Taking a brake

Somewhere halfway between Memphis and Nashville, the bus began making a grinding noise when I hit the brakes. Ever since the second engine breakdown I have been paranoid about any little thing that goes wrong. There’s only a handful of things that make a dry rubbing sound when you hit the brakes and at the top of the list are the rear drum brakes. (My bus has disc in the front, drums in the back.) We called around Nashville and found one VW shop that was willing to take a look and see what they could do. 

“We won’t know until we get the drum off,” the mechanic said. 

This is a standard VW mechanic line because if you’ve ever worked on a VW, you know things are rarely only what they appear. Peel back the top layer and soon you’re mired in a tangled mess of problems. Promise a customer and in-out operation and chances are you’re lying to them. So, I understood. The problem, as I explained it to the gentleman, was that we live in our bus. 

“There’s hotels all around us,” he said. “You can walk to three hotels from our lot.”

The thing about Nashville is that it is an incredibly, ridiculously expensive city. Maybe not NYC expensive, but certainly on track with Portland, Maine in terms of needing a bank loan to buy groceries or park somewhere. Conservatively a hotel room for three nights would be about the same as a down payment on a three-bedroom house in Ohio. But this is life on the road and this was our only option. I made the appointment for the next morning and Miracle and I mapped to our driveway host for the evening. 

We rolled up the gravel drive of Bob, our host’s, house right around five o’clock. The sun was setting in the mountains and he walked out of the barn he calls his shop. Inside he had a pristine white Vanagon. We began talking and I told him about my appointment the next morning, how we needed to get up early to make it into town. 

“It’s just brakes?” he asked. “We can do them here. Order the parts and we’ll get it done.”

Miracle called the 64 local auto parts stores to track down the two things we needed: drums and shoes. Luckily, Napa could get their hands on the drums the next day and O’Reilly’s (one of two in town) had the shoes in stock. The only issue was with Napa. In order to place the order, I had to physically go to the store and order the part. No, I couldn’t give them the order and my card number over the phone. They needed to see the whites of my eyes. We put the rear wheels on the bus, trucked into town and placed the order.

“Be in by noon tomorrow,” the Napa guy said. 

As always, we consulted Norm, our handy hometown mechanic once we were back at Bob’s. Check the cylinders, he warned me. Yeah, yeah, I responded. He texted me again within minutes and gave me the step-by-step on how to check them. Pull down the dust boot, look for liquid. Do this on all four sides. We jacked up the bus, took off the drums and pried at the dust boot. Holy shit. Liquid everywhere. 

“Well,” Bob said, “looks like we’re doing the cylinders too.”

Miracle made a few more calls and Napa said, yeah we have two cylinders and they will be here tomorrow with the drums. Perfect. That night, with the rear end of the bus on jacks and parked inside Bob’s detached garage, we slept. 

One thought on “Taking a brake

  1. I certainly would not recommend bus touring to anyone who did not have an interest and some experience in doing their own mechanical work.


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