His name is Fred.
He was adopted into the Johnson family in 1977 and has been a faithful and beloved member ever since.
Fred is a 1961 Chevy shortbed, step-side Apache 10.
He delivered me to my high school graduation, countless dates, prom, college, and, with bride and children riding in the bed, scouting Springfield’s Christmas Tree Farm for 40 years.
Fred is pretty easy to work on and, since I am anything other than a mechanic, that is a good thing. At some point during my college years, he needed new brakes.
Being that I was too broke to even pay attention, this meant I had to replace them myself. With my few tools scattered on the ground I jacked him up and went to work. After removing the wheel and hub I was confronted with something I had never seen. The inner workings on drum brakes look like metal spaghetti. Staring back at me were springs, pistons, wires, wheels, and two worn out brake pads.
Not be outdone by early 1960s technology, I began removing parts. Some required the flexibility of a French Quarter contortionist. Here I was – too proud to stop, too dumb to know better, and too broke to do otherwise.
Sometime that morning I made an important discovery about myself. It seems that I am better at taking things apart than putting them back together.
After several agonizing hours I got it back together and found that I was able to improve upon the original design! The engineers back then had installed parts that were not needed for proper brake operation.
On to the other side!
There I discovered the same dish of spaghetti as the other wheel. This time I was armed with that which money can’t buy – EXPERIENCE!
True to form, the engineers had made the same errors in overbuilding this side as well. They just added a few different/extra parts on this side. With a pocket full of spare parts I hopped in and fired him up ready to prove my expert brake skills.
I headed up the gentle northern slope of Stephens Street in Boaz, Alabama, with a lot of newfound wisdom and a lot less brake. When I stepped on the pedal it went to the floor and stayed. Right there on the floor. Have I mentioned that these were not air brakes? Nothing!
Fortunately, the old truck has a hand-operated emergency brake located under the dash. In an instant I understood why they call them “emergency” brakes. Using this manual braking system, I gently guided Fred to the local Chevrolet dealer.
Casually, I walked in and told them my brakes needed to be checked. In a rare occurrence, they could see me immediately. They told me it would only take a minute. Yeah, they had not seen my handiwork yet.
When the mechanic lifted Fred, I walked out to watch. As soon as he saw the brakes he stepped back and said things I dare not write. Looking at me, he shouted, “Who the *#@+! has worked on these brakes?” I convincingly told him they were like that when I bought it. He understood sarcasm.
“Son,” he said, “the secret to working on brakes is to have the right tool.”
He produced a twisted tool with one flat end and a cup with a tiny lip on the other.
With a smile of pure superiority he said, “This tool is the trick son, won’t fix a brake without one.”
I nodded in complete agreement; like that tool would have done anything other than accelerate my arrogance.
In mere seconds he had disassembled the right side and began rebuilding it. I sheepishly held out my hand with a palm full of spare parts. One by one he took them from me and in only minutes he finished. The other side went even more quickly since he left off the tutorial.
That day I learned several truths. The first is that arrogance and ignorance is a lethal mixture. The second is that the right tool makes all the difference in the world.
We are all like all the tools in a master mechanic’s tool bin. We are all different and all made for different things. Some of us don’t look very impressive. But I promise you, when you need a twisted, bent, flat ended, cup topped lip-bearing brake tool, nothing else will do. It was made for a specific purpose, and it performed it well.
We are each made for a special purpose that nobody else can do as well as we. The world is crying for you to use your gift.
One final thing I learned that day – the tool was useless unless held by a master.
Choose your master wisely.
Dr. Aaron Johnson is the pastor of Christ Redeemer Church in Guntersville, Alabama.