This month’s “Wrenching” feature is all about getting back to basics with drum brakes. It’s the kind of task I love to tackle, as it’s a blending of skills both old and new. This kind of job means I get to pull out a handful of my special tools — the stuff that sits most of the time — and go back through all the tricks I learned while fixing classic cars on a daily basis in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Looking back on it, I must have done hundreds of drum-brake rebuilds when I was working on cars every day, and I did them on everything from minivans to classic Corvettes.

This wasn’t my first ’66 Mustang brake job. But this time the work was different.

A new reality

You might notice a new name on the top of p. 28, right above our “Wrenching” headline. Actually, if you’ve been reading ACC long, you probably recognize it. Katie Pickering is my daughter. She’s 8 years old.

A few days before I had planned to get started on the Mustang for this issue, we got word that Katie’s school, like many others all over the country, was shutting down in an effort to try to social-distance in the midst of coronavirus. All of a sudden, both of my girls were to be home all the time. My wife is a nurse at one of Portland’s bigger hospitals, so the job at hand fell mostly to me. That meant I needed to relocate my efforts at ACC from our main office in Portland to my home on the other side of town.

It also meant that I’d be taking on the task of keeping Katie busy with the type of work she had been doing at school — subtraction with borrowing, reading comprehension, that sort of thing. It’s been a deep dive back into the way back of my memory — some of this stuff I haven’t had to think about on a fundamental level in 30-plus years.

It’s been a balancing act for us that’s being mirrored in households all across our country: being parents while being professionals, being kids at home while also being students. The threat of the virus has forced many of us to redefine our days, for better or worse.

Escape to the garage

Auctions, events and even your weekly cruise-ins have all been canceled or rescheduled. With many states now pushing stay-at-home orders for their residents, those of us with classic cars are finding ourselves alone in our garages more than ever.

With the culture side of classic-car ownership on hold for the time being, we’re stuck re-evaluating our personal relationships with the cars we own. We’re also finding an escape within the garage, where a constant barrage of bad news can be dulled by fundamental, basic tasks started and completed. We wax paint. We rebuild carburetors. We detail engine compartments. An old car is a great place to park your time. Projects are a promise of good days to come.

But even this is a relationship redefined. Why do you keep your old car around, really? Is it because you actually love the car, or is it because it’s fun to be seen in it? Maybe this alone time has caused you to realize what it is that makes your cars special to you, or maybe it’s made it clear that when things normalize out in the greater car world, it’ll be time to sell one car to buy a different one.

The fix

When I was a new mechanic, I learned drum-brake tricks from a guy named Barry. He used to say that if you can fix a car, you can fix anything. Plumbing, wiring, whatever.

So in the midst of this crisis, the basics are where Katie and I have started. Between lessons about carrying the one, questions about what happened in a specific story she read, and writing prompts I’ve been creating for her, Katie was knee-deep with me in the Mustang’s drum brakes as I tore them apart and rebuilt them. I showed her how they work, and how to use my tools. She learned how to take a good picture, too, earning her a real-deal photo credit in this magazine.

For her, this stuff is all new and interesting. For me, it’s a return to normalcy amid the changing reality of being a dad. But for both of us — maybe all of us — it’s an escape, a special tool we all share, and a promise of more good days ahead.

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