Thursday, June 07, 2012

Story: The Salesman and his Magic Beans

This story is dedicated to a mechanic Doc Dre (founder of nutz&boltz radio show and Motorwatch Journal)as he told the story many years ago. Enjoy it!

Many things have shaped my career as a mechanic. I remember when I took a job in the only sports car shop in town because I was tired of turning a wrench on ordinary cars. Or maybe it was because I had fallen in love with a '58Afla-Romeo-Giuliette-Sprint-Veloce and my Bertone-bodied mistress lured me into the world of exotic cars. Anyway, this is a university town and there are plenty of rich kids with sports cars. And a large number of tweedy college professors who bought weird cars in Europe and shopped them home. I was challenged by the Alfas, Austin Healys, MGs, Jags and all the rest. It seemed pretty classy to a twenty-year-old used to working on 36 HP Beetles for $3 an hour.

I still remember that rainy, damp, bone-chilling morning. The weather was giving me a real feeling of what it must be like to live in England. I struggled to get the engine and tranny out of a Sprite in order to change a 2-dollar carbon T/Obearing, when a 50's Port Hole Buick honked its horn to enter the shop. Little did I know that my whole life was about to change.

When I opened the door, the mist and fog swirled around the old Buick as it rolled inside. The driver was a little old man with skin so yellow and thin you could almost see inside him. He reminded me of one of those visible anatomy plastic models.Barely taller than the rear-view mirror, he couldn't have weighed more than ahundred and ten pounds--but he had the loose of a salesman."Hiya, boys!" he said as he plucked a cigar as big as a grease gun from his mouth. "I wanna show you boys a few products that are gonna make you some money." Oh no! He was a salesman, and I had let him in!

Dave, Carl, and Don walked over to stand beside me, all of us instantly mesmerized by the appearance of this little man."I was a mechanic myself once," he said as he tossed a yellow plastic thing with wires toward us. I instinctively moved to one side as Dave picked it out of the air. It looked like one of those Mausers that all the bad guys carry in old movies.It was shaped like a pistol, with a trigger, a couple of switches, and some wires with alligator clips on the ends. It was the kind of thing that would get you thrown in jail if you took it through airport security. The little guy reached back into the old Buick and brought out a small plywood box. He walked around front and placed it by the right wheel. In a flash, he was on top of the box with the hood up.

Then he snapped his fingers twice. Crack-Crack! The sharp reports rattled off the shop roof like shots from a .38! The strange yellow device flew past my face again, this time headed in the direction of the old guy. He caught it in his left hand, and in one fluid motion the alligator clips popped out between the bony fingers of his right hand. It was like watching a magician.

"This boys, is a Snappy--a patented and registered trademark. I invented it. Now I'm going to teach you how to make money with this indispensable and highly scientific diagnostic instrument. This is a tool no mechanic can do without.""The red and black leads are connected to any 6 or 12 volt battery--red to positive and black to ground--except for old Fords and English cars. The orange clip goes on the solenoid feed wire." "On GM cars it's the purple wire that runs across the firewall. My special wire-piercing device on the clip allows you to connect it without crawling under the dash. The green lead goes to the coil primary.

In a minute, I'm going to show you how to check coil polarity using my Snappy and an ordinary pencil."He went on for more than an hour as we learned how to test for bad grounds,locate opens, check fuses, and bulbs. It was strange, because none of us had said a single word since he and his old Buick rolled through the door."Since you guys have been such good listeners, I'm going to make you a special deal."

Four left hands reached for their wallets. "No! I don't want your money...not until I show you my newest invention, he said as he puffed his cigar--which was now so short he had to spit it from his lips. "Sorry!" he said as he ground out the butt with his black and white oxford."After many years of experimenting--Ya know, I worked for the War Department during the big one, I have finally perfected a chemical method of replenishing the metal that wears from the piston rings and cylinder walls of internal combustion engines."His eyes began to bug out, and the veins stood out in his neck. He talked faster and faster with his arms waving as he told us the details. It seemed that the oil companies were out to get him.

They were trying to steal his invention before he could get a patent on it. From the cavernous trunk of the Buick, he produced a small cardboard box. It was filled with five small flat brown cardboard packages that looked like patent medicine boxes. He slid open one of the packages and in it were twelve big, round, bean-like capsules. They looked like worm pills you might give a horse."Got an oil burner?" he asked. "A real smoker?!" I opened my mouth for the first time in more than an hour. "The Vauxhall," I blurted. Dave shot me a threatening glance and Carl's eyes rolled back in his head. We all knew the Vauxhall had been run out of the water and ruined the rings on a couple of pistons.

This little 4-door car parked in a back corner of the shop had a for lorn look about it, its narrow fenders appeared kind of hunched around the grill--reminding me of a cowering dog."Start it up!" he commanded. I jump in it. It cranked real fast for a long time before catching, and then billowed heavy blue smoke from the tailpipe. The smoke hung heavy in the air, drifting up towards the shop roof, giving the place the air of a Civil War battlefield. The Vauxhall panted and shivered as it idled on two cylinders.

The little man had a smile on his face, as if he knew something we didn't. He let it run for a minute and then instructed me to shut it off and remove the spark plug. He saw oil fouling on #3 and #4 and shoved one of his beans intoeach spark plug hole.

He then asked me to start the engine. The longer it ran, the smoother it idled, and smoke stopped coming from the tailpipe."The Snappys are five bucks each," he said as he threw us each one. "I'll be back through from Chicago in a month. Try the Beans...and we'll settle up then."He jammed another cigar in his face, jumped into the Buick and slammed the door.

I could see him stretch to reach the pedals. The starter cranked a half-turn and the straight-eight ticked over almost silently. As he backed out into the fog, theBuick disappeared like the Titanic, without a sound. I'll never forget that day,March 20, 1964. A month passed. Then summer came and went. So did Vietnam. But the little old man never came back.

For the longest time I expected to see him, just barely peering over the steering wheel, every time I saw an oval-port Buick. The years drifted by. Recently, I thought I saw him driving a new Park Avenue. Have you ever noticed that when you owe someone money, you think about them? I mean, it's unfinished business. Maybe the oil companies DID get him or was it the cigars? I've still got my Snappy as a reminder that it wasn't just a dream. Oh, and those magic beans? But, that's another story.