A page from the Tracker's maintenance log.
For some reason, Mortimer Snert's hand-
writing can be seen proclaiming shiny
new tires, although the incident under
scrutiny occurred on 3/31/12 at 221,450

Unfortunately, the fabled diagram did not
survive for posterity.


Demas Tootle and the Combined Drum Brake and Lawn Mower Debacle

It was a psuedo-mechanical day in the neighborhood when Mortimer Snert's friend Demas Tootle proceeded to haul the back wheels off his auto in an effort to change out the drum brakes. His father Hermanski was by his side jacking up the car, clanging wrenches against things, hitching up his britches, and other important tasks. Hermanski had been the brainchild of this event, saying things like, "Oh yeah, I've changed lots of drum brakes before. They aren't hard at all. Of course, they're not near as easy as disk brakes, but they aren't hard or anything." Demas suspected that this was an overly optimistic viewpoint, because he had a sketchy memory from his high school years of watching someone else change drum brakes on a Ford Granada at the car lot and swearing at the things to such an extent that Demas was eventually conscripted to help in the operation. But Hermanski was an eternal optimist and had been up three hours before sunrise, chomping at the bit , expecting his son to join him on the front drive at any moment for the kickoff of the festivities. So around 8:00 AM Demas dragged his Benadryl-afflicted carcus out of bed, scarfed down some tasty breakfast, and headed out to the front drive.

The rear wheels off, the next item on the list was to remove the drum, which, having 221,000 plus miles to its credit, was not keen to come off. Some beating upon the drum with a medium-sized ball peen hammer failed to encourage it. So Hermanski got on his cell phone and called the principal automotive member of the family, got some good advice on the matter, and proceeded to haul out the 5 pound sledge hammer. In due time the drum came off, as did a series of threads on one of the studs and somehow one of the lugnuts too. Next, Hermanski started flipping off springs and levers and then says, "You know, you ought to take a picture of this before we get started so we know how to put it back together. Or maybe draw a picture or something." Demas felt like his pop had hit on a brilliant idea, especially as the procedure was already underway, so Hermanski brought out a notebook, and Demas proceeded to draw a fairly abstract study in black and white of the drum brake mechanisms as they might appear were they not actually 95% obscured by the hub.

Taking things apart is usually fairly simple once one grasps the basic concept of wedging the appropriate prybar into the available opening and exerting the proper number of foot pounds in a suitable direction. Soon the driveway was littered with thousands of tiny objects. Hermanski was heard saying, "Boy this is a lot more complicated than the ones I've done before." There was also a time in the proceedings when he uttered, "I've never seen one of those deals before." But Demas had drawn a frighteningly detailed portrait of the assembled mechanism, abstract though it was and in a way that would have made Salvador Dali's mustaches stand on end, and he stuck to it like glue. What occured next, however, was that the Enid Oh Reallys? had failed to win friends and influence people with their choice of brake shoes, because the ones in the greasy, delapidated box were not the ones Detroit intended for Demas' automobile. For starters, there weren't nearly enough holes in them, and the brakes in question require very many holes indeed for all the various gizmos to poke in and out of. So Demas and Hermanski concluded that a trip to the Shawnee Oh Reallys? was in order, and before long they were standing at the counter with their box of brake shoes telling the little man what had transpired. The little man consulted with his computer and then with his manager and then went to the back and hauled out another box of brake pads. This box had the correct models, and because they were such nice guys and all, the little men behind the counter made an even trade without so much as a requirement of a receipt. Hermanski bought a couple of replacement studs (a second one had been broken clean off in the process of all the hammering).

Once back at the driveway, the various components were assembled according to the abstract print and the first attempt was made to shove the drum back onto the mechanism. This did not go as planned at all. It was concluded after much pounding and hammering and shoving around that the brake pads were sticking out a full 1/8" too far. This was perplexing to both Demas and Hermanski, and the perplexity was growing with a steady incline when lunch was announced.

It could safely be said that Demas was not in the best of moods, and lunch, as so often happens in English novels, was turning to ash in his mouth. To fully understand this condition, we must step back about two weeks to the visit Mr. and Mrs. Tootle were paying to their son at his house in order to volunteer at their son's place of employment. One afternoon Hermanski chooses to head back to Demas' house to mow the lawn, as it was starting to get out of hand. So Demas gives him his blessing, and off he goes. A few hours later Demas arrives home to find the lawn only half mowed and the lawn mower in the garage and Demas' mom telling him that Hermanski is rather upset, because he had trouble with the lawn mower and wasn't able to fix it. So this arouses Demas' curiosity, so he consults with his pop and learns that in the process of preparing to mow the lawn, Hermanski checks the oil, puts the oil cap back down without really screwing it in correctly, runs the mower till the oil heats up and overflows and starts coming out of the exaust pipe (presumably because Hermanski, though a consumate lawn mower, is nonetheless unfamiliar with the technique of bagging, and thus has packed the bag so full of weeds that the blade can hardly turn, causing the motor to overheat). So he takes off the muffler to clean it, and all kinds of unexpected parts fall off. This surprises Hermanski, because he is unfamiliar with these parts, and part of these parts reside up behind the cowl of the engine out of view. Thus trouble ensues when the reassembly phase comes along, and the engine won't run more than a few seconds.

Fast forward a few days when Mortimer Snert arrives, and he and Demas proceed to fix the lawn mower, except they can't get it to run either. Mortimer suggests that the little arm coming up from behind the muffler that attaches to the air vane thing is all part of the governor, and so the next day Demas goes to Jack's and orders the little arm that attaches to the governor, explaining that it comes out from behind the muffler and has a wart on the side. The part arrives a few days later, and Demas, upon taking one look at it, declares it to be the wrong part. Going behind the counter, Demas looks at the computer screen and says, "That's it right there," pointing all the while to what the little man behind the counter says is a thermostat, which explains the wart on the side. But Demas doesn't care what it's called; he just wants one. So they order one, and it comes a few days later, and Demas installs it, and it doesn't fix the problem either. Hermanski, as it happens, is back on this day, and he can't make heads or tails out of it either. But they decide together that what it really needs is a new air vane spring, because Hermanski has suddenly realized that he stretched it when he put it back on (because it has some how come off while he was working on the engine, even though it is located on the opposite side of the engine). So Demas orders a new spring, picks it up a few days later, puts it on, and it still doesn't work. Meanwhile, Mortimer has hossed his industrial, monstrosity-sized lawn mower over two times and whacked down Demas' lawn, being the nice guy that he is.

So back to lunch. Demas is eating his lunch and trying to figure out how his life is going to unfold, and he is also contemplating a new development which is weighing heavily on his mind, and that is that on the previous evening at his automotive brother's fiftieth birthday party, Uncle Boliver gets wind of the lawn mower troubles going on in the family and declares that he will be up to Enid within the week and will fix the lawn mower. Now, Uncle Boliver has a long history of working on lawn mowers and cars and things of this sort and somehow making them so that they never really work right again thereafter. There is a streak in the Boliver mindset that causes him to think that all engines, as they leave the factory, are setup incorrectly and therefore must be adjusted and tuned for maximum power and fuel efficiency. This belief also extends to front end alignments. Furthermore, it so happens that Uncle Boliver is in a pretty advanced stage of Huntington's disease at this point, and he has severely limited use of the hands, almost no use of the legs, no strength, no balance, and an increasingly questionable application of the mind. Hermanski, keenly aware of all this, tries to ward him off, but the decision has been made, Aunt Boliver has chimed in and proclaimed Uncle Boliver's prowess as a grease monkey of unequalled caliber, and all but the date is set in stone.

Following lunch, Demas drags his heavy mind back to the driveway where, it should be mentioned, the sun is beating down with a total lack of mercy. More futile attempts are made to jam the drum on, when suddenly the next door neighbor arrives out of nowhere. Now the next door neighbor, despite being fairly young and with a very questionable growth of beard that makes him look like a contender for the Z Z Top look-alike contest, exists on a very high pedestal in Hermanski's eyes. For the neighbor is an aircraft mechanic at Tinker AFB, works on old cars in his spare time, and (best of all in the father's book) does it in a metal building the size of three football fields. If you want to get straight into the heart of Hermanski, get yourself an insanely oversized metal building and invite him over for a tour. So the neighbor shows up and says, "Boy, I've never seen drum brakes that complicated before. Look at the size of that hub!" Nonetheless, he starts poking around, then goes home and gets his brake tools, then comes back and pokes around some more and then says, "You got the emergency brake on?" Demas looks up about the time that Hermanski says, "Yeah, I think we do." There is also this little ratchety part deep in the bowls of the mechanism which has tried Demas' patience all day which the neighbor soon sets right. And then the drum goes right on. The neighbor show Demas how to take it off and put it back on again 87 times in a row while adjusting the little nut deal on the separator thing so that the pads rub against the drum. That is soon accomplished and it's on to the t'other side. Demas manages to complete the changing of the pads on the other side in about eleven minutes flat, when he realizes that he has not swapped out the broken stud. But a gap is discovered in the mechanism which allows the wheel to be turned just so, the old stud slipped out through the gap (actually sledge hammered out with the force of ten yoked oxen), and the new one stuck back in.

The only remaining hitch is that the new studs don't want to seat fully, despite having the lug nuts tightened down. So it is concluded that the wheel will be put on, and then it will all be tightened down from there. That was going just fine, and Demas was turning the lug wrench with all his might, when suddenly the turning got easier. Demas continued to turn the wrench, and it was still easy. And then he decided for good measure to turn the wrench backwards, and that was easy too. And the nut did not really go anywhere. About that time Demas concluded that the nut was stripped, adding to the collection. This time, however, the wheel was on the hub, and Demas began having visions of flat tire on the trip home and no way to get the nut off the wheel to change the tire. Fortunately, the trip home was uneventful. This followed an extensive battery of starts and stops and backups in the middle of the street to test the brakes and consequent adjustments and adding of fluids to the brake line. A few days after this Mr. and Mrs. Tootle came yet again to visit their son and volunteer at his place of employment. This time Hermanski unloads his BadBoy lawn mower which has an 8.75 foot pound engine, variable speed self-propulsion with overdrive, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, air bags, tilt, cruise, GPS, AM-FM cassette, and heated seats. "Here son," Hermanski says, "Use this." He proceeds to show Demas where to check the oil, which Demas assures him he will do himself and says thanks ever so much to his pop and claims that he will put his mower in the shop right away and see if the little men can fix it.

The next day Hermanski is mowing at the place of employment with the new Poulan lawn mower. After awhile Demas comes around the corner and finds him checking the oil, a large portion of which is sloshing around on the deck and oozing out of the muffler. Hermanski is fiddling with the dipstick, trying to get it to screw back into place.


Note: This story was written in the style of the author's friend Mortimer Snert, aka AJ Wells, aka Alan Wells. Mortimer Snert stories always begin with "It was a (creatively applied adjective) day in the neighborhood when Mortimer Snert..." In keeping with Mortimer's modus operandi, the author chose to use his pseudonym Demas Tootle.

© 2015 Dane Tate