Braking News

3rd September 2018

Montalivit, Aquitaine, France

Still chilling' and nothing much to report so, to follow, Is another selection from my digital archive.

In late 2016, after leaving Tarifa in Spain - the town of yesterday's archive piece - my two wolfdog companions of the day and I went to Morocco and after driving for 1000km or so due south happened on the delightful coastal town of Tan Tan Plage where we spent some time prior to venturing into the Western Sahara region.

Whilst there the old Jeep developed a mechanical problem and the following archive piece 'Braking News' is an account of what took place the day It happened:

Braking News

Tan-Tan Plage, Moroc 23 December 2016

I have a philosophy in life that says if you ignore a problem for long enough it will go away. I have no idea just why I continue to hold onto that notion as hard experience repeatedly teaches me that if I ignore a problem for long enough it will eventually bite me in the arse. Which is exactly what happened yesterday.

I have had a bit of squeak coming from the brakes of my old truck for a little while now. A very cursory and extremely superficial look at the relevant dark and distinctly dirty bits behind the wheels confirmed what I wanted to see, which is to say that 'all was well' and the offending noise was probably just a bit of desert sand lodged on the surface of a brake pad or two. Occasionally, the squeak would disappear completely confirming the wisdom of my opening philosophical statement but, alas, it never stayed away for long and upon each return became a little more 'insistent'. Yesterday morning, it 'insisted' I do something about it immediately by suddenly and alarmingly making the most god awful graunching noise imaginable.

Coming to a fairly rapid pullover onto a hard bit of ground I proceeded to jack the old girl up, a corner at a time and spin each wheel in turn. The offending wheel was the front nearside (the last corner I tried!) and a subsequent removal of the wheel revealed that the rearmost brake pad had completely disappeared (probably due to excessive wear, as I was very well aware that the pads were getting a tad on the low side) and the metal pistons that push the pad onto the metal brake disc were in direct contact with each other.

Static metal binding on moving metal, not good, not good at all!

So, out come the spanners to see what can be done about it and the short answer to that was bugger all, as the two bolts that hold the brake calliper assembly together were rock solid. After a great deal of gripping and grasping on a wrench I had to admit defeat and limp the old truck to a garage to see what might be done about it there.

As luck would have it I had by pure chance recently spotted a garage, of sorts, in a dubious backstreet of Tan-Tan Plage (TTP) so that was where I headed, it being only a very short distance away.

I describe it as a garage but that doesn't really quite convey an accurate image of the place as it is only really a small business unit, of sorts, in an otherwise mostly undeveloped street and although undoubtedly engaged in the trade of of fixing and servicing motor vehicles of all descriptions there is no actual workshop as such and all repairs and servicing is done outside in the street. Indeed, as I pulled up the proprietor was busily performing an oil change on a small van parked by the kerb and rather impressively some of the waste oil even managed not to run directly into the gutter.

In my halting French I explained that I had a problem with my front brakes, that I had a set of new brake pads about my person (never leave home without them is my advice!) and could he help. Yes, he said. When? I enquired. Right now, he replied. And so, at about 10am local time my long day on the pavement of a hot and sunny TTP backstreet with my two trusty wolf companions began.

The truck was jacked up, the front wheels removed and the callipers attacked with wrenches and spanners. Mechanics came and went with astonishing frequency, appearing and disappearing from and into apparently nowhere and/or passing motor cars. All quite amazing.

The offside calliper came apart without to much trouble but the nearside item that had completely defeated me was not about to acquiesce quite so readily. Liberal quantities of WD40 were applied and long bars were attached to manly wrenches to give a bit of leverage. One bolt finally yielded and was removed OK but the other only finally gave up the fight by shearing. I recall now the moment vividly - as I looked down aghast at a brake calliper assembly that, in UK garage terms, can only be described as completely knackered and would beyond doubt need replacing with a new part. Just where such a part was to come from in this remote part of the world was an interesting question that ran wildly through my fevered mind.

Much information was required from me at this point which was not easy to supply. The reason being was that I could only really get the gist and not the detail of what was being asked of me and my replies were practically incomprehensible due to my appalling French pronunciation.

Eventually, we established (to my delight and utter amazement) that the calliper could actually be repaired by having it taken to another workshop somewhere in the port area of town where the sheared bolt could be pressed out. From out of his pocket, seemingly at random, 'the man' produced an undoubtedly well used but absolutely identical pattern and wholly intact brake calliper bolt which would serve as the replacement once the old pin was removed.

It was by then lunchtime, as the work on the truck during the course of the morning had been punctuated by many, many other customers turning up for work to done on their vehicle, or for fuel which was ferried outside to them in old 5 litre clear plastic water bottles, or just for a good old long chat to, presumably, to 'shoot the breeze' in Arabic.

The lunch break turned out to be an hour and a half, so not quite up to proper French standards as befitting their colonial past but quite long enough in the hot afternoon sun standing on the pavement with the wolves, next to a man delivering flour to the town bakery hard by. He turned up in a long wheelbase pickup variant of an ancient Toyota Landcruiser loaded to the gunwales and beyond with what looked like 100kg sacks of flour. He parked quite literally millimetres away from us and left his engine running and his reeky exhaust discharging into our faces for the entire lunch break. He unloaded it by hand, one sack at a time, disappearing for an age into the depths of the bakery each time. It was a long old job.

Eventually the lunch break was finally over, the offending calliper had been returned from the port, ready for reassembly and work resumed. The next not insignificant problem was that the pistons on both callipers, four in total, absolutely flatly refused to be pushed back by any means to allow for the new, and therefore thicker, pads to be inserted. Large, heavy jack hammers and stout solid bars were finally produced in desperation and the pistons were eventually beaten back, one by one, to within a millimetre of their life.

At this point I was frankly glad that I was in the hands of a garage and not trying to accomplish the same thing by the side of the road with the truck propped up on a wobbly bottle jack and two wolves to keep a constant eye on in case a feral cat, of which there are several on the town, should come nonchalantly wandering by!

Eventually, by about 4 pm the truck was finally reassembled and the bill announced, the bit I was really dreading as with all the comings and goings of various mechanics the garage had actually spent a fair old bit of time on the old girl plus the return trip to the port to get the sheared bolt removed.

330 Dirhams!

At my UK bank's current rate of exchange via Moroc ATMs that's a shade over 25 of your strange English Pounds! Oh, and that also included a, virtually full, tin of WD40 which I didn't ask for but they insisted I take.

What can I say? Relieved, astonished, surprised, delighted - nay, ecstatic! I simply can't imagine what it would have cost in the UK - not that anyone there would have deigned to work on such completely knackered old parts in the first place.

It all seemed very routine to those affable chaps today and the whole thing took me back to the small garages and workshops of rural Warwickshire in my childhood and early adult years. Your vehicle is old and rather well used (so what, isn't everybody's?) but it needs to be kept going somehow and kept going it will be. Haven't got the necessary replacement part? No problem we'll just fettle the old one a bit, it'll be fine! Maybe take care braking on steep hills fully laden though!

Another aspect of the foregoing observation is that these folk generally still have very much a sense of community that Britain also once had and are by no means caught up in today's widespread culture of 'self'. Very few of them have money to toss about on fripperies and 'shiny stuff' but they all work with some pride and contentment in highly individual little business that serve each other rather well (the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker type thing) and thereby ensure that TTP life is, I imagine, very tolerable indeed even though nobody has the latest iPhone, or indeed the latest anything.

Or possible, because nobody has the latest iPhone or latest anything?!

Tan Tan Plage garage - all makes catered for! Actually, the donkey looked a bit worried and was possibly wondering if he was going to be part exchange for that truck on the forecourt!

There were many times, yesterday, when it did cross my mind to wonder just where we might end up sleeping last night. In a jacked up truck in front of a backstreet TTP garage seemed a distinct possibility for much of the day, so to find ourselves back by the early evening once again bush camping in glorious isolation on the Sahara desert fringes adjacent to the majestic Atlantic ocean was even more splendid than usual!

Temple of the Kite People

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Amy and I travel on a shoestring - and its a thin shoestring at that! - So, if you enjoy reading about our travel trials and tribulations and would like to make a small donation please do! Amy will be particularly pleased as she is very fond of her daily dinner. Woof!