamper them, are forever cranky and forever letting you down.”

“Let’s watch for them coming back,” said Jim. “We can tell by the expression on their faces. Gee, I hope he doesn’t choose that car.”

“Why not?” I insisted.

“Because,” said Jim. “I’ve got an idea. You know who I bought my car from? He’s one of our gang that plays pool at noon…”

“Aaaaaahhh,” I exclaimed. “So that’s how you select your car?”

“It’s as good a way as any,” growled Jim. “Anyway, I was just thinking it would be a nice thing to turn him a little business. If these people come back with a look on their faces that means they aren’t decided yet, I’m going to phone Sam to come right out with a demonstrator car.”

“Kind of nervy, don’t you think?” I submitted.

“I’m a good neighbor,” retorted Jim. “I see a neighbor trying to choose a new car. What more decent thing could I do than give him the benefit of my experience?”

“Yes, and throw a sale in the direction of one of your pool-shooting friends,” I added.

“Well,” said Jim, “business has been bad lately, and Sam hasn’t been able to put his mind on his game. There is no use playing pool with a man whose mind is depressed. If I can cheer the guy up …”

Around the corner came the light blue car. Slow and pretty, she crept up the street in that stately pace we subject new cars to. She halted across the street and the three sat in her, considering. The salesman talked eloquently and took out a little book and read from it. The wife kept squirming around viewing the inside from various angles. The husband in front kept playing with the gadgets and shifting the gears and opening the glove box in the dash. Turned on lights. Tooted the horn delicately.

“Pssst,” hissed Jim. “It’s no sale, I can tell. If it was a sale, the wife would have been in the house by now to telephone her friends.”

“Let’s watch,” I muttered,

The salesman got out and lifted the hood. He persuaded the husband to get out and come and look in. But the husband walked around to the back, opened the trunk and stared in.

“No sale, no sale,” whispered Jim excitedly “When a man looks like that into the trunk compartment, it’s no sale. I’m going in to call Sam.”

And Jim dashed in and I heard him at the telephone. Across the street, the little drama played itself out. The wife sauntered up the walk and stood looking back at the car thoughtfully. The husband stood slightly aloof while the salesman perspired and indicated, with his finger point, special passages out of his little black book. Then Jim came out.

“Sam isn’t at the shop and he isn’t at home,” he groaned. “I bet he is somewhere shooting pool.”

“I’ve got it,” I offered. “Why don’t you demonstrate for Sam? With your car.”

Jim’s eyes lighted. He half started across the lawn.

“Wait,” I cautioned. “The decent thing would be to let the other poor devil depart in peace.”

So we sat gloating on the steps until the salesman of the light blue car finally and reluctantly got in, sat talking with the door open, shut the door, talked through the window, started the engine, continued to talk, let in gear, and went on making his final sales appeal, and at last lurched off and the husband started up the walk.

“Well,” called Jim cheerily and loudly, arresting him. “So it’s a new car for our street, hey?”

“What did you think of that one?” called the neighbor, whose name is Mr. Beevins.

“Pretty!” said Jim, “and you both looked mighty nice in it. But did you like the engine?”

“It all seemed a little stiff and wooden,” said Mr. Beevins, walking back down his walk and we walked down ours to meet him. “I like a car with a sort of lithe feeling, a sort of sinewy feel, if you get me.”

“Exactly,” agreed Jim. “Have you ever tried a So-and-So?”

Naming his own make of car.

“I’ve been in them. That’s a good car,” Mr. Beevins said. “But I had my mind on something a little less expensive.”

“Pshaw,” said Jim, “it’s only $100 or so more, and you get more than your money’s difference, I can tell you.”

“I’ve got four or five salesmen coming tonight,” said Mr. Beevins. “I’m not being stampeded. I’m going to try them all and take the one that sells itself. No salesmen for me. I’m letting the cars do it.”

“Why don’t you include a So-and-So?” suggested Jim, enthusiastically. “Now, you know what sort of a man I am. You’d know about how I would treat a car. Yet that So-and-So of mine has given me the most marvellous …”

Jim stopped and turned abruptly for his side drive as though suddenly smitten with an idea.

“Hold on a second,” he called back to us. “You’ve got five minutes.”

“There’ll be another salesman in about 10 minutes,” said Mr. Beevins to me. “I’ve got them coming on the half hour and the hour.”

“I think he’s going to let you try his car,” I suggested.

“Oh, no, no,” protested Mr. Beevins starting back up his walk.

“It’s not a bad idea,” I submitted earnestly. “After all, you don’t buy a car on its looks.”

With a roar and a rattle, Jim backed his old So-and-So out the side drive, showing how lithe and sinewy it was.

Before Mr. Beevins could retire into his house, Jim had backed in a large, agile curve and was talking out the window.

“Hop in here and take the wheel Beevins,” cried Jim, heartily. “It won’t take five minutes. You’ll get a better idea of the smartest car on the market today from driving this old bus than from all the specially oiled and selected demonstrators …

“I’ve got another salesman coming in about seven minutes,” protested Mr. Beevins.

“Just around the block,” said Jim.

So Beevins got in behind the steering wheel and I got in back.

“From the purely disinterested angle of a satisfied user,” said Jim, as Beevins stepped on the starter cautiously and fumbled at the clutch.

Beevins was not at ease. He gripped the steering wheel and puckered his face. He started to turn the corner to go around the block.

“No, no, straight on,” cried Jim, startling Beevins into keeping on up the street until we came to the highway.

“Just run her a piece out here,” said Jim, his arm affectionately along the back of the seat, “and let her out. I want you to feel a real sinewy car. As one neighbor to another, hey?”

He laughed gaily but Beevins just sat with his face puckered anxiously, humped over the wheel.

“Okay, we’re clear,” said Jim, “step on her.”

Too Much Neighborliness

Mr. Beevins stepped very reservedly on the gas and we got to forty. I haven’t been in Jim’s car lately, and I didn’t know it had so many sounds. It had a loud roar, a sort of base note, over which rang a dozen lesser tunes, of rattles, clunks, clicks, hisses and buzzes. Something tinny was loose somewhere and it kept a sort of faint clanging note going.

“Don’t pay any attention to the noises,” shouted Jim, cheerily. “That’s just the way I neglect it. But wait till you get her up around 60. The smoothest perform …”

She was going 40 when suddenly there was a bump and a horrible grinding sound which at the same time dragged the car to an agonized stop. Mr. Beevins steered her shakily to the shoulder of the road.

“It sounds like the rear end,” I submitted.

“I think a wire gave way,” said Jim. “Ignition.”

We got out and Jim lifted the hood while I got down and looked underneath. I could hear something hissing. The big dirty iron housings looked hot.

Mr. Beevins looked at his watch.

“The salesman will be at my house,” he said, “and my wife will be fussy about me being there.”

“Just a minute,” said Jim, “I want you to feel this baby at 60.”

“I’m afraid I’ll simply have to get back,” said Mr. Beevins. Traffic was whistling past and Mr. Beevins raised his thumb in the time honored signal.

“Now, just a second, Beevins,” pleaded Jim. “I’ll get this right in a minute. Don’t fret. We’ll be on our way home in five minutes.”

But Beevins went ahead thumbing and suddenly a small, sleek, low, racey seal brown car swooped to a stop just a few yards beyond us and Beevins ran towards it.

“Thanks, all the same, Frise,” he waved back. “This is the same make of car the salesman is waiting to show me…”

And he patted the seal brown stranger car’s top affectionately as he slid inside.

And like a bird taking off, that small sleek car swept almost soundlessly into motion and vanished like a streak up the highway homeward.

“That’s gratitude,” said Jim.

“You can carry neighborliness too far,” I pointed out.

“I hope he gets what he deserves,” said Jimmie. “Any man who buys a car on the appearance of it fresh from the factory …”

“I suppose,” I agreed, “that he ought to ride in all the neighbors’ crocks and choose the make that is the least wrecked.”

“What’s the matter with this?” demanded Jim hotly. “This is no crock. Apart from rattles …”

“And at the moment it won’t go,” I recalled to him.

So 100 yards up was a garage and came down and looked at us and diagnosed that the rear end had gone.

“It can’t be,” cried Jim. “I had the rear end overhauled less than a week ago.”

“Well,” said the garage man, “the rear end is gone.”

So Jim had it towed away downtown to the garage that does all his work. And we rode in the front of the towing truck as far as the front steps where we sat until dark and saw Mr. Beevins decide on the light blue one his wife had liked best right from the start.


Editor’s Notes: It was common in those days for car salesmen to come to your house to demonstrate cars, rather than go to them.

Caps All

By Greg Clark, July 22, 1933

“What irritates me,” I said to Jim Frise, as we bowled along the Lake Shore boulevard, “are these birds that drive in the middle of the road when they want to go at half speed.”

“Yeah,” said Jim, swerving around one of them. And the guys that want to make a right-hand turn and swing away out to the left, the way you used to turn a buggy around a corner.”

“Or worse,” said I, “the guy that wants to make left hand turn and comes up on your right.”

We overtook another of those centre-of-the-road drivers, and as we swerved away to pass him, I leaned out the window and snarled:

“Get over to the side if you don’t want to travel!”

“Aw, hire a hall!” yelled the offender.

“There’s no use trying to correct them,” said Jim.

“It’s a pity the police don’t devote some of their time to correcting the manners of drivers,” I said, instead of always testing brakes and watching speeders.”

“You mean police school of deportment?” asked Jim. “If you are caught committing any of these small breaches of driving etiquette, you get an invitation, on blue paper, to attend a course of lectures on manners at the police station.”

“That would be swell,” I said. “It would be more sensible than a fine. It seems to me the worst manners belong to those who can best afford to pay a fine. But you threaten people with a series of ten lectures by a policeman on hour a night, and by golly, they would watch their step.”

We overtook another driver who was so busy staring sideways at the bathing beauties along Sunnyside, that he was driving all over the road.

“Hey,” I shouted, as we passed him, “watch what you’re doing!”

“Thoop!” he retorted, which is one way of spelling a raspberry.

“You see?” commented Jim. “It’s no use trying to talk to them. You’ve got to have a uniform on. A police helmet, and you would be a great teacher.

“That gives me an idea,” I said, “Let’s get a couple of bank messenger caps, or chauffeur’s caps, and put them on and see what difference it makes when we check up some of these birds.”

“No chance,” said Jimmie. “That is what they call impersonating a police officer.”

“We won’t impersonate police,” I said. “We’ll organize a new association. We’ll call it the Society for the Improvement of Motoring Manners. Then we’ll appoint you and me as field workers. We will wear blue caps.”

“I don’t like those caps,” said Jim.

“Aw, why not? Bank messengers, Salvation Army, chauffeurs, anybody can wear a blue cap with a patent leather peak on it. We won’t wear uniforms. We’ll just wear the caps with these clothes we have on now. And let’s see what difference it makes when we check people up while wearing an official-looking cap.”

“I don’t mind other people’s manners nearly as much as you do,” said Jim, slamming on his brakes, swerving to the right to miss a lady who had suddenly decided to go back downtown. Jim turned and smiled sweet forgiveness to her, as she sat in her car flustered and red in the face. “We all make mistakes some time.”

They All Fall For a Cap

However, when I called around after supper at Jim’s with two handsome blue caps which I borrowed from a friend who is in the St. John Ambulance Corps, Jimmie weakened. They did not quite fit, but they certainly gave us a very official look from the neck up.

We went into Jim’s garden and sat down and held a meeting. We organized the Society for the Improvement of Motoring Manners. We elected Mayor Stewart as president, Charlie Conacher as vice-president, and then we, too, in full assembly met, appointed each other as field workers of the association, without pay.

And then we put on our caps and went out for the first demonstration.

Along Bloor St., we found several cars double parked. If you don’t know what double-parked means, it simply means that instead of going and finding a parking place and walking back to the store you wish to visit, you just stop in front of the store you want to visit, even when there is a complete line of cars parked there already. It is a swell idea. It just jams everything. It simply restores the old dirt road to Toronto.

We adjusted our caps to a severe angle and pulled alongside the offender. That is, we triple parked.

“Do you park like this often?” I asked with a cold glitter in my eye.

The handy little house husband at the wheel of the double parked car turned a sickly color.

“Sorry,” he said, grabbing for the starter with his foot.

“Make it snappy and don’t do it again,” I said quietly and coldly.

“Yes, sir,” said the obedient man.

We hope his wife was in a temper when they found each other.

As we coasted along Bloor, in the evening, a car suddenly leaped out from the kerb, and we had to take a wild swerve on to the car track to avoid colliding.

We backed up to it. A sulky looking youth was at the wheel.

“Do you do that often?” I asked, leaning out of the car window.

“Sorry,” he said. “I forgot to look.”

“Drive ahead of us,” I commanded. “Let’s see how you drive a car.”

The sulky youth, flushed and angry, having met, apparently for the first time, somebody he could not snarl at like his parents, pulled ahead of us and we followed him two blocks, while he drove at about fifteen miles an hour and with the utmost care. The back of his head fairly glowed with bad temper as he publicly shamed himself. Probably he never had driven so slow in all his life.

“Jim,” I said, “isn’t this great!”

“They sure fall for cap,” he said. “Now I know why bank messengers wear these caps. No wonder we pay the draft when they call with it.”

“Let’s get down to Sunnyside or out on a highway somewhere,” I said. “Let’s get some action.”

We went down for half an hour along the board walk. We checked up people for going slow, for cutting in, for trying to park in too small an opening

“Get along there,” I commanded to the pokey drivers. “If you want to see the sights, park and get out of the traffic. This is a highway.”

“Yes, sir,” the flustered drivers would exclaim. And their wives would all sit up and glare indignantly.

“Do You Do That Often?”

Over the Humber and out the highway we drove. Fat men seem to be the worst offenders. It appears that being fat, they enjoy the sense of speed and easy movement that can be obtained out of a car. Deprived by nature of enjoying easy and graceful movement, they take a great kick out of floating gracefully about in a car. With a line of cars coming toward us, and barely three car lengths to spare, a fast car shot in around us, and we could see a fat neck surmounted by head the size of a three for a quarter grapefruit.

“After him!” I hissed.

We overtook him, ran alongside and I motioned him to the side of the road.

Do you do that often?” I asked, sweetly and coldly.

“Sorry,” said the fat man breathlessly. “I have a very important engagement. My old mother … in fact, my wife, she’s you know… very urgent, officer, and I never did it before …”

“Don’t let that happen again,” I said levelly.

We drove on. And the fat man in the graceful ear followed us at respectful distance. We turned up a side road, and as far as we could see him, he held to twenty miles an hour.

“I wish some of these young sizzle sisters would come by in a sport roadster, with about nine in it. We’d make them empty half of them out, go home and call back for them.”

“Don’t let’s get into trouble,” said Jim. “This is my car.”

It was growing dusk. Ahead of us up the side road a car was parked. As we approached, we slowed down. The parked car suddenly leaped to life and ran ahead of us, with two young heads showing through the rear window, sitting very far apart and very prim.

All the way up that side road we approached cars, and every car started to move the minute our caps were visible in the dusk.

We swung home via the Dundas highway, correcting a few cutters-in, admonishing a few fast boys, and all you need to do to slow them down, when you are wearing a bank messenger’s cap, is to stare blankly at them.

Just near the cemetery at the Humber, a large car cut in past us, had to slow down suddenly, and there was a great squealing of brakes.

“Run alongside,” I ordered.

Jim ran us alongside, and as we drew level, with my eyes more on our running board than on the occupants of the car, I shouted, “Pull over to the side, there!”

The car pulled over to the side.

“What the devil do you mean,” I shouted, getting out of the car and walking back toward the other car, “by cutting in like that?

The mistake I made was getting out of the car. Sitting down with just my head showing, with that cap on, I may have looked official. But I lack an official body.

“Tell the Sergeant About It”

“Who are you?” asked the driver of the car. I looked sharply at him. And I beheld the tanned face, the cold blue eyes and the heavy shoulders of a gentleman of undoubted Irish extraction who was undoubtedly, by the cold look in his eye, a policeman in plain clothes.

“I,” I said, removing my cap to wipe my perspiring brow, and not putting it on again, “am the field officer of the Society for the Improvement of Motoring Manners.”

“The what?” said the large man.

“The S.I.M.M.,” I said. “Er- a new society. Maybe you haven’t heard of it?”

“I never have,” said the big fellow. His companion was also a six-footer, and also very cold about the eye.

Jim honked his horn for me to come on.

“Well,” I said, “it was just that cutting in.”

“Just minute,” said the big fellow “What are you supposed to be doing? Going around checking people up?”

“The purpose of our society is to correct certain bad manners in driving,” I said. “Of course cutting in is not one of the worst ones.”

“I tell you what you do,” said the big fellow. “You drive right down now to Number Nine police station. Know where it is? Well, you drive down there. We’ll follow in a few minutes. You tell the sergeant there about your new society, will you?”

I saw him look at Jim’s license number, making a mental note.

“Yes, sir,” said I, returning to Jim’s car and throwing my cap in on the back seat.

We drove to Number Nine station.

We sat there on a bench for about twenty minutes.

“What is it you want?” the desk man asked us, after ignoring us for all that time.

“Two detectives told us to report here,” I explained.

“What for?”

“I don’t know. He just said to report here.”

“What were you doing?”

“Just driving along,” I said. “Just driving. Out on the highway.”

“Who were the detectives?” they asked.

“Two detectives,” I said. “In a large brown car.”

“Yes, sir. Large brown car.”

“We have no detectives in brown car,” said the sergeant. “I guess somebody was pulling your leg.”

“Can we go?” I asked.

“There is nothing to stop you,” said the sergeant.

We went.

We went around by my friend, the St John Ambulance Corps man, and restored him his caps.

“After all,” said Jimmie, swinging wide around a corner and nearly colliding with car coming toward us on its own side of the pavement, “I’d rather belong to a Society for the Prevention of Societies.”

“Apparently,” said I, “those two big birds do. The dirty, impersonators!”


Editor’s Notes: Driver’s licences were only required in Ontario in 1927, six years before this story was written. Though there are always people who drive poorly, it must have been worse at a time when there was little instruction or requirements, and cars were only widespread for about 20 years. Even Jim comments on how some people turn corners like they were driving a horse and buggy.

William James Stewart was the mayor of Toronto at the time, and Charlie Conacher was a professional hockey player with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

No Knee Knuckles

By Greg Clark, June 15, 1940

“How’s the new car coming?” asked Jimmie Frise.

“Not so good,” I replied. “I can’t make up my mind.”

“I suppose you’ve got the new car jitters?” said Jimmie.

“The what?”

“The new car jitters,” said Jim. “You get it from listening to car salesmen.”

“I guess that’s what I’ve got,” I admitted. “I thought buying a new car was as simple as falling off a log. But, dear me!”

“You must just shut your mind,” said Jim, “and trust your eyes and the feel of the car under you. That’s the only way. If you listen to the salesmen, especially these 1940 model salesmen, you will never buy a car.”

“I suppose,” I said, “I could stuff cotton in my ears and start all over again.”

“That’s a fair substitute for strength of character,” admitted Jim. “Which car were you leaning toward?”

“Well,” I said, “it narrowed down pretty well to three. An Eight, a Six, and one of these Slither-Slips or whatever you call them.”

“What were the points for and against these final three?” asked Jim.

“The Eight,” I said, “we liked best because it was a color we have always been wanting, it had a nice wide door for my mother-in-law and it had no do-funny business about changing gears.”

“Why didn’t you take it?” asked Jimmie.

“Well, for example,” I explained, “the salesman of the Six pointed out that this Eight hadn’t the right streamlining, that it didn’t have five-ply safety glass all around, like his, and if you are to believe these boys, the speed on the highways this coming season is going to be so great you are going to be lucky to escape several head-on collisions and five-ply safety glass all around is imperative.”

“M’mm,” said Jim. “Anything else the matter with the Eight?”

“It has knuckle-knees,” I said, “and the Six salesman said this makes it an experimental car.”

“Why didn’t you buy the Six?” asked Jim.

“Ah,” I said, “it was not only $400 less than the Eight, but it was semi-streamline and it hadn’t hush-hush brakes. You might just as well go and drive over a cliff as venture out on the highway this season without hush-hush brakes.”

Why Not a Referee?

“What color was the Six?” asked Jim.

“Oh, various colors, but not like the Eight,” I said. “But as the Eight pointed out to me, this Six has not got a bumpo body. And did you know that if you got caught between two street cars in anything but a bumpo body you were as good as dead?”

“I don’t often get caught between two street cars,” said Jimmie.

“But you see the point of his argument?” I said, “Then, too, this Six didn’t have torque, or syncro-starting, nor did it have air-resisto windows.”

“Dear me,” breathed Jim. “What was the other car you were thinking of?”

“The Slither-Slip,” I said, “or whatever it is. Now, Jimmie, until you have been in one of those Slither-Slips you have never really been motoring. You just ought to bathe your body in those seats! Boy, how they glide!”

“And why didn’t you choose it?” asked Jimmie.

“It had no knee-knuckles,” I said. “And it was really so advanced. Think of the resale value!”

“I thought you were buying a car, not selling one,” Jim remarked

“You don’t understand, Jimmie,” I cried. “When you are buying a car you are doing a whole lot more than merely buying a car to ride in. You are engaging in an investment. You must consider the financial aspect. Now, while all the cars are headed in the direction of complete streamlining they all agree that about the time I would want to turn in my Slither-Slip it would be hopelessly old-fashioned. In three years everything will be ultra-streamline.”

“That’s a funny argument,” said Jim.

“All their arguments are funny,” I agreed. “They have got me weak in the knees, frightened and confused.”

“You’ve got the new car jitters,” said Jim.

“What there ought to be,” I stated, “is a government referee who could attend all car sales to censor any remarks that might enjitter the customer.”

“Or,” said Jim. “car sales ought to be forbidden in private, but should be conducted in a place downtown, like the stock market, where all the salesmen could get at you at once. It would be a riot, but they would all have an even chance at the public. And the only jitters you would get would be that mild sort of stock market jitters.”

“I went through the stock market crash far easier than I am going through this job of buying a new car,” I admitted.

“I tell you what we could do,” said Jimmie. “Why not invite the three salesmen up to your house tonight, all at the same time, and discuss their cars in a sort of committee?”

I was amazed at the idea.

“How perfectly simple!” I cried. “Of course. Why didn’t anybody ever think of that before?”

“There you are,” said Jim, rather proudly. Just tell each one to be at your house at 8 p.m. Tell him to bring a demonstrator car with him. And then you can sit there and let them sell their cars. They wouldn’t dare knock each other’s cars to their faces.”

“Of course!” I said, “You be there, too, in case I need support.”

“Sure.” said Jim.

I telephoned the three dealers, the Eight, the Six and the Slither-Slip, and they all agreed with alacrity to come up to the house and bring the papers with them.

Jim strolled along about a quarter to eight. My family was out to the pictures and I arranged the living-room nicely to accommodate the boys when they arrived.

The Eight arrived first. He started right to work, but I said I was expecting some others in and would he wait a few minutes.

The Slither-Slip arrived next.

It was like roosters in the barnyard. They just stopped and stared at each other for a minute. I introduced them, but they didn’t shake hands. They just thinned their lips and looked at each other. The Six arrived last. He was a boundy sort of young man, he bounded up the walk and bounded in the door and bounded into the room. He took one glare at the other two chaps and then bounded back to the door.

“Some other time,” he said thickly when I detained him.

“But I wanted to hear all three of you at the same time,” I cried. “I have narrowed it down to you three cars, and now I want it threshed out.”

The Six bounded back into the room. The other two got to their feet smartly.

“This was your bright idea!” hissed the Six with a look like death takes a holiday on his face. He was baring his teeth at the Eight.

“Is zat so!” said the Eight, just like Mae West.

“I think,” said the Slither-Slip softly, that if you two birds will just beat each other up. Mr. Clark and I can get down to business with these papers.”

It all happened very suddenly. All three, at the sight of the papers, dashed together. There was a wild mix-up. Jim and I stepped in to touch them on the arm, and remind them of the business aspect of our meeting.

“Maybe,” said the Eight man, seizing me by the collar, “it was his own idea!”

There was a moment of great confusion and whirling about the bumping and thudding. And when it was over Jimmie was sitting on the chesterfield and I was out on the small chair beside the telephone. Mussed up.

And the three salesmen were racing their engines out in the dark, angrily, super-chargedly.

“High pressure,” said Jimmie, rising and straightening his garments. Those boys are suffering from high pressure.”

“Aren’t you supposed to introduce a salesmen to one another?” I demanded indignantly, flattening my hair and retying my tie.

“Not in the presence of a customer,” said Jimmie. “Like feeding lions, you are supposed to feed them in different parts of the cage.”

“They have the jitters,” I snorted angrily. “Flying off like that.”

“Which car do you fancy?” inquired Jim.

“If those birds had waited a minute instead of turning on us,” I said, “I was going to suggest that they stage a three-way fight and the best man get my order.”

“I know a chap,” said Jimmie, “he is by profession an architect, but he has lately tried selling cars.”

“What about him?”

“Well, he has been in business now three months and hasn’t sold a car. He’s sort of shy,” said Jimmie. “Why don’t you let me send for him, and he’ll sell you a car in five minutes, without a single word being spoken.”

“What car is he selling?” I asked.

“I forget,” said Jimmie. “But what difference does it make? They are all good cars. You can’t have several billion dollar manufacturing concerns making cars without them turning out a 100 per cent product. About the only real difference in them is the name.”

“But synchro-suspension and high-compression ventilation!” I cried.

“Different names for the same thing,” said Jim. Let me telephone my friend. He just lives a few blocks from here.”

“Go ahead,” I said.

Jim ‘phoned. In about 10 minutes a shy, gentlemanly chap arrived. He had nothing to say. He didn’t have a demonstrator with him, but he had a few dog-eared sales agreements in his pocket.

He went out with Jim and me into the lane and looked at my car and guessed how much it was worth on the trade-in. Then we figured out the price.

“What color, Mr. Clark?” he asked.

“Dark, lustrous green,” I said.

“If we haven’t a green we’ll make it a nice dark blue,” said he gently.

I signed. We chatted and listened to the radio.

Then Jimmie and the salesman left. I happened to watch them down the front walk. And when they got out to the street they did a funny thing.

Jim and his friend the salesman joined hands and danced gleefully all over my sidewalk.


Editor’s Note: An eight is an eight cylinder car, and a six is a six cylinder car. All of the other types of technologies are made up.

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