A Scratch Day

Published: May 16th 2017
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Burnt brake system on Left - new part on right. (Yes, my hand and iPhone are in the way)
Several places around Raleigh, North Carolina

Sometimes things just don't go right and you have to just give up and say 'UNCLE!'

We hitched up, said our goodbyes, and headed out yesterday morning. I was worried some about the brake problem on the right rear wheel of the trailer. But based on what I was being told, and what I wanted to believe, I had a rather benign explanation: it was brake dust and the thing needed some adjustment, but it wasn't a serious problem. And the fact that we were able to pull forward without any notable resistance said that maybe we didn't have a problem. So we proceeded assuming that we were good for a day's drive to our next destination.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. We headed over to the Raleigh State Fairgrounds which appeared to be the closest dump station available. Having accrued a fair amount of dumpable stuff over the last few days, I wanted to get rid of it before we headed out on a 300 mile drive. We located the dump station, paid our $10 fee, and performed the unloading process which, thankfully, was unremarkable.

However! While doing that, we followed David's advice and checked to see whether the suspect wheel might be causing some issues and Joan discovered that the hub of the trailer wheel was hot to the touch. She then felt the other three wheel hubs which, after a short 5 mile trip to the fairgrounds, were just fine. After finishing the dump (a somewhat complicated task that doesn't deserve description), I went around to the wheel and felt for myself. Joan was right - we had a serious problem. I imagined what might happen if a wheel somehow heated up to incredible heats - tire explosion? Axle meltdown? I didn't know, but it didn't give me any warm and fuzzy's about proceeding westward.

But we have cell-phones, right? So we googled RV repair shops near us, gave the address to Gladys (our vehicle's GPS system), and proceeded 10 miles through downtown Raleigh to the RV center. We explained the situation and they replied that they would be happy to have us put the trailer on the lot and they could get to it in four or five days. I explained how we were on a road trip and really needed to get going, and he shrugged his shoulders. Eventually he said that Black's Tire and Auto Service a couple miles away might be able to help us.

Now what do you do in such a situation? Do you ignore the referral? Do you get back on Google? We ended up looking it up in Google to see if there were any blackmarks against it. We didn't find any, called the place up and they said they could look at it. So we drove the 10 miles over there wondering if the damn suspect brake would lock up and leave us stranded on the highway.

It didn't, and I can report that we are very happy with our experience. They squeezed us into their busy schedule. Kenny, the mechanic, first got under the trailer and said he was seeing that the inside of the brake had come apart. He wasn't able to work on it out in the parking lot, so he helped us back the trailer into an available bay on the back side of the garage building. While I unhitched the trailer, he already had the wheel up on a jack and had removed the tire. He then removed the brake drum and when he did, several parts of the brake system simply fell onto the floor. The magnet was locked into the casing and was deformed in several spots. Simply put, the brake mechanism had fallen apart and the pieces were locking up the wheel.

Kenny then spent a considerable amount of time trying to find a replacement part. I have no idea how many places he called, but we waited for well over an hour. Finally, around 12:30, we said we wanted to go to lunch because all of us (including the girls) were getting hungry and thirsty and asked that he call us when he had an estimate. We were almost to the restaurant (that had a patio where the dogs could sit with us) when we received a call. Kenny had found the replacement part, but he had no-one to go get it. It was in Garner, about 20 minutes away. We said 'no problem' and rushed back to Black's to pick up the defective part, so it could be matched with the replacement, and dashed on to AgriSupply in Garner.

AgriSupply, it turns out, is an agricultural hardware store, about the size of a Costco, selling all things related to farming. But it turns out that farm trailer brakes are the same as RV trailer brakes. Taking the defective part with me, I went to the information desk where Michelle, with a deep southern accent and natural, farm attire, looked at my defective part. After remarking that I had really burned out the magnet, she looked a few things up on the computer (all while talking on the phone and helping yet another customer), she wrote down not just the part number I needed, but also the size, the handedness - right or left - and the aisle number where I would find such a thing. And she was absolutely correct - there was a stack of about six of them laying there and I picked one, marveled at how different it looked from the one I had burned up, took it to the register, and paid a measly $40 for the thing!

We then rushed back to Kenny, much like an ambulance carrying a transplant heart, and proudly handed him the replacement brake. Beaming, he said, see how much money you saved, and said he would have it installed in about 20 minutes.

And he did! I have to say that this experience with Black's Tire and Auto Service and, especially, Kenny, did a great deal to restore my faith in RV and auto services. In the end, they charged me for just one hour's labor, although I know Kenny spent more time than that. He said a few times, that he really wanted to get us back on the road and, surprisingly, he actually meant it. Given the seriousness of our brake problem, I think it would have been entirely possible that we could have been stranded for several days. The dedicated effort of the folks at Black's, and especially Kenny, clearly saved us a huge amount of time and money. There IS goodness in the corporate world - it just seems too rare, but is a delight when you encounter it.

After restoring the trailer to wholeness, hitching back up, and leaving Black's, we went back to the restaurant Joan had originally picked out. It is now about 4:00 pm. The girls, having spent the entire day in the car, were glad to get out and stretch their legs. But we were quite simply exhausted by the stressors of the day. We ate a not-so-good dinner, drank a couple of beers, and went back to Jennie's for the night.

And thank god for sisters!. Although relatives, like fish, start smelling after three days, Jennie and David gladly let us set up camp in their driveway for another night. So maybe tomorrow we can continue our journey to the next stop.

We will just scratch today and start fresh tomorrow! (17.1.69)


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