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Return from York: "hard luck" tale ends well with the kindness of strangers and NAPA

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  • Studedude
    Glad you got home OK, Gary.

    Breaking down is always an unpleasant experience, but it does offer the opportunity for us to be reminded that there are really good folks out there.

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  • Return from York: "hard luck" tale ends well with the kindness of strangers and NAPA

    When the York swap meet closed on Saturday afternoon, Jane and I drove east on U.S. Route 30 (Lincoln Highway) headed for a little get-away in New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ, a pair of quaint old towns on the Delaware River. We were about an hour out of York when I pulled in for a pit stop and found the left front disk brake caliper on my 2003 Ford Expedition jammed on hard and the wheel way too hot to touch. This had happened before, and I knew right away I couldn't drive it far. A quick examination showed the rotor chewed up pretty well.

    Across the street was a NAPA auto parts store and a Dollar General store. It was 4:00 pm and the NAPA store said every garage in Gap, PA was closed by 2:00 pm on Saturday, not to re-open until Monday morning. Panic set in, as I didn't want to spend the weekend in the NAPA parking lot. Of course, the only tool I had with me was a tiny Swiss Army knife. Fortunately, the NAPA guys had a new caliper, new rotor, and a set of pads in stock. I bought those, plus a bunch of tools, and set to work in the parking lot. Every once in a while, I sent Jane back into the store for more tools, like a T-45 star driver bit and a big C-clamp to squeeze the pistons. The store was closing at 5:00, so I also got brake fluid, hand cleaner, pry bars, and a bunch of other stuff. Jane grabbed some other stuff from the Dollar store, like paper towels, since they stayed open.

    While I have done drum brakes for more than 50 years, I had never done disk brakes. It didn't take long for local help to appear. The manager at the NAPA store loaned me a small box of tools and said to just leave them in the back of one of their trucks when we left. Guys wandered out of the NAPA and Dollar General Store to look and ask if we needed help. A very young Guatemalan guy in a knit cap offered his tools and assistance and helped figure out what needed to be done. Other store customers who came and went asked if we needed anything, and several of them dug in tool boxes and bags for a big metric Allen wrench that would fit the two strange screws that held the new caliper together - the NAPA store had closed by that point. I thought these were plugs that needed to come out for insertion of the heavier posts, such as I had removed from the old caliper to get the pads free from the rotor.

    Eventually, a guy from the local tire shop just happened to stop at the Dollar store, saw our plight, and offered the most valuable tool of all: KNOWLEDGE! He said to just leave the plug-like screws where they were and all would be well. Since it was already dark and I couldn't figure out how to get the old rotor off, I slapped the old pads into the new caliper and bolted it in place while Jane held the flashlight. Our "Good Samaritan" then bled the caliper as I pumped the pedal. Finally, by 7:00, I had placed the borrowed tools in the bed on one of the NAPA pick-up trucks and left Rollo the young Guatemalan's ViseGrips under a bush, as he had asked when he had to leave earlier, and we were on our way. We made New Hope by 8:45 and had a very late dinner at a great restaurant. Boy, did I sleep well that night at the B&B where we stayed. Now that we're home, I can get the Expedition fixed the right way, though the brakes work fine now, even with the scored rotor and old pads.

    And, by the way, as we left Lambertville on Sunday afternoon, we spotted a 1941 Champion 4-door sedan for sale at a local garage. More about that in a separate post.

    My thanks to the folks who helped. They'll probably never see this. No one would take any of the money we offered in appreciation. So, if you see someone in need of help by the side of the road, pass it along and pay it forward!