Brakes & Grace

The following is a true story that happened to me back in college.

“Poppy,” my youngest daughter said, “my brakes make this terrible grinding sound when I step on them!”  She was calling from her college in Nyack, New York, and I was in Columbus, Ohio.  There wasn’t much I could do but tell her to take her car to the nearest car repair shop as soon as possible.  A bit later she called, “Poppy, I made it to the repair shop, but now I can’t even get my car to move forward or backward . . . and neither can the repair guy!”

After looking at the brakes, the repair guy told me, “Your daughter is very, very, lucky this didn’t happen while she was driving.  The brake pad backing had somehow turned and dug into the caliper and rotor and jammed the wheel to keep it from turning.  The wheel is mechanically frozen in place.  Had that happened while she was driving, she could have had a very serious accident!”

Grateful the Lord had kept her safe brought back vivid memories of the Lord keeping me safe one time when my brakes went out at 55 mph!  I was getting ready to head off for my second year of college and had been praying for a car.  Not having much money as a college student, it needed to be cheap!  One day my uncle stopped by and said he was buying a new car, and I could have his old one.  Well, FREE trumps cheap!  I said, “Thank you very much!!”  Another Praise the Lord, and I had a car for college.  Now this was a long time ago, and the car was a 1963 Mercury Comet, a big heavy boat of a car with tail fins over the tail lights.

About a month after I got up to my college in Nyack, New York, located near the Hudson River, I noticed my front brakes making some noise.  One morning I jacked my car up in the school parking lot and pulled off the wheel and drum to look at the drum brakes. (Cars didn’t have disk brakes back then.)  The two curved brake shoes had ground down to the metal, which explained all the noise I heard when I hit my brakes.  Being somewhat new to working on cars, I had never changed my brakes before, and drum brakes had springs and clips that made them more difficult to replace.

Again as a poor student, I couldn’t afford paying for a brake job, but I could afford brake shoes, and I figured there was no better time than the present to learn how to change them!  So, after putting my wheel back together, I drove downtown and purchased some new brake shoes, drove back to the school parking lot, jacked my car up and proceeded to change my brakes.  When I had the new brake shoes in place, a professor walked by, stopped, looked down, studied my brakes, and said, “You have the brake shoes in backwards!”  I saw what he was talking about and immediately proceeded to reverse them!  After changing the other brakes on the other wheel, I got in the car and carefully drove around the parking lot, testing the brakes.  Everything was good!  My first brake job was a success!

Later that day, I decided to drive downtown.  After merging onto the highway, I was doing about 55 mph when the traffic started to slow, and I stepped on my brakes–THUD!  They went right to the floor!!  I had NO BRAKES!!  With a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I saw there were about twenty cars in front of me.  The first car had stopped at a the traffic light.  I yanked the column shifter on my automatic transmission into low.  That made a nasty racket but slowed me way down.  There was a huge ditch on my right and lots of on-coming traffic on my left on the two-lane highway.

The first car’s red brake lights flashed on, and then the red brake lights of the car behind it, and the red lights of the car behind that one lit up as well.  All these red brake lights in front of me looked like a row of dominos that had been tipped in my direction and were rushing at me fast!  “Lord, what do I do?!?”  To my right, I saw a small gravel driveway with bushes on each side, obscuring where it led.  So, my options were to either smash into the car in front of me or flip my car over in the steep huge ditch on my right or hit an oncoming car on my left or try for that gravel drive.

I went for the drive–I made a sharp right turn with the backend of my car fishtailing throwing loose gravel and dust everywhere.  Finally, I got the car under control and discovered I was heading straight for a mammoth carryout window with a bright yellow “Cold Beer” neon sign flashing in my face.  That big old heavy car had a foot style emergency brake, and I stomped on that brake for all I was worth!  The car went skidding forward in the gravel and slid to a stop six inches from the window!  The people inside were staring at me, and I was staring right back at them, thinking, “Whew!  Maybe I should check my shorts!  That was close!!  Thank you, Jesus!!!”

After taking a moment to recover, I got out and noticed brake fluid puddled on the ground by my right front tire but no brake fluid around the left front tire.  I felt a little stupid as the people in the beer checkout line watched me as I jacked up the right front tire to work on my brakes.  Getting down to the brakes, I saw they had smashed into a little metal unit with rubber covers on each end.  Brake fluid was coming out of the unit and was everywhere.  I didn’t know what that unit was, but took it off and hitchhiked several miles back into town to the auto parts store.

Laying the messy thing on the counter, I told the parts guy I needed one of these for a ‘63 Mercury Comet.  The parts guy glances at it and says, “Ok, you need a rebuild-it kit for a slave brake cylinder.”  At least now I knew what that unit was called.  He brings me back a small box with a bunch of little parts in it and no instructions!!  “Lord,” I prayed to myself, “what do I do with these parts?”  At that very moment, a guy walks up beside me at the counter and says, “I need a slave brake cylinder rebuild-it kit for a ‘64 Mercury Comet.”  My mouth dropped open.  He looked at me staring at him and said, “Hi!” as the parts guy handed him a box identical to mine!

Since he was friendly, I explained my situation and lack of car knowledge.  Right there at the counter, we opened up our boxes, and he showed me how to reassemble my brake cylinder with the parts and made some other useful suggestions about reinstalling the cylinder and bleeding the brakes.  He then offered to drive me back to my car!

After the ordeal when I finally pulled back into my college parking lot as the sun settled beyond the Hudson River, I sat there in the purple twilight of evening amazed, thinking about my brakes and God’s provision and grace keeping me safe . . . once again.

But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You.  For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous; With favor You will surround him as with a shield.” –Psalm 5:11,12 (NKJV)

Copyright © 2010 by William D. (Nick) Nichols

One Comment

  • Gunga says:

    You know…I laugh, I cringe, then I laugh some more. Someday, when somebody tells me that they don’t believe in God, I’m going to challenge them to explain to me exactly how you are still alive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.