The back screen door of Rolph’s Diner slammed shut as the owner/chief cook (the title ‘chef’ being far too kind for the dreck he served up) appeared in the alleyway, his battered coffee pot in one hand and a serving plate in the other. “How ‘bout a refill, Tooner? It looks like you’re gonna be here a while.”
Buried deep under the hood of a 1993 Taurus, Tooner grimaced and muttered a few nondescript phrases. It was just plain bad luck that his mother-in-law’s car had broken down right behind Rolph’s Diner, and on the weekend at that. Not only was the ornery Ford bloodying up his knuckles, but Rolph’s potent brew was ravaging his gut.
Straightening up, Tooner mopped his face with a dirty rag. “Hold the coffee, Rolph. But I’ll take seconds on them dinner rolls.”
Rolph was ecstatic. “Finally…someone who appreciates my culinary talents!” he beamed as he gently laid out two rough looking specimens on the roof of the car. “Would you like them toasted?”
“Nope, I’ll take ‘em raw.”As soon as Rolph was out of sight, Tooner took the rolls and placed one each behind the rear tires. “Gotta make sure this heap don’t roll away when I jack ‘er up,” he muttered.
Tooner’s troubles began when his mother-in-law, Bertie Dimple, parked behind Rolph’s Diner on Saturday afternoon. Her actual destination was the second hand shop three doors down, but when it’s ‘Thrift Shop Day’ in downtown Slumberland, parking is at a premium.
Unfortunately, when Bertie finished her shopping and returned to the alley, her fickle Ford wouldn’t start – which was a problem since she was blocking Rolph’s loading bay. Rolph had a large order of “fresh” produce coming on Monday morning, so that meant Tooner had to waste a perfectly good Sunday on family-related car repairs.
Tooner was fighting with a rusty scissor jack when Beanie came sauntering down the alley.
“Hey. What’s up, Toon?”
“Mother-in-law’s car,” he grunted.
Beanie nodded; no further explanation was necessary. He surveyed the cluttered alleyway. “Why don’t you tow it up to the shop? I’m sure Slim wouldn’t mind.”
Tooner stood up and massaged his aching back. “Slim ain’t the problem,” he said. “Mabel’s ma figures the only reason I exist is to fix her car for free, and I ain’t payin’ for no tow truck…especially on her account.” He sat down on a wooden crate and opened his thermos. “Want some? I’ll warn ya; it’s my special weekend blend.”
Beanie took a whiff and shook his head. “Thanks anyway, but I’ll pass. So what’s the story? No start?”
Tooner took a long swig. “Well, it tries to start, but then it stops dead like it’s hydro-locked. The rad is low, and seeing how these 3.8L engines all had head gasket problems, I pulled the plugs first to check for coolant. But there’s nothing in the cylinders, so that ain’t it.”
He took another shot from his thermos and smacked his lips appreciatively. “Whoa, I mighta mixed this a little strong.”
Beanie sat down on the back steps of the diner and pointed at the jack. “So now you figure it’s a bad starter?”
Tooner shrugged. “Has to be. It pulls the battery down to four volts. I’m thinkin’ the windings are shot.” He got to his feet unsteadily and began to stack some wooden blocks under the raised car.
Beanie frowned. “Just a thought, but have you tried turning the engine over by hand? Maybe it’s seized up.”
Tooner paused. “Ya got a point.” He grabbed a socket and breaker bar from his battered toolkit and gave the crankshaft a hard pull. “Nope,” he wheezed. “Can’t budge ’er. Ol’ Bertie musta seized ’er up solid.” The thought cheered him considerably – until he remembered who would have to rebuild the engine.
Beanie coughed politely. “Uh, maybe you should try turning it the other way?”
Tooner glared at him. “What for? An engine can’t be seized frontwards, an’ not backwards.” To prove his point, he reversed direction on the breaker bar. “Sheesh, I never heard of such…”
To Tooner’s surprise, the engine turned freely in the counterclockwise direction – two full revolutions, in fact. But as soon as he turned it clockwise again, it stopped dead. He spun around. “How did you…?” But Beanie had quietly slipped away. He knew it wasn’t wise to show up your mentor, especially if your mentor is Tooner.
Since the car was jacked up anyway, Tooner pulled the starter to make sure something wasn’t jamming the flywheel and acting like a one-way clutch. As a precaution, he ‘alley-tested’ the starter with some jumper cables while it was out. It worked perfectly.
Putting the lid back firmly on his thermos, he ordered up a gallon of Rolph’s strongest coffee and went at the car with a renewed passion. All his tests showed nothing new, until in desperation he pulled off the serpentine belt. To his amazement, the battered old Taurus fired right up and ran smoothly. Further investigation revealed that the A/C compressor clutch bearing had packed it in, causing enough drag on the serpentine belt in the clockwise direction to stall the starter motor.
“So just like that, with no warning?” It was late afternoon, and Rolph had joined Tooner on the back steps. He’d also assisted Tooner in finishing off the last dregs of the thermos.
Tooner rubbed his aching forehead. “Two weeks ago the compressor got noisy.” He grimaced. “But it only happened when the A/C was on, so I unplugged the compressor clutch, figuring it was the compressor itself. I didn’t realize it was the bearing.” A dry wind blew down the alley, sending tiny dust devils into the air. Tooner looked at the deepening shadows from the buildings. “Sheesh, what a way to spend a Sunday afternoon.”
Rolph got to his feet, swaying slightly as he reached for the handle of the screen door. “Well, I’ve got something that’ll cheer you up.” He reached inside and pulled out a brown paper bag. “I know how much you like my dinner rolls, so I saved you a dozen.”
Tooner gulped as he stared at the bag of rock-hard bread. But then he looked at his mother-in-law’s car and got a brilliant idea. “Much obliged, Rolph.” He smiled smugly. “They’ll make a dandy present for someone…and I know just who to give ’em to.”