Not only did the drums not show up at Napa, but the cylinders promptly proved to be absolute shit. We put them in place and on the first pump of the brake these cylinders squirted more fluid out than if shot pressurized liquid into a colander. Bob, ever patient and good-natured, took out each cylinder and inspected them. “These really are shit,” he said matter-of-factly. Indeed; once we took the plungers out of the cylinders we found that they had no seat washers, no contour that might stop liquid from passing between the parts and do literally the only thing they are designed to do. It’s as if these Napa parts were manufactured on Opposite Day.
So now we needed cylinders, which was a real pickle because: 1. Napa was the only store that could get them in the next 10 days; 2. Shipping from our friends at BusDepot is just sort of fiscal malfeasance; 3. Anywhere that might have them likely had the same shitty shit as Napa. Still, we had to look. Which meant going to the sorts of stores where they don’t have webpages and they don’t really answer the phones. You know the sort of place—guy on a stool drinking stale coffee, the encyclopedic fella at the counter, ads for brands they don’t make anymore yellowing and flaking away on the plywood walls. These sorts of stores when you can find them tend to be the most reliable because the guy who runs it has his name on the sign out front. Ron’s. Rippy’s. Frank and Gertie’s. Visit a Lowe’s and try to find a Mr. Lowe. You won’t.
So we end up at Joe’s or Moe’s or something and there’s a guy sitting on a stool at the counter shooting the breeze, cup of transmission fluid coffee in hand. Guy at the counter—Joe or Moe or something—says “VW? No, man. Can’t get our hands on the parts. If you find the German part though, use it. Everything else is shit.”
Now it was looking like we were stranded. Again. Each step of this bus adventure is fraught with the possibility that our home on wheels is merely that—a really small home that happens to have wheels. But, Bob, ever the optimist, ever chipper, said we still had Plan A, B, and C.
Plan A was to go through his boneyard pile and see if we could find some good cylinders. The chances of that, he noted, were unlikely. However, that would pave the way for Plan B to work. Because we would then break down the cylinders and cobble together some working ones. If he had the cylinders in the boneyard. If the parts were still any good. If he had enough parts.
“And Plan C?” I asked.
“Oh, we’ll just pull the ones off my Vanagon and then I’ll order some good German ones and wait for them to come in,” Bob said.
This level of generosity is not uncommon in our travels. If you’ve been following along on our blog site, we regularly are the recipients of kindnesses everywhere we go with the givers expecting nothing in return. Although it’s common, it never ceases to floor us. Bob’s Vanagon is pristine and on the second day of our visit, he had just wrapped up the last of a complicated wiring project and had it ready to roll. And now, before the van even rolled a single foot, before he was able to do what every VW owners loves to do—drive the damn things—he was ready to disable it to get us back on the road. It was too much.
“Let’s hope Plan A or B works out,” I said.
Plan A went as predicted. We found three cylinders, but they were lost causes; none of them serviceable. But then Bob began taking them apart and using Red Rubber Grease and an air compressor to test the seals. One by one, he declared them to be working.
By now we had disassembled and reassembled the drums three or four times and I was getting pretty good at this. We broke down the drums once again, reinstalled the retrofitted cylinders and began to bleed the brakes again.
If you’ve never bled the brakes on a car, it involves one person (in this case, Bob) laying under the car with a brake fluid collection system that allows them to watch for bubbles in the brake lines. Air bubbles in brake lines are as deadly as air bubbles in your heart. The other person (me) gets to sit in the car and pump the brake pedal 32,000 times and then answer the question, “How’s it feel?” every so often.
After the bleeding was done and the wheels were back on, it was time for a test drive. “No, it’s not,” Bob said. “Now we have to tighten up the e-brake.”
The e-brake in the bus is two really long cables that join together up near the front to a Y-shape brace with square nuts on it. VW designed these nuts as square to be the biggest possible pain the ass. We tighten and test. Tighten and test. Then we drove. We stopped! Like we actually stopped when I pressed down the pedal. It only took three days and most of my sanity, but we fixed the brakes.
I also got to know the Napa guy really well since I had to order in person, cancel the order in person, get my cylinders, and then return my cylinders. Returning the cylinders took two trips. In a fit of efficiency, I stuffed both of the cylinders into a single box instead of the two identical boxes they shipped in. Efficient packing is a no no for Napa.
“We need each part in the box they came in,” the Napa guy said.
“I have a receipt and the part,” I said, stating the obvious and showcasing the shit merchandise like Vanagon White.
“We need the box,” he said, which really speaks volumes in terms of Napa’s box-to-merchandise value ratio.
Back at Bob’s garage, I sorted through the garbage for the $25 box to put the worthless part in. I found it and, finally, returned it. To be absolutely clear, I dropped a total of $243.24 at Napa for the drums and cylinders. We ended up reusing the old drums when the ones I ordered did not come in. I returned the cylinders, which meant they refunded a total of $243.24. I won’t call it Hell; it’s more like the waiting room for Hell. O’Reilly’s, for what it is worth, had the shoes I ordered and the hardware kit, no problem.