Fire Truck Race

Nov 06, 1999

RAY: This came from a guy named Bob Cofield from...cyberspace. He says, I am disappointed that in all of your shows that I have listened to, you have never paid tribute to the great and venerable patron saint of automotive diagnosticians, Gus Wilson. Gus was the proprietor of Gus's Model Garage, whose stories appeared in Popular Science Monthly several years ago, and this is stolen right from the Gus Wilson archives.

It seems that there was an intense but friendly rivalry between the volunteer fire departments of two nearby towns, Jeffersonville and East Norriton. Pride was at stake as their rivalry climaxed each year in the Fireman's Competition at the county fair. So closely matched were the two fire brigades in skill and experience that the preliminary hook and ladder events were virtually a tie, leading up to the final showcase event of the race of firetrucks. There's going to be a race, got it?

TOM: Got it.

RAY: Twenty laps were raced counterclockwise around the quarter-mile dirt track at the fairgrounds. Both brigades drove identical pumpers, scrupulously maintained and adjusted to peak performance. The rules required that they be set to factory configuration, fully loaded and equipped, and the crews identical in total weight to the nearest ounce.

TOM: Wow!

RAY: The Jeffersonville team had come away disappointed for four years in a row, having lost the final event by the closest of margins each time. They appealed to Gus to provide them with some small competitive advantage. Gus took a look at the high-wheeled pumpers and the dirt track and mused while he knocked the ashes from his pipe. He then stepped forward, and without tools, without violating the rules, and without even opening the hood of this firetruck, he makes a quick adjustment that enabled Jeffersonville to take home the trophy that year. What did he do?

Answer: 

RAY: Bribe the judge.

TOM: He didn't have to use any tools. He just took out his wallet.

RAY: Well, because they're racing counterclockwise around a track...

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: He wanted to make it so that the Jeffersonville truck would be able to negotiate those constant left-hand turns easier than the East Norriton truck.

TOM: I knew there was something to that counterclockwise thing.

RAY: And without using any tools, he simply let a little air out of the left-hand tires of the Jeffersonville truck. You know, if you have low pressure in one of your tires, your car will tend to pull in that direction.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: OK? Now, it could be argued that this doesn't satisfy the...

TOM: They're going counterclockwise.

RAY: Counter, yeah.

TOM: Counterclockwise.

RAY: You've got it now?

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: So, they're making all these lefts.

TOM: All these lefts.

RAY: And the low air pressure...

TOM: Out of the left side, so it's leaning...it wants to go in that direction.

RAY: There you go.

TOM: I like it!

RAY: Well, I'm sure we'll get some letters about the fact that the rules required that they be set to factory configuration. That's the...

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: Yeah.

TOM: You can interpret that any way...

RAY: But I don't think anyone saw Gus do this, so I don't think there's a rules violation.

TOM: No, no, I think it's great.

RAY: Yeah, and if you have a problem with this, don't call us. Call Gus Wilson. Who's our winner, Tommy?

TOM: The winner is Craig Robbins from Rochester, Minnesota.

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