The Busted Knuckle Club

So, in my last blog I introduced you to my newest obsession, my 1968 VW Type II Double Cab, the “DC”. The DC was made possible by the generosity of a wonderful friend, and is really, a dream come true for me. I told you already about my longtime connection to and obsession with the infamous VW Bus, but there’s another reason why I wanted this wonderful if not quirky machine. The DC is 100% analog and needs my constant attention both while maintaining her and driving her.

I have worked on my Chevy truck, but she is a 2018, so most of my “work” is limited to modifications and oil changes and fuel filter changes. It is not an analog machine. Yes, it is a diesel, internal combustion machine with parts that work in the analog realm much as they did when they were invented in the industrial revolution. But it is, in so many ways, digital. The engine cannot run without its ECM (Engine Control Module). Because it is the ever-hated diesel engine (technically a 6.6-liter Duramax Diesel) it has a very complicated and interconnected electronic, computer-controlled emissions control system. Even the brakes have their own computer. Modern diesel techs are in many ways as much computer diagnosticians as they are mechanics. I am technically neither. So, working on my truck, that I love ever so much, is limited to wrenching on the utterly mechanical aspects available to a shade-tree mechanic like me.

Oh, but not the DC. The DC is all mechanical. Mechanical drum brakes. Mechanical four cylinder, horizontally opposed, air cooled engine. It is advanced by mechanical timing. It gets fuel by means of a mechanical fuel pump. It shifts with a mechanical standard, not automatic, (four “speed”) transaxle. The radio runs on electricity generated by a generator, not an alternator. The radio is an AM/FM straight out of 1968. I mean, what could be better? And, it is fairly “easy” to work on.

If something goes wrong with or brakes on the DC, there will be no light, warning message, or beep to tell me. I will have to feel it or hear it for myself. Furthermore, one of the pleasures of owning this vehicle is that I know something, probably many things, will go wrong and/or break and I’ll have to fix it.

When I got the DC some weeks ago, it was fairly easy to tell right off the bat that something wasn’t right with the brakes. My first clue was when it wouldn’t stop at the quickly approaching stop sign. My second clue was when it wouldn’t hold itself when I applied the brakes on a very slight hill. A cursory visual inspection verified that I was losing brake fluid from the rear passenger side brake cylinder. So, I needed to fix it. This involved a little waiting, a lot of working, a considerable amount of swearing, and some busted knuckles.

The “easy part” was to order the part, then wait for the part to arrive. The first challenge was removing the rear brake drum. The brake drum would not come off the normal way, so I had to order a specialty puller. Wait for the puller to arrive. Next pull the drum off the axel with said puller. Oops, I pushed the axel back. Deal with that later. Then dissemble the whole system and remove shoes and old cylinder. Needle nose pliers slip while removing the springs, ouch. And there is when the busted knuckles come in. Remove brake lines. Replace the cylinder. Put on new lines and brake shoes. Pull the axel back out. (That’s a whole other blog for another time). Put everything back together. Bleed all the brakes. Twice! Test drive. Shit, we have a leak. I knew that brake line didn’t feel right. Fix leaky brake line and bleed brakes, again. Test drive, again. And done! That was easy.

The next day I was at a lunch meeting with my friend and colleague at, David Rufner. He looked at my busted knuckles and said, “that’s a man whose been working on his old car.” That’s why Rufner is my friend. He gets that for a guy who writes and teaches for a living, having the ability to work on a house or a car is a source of pride. His slight recognition of my busted knuckles made my day.

I don’t know if this is a blog about old cars, avocation (a lesser occupation), hobbies, or friendship. I just know this, learning to do things like working on cars or remolding a house has meant as much to me through the years as books written and advanced degrees acquired. My friendships, like that I have with Rufner, has meant more than all of them. I also know that we all need something. We need to learn new things, be stretched by rebuilding drum brakes, or just doing something that gets us out of the day-to-day normal routine which can often seem oppressing if we don’t come up for a breath every now and then.

Vocation is central to our everyday lives as Christians. We serve God by serving others in the everyday, normal motions of our life out in our vocations. But avocation is often more important to us than we admit. Learning to be good at things that don’t pay the bills but provide meaning is central to our growth, and often our sanity while we are still here.

So, join the busted knuckle club. Or, if that is not your thing, maybe spend some time finding your thing. Finding an avocation may just make you realize the value of your actual vocation.