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    « C stands for Confusion | Main | AN UNBIASED LOOK AT SLANTS »

    Gimme A Brake!

    This is something I wrote and published on October 13, 2006. I did make minor edits, but it pretty much remains intact:

    My father was always a very good auto mechanic. He used to help fix seemingly unfixable problems on stock cars that would run the modified NASCAR circuit. Back in the seventies, he owned a front-end alignment shop in Flemington, New Jersey. It didn’t take long for him to gain the reputation as having the best one in the area. People from all over would bring their cars to him. There was another guy in town who had been in the same business years longer; however, there were plenty of potholes around to keep them both busy. As a matter of fact, the two liked each other. One day, the other guy suffered a terrible accident on the job and went to the biggest and best alignment shop in the sky. That really bothered my father. 


    I remember when I was 18, way back in 1970, I bought a 1965 Mustang. With air conditioning and an 8-Track cassette. AM-FM stereo, to boot. I was the man! FM had come into vogue by then, but most cars from 1965 and earlier era only had AM. With a loaded Mustang, it gave me enough confidence to go after a genuine girlfriend; one I had been eyeballing. Oh yes, she was a real knockout, I mean to tell ya! Unfortunately, Mustangs were not known for having big back seats. Oh, TMI.

    The following summer, the car needed new front shocks. I had never technically worked on a car up to that point and never planned to, not with a father who knew pretty much everything about cars. And after riding bikes most of my life, cars were still relatively new to me. Oh, he used to let me “help” him when I was a young boy, just to make me feel good, I suppose, but I never really did anything because I really didn’t help much at all.

    One day, I called him and asked if he would put new front shocks in for me. Sure, go over to Carver’s Auto Parts, get what you need and come by Saturday morning. OK, great! I was tired of getting seasick every time I went over a bump in the road. So was my girlfriend. That Saturday morning, I stopped by, parts in hand…

    “See those tools over there? They are all you’re going to need to replace those bad shocks.” 

    “What do you mean?” I protested. “I thought you were going to put them in for me!” 

    “No, you’re going to have to learn how to work on a car and this is a good place to start.”

    When he told me that, I began to dislike him for thinking I was ready to work on my own vehicle. I wasn’t, and I’m certain he sensed it when I called. Had he told me beforehand that I was going to do the work, I’d simply continue to drive on bad shocks.

    “I’m going to be right here to give you all the advice you need, so don’t panic.” 

    One thing about my father’s tools was that you could eat off them. They were neatly arranged, too. AND YOU’D BETTER RETURN THEM THAT WAY! Oh, he didn’t expect me to remember where they all went, but they’d better be clean.

    “No one wants to reach into a toolbox and grab a dirty, greasy wrench.” He was right. He was right about something else, too. I learned how to work on my own cars and I must have saved tens of thousands of dollars over the years because of it. 


    Sometime in the mid-seventies, my very close and personal friend, Frank Foran, had a little Japanese import. I think it was a Subaru. Frank sold industrial coatings for Dupont back then and needed a small, fuel-efficient car that was very dependable. Because of all the driving he did, the rear brakes finally needed to be replaced. Front brakes wear out three times as quickly and those he kept in good working order. After tens of thousands of miles, it was time.

    I called my father and asked if I could use his shop on Saturday to work on Frank’s car. He normally didn’t work weekends so that wasn’t an issue. These were drum type brakes and the shoes were what needed to be replaced. Frank wasn’t as mechanically inclined as me when it came to working on cars, so I took him to the parts store with me, to show him how to shop talk automobile language. (He did know what a turbo encabulator was, but never worked on one.)

    When we left the store, he followed me to my father’s alignment shop. Inside the bay was a rack you’d drive up onto. In other words, it wasn’t a hydraulic lift. It was high enough, though, that you could stand under it.

    “OK, Frank. Slowly drive up the ramp and I’ll tell you when to stop.”

    He got out and climbed down. After removing the tires, I unbolted the wheel drums. After they’ve been on a car for a long time and subjected to the elements, they can be really tough to remove. They were. After finally getting them off, I started to disassemble the brakes, beginning with the driver’s side. I compared the old parts with the new, to make sure everything matched up. Everything was going well. I installed all of the new parts. I checked and checked again to make sure everything was correct. Check! Everything looked perfect. except…

    I tried to slide the brake drum back onto the first wheel cylinder to finish the driver’s side. No way. It wouldn’t fit. The brake padding was too thick. I thought of everything. I looked again to make sure my work was correct. It was. I compared the old parts with the new. Everything was on right, yet, those drums would not go back on. No way, no how. I even thought about sanding them down. I must have spent what seemed like hours trying to figure the mess out. Of course, Frank didn’t have a clue. Finally, I was officially stumped, so I phoned my father and explained the dilemma.

    “Are you sure everything is right?” he asked me. I told him yes. Absolutely positive.

    “Could you PLEASE come down and take a look? I mean, I’ve tried everything.” Reluctantly, he said yes. Frank and I waited impatiently, but we had no other choice. When good ol’ Dad pulled up and got out of his car, he looked over the exposed wheel assembly. Then, he walked up to us and looked into our eyes. Clearly, he could see our frustration. Then, we saw his. Turning away, he opened the driver’s door, reached in, and disengaged the emergency brake. Huh? What the..? Frank, you yanked on the emergency brake handle?

    “You think you two dodos can finish the job by yourselves?”

    I told you Frank didn’t know much about cars. Apparently, I didn’t either.

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