Three men and a VW Beetle

Leon Smith Storyteller -

About 1984, I found a spotless, 10-year-old gold VW beetle sitting on a used car lot. It looked really clean at a distance, and close up, even cleaner. The dealer let me get it checked out by the independent mechanic who did all his VW work.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” the mechanic said after he looked it over. “But it does have fuel injection.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Fuel Injection’s good while it’s working,” he said. “Carburetors are more dependable.”

“But you don’t see anything wrong with the car?”

“Not now.”’

In this era, when phones hung on walls, I was helping the church members remodel the fellowship hall at Cedar Grove Baptist, when one of their wives drove up.

“Leon,” she said, as she hurried to me, “I just got a call from Patsy.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Her radiator started steaming right before she got to the little store in Baker’s. She said you’d know the one. She pulled in there to call me.”

“When you get back home, call her back,” I asked. “Tell her I’m on the way.”

I climbed in the VW and took off in such a hurry I didn’t look at the gas gauge, until needle was touching the pin below “E,” and the closest gas station lay three miles ahead.

I conserved fuel by pushing in the clutch and coasting down every hill, and doing the same whenever I approached a stop sign. I was no more than a mile away from a fill-up when the engine sputtered.

“Don’t let me down now baby,” I said, as I patted her dash.

She purred for thirty seconds more, sputtered again, then quit altogether. So I coasted into an asphalt driveway, which lead up a hill to a brick house. The car stopped about three yards up the grade.

I left the car in gear, then walked up and knocked on the screen door. “Hello,” a man said, from behind the screen.

Hello,” I replied. “Could you loan me some gas?”

“I haven’t got a bit,” he said. “But I got a car and a gas container you can use to get some.”

“Sir?” I said, in disbelief.

“You can take my car to get some gas,” he smiled.

“Oh,” I answered. “That’s what I thought you said. “

He opened the door to hand me the key to his car, which sat under a shelter attached to the house.

“There’s a red gallon gas can right beside it,” he said. “It’s got a spout.”

“Can you tell me why you’re doing this for me?”

“I just trust you.”

I thanked him. At the station, I paid the attendant, placed the red can on the ground, then pumped in a gallon of regular gas, and drove back to the Samaritan’s house, to pour the fuel into the Beetle.

When I hit the starter, it ground for several turns, but did not start. I hoped I hadn’t pumped trash into the injectors.

“Be patient,” I told myself, “the engine is in the back; you have to pump that gas a long way. “

So after two more turns, the little air-cooled four cylinder engine fired up. I left it running, while I returned the man’s car and gas can, and handed him the key as he stood behind the screen door.

When I took out my billfold, he smiled and waved me away. So I thanked him, sincerely, then drove to fill the VW to the top, and then to rescue my wife.

A few months later, traveling the back road to the church, I stopped at a cross road, but when I reached for the accelerator to move forward, I found it lying, pedal-to-the-metal, against the floor of the car.

I turned off the engine and coasted to a stop on the shoulder, got out, then crawled under the steering column to wiggle the pedal, then pulled most of a five-foot long braided cable away from the engine.

“Oh boy,” I said, “the accelerator cable’s broke.”

I got out, then crossed the road to knock on Mr. Budd’s door.

“I’m sorry about that, son,” he said, after I explained my plight.

“I can’t fix your Volkswagen,” he said, “but I can take you to your Bible study.”

“Four or five miles later, when he let me out at the church Budd said, “I’ll be back to get you in about an hour.”

“No, sir. I’ll get a ride and come back and fix my car tomorrow.”

“You sure?”

I got out my billfold.

“No, no,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

The last rescue took place in the church yard itself, right after preaching was over, after I walked out to the parking lot, to find my VW tilting down to the right, because the rear tire on the driver’s side had gone flat.

I walked to the car, opened the hood, took the lug wrench and jack out and walked to the flat tire, and knelt down to begin loosening the lug nuts.

A deacon I’ll call “Burdette,” all 450 pounds of him, came up beside me and gently laid his hand on the lug wrench.

“Let me do that,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s not right for me stand around, and let my preacher change his own tire.”

“You’ll mess up your clothes,” I said.

He laughed heartily. “These clothes?” he chuckled, as he gently took the lug wrench.

“I ain’t going to hurt these clothes,” he continued, as he went to work. “The dog took care of that. I had to shoo him off the pile this morning, so I could put them on. “

And so Burdette knelt down on the gravel ground to break loose the lug nuts, then to jack the car off the ground and remove the lugs, to replace the flat tire with a spare, then stood to return the punctured tire to the trunk.

Since that time all these men have gone: Burdette and Budd to their final rewards, and the Good Samaritan to another place to live. The VW has gone, too, having broken its fuel injection system, and never having adjusted to aspiration from a carburetor.

But all three men were good to me, and the Beetle gave them opportunity to demonstrate that goodness…and to be thankful to every living thing on the Great Chain of Being, especially the Master of the Universe and those who help Him by helping others.

Leon Smith is a storyteller and regular contributor to The Anson Record.

Leon Smith Storyteller
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