Braking Bad

Readers who have followed this blog from the beginning know that I’ve experienced some truly serendipitous events. So I feel almost humbled in describing a recent incident that can only be defined as providential—or maybe divine intervention.

For the first 4,000 miles of the Sweet Chariot tour, the 45-year-old Mustang has performed remarkably well. The only repair needed was replacement of the front wheel bearings, a routine maintenance item that was accomplished in Pennsylvania before the Kerouac tribute started. Subsequently, the car has been subjected to some of the worst roads in the country. The pavement in New Jersey around the metro New York City area is rough enough to loosen fillings. The same goes for Chicago; and in the Midwest, many of the rural intersections have deep rumble strips cut into the pavement. The rough roads and heavy vibrations over the past couple of weeks almost certainly contributed to a mechanical problem, causing the disc brake caliper on the Mustang’s left front wheel to work loose.

Fortunately, the situation did not become apparent until I was just a few miles from my scheduled destination on Sunday, September 23. I was approaching the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver when a traffic light turned red just as I neared the intersection. I hit the brakes hard. The car slowed normally, but I heard a rather sickening metal-on-metal sound from the front of the car. Later, going through a series of roundabout intersections, I heard the same grinding noise. And, as I pulled into the parking lot at the museum, the noise was even more apparent.

The Mustang made it safely to my hotel that night, where I enjoyed a great visit with my brother Larry and his family from Estes Park. On Monday morning, taking the advice of a staff member at the air museum, I phoned University Hills Conoco on S. Colorado Boulevard in Denver. Claude Akridge answered my call, and said to bring the car in at 9 AM. During the drive to the station, my brother and I heard one slight “clunk” from the front end, but we arrived without incident. Claude, who has been working on cars for 50 years, promptly took the Mustang for a test drive—and was gone much longer than anticipated. I was getting a bit nervous about his absence when he came around the corner, walking back to the station!

My first thought was that he had crashed the Mustang—and I wasn’t far wrong. “You might have been killed,” he said without preamble. “The left front wheel locked up. Thank God I was driving slowly. If that had happened while you were on the highway, you might have been killed.”

He sent a couple of guys with tools to free up the wheel, and they were able to drive the car to the station. Soon they diagnosed the problem: Over the extended road trip, one of the two large bolts in the bracket that attaches the brake caliper to the spindle had worked loose. The caliper had been shifting slightly, and the constant torque eventually stripped both bolts.

So once again, the Mustang had a mechanical issue—but only after I had arrived at the day’s destination. And it happened where someone with expertise could correct the problem. (If this sounds familiar, see my post entitled “Another Lesson in Serendipity,” published in August, 2011.)

Monday had been set aside so that Larry and I could drive the Peak-to-Peak Highway  on our way to Estes Park. Had the brake caliper issue not become evident when it did, we might have found ourselves either stranded—or worse, wrecked—on a remote highway in the Rocky Mountains. Meanwhile, the staff at University Hills Conoco had over a dozen cars in the queue for service that Monday; nevertheless, Claude called a few of his regular customers and shuffled their schedules so that he could work on the Mustang. The serendipity just kept happening. Within a matter of hours, Claude had ordered in the necessary replacement part and completed the repair. Even better, the station serviced the Mustang with an oil change while waiting for the part to be delivered.

Some people tend to go a little crazy when unexpected issues crop up. I’ve learned to just roll with them, no pun intended. It seems that most issues work out okay if you let them—and you might just meet some genuinely nice, helpful people along the way.

You can decide whether I’m the benefactor of serendipity, God’s grace, or just plain good fortune. The outcome was good, and I personally take no credit for that.


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