Shop Times at BTI


Pops walked into our home shop, Bartnik Trucking Incorporated (BTI), and eyed our 2006 E-150 conversion van with some degree of skepticism and amusement – his general regard for our intrepid, and somewhat decrepit, farm fleet. As BTI is home to a slew of new and nearly new tractor-trailers and quad-axle milk trucks, the Ray looked a touch outdated. However, he’d agreed to help me with some annual maintenance if I got the beast home, and, as usual, he was good on his word.

“So what do you got going here, Lou?”

I crept out from beneath the beast and dusted off. “Well, I changed the air filter, and now I’m draining the oil. I was hoping you could take a look at the wires in the back while I finish this up.”

He grabbed his wire-testing kit and some snippers and got to work while I finished up my oil change. “Yeah, I wish I would have looked at this before you took off… I’m pretty sure this connector is your problem; looks like it’s been dragging on the ground for quite a while now.” He eyed the gnubbed connector with some dismay. “You wanna hop in our car and run to Carquest quick?”

I headed for our local parts store while he pulled off the front tire, and deduced our need for brake pads as well.  For some reason, Carquest had no brake pads on hand for 2006 E-150 conversion vans, and O’Reilly had only the “fleet edition,” for $64.00. So I returned home with my heavy duty fleet pads for our heavy duty fleet Ray, where I found Pops with the deconstructed caliper in his hands and a somewhat confused furrow to his brow. “Why don’t you open that box up once? I’m not exactly sure what you’ve got going on here…”

He chuckled uncertainly as BL, the shop guy, lingered around, annoyedly eyeing the massive white van taking up an inordinate amount of his truck working space. We pulled the new pads out of the box and started our visual assessment. Pops turned the pads and calipers over in his hands, carefully examining the mechanism for attachment and deployment. “Go up to the front table and grab me two C-clamps; we gotta back these off once.”

BL, finally succumbing to his boredom, grabbed the wire snippers and got to work finishing up the installation of the wire connector.


See, there’s a reason that the Ray ended up at the shop. We don’t have a Pops on the RSO team, nor do we have a shop, or a BL. We’re getting there, slowly, but for all of our ancient equipment, we’re not yet equipped with the expertise, space, or tools to take care of mechanical problems efficiently. I was reminded of this again as I watched my father’s deft hands carefully placing the pads, examining the motion of the wires. “Hmm, I think this just sits in here like this…”

“Let’s see, maybe this all goes on together… here, give this side a tap once…”

We tried, failed, tried, failed, tried, failed, and finally got the caliper in place and the bolt holes lined up.
“Here, give me that ratchet and let me see; I’ll be able to tell if it’s cross-threaded. By golly, I think we got ‘er! Is that one lined up too? I almost can’t believe it…”

I quizzed him as we put the finishing touches on brake job #1. “So how snug do you want those to be?”

“Well, you don’t want your brakes falling off; that’s for sure. But you also don’t wanna break the bolts. I got a lot of experience doing this, Lou. I’ve screwed enough of these up over the years…”

I watched his hands again. Careful, measured. I eyed his left hand – four fingers and one ¾ stub finger. He’d lost it on a brake job on a much larger vehicle, years ago. I knew he knew what he was doing.

We pulled the opposite tire and repeated our procedure with slightly more efficacy than the first. I hopped in and pumped the pedal while he bled the brakes; removing all the excess air from the fluid lines. By now it had been a couple hours and the drivers were returning to the shop, where they coalesced around nothing in particular. BL forgot his frustration and joined them in a circle of men and milk hauling stories.

…“I told him, ‘Hey; I’ve been coming here for 12 years, and I know that ain’t my trailer brakes leakin’…’”

…“So she went on her break, and the new guy told me to hook up the washer. Man she got back and chewed me up one side and down the other! You wouldn’t believe it!”

…“Yeah, there at least ya know they’re gonna get you in and hooked up; not like some of these other places, man…”

Pops joined in the convivial circle as I greased the front end, jacked up the back end, rotated the tires and let the beast down to earth once more. We met by the sink in the back of the shop, washing up as I took in the familiar smells of GoJo soap and grease. We scrubbed down the grease and grime from our hands and arms, as we’ve done on so many evenings through the years; working late on the one truck they used to own. It was a wonderful moment and we both knew it.  There’s just something about being home.