Shortly after acquiring my automotive teaching credential from California State University in San Luis Obispo, California, I opened a general repair automotive shop nearby - much to my parent's chagrin! They of course imagined I would find a teaching position and make use of my education but I wasn't ready to leave town, a beautiful location on the central coast of California, and it was the 1970's - a laissez-faire time of life. I also felt that I needed some real life experience before trying to tell others how to fix cars. I opened Robinson's Automotive in an old Texaco gas station with nothing more than the "dog house" box of tools I got for high school graduation and the help of a good friend with like aspirations. All we had to offer was gasoline so we concentrated on service and gimmicks to draw in new customers. In those days everyone was collecting Blue Chip stamps so we gave out double stamps with a fill up and we gave a free frozen turkey if the pump automatically stopped on an exact gallon, until we were told it was an illegal form of betting. As word spread the business grew and routine services became full fledged tune-ups and brake jobs. Two years later we had outgrown the two-bay shop area and moved to a 10,000 square foot shop where we could forget about the gasoline sales and concentrate on major repairs - and that's where this story begins.
1963 Ford Falcon *
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One day a women drove up in a ten year old Ford Falcon like the one pictured here and got out quickly saying that the car had an unbearable odor. One whiff confirmed her analysis and I agreed to find the cause. The odor was so bad my first step was to purchase a gas mask at the local hardware store but that didn't help much so I tried putting Vicks under my nose, spraying perfume and holding my breath, all to no avail. The stench was so bad it made my eyes water and the taste in my mouth set my stomach on edge. The best defense turned out to be a wet towel wrapped around my head and taking frequent breaks. After a day of looking in every nook and cranny inside and out I had found nothing and called the owner to ask for permission to start demolition. She was not happy and became less happy when I told her that I did not know how long it would take or what it would cost, but reluctantly agreed. After giving a lot of thought to what could have caused the odor and how to go about finding it I decided the best approach was to start closest to the origin and remove the easiest components first. My best guess was that it was somewhere around the steering wheel so I started by removing the front seat, but found nothing. So I removed the floor trim and pulled out the carpet, but found nothing. At that point I was still convinced I was in the right area so the dashboard was next but the thought of spending hours on my back inside the car was revolting, so I escaped by taking on another job.
The car sat outside the shop, as far away from the front door as possible, for several days while I tried not to think about what lay ahead and considered hiring someone else to do the job. Then one day my dog came to work with me and when she wandered over to the Ford I opened the door and let her sniff around. She was too offended by the smell to jump inside but she seemed to be interested in the screw holes leading into the floor channel under the door so I got out my pneumatic air chisel and went to work. I decided the best approach would be to cut from underneath where it would not show and after I had a six inch slit pried open hundreds of maggots poured out. Bingo! The opening let out even more stench but I was too excited to quit and after some more cutting found the remains of a very large snake.
It took several hours to clean up the mess and I washed the channel out with soap, then solvent, and finally vinegar before the order was gone, or at least masked. Then I threw in a box of baking soda for good measure before closing the gap and putting the interior back together. With the odor gone I took a few minutes to look under the dash and confirm my suspicion that the critter had gained access from an opening in the door post. And when I was all done I sat down to write up the bill and rehearsed my words before calling the owner. I felt bad about the cost but more concerned about how she would handle knowing that a large snake had been roaming around inside her car. However after hearing my story her only comment was an excited, "Oh, you found Charlie. He was my son's pet and we have been looking for him for weeks"!