I had 100 miles to go with an active brake leak, some of which were a decent grade descent to lower elevation. With my brake fluid container riding shotgun and a pit in my stomach, I forced myself to turn the key and start the drive to Richfield, UT.
The toughest part of the drive was at the beginning. I knew I just had to make it out of the higher elevation and then once I hit the interstate, I wouldn’t need my brakes as bad (if that’s even a thing). I started working my way down the windy roads using my lower gears to keep my speed down instead of using my brakes. When I did have to use my brakes, my body went rigid, as if I could help slow Mander down by the sheer tightness of my muscles. When the stress became too much to bare, I pulled over to check my fluid level. I got out to look at the back wheel where it was leaking and it was smoking! That certainly didn’t do anything for my nerves. I googled “Is brake fluid flammable?”……..
Answer: “Brake fluid does burn. It’s not an explosive fast burn like gasoline, but a slower burn like vegetable oil.”
Ummmm…I guess that’s not the worst answer I could have gotten. I checked the fluid level and it was still pretty full so at least I knew it wasn’t gushing out. With a new vision of Mander careening off the side of a mountain road, back wheel aflame, I continued on.
After what felt like an eternity, I finally made it out of the elevation change and onto even ground. I pulled over one more time to see how everything was holding up and so far, so good. At this point I was feeling like I might actually make it in one piece! I let everything cool down, made myself some food and regained my composure. I can do this! I’m not going to die! The rest of the drive was a lot less stressful since I was able to cruise without needing to brake very often. Before I knew it, I was pulling into the lot at Jay’s Diesel. I parked safely next to the big rigs and Jay sauntered out to shake my hand. He greeted me like a guest in his home by offering me a soda and asking if he could get me anything to make my stay more comfortable. We had a chat about the drive, the plan for the repairs and got on just like we did on the phone. I asked him if I could look over his shoulder while he worked on Mander and ask a lot of questions since I had never worked on drum brakes before. He looked at me like I was some sort of alien but shrugged his shoulders and said, “Won’t bother me none. If that’s what you want.” We decided I had had enough excitement for the day and that we would get started on Mander the next morning.
I spent the night in the parking lot feeling like I was in the exact right place. The next day, the lot came alive with the start of a diesel engine. I opened my eyes to the cacophony of employees chatting and big rigs moving into place. Jay came to check on me right away, asking me if everything was ok overnight and once again, if he could get me anything. Once he was assured that I was alive and well, he got to work jacking up Mander and pulled the wheels off. As he removed parts and worked his way to the brakes, I asked, “What’s that? “What does that do?” and he patiently explained what we were seeing until we got to the brake hardware.
Sure enough, the slave cylinder was the guilty party. This might be a good time to admit that I never checked the brakes before I left MN. I know, I know. Not the smartest choice but I had old man winter nipping at my heels and there was only time to do so much before I got stuck in a frozen wasteland. Needless to say, I was please to learn that the shoes and drums still had a lot of life left in them! My axle seals needed to be removed to get to the brakes so Jay suggested we replace those, as well as the hardware on both sides. I agreed that was a good plan. Usually when one side fails, the other side isn’t far behind and I wasn’t looking to get myself into another leaky brake predicament. Luckily, the NAPA down the street had the parts in stock and Jay went to go pick them up.
Jay and I got to know each other more as we chatted through the repairs. On the surface, we couldn’t have been more different. He, a 60 something diesel mechanic, born and raised in a small town. Worked at the shop starting at a young age, eventually taking it over from his Dad. Satisfied with the American dream and settling down with a wife and kids. Me, a 30 something free spirit that spent the last 11 years living in a big city. Was never much for working a “normal” job or making any conventional choices for that matter. Bit by the travel bug and the urge to do something bigger, fled stability in favor of the unknown. And here we were. The two of us getting along like two peas in a pod, yet looking at each other with curious eyes searching for clues as to why that was. It was incredibly special and we both knew it.
We wrapped things up with the brakes and discussed the rear differential. Jay said that after what we had just done to the back end of Mander, it would be a sin not to change the fluid in the rear diff. I trusted his advice but I also knew that I was in a great environment to learn, so I readily agreed. The next day we crawled under Mander together and I learn how to do a rear differential fluid change!
After finishing up the last of the work, we decided that I would hang around for the weekend, do some driving and come back on Monday to make sure all the repairs had held. This was fine by me because it just so happened, there was an amazing place just 10 miles away that I had been dying to go since before I hit the road….
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