Boston Driver’s Notebook 5/1/11 and 5/15/11

14 05 2011

Once again, having no major problems with Clyde the Blue Truck, I decided to fix what was not yet broken.

The metal hydraulic line between the clutch master cylinder and clutch slave cylinder was dangerously corroded.  Flakes of rust were spalling off the steel line.  It would fail and leave me clutchless at the worst possible moment.

Sketchy Metal

To get from the Somerville Assembly Square Home Depot to Rt. 93 is very easy and direct.  One leaves the parking lot, turns left, bears right, keeps left, and makes a left turn at the light onto the on-ramp.  This inconveniences no one, endangers no one, is simple easy and direct.  Perhaps that is why it is illegal to make a left turn at the light.
For this reason, I instead had to circle behind the Home Depot and former Circuit City, cross under Rt. 93, turn at the second red light onto Broadway and go through seven more red lights until I got to the McGrath Highway, Rt 38, perhaps known to BDN readers as the ‘McRoadRage Highway’.   Then it’s one more red light and a yield sign to get on 93.
It was in the course of this peregrination, loaded with 800 lbs of concrete, that I drove past the Broadway Brake Inc. on Broadway.  I stopped in and asked if they could replace my clutch line.  “I don’t trust transmission shops.  They always want to sell you a transmission,” I said
“They wouldn’t know what to do,” said Phil, perhaps the owner of the shop.
One might think, ‘Clutch line, go to a transmission shop,’ but the line is identical to a brake line, so the job would be more within the purview of a brake shop.
Naturally, my first thought was to do the job myself, but it was a bendy, convoluted path under and behind a lot of other stuff, like the engine, for example.  I figured the highly skilled brake people at the shop, which catered to mostly semi-tractors, could do a better, neater job of it.

Way at the Back

I dropped off the truck on a Wednesday morning, and got my not-well-maintained 10-speed out of the bed.  I went in and talked to Phil.  He was talking to another old-timer in the office where they were sitting on either side of the parts counter.  I asked if they might not have some caliper-to-steering knuckle bolts for Kelsey-Hayes disc brakes on a 60’s Mopar.
“I know the ones you mean, but I don’t have them,” said Phil.
The other old guy said, “There’s a guy in Newton, what’s his name…?”
“Andy Birnbaum.  I can’t deal with him, he’s too annoying,” I said.
Off I rode on the Fuji 10-speed which I had found abandoned in Power Dave’s basement when we were neighbors on Cotton Street in West Roxbury.  It needed maintenance badly.  The wheels rubbed on each revolution, and the chain skipped whenever a certain amount of force was applied to the pedals.  I had taken to wearing a helmet in recent years, in an effort to avoid further brain injury.

Don't Break the Egg

It was a rainy day, so I didn’t go to work, but instead did my laundry and got food and things like that until 5 PM when I called the shop.
“We haven’t gotten to it yet,” was the story on the phone.
The next day, I hooked a ride to Harvard Square and rode the MBTA into Boston.
The Jamaica Plain falling-down deck job was coming along at a glacial pace despite the sad noises of the home owners, and my best intentions.  I called the shop at 5 PM and asked for Phil.  He had been trying to call my cell phone, for which he had written down the wrong number.  “It’s going good, but not so good,” he said.
The clutch line was installed, but somehow a brake line to the rear brakes had ruptured while  the truck was in the brake shop.  “I didn’t want to fix it without your go-ahead,” said Phil.
Most people would find it too much of a coincidence that the brake line had broken in the 20-yard drive from the garage to the parking lot, but I’m a bit unlucky at times to the point that I might have predicted this outcome.

Something's Gone Wrong Again

“So that should be pretty straightforward, right?” I said, thinking that it would be a twist, a straight run and a bend.
“Not really,” said Phil.  “The book says three hours.”
“Well I guess go ahead and do it,” I said.  Only then did I reflect that I hadn’t asked for an estimate for the clutch line job, and only then did I wonder how many hours the book said that would take.  I knew from working in a garage that the book was usually hard to beat, and that beating the book’s estimated amount of time required to do the job is where the money is made.  No matter how good a job I did, the garage manager always wanted it done faster.  Bryan at work, the pragmatist, pointed out that the book time was based on information that I might not yet have.

The Book

The next morning I rode the T to work again.  I rode my bike to Harvard Square; found out I didn’t have my bike key, rode home and back again.  I was getting some good exercise.  Down in the subway station, a man played the cello.  Bach, I think it was.  I gave him a dollar.  If everyone was like me, subway musicians would all be independently wealthy.

I've Got Your Bach

I took the Red Line to Downtown Crossing Station, where I walked down the long corridor to the Orange Line.  I went up the stairs where at the top, a woman from India was standing with her baby carriage, talking to a man, also from India, I supposed by the look of them.  I paused to observe, and it became clear to me that the woman was asking about the elevator on the other side of the fence.
“It only goes up,” said the man
“But I would like to go down,” said the woman.
I was ready to help her carry the carriage down the long flight of stairs, but the man, glancing over at me lurking in the shadows, offered to help her carry the carriage.  I looked on with approval as they lifted the carriage, baby and all, and began the descent.
As I emerged at Stony Brook Station in Jamaica Plain, a black woman in an MBTA uniform was cheerfully saying “Good Morning” to everyone who left the station.  Most people looked away, and a few mumbled back to her with furtive glances.
I stopped in the spring sunshine and looked at her warm eyes and glowing face.  “It is a good morning,” I said.  “Good Morning to you, too.”

The Black Angel

  I always try to reciprocate friendliness where I find it.

As for the others, to quote Willie Ruff, “Blessed are the sleepy, for they shall soon drop off.”

Willie Ruff

I called for the 5 PM follies, and got Phil on the line.  “We didn’t get to it, so…”
“Will you be there tomorrow?” I asked.  Tomorrow being Saturday.
“The office will be open but not the shop,” he said
“Well I might just come and get it,” I said.  “I can drive it a short distance, right?”
“It’s got no rear brakes…”  My glass being half-full, I realized that it did have front brakes.

Well...What Happened?

The next morning I pedaled the Fuji down to the shop.  I stopped at the NAPA on Rt. 38 to get a half-pint of brake fluid. The counter person tried to upsell me to a quart, but the smaller bottle fit into the water bottle bracket that had come with the bike.  We talked brake lines for a short while, and he told me they had a good selection, unlike the local discount, joke auto parts stores.
I biked over to Broadway in the morning sun.  I went into the empty store and waited until Phil emerged from the parts area.  He gave me the look.
“I’m here for my truck,” I said cheerfully.  I was feeling better already.
“OK,” he said before disappearing for another 15 minutes.
I watched a semi-tractor backing into a parking space in front of the brake shop.  At the last minute, a father pushing a baby carriage walked behind the tractor, which came to an abrupt stop.  The driver walked into the office where I was waiting, still shaking his head.

If You Can't See the Driver, He Can't See You

“I’m glad you saw that guy with the baby carriage,” I said.
“Yeah, I know,” said the hispanic driver.
“Is anybody here?” he asked.
“Yeah, but he’s not happy to see me,” I said.

The driver went out again, and reappeared with a technician and they both went over and began tinkering with the truck.
After another ten minutes Phil resurfaced with a bill for $315, which I paid, even more glad that I wasn’t leaving the truck there indefinitely.
Just as we got to the gate at the parking lot, Phil had to go back for the key, and then someone drove up with a pickup truck and parked in front of the gate.  He went in and talked to Phil for a while, before coming back out and unparking.


Phil opened one side of the extremely wide gate.  My truck was parked in the center of the gate.  A small white econobox was parked so that the other side of the gate might have hit it when it was opened, and Phil walked off saying something about not being able to open the gate.  I waited for a while longer.  I could easily have held the gate as he drove my truck out, but Phil was gone.
I waited, and eventually got in and started the truck.  I put it in reverse without any problem.  The brake warning light was lit.  I pulled forward a few inches, and angled it out through the open half of the gate.  Phil showed up and pulled open the other half with deep sadness.  “The clutch works great!” I said.
“Thank you,” he said, in spite of himself.

Obey the Master Cylinder

I drove down Broadway, and took a left into East Somerville.  I pulled over and added some brake fluid into the completely empty master cylinder.  It would have to be bled.  I looked at the new clutch hydraulic line that the BBC had installed.  It didn’t go through the same hold-downs that the old line had, which also held down two brake lines.  I could have done better with a $4.99 brake line from the joke auto parts store.  It looked like an indifferent job, hastily done.  I’m sure it beat the book.
It was uphill most of the way on Rt 38.  Then I went down Vinal Ave, and managed to stop at the bottom of the hill.  I nursed the truck to my driveway, and made the proper prayers of thanksgiving.
I lifted up the front passenger’s corner with a jackstand and assumed the postion under the truck.  Look, I said to myself, the gas tank, along with the gas tank rock guard, must be removed.  The first of several surprises.
Another surprise was a couple of illegal unions tucked above the rock guard.  Brake lines from front to back on a vehicle are supposed to be one continuous piece.

There were also what seemed to me to be an unreasonable number of bolts holding down brake line clamps, in unreasonable locations, my favorite being between the top of a frame crossmember and the floor of the cab.

The leaky line was not the line that had looked corroded to me, it was the other one.  That led me to investigate the leaky area itself.  The fitting was tight.  In fact it had been overtightened, or else loosened without the tube being freed from the nut, and thus the tube was twisted causing the leak.  Whether that had happened two days ago or two years ago, I had no way of knowing.  I would have to give the benefit of the doubt to the brake shop where the brakes had suddenly failed.

I would be better off replacing both lines while everything was apart.

What Could Go Wrong?

The clutch slave cylinder was in a difficult-to-reach spot behind the engine, and I could imagine that without malice, a mechanic could try to loosen the wrong fitting, one of the brake fittings he could see, without worrying too much about preserving it since it was too be replaced and the system bled anyway.  But I wasn’t there, so, benefit of the doubt.
After all, there are two brake lines running aft because of the weird LSPV set-up, instead of the usual one.  Two brake distribution blocks instead of the usual one.  The slave cylinder somewhere out of sight.  Out of mind.  He might not even have told Phil about a mistake…   But b of the d.

So, rock guard off, gas tank out, I pulled out the first brake line.  It was 9 feet long, give or take.  NAPA closed at 1PM and it was 12:55 PM.  The local discount, joke auto parts stores, might have a six foot length.  But probably not.
Having spent way too much of my recent life at the one j.a.p.s. (joke auto parts store), I got on the Fujituna and pedaled myself to the other.
It was a bedlam of small, hood rat children running amok, a welter of languages spoken at the counter, metal being dropped, parts being slipped silently into dark hoodies.  The usual.
An actual employee out in the store helping people find things came up to me and asked if I needed help.  I don’t know what prompted her to do it.  Maybe it was the way I was standing there just taking it all in.

Take a Number

“Do you guys have a flaring tool you rent out or something?” I asked.
She looked into the middle distance.  She half-turned toward the milling crowd in front of the counter.  “I think maybe if you…”
I nodded, and we both stood there and looked pensive.  Then I turned and walked back toward the tool aisle.  I might be able to wrap up this three-hour job within a week or two.
I found a flaring tool for sale for twenty dollars.  Generally if you borrow a tool from the j.a.p.s., someone before you has somehow rendered it inoperable.  I decided to buy the set.  I went up to the cashier who had just finished with a customer, and asked if I could go look at the brake fittings behind the counter.  I went back, and discovered they had 25’ rolls of tubing.  I grabbed a roll and some bubble flare fittings that vaguely resembled the one I had brought with me from the old line.
The total came to eight dollars, and I said to myself, “That ain’t right.”
I looked at the cashier, but he just kept putting my stuff in a bag.
Finally he noticed the mistake and had me void the sale.  It ended up being $73, but it would still be an order of magnitude cheaper than if I hadn’t liberated the truck from the brake shop.
I got back to the hacienda, and started messing around with the flaring tool and tubing.  It was getting late in the day, so I ground some rust that had been hidden by the gas tank and rock guard, and sprayed some spray paint around.

Made in Taiwan

The next morning, I managed to select the wrong die for the flaring tool, and broke it.  I went to the other j.a.p.s. and saw they had a different type of flaring tool that cost $33.99, so I went back to the other j.a.p.s. where the extra one that had been there the day before had been sold.  Two is one, one is none.
I went back and bought the other tool for $33.99 and pedaled the Fujituna on home.  After attempting another flare with the new new, fancier tool, I finally realized that I’d been using the ¼” tubing die instead of the 3/16” tubing die.  The new flaring tool also seemed crummier once I started to use it than the simpler, cheaper one, for which, as it turned out, I still had the 3/16” die.
I decided to give the new flare tool to Charlie Paradise.  It was made in China, while the simple, better quality one was from Taiwan.  You may draw your own conclusions.
The roll of tubing was lovely, coppery, buttery and soft.  It was made here in the USA and was composed of the desirable NiCuFe alloy.  I screwed one of the j.a.p.s. fittings into the dripping junction box, and it didn’t not fit.


I made a few test flares, finding out that it was important to have the tubing straight and centered in the clamp, with a squared-off and deburred cut.  Accordingly I was able to fashion two tubes, bent with the wonderfully malleable alloy tubing into what I considered better-than-brake-shop-quality bends.
I got the new lines installed, and decided to bleed the system to look for leaks and to see if I got brake system pressure, before I reinstalled the gas tank.  I bled the LSVP, the right rear wheel cylinder, the left rear wheel cylinder, the front right and front left calipers.

Call Me "Bender"

That left the master cylinder.  I got Zach from downstairs to help me bleed the master cylinder.  I got in and tried the brakes.  No brakes.  I bled everything again, and again when I got home the Monday night after taking the MBTA to work.
The result: some lackluster brake pressure.
I drove to Home Depot the next morning and got another 800 lbs of concrete, and drove to Jamaica Plain on Rt. 93.  If I pumped up the brakes, they worked fine.
Then on the way home, I went through the Bromley Heath projects, where people like to exert their rights as pedestrians.  I noticed some stopped oncoming cars, and then noticed a person strolling in a languid manner across the crosswalk.  I hit the brakes, but the front wheels just locked up with a light screeching sound, as the rear wheels kept rolling, no time to pump them up.  He gave me the look and walked in front of my encroaching bumper.

I'm Walkin' Here!

I drove home gingerly, and decided not to drive it again until the brakes were dependable.
I hacked around after work and read my emails.  I went outside and it began to rain, but I sucked it up and bled the brakes.  The LSVP then both back wheels, then the front wheels for good luck, then the master cylinder again.  As the rain really set in, I ran the rest of the quart of brake fluid through the LSVP, with extreme prejudice.
The next morning I went out with some trepidation to test the pedal, but it was pumped up like a factory turkey.  Even thought the brakes were working, I decided to take the MBTA to work.

I See Skies of Blue

Better for the environment.




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