Opinion Columns & Blogs

When car’s plagued by a gremlin, don’t choke

During World War II, gremlins were routinely blamed for many equipment problems. Even on something as big as a bomber, these little unseen monsters were held responsible for everything that went wrong – engine failures, jammed guns, hydraulic malfunctions.

The little poltergeists didn’t go away after peace was achieved. One such gremlin invaded Margaret Carner’s 1946 Chevrolet.

With manufacturing devoted to military production, new cars just weren’t available during the war years. If the family car was wrecked or wore out, one simply had to make do. The arrival of a new car, then, was an event.

Margaret Carner taught high school in the little town where I grew up. She took on such extra activities as the choir and an elective class in social etiquette. She would, at her own expense, take students to swanky Denver restaurants to learn the art and manners of fine dining. She taught us how to make polite conversation and how to dress when we wandered out of our farming and ranching community.

In her choir, she organized competitions and arranged for transportation to music festivals. She gave piano lessons and, if you couldn’t pay, that was OK.

This lady, then in her early 40s, was tall, attractive and serious. Her large, compassionate brown eyes demanded respect. She wasn’t given to laughter.

She and her husband, Walt, never had children. One wondered, in fact, what brought the two together. She was controlled, dedicated, impeccably dressed, with never a hair out of place. Walt, a muscular. garrulous happy farme, outfitted in overalls, was always in a hurry, skidding around in his Dodge pickup and working in the dirt.

In the spring of 1946, Margaret Carner drove out of Fred Burrier’s showroom in a beautiful new black Fleetline Chevrolet sedan. It was the envy of the county.

Unfortunately, a gremlin inhabited the vehicle. It would sometimes stall for no reason. Some days it ran fine; others, it refused to go more than a few blocks before it began going haywire, eventually quitting altogether.

Fred Burrier knew Chevy engines. He’d worked for years on those 216-cubic-inch sixers. But this one had him stumped. He checked and checked. Carburetion was fine. Oil pressure, engine coolant and vacuum pressure were at factory specs. Timing and electrical were right on. It ran impeccably when he turned it over to her again.

But that gremlin was dug in. It knew when Fred wasn’t around.

Word spread that Margaret had gotten a lemon. Fred was frustrated. He was no quitter, however. He asked that she leave the car with him whenever possible.

One day, Margaret hastened from her break in the classroom to mail a package. On the way, she decided to drop the car off at Fred’s garage for a few moments. It was located a half-block from the post office.

Fred watched as the slim figure hurried out of his work bay. As was his custom, he placed a blanket on the front seat, and in doing so, he glanced at the instrument panel. Margaret’s purse was hanging on the choke lever.

Fred smiled and triumphantly waited for Margaret’s return. He asked her what her purse was doing on the choke knob.

“I hang it there, occasionally,” she replied lightly

“Occasionally?” he queried. “Why?”

“It’s convenient,” She replied. “Sometimes, I don’t want to take my purse with me when I’m coming right back.”

“You pull the lever out and you hang your purse on it?”


“Do you push the lever back in when you take your purse off it?

“Well … I suppose I do. I don’t seem to recall. Why? Is that important?”

With the measured delivery of a patriarch, Fred explained the function of the choke lever and ordained that she select a different place to stow her purse.

Margaret complied, and her new Chevy performed as magnificently as she did.

Thus the gremlin was captured.

Al Bartlett of Gig Harbor, a retired teacher and farmer, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email him at albert.bartlett@comcast.net.