Blessing the Trucks

Jan 12, 2013

RAY: This was sent in by Ed Win from Palmyra, Pennsylvania.

Ed writes, "Flashback to summer 1942. The British are battling the Germans and Italians for control of North Africa. In one of the towns under British control is an Italian civilian named Tony Cardiello. Tony refuses to submit to the British demand that they use his trucking company to transport supplies. Always willing to negotiate, the British confiscate the trucks and throw Tony into a detention camp.

"Move ahead now to the late '70s. Here I was, out of college three years, doing the only thing that a political science grad could do to earn a living: driving a truck. It was a cold winter in 1978 -- we experienced many mornings with the mercury at minus 20. In those conditions, diesel engines just didn't want to start.

"As it turns out, Tony Cardiello was the morning mechanic for this trucking company. He was the one we turned to when our big rigs wouldn't get up and go. Tony taught us that if a truck wouldn't start, we should leave enough juice for him to give it a second try. His first question for us was always the same: 'Did you bless the truck?' We said, 'No, we didn't bless the stinkin' truck.'

"Upon hearing that, Tony would walk over to the stubborn truck, face the bulldog ornament on the hood, and make the sign of the cross. Then he'd say, 'Start the truck!' Nine out of 10 times the truck would kick over and we'd be on our way."

So the question is, how'd Tony do it?  

RAY: Here’s how you solve it. The X factor is time. A diesel engine requires or relies on the heat of compression to combust the fuel. So when it's minus 20, and you get out there and you turn the starter and it goes, you're compressing that ice-cold air, but not getting it hot enough to start the engine because it won't get the air temperature up to the ignition point of the fuel.

When these guys ran off to find Tony, time went by. And the friction that was inherent, and the pistons going up and down in the cylinders, had enough time to expand the pistons and the rings enough so that on the second try the compression would be just enough so the thing would fire up.

And that's why nine times out of 10, the thing would start up, because Tony knew, and Tony never let on. They'd have to torture him to get the secret out of him.

Do we have a winner?

TOM: Yes, the winner is Janice Baxter from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Congratulations, Janice!

Get the Car Talk Newsletter