When I last left off, I was complaining about flare wrenches. That apparently angered the tool gods, as I spent at least an hour shortly after that wrestling with a frozen brake line that threads into a junction block on the inside of the frame. The location of the line is such that I had about 15 degrees of rotation on the wrench before I hit either the frame, the exhaust, or the starter motor, and there wasn’t enough room for a pair of vice grips. Once again, my attempts at using my flare wrenches resulted in nearly rounding off the nut. I ended up using a pipe cutter to sever the line just above the nut so I could use a socket wrench and about three feet of extensions to break it loose. With that accomplished, I also installed the new lower control arm bushings and ball joints, and they are now reinstalled on the car. Up next, I’m going to reassemble the passenger side springs, shocks, upper control arm, and spindle, and then I can actually install the new brake parts. The driver’s side will have to wait, as the upper control arm is still on backorder.
Meanwhile, I needed a 12″ section of brake line to replace the line I had cut. Of course, the original line had two different ends on it, so I was also going to need an adapter of some sort. I stopped at Autozone after work to return some rented tools and pick up the new line, but they only had an 8″ piece and a 20″ piece in stock. I didn’t want to bend the longer piece to fit, so the next day I ran to a small independent parts house – literally a former residence that has been converted to a store – just up the road from my workplace. The shop floor consists of an area about the size of a porch, maybe 6 feet deep by about 20 feet long bisected by the counter. There was a older gentleman in a rocking chair in the corner and a bearded 40-something man behind the counter, and the paneled back wall was covered with antique oil cans, signs, and specialty tools. It was like I had stepped back in time 50 years. I showed the counterman what I needed and he disappeared into the back for a few seconds, returning with the right length line and the correct adapter fitting. While I was waiting, another customer walked in, greeted the elderly man by name, grabbed the only bottle of car wash on the shelf, and waited in line behind me, which meant he was nearly standing outside. The counterman totaled up my purchase (which wasn’t any more than it would have been at Autozone) by hand on a carbon receipt and made change with a wad of cash from his pocket.
Now, a piece of brake line and a fitting isn’t a tough order, but I can guarantee that the guy behind the counter is more knowledgeable and friendly than the recently-former burger flippers that typically populate your average retail chain. He also has the benefit of not having to sell air fresheners and stick-on plastic chrome bits. Am I going to shop there every time I need something for one of my cars? No, but I’m going to make a point to stop in there more often. Is it the right place to go for everybody or every need? Of course not. Like all independent retail stores, it might be a dying vestige of a bygone era, but I’d like to think there’s room for both mega-chains and old fashioned, mom-and-pop stores in the marketplace. Whether it’s a small auto parts store or your neighborhood hardware store, go there the next time you need something. I guarantee you’ll see something you won’t see at Home Depot or Advance Auto Parts – even if it’s just an elderly man in a rocking chair.