There were several auto mechanics on the Island, some of the very good; Johnny “Boo” (Willis), “Blacky” (Louie Caffrey Willis), and Thomas Lee (Willis) to name just a few. But there was just one garage and full service station, and that was what we called R' J.'s.
R. J. Chadwick's little shop and store, just a stone's throw to the west of the intersection of the main highway and Ferry Dock Road, was the one place that had service bays, a hydraulic lift, a tire machine, and basic repair parts on hand. It was right smack dab in the middle of the Island and it was where owners who could afford it, or didn't trust themselves to do the job, took their cars to get serviced, repaired, or just “worked-on.”
The number of vehicles on the Island mushroomed in the boom years that followed the end of World War II. There were “filling stations” at several points from Tommie Lewis's store at the east'ard to Claude's store at the west'ard. But gas, and maybe a quart of oil or a gallon of anti-freeze, was about all they had to offer in terms of service. R. J. and his parade of mechanics or helpers could do anything from changing a set of spark plugs to overhauling an engine. It was while doing the former that something occurred that has remained a part of the folklore of the Island ever since.
R. J. reserved most of the difficult jobs for himself, but he usually relegated the more routine stuff to one of the several helpers that he employed over the years. One of those was a veteran of the war who had met and married a local girl and then made the Island his home; quite possibly because that had been part of the “pre-nuptial agreement” that almost all Island natives make with their future spouses.[Just ask my wife Susan.]
The helper-mechanic had worked in an army motor-pool while on active duty, and he appeared to have had ample experience at all the standard service jobs. Such was the case when a local driver bought in his late-model sedan for a tune up. The car was driven around back, to the main service bay, and in short order the oil was changed, brakes were adjusted, and a new set of spark plugs was installed. But when the car's owner started it up to drive away, the engine was “missing” so badly that he was unable and unwilling take his car out on the road.
R. J. himself decided to check out the situation to find out what was causing the problem. After more than an hour of troubleshooting everything from the carburetor to the vacuum pumps he finally was able to pinpoint the issue as coming from the new set of spark plugs that had just been installed. Pulling them out one at a time, he found that each of them had an improper gauge; the miniscule distance between the tip and the base of the plug. When he asked his mechanic how such a mistake had happened, the young worker seemed a little dumbfounded himself. He had followed the standard procedure for setting the plugs; specifically he had used a dime, a standard 10¢ piece, as the template for measuring the proper spacing.
It was only after extensive questioning that the new mechanic volunteered that he had not adhered exactly to what was the accepted norm for measuring the gauge. “I knew you were supposed to use a dime to set the thing,” he admitted, “but I didn't have a dime in my pocket, so I used two nickels.”