When her beloved Honda CRV became too old to drive safely on the highway my mother needed another car with easy access. The best we could find at the Honda dealership was a 2008 Scion xB from Florida which offered height-adjustable front seats and wide doors.

The Toyota controls on the air conditioning and lights were a chore for Mom to learn in her mid-eighties, but the rest of the car was just fine. Two years later the brakes had begun to grind, so I put it up on the hoist and took it apart.

After the wheels were off I realized that nothing looked familiar in there, so I took to You Tube for instructions. Disk brakes have come a long way since my all-too-frequent encounters with them on my 1979 Rabbit, but now there are lots of guys who demonstrate simple procedures on their websites.

On the Scion xB the caliper is separate from the part that holds the brake pads. On the front the holder hinges up for convenient maintenance if you remove the lower bolt.

The big problem with the rear calipers was that no amount of clamping pressure would make them retract, though the pins holding the brake pads were fine. Online I discovered that the emergency brake linkage holds the pads in position, so the piston of the caliper must be rotated clockwise under compression to get it into position for new pads. Charlie emailed me that Princess Auto had a tool for that on sale this week, a dice-shaped, hollow metal box with pins sticking out of it.

I looked online for brake parts. None of the usual Canadian suppliers carry Scion brake parts. I phoned a Toronto-based eBay brake parts vendor. She firmly told me that 2008 Scion xB’s have drum rear brakes. Oh. Another told me the same thing. So much for the $200 brake job.

Toyota brake parts are usually pretty reasonable at the dealer, so I called Kingston Toyota and asked. The parts guy wanted a VIN number. I recovered 16 of the 17 digits from a liability slip and his computer provided the rest. “Is it black?” he asked, by way of confirmation.

Another reason I was willing to pay four times the lowest Internet price for pads and rotors was that the pads when I took them out seemed to have been jammed into the holders, unable to move. I suspected either a fit issue or crummy workmanship at some point. There was no need for Toyota brakes to fail in two years of light driving.

John had to order the rear rotors from Toronto, but assured me they would be in the following morning, so we planned a trip to Kingston to pick them up. For the $601 (including tax) John threw in two tubes of grease and a session with a technician who explained to me how to lubricate the pads in their slots so that they would work smoothly. Then he carried the rotors out to the car for me, and away we went.

By email I asked Charlie if the pins really needed to be re-lubricated if they were flexible under their rubber seals. He assured me that they did, but after I greased one with the special lubricant the dealer gave me I had trouble getting the thing to seal again, so I left off for fear my clumsy fingers would do more harm than good to the other pins. Charlie’s done a lot of brake jobs on his track cars, but they were Porsches, and Porsche brakes go together very easily. Scion brakes don’t.

All in all the reassembly went pretty well. I had to figure out how to wiggle the pads into the holders so that they could move. Otherwise they’d jam. The lubricant and a goodly amount of elbow grease freed them up, but I still don’t understand why these little clips fit onto the bottom of the front pads. There weren’t enough to go around, so I put them on the left side and left the right ready for clip installation if they squeal or thump.

Apart from the pad-fitting the front brakes went together well, but the rears required that I remove the calipers in order to mount them on the rotors. No problem: Charlie’s tool box has two sets of vice grips for pinching brake lines, and banjo bolts are no big deal if you don’t lose the washers when you remove them. “Gravity bleeding” was mentioned on one of the videos, and it seemed to work. I added a few ounces of brake fluid at the top and wiped up the mess on the floor.

The car stops well now and the ABS works properly. With the summer tires installed (tire pressure sensors) no indicator lights complain on the dash. The parking brake works properly. The car shows no evidence of brake drag, but when I took the temperature of the rotors after a test drive, the right rear was a bit hotter than the others. That caliper had felt a bit tight when I put it together. It may need replacement.

I’ll try a couple of test drives and see if it loosens up with wear. Now that I know how to reassemble a set of modern disk brakes, the prospect of another session on the hoist isn’t bad at all.

BTW: I see this article is already getting some hits, so I should mention a trick I learned from a mechanic some years ago. Toyota brake rotors don’t flop loose from the hubs when the wheel comes off. There is, however, a pair of tapped holes drilled into the rotors which take a regular bolt, metric thread, a bit bigger than 1/4″. The correct bolt takes a 12 mm wrench, if I recall correctly. To remove the rotor, all you need do is locate a suitable bolt and twist it in against the hub. Pop. Works every time. Paint the bolt and keep it in your toolbox.

UPDATE: 20 April, 2014

After considerable thought, a downloaded service manual and email chats with Charlie, I went looking for the source of the friction on that right rear caliper.

There didn’t seem to be a lot of run-out on the rotor, though the pads had worn themselves looser than when I had forced them into place before.

Before long I found myself removing the piston from the caliper by turning it counter-clockwise with my little caliper tool and a 3/8″ ratchet. It felt as though some lube could help. When the piston came free I discovered a few bits of broken thread on the stud inside the caliper. I cleaned things up as well as I could, tried air to blow any remaining moving parts out onto the bench (there weren’t any), then buttered things up with the synthetic grease the dealer gave me and put them back together. The rubber “foreskin” of the piston was hard to get back in, though with persistence and the back of a dental pick I think I prevailed. Several trips in and out (with ratchet and tool) and the piston seemed freer than before. On a dry fit I noticed that it’s fairly easy to extend the piston in the caliper by judicious manipulation of the emergency brake lever, though it’s wise to avoid pinching the web between thumb and first finger during this exploratory exercise.

Little then remained but to torque the lug nuts and try a gentle test drive. My laser thermometer read 120F on the right rear rotor vs 100 or so on the others after the drive. But the gas mileage is back up on the digital display and there’s no puddle of brake fluid under the car, so I hope that the caliper has somehow become third-time-lucky.

Behind the headline

April 14, 2014

Government buying 1,600 pieces of custom wood furniture for 70 MPs new offices

By Don Butler, Ottawa Citizen April 13, 2014


I sent an email to Don Butler and asked if he could give me access to the PDFs containing the sketches of the furniture in the order. He immediately sent the following link:


Once the graphics blew up enough that I could see them, I realized that the pieces of furniture in the illustrations are well designed and should be lasting and durable, but they are more utilitarian than extravagant.

A government spokesperson comments in Butler’s article: “Furnishings should be made of good quality materials so they are durable and they should make the most of the heritage spaces for which they are designed.”

From what I could see in the plans, the bookshelves, tables, desks and coat racks are well proportioned according to classical standards. The predominant motif on the pieces is a simple, ¼” bead cut into the bottoms of legs and added to trim to prevent splintering and resist wear. The ogees on the table edges fulfill a similar function. There is very little ornamentation on the furniture.

From the headline of the article I expected when I looked at a sketch of a large table to see a plan for a 10’ by 4’ slab of 3” black walnut cut from a single log in the manner of a corporate boardroom table, priced at about $50,000. What I found was something more like a nice ping pong table – two sections of walnut-veneer plywood sitting on three boxes underneath to hold A.V. equipment. Mind you, with good veneers, solid walnut for the edge trim and a good finish, the result could look very good. Moreover these pieces would likely remain in service for a long time. There’s no sense in buying something of poor materials and shoddy design which will need replacement when the next occupant of the office comes along. That’s where the waste comes in.

My wife looked at the illustration of the larger bookshelf in the “catalogue” and commented: “That’s just like the cherry one in our upstairs hall.” But I used solid wood throughout. The government plan calls for veneer, and rightly so: good veneer over plywood will outlast solid wood in wide, relatively thin panels where changes of humidity are to be expected, such as in Ottawa in winter.

Butler comments: “When the MPs settle into their new offices in 2016, they will be surrounded by furniture of the highest quality.” Based upon the tender requirements which Mr. Butler forwarded to me, I would disagree. The tender simply calls for an office-full of decently-designed plywood furniture covered in walnut veneer, with solid walnut used for the edge trim. There’s a lot of it in the order, but that is hardly the fault of the designers.

There remain a lot of myths about black walnut after the inflated prices of the 1970’s. In fact in 2007 Eastern Ontario hard maple was worth more than black walnut on the wholesale market. Home decorating guru Martha Stewart had declared that she preferred lighter woods, and that was the end of the demand for black walnut lumber. Even today black cherry, to my mind a much inferior furniture wood, is worth more than black walnut.

“The contract is conditionally limited to companies that can supply at least 80 per cent of the goods and services from Canadian sources. Other bids will only be considered if fewer than three bidders meet the Canadian content requirement.” It’s hard to see a bad side to this.

It’s interesting that prices for black walnut veneer logs recently shot up in Ontario. A veneer buyer told me a couple of months ago that 10,000 board feet of logs sold for $100,000 at an auction. This is a solid price in a chronically depressed market. It may not be enough to turn the hardwood market around in Ontario, but for this black walnut producer, it’s a whole lot better than nothing.

I am no admirer of the Harper Government and I am not at all sure Canada needs 70 more MP’s, but I can’t see anything wrong with this furniture order.

It was a placid Sunday drive to check out a new kennel where our spaniel could enjoy her vacation while we went on ours. The navigation system directed us to the Narrows Lock Road and away we went. Then we came to a stretch of asphalt which seemed to be below water level for about two hundred yards.

Orange cones denoted the entrance on both sides, but there was no ROAD CLOSED sign such as the one I encountered last week on my way home from Chaffey’s Locks.

Realizing that we both had our rubber boots on for the kennel visit, I stopped the car and waded out half-way. It was borderline. My feet weren’t in danger of getting wet, but there was quite a bit of water above the yellow line painted on the asphalt below.

So we started off, slowly wading the low sedan through the calm water. This went well enough. I watched the floor and nothing was leaking in. Then the pavement broke up. This was a surprise. It had looked smooth from the top, but the drive was becoming very lumpy. But there was no going back now, so with memories of that floating Ferrari on the Don Valley Parkway last summer, we headed slowly for the other side.

As we emerged, flashers flashing, a woman in a new Ford pickup ignored my warning and blasted through the whole thing, throwing a bow wake like a Quebec cabin cruiser on a holiday weekend.

Oh, well.

A low-speed chase:

April 4, 2014

Rod, I’ve noticed when reading your blog that you have a fascination for 4 wheeled machinery of all shapes and sizes with tractors high on your list. I draw to your attention the article in the Globe today page A3 by Carrie Tait which covers the RCMP — 5 members — chasing a robbery suspect during a prolonged chase with the suspect evading capture by snowmobile, then a Rhino and finally, and I suspect your favourite, a John Deere 6400 tractor. This story is just made for you!

Cheers, George Kitching


My mentor, Don Warren

March 31, 2014

Chaffey’s Locks this week mourns the passing of one of its foremost citizens, Don Warren. The educator who single-handedly routed a major Hydro line away from his beloved community also found time over a decade to teach me how to teach and find my way through the educational bureaucracy. He also, and this he took most seriously, taught me how to fish.

During the 1972-73 academic year while I was enrolled in teacher training at McArthur College in Kingston, Don offered to allow me to “do his work for him” in the English Department at Rideau District High School every Friday that I wasn’t out on another placement. At the time I didn’t quite understand what was involved in this clinical and field studies project, but I wanted a teaching job in the area and this looked like a good break.

So I showed up and taught his Friday classes and marked the assignments. For each class Don wrote in elegant longhand two sheets of foolscap, one consisting of “goods” that he had observed and the other of “not so goods.” Over the course of the school year this stack of “goods” and “not so goods” from Don were by a wide margin the best feedback I received during my teacher training.

At the time at Queen’s our instructors encouraged us to experiment and find our own way to a teaching methodology which worked. Don didn’t have much use for Teaching as a Subversive Activity and insisted that in his classroom I teach his way. He laid down the basic strategies, and I learned to follow them. They worked because they were simple and well-thought-out.

On my part I tried hard to lessen the number of comments on the “not so goods” page, but the only time I came in for a serious reprimand was the day I let it out that I had never traveled through the entire Rideau Waterway. I think I made some snarky anti-Elgin comment such as, “I was born in Westport. I haven’t gone past Newboro on the Rideau.” After class at considerable volume Don made it clear to me that if I wanted to teach in this community I had to understand and participate in its culture, and that culture derived from the Rideau Waterway, and I had jolly well better learn it and learn to love it.

That summer I rented a canoe from Don just about every evening while I explored Opinicon Lake and learned the mysteries of the largemouth bass. Don was always waiting when I came in to offer advice and congratulations as I became a better fisherman.

He even guided me to a bass derby win the one day in 1975 that I brought in a good one. Apparently fish lose a lot of moisture when caught, so it’s standard procedure to stick a garden hose down the gullet of a trophy fish and fill its stomach. Any frogs or minnows lying around dead in the canoe were also welcome to join the party in the bass’s belly. But no stones. “The judges will catch lead weights and stones every time,” Don assured me.

To get back to Don as my mentor, I should mention that when a job had come up in a new senior elementary school in Smiths Falls the spring of my graduation, Don encouraged me to grab it because with declining enrollment he thought things would be tough for a few years for new teachers. Turns out I was fifteenth hired out of 500 that year. Don had taught me well.

Many student teachers “did my work for me” over a thirty-year period once I had gotten my feet under me in the classroom. I took pleasure in passing Don’s legacy down to yet another generation of educators.

A couple of years ago I was privileged to review Don’s memoir, The House on the Hill: Recollections of a Rideau Canal Lockmaster’s son. (Trafford, 2008).


It was -10C this morning with an icy north wind. The snow crunched like midwinter’s when I stepped on it. O.K., I was bored. I had fired up Tony’s 4WD Polaris Ranger to take out the garbage and it made sense to warm it up a bit before putting it back in the shed. And there was that huge expanse of untraveled snow…

The Ranger booted over the snowbank at the edge of the driveway and dove down behind the house. No problem. If it can do this, I can haul the sugar-making equipment up to the shack. How do I get back up? Last year I ran on down the hill, crossed to the barnyard and climbed back up the hill there.

Off I went at full speed. The snow felt like concrete under the freshly-tuned Ranger’s wheels. I carved a wide turn in the 20-acre field below the house and headed west. This was too much fun. Why not carry on to the other end, another quarter-mile away, and come back the next field over?

At cruising speed I ducked through the gap between fields. A straight shot to the 50 acres beyond beckoned, so I headed north.

All of the sudden the left front wheel of the Ranger dove into deep snow, quickly followed by the rest of the 1500 pounds of vehicle, cargo and driver.

Why is it always the left side which falls through the crust? Tony has a real stability problem with that machine.

Mind you, my slightly lighter Ranger TM did the same thing in January. In fact the only way three of us could keep the 1100 pound vehicle on the crust after lifting it up and rolling it ahead was to drive it from outside, manipulating the gas pedal with an old canoe paddle found in the box. Maybe it’s the driver’s weight that’s the problem. Oh, well.

So there Tony’s Ranger sits, front corner down in two feet of snow, next to a quiet farm lane. It’s comfortable. There’s no point abusing it in a frantic attempt to back out. A crew will either lift it back up onto the snow or spring will free it, whichever comes first.


UPDATE: 6:50 p.m.

Did I mention I buried the winch tractor on the way back to rescue the Ranger? I explained to Bet that I had needed some space in the buildings for sugar-making equipment. This barely earned the derisive grunt it received.

After supper I walked back to the Ranger with a round-point shovel. Anything I dug just buried it deeper.

On the other hand the Massey Ferguson 35, though apparently stuck in the snow, wasn’t quite done yet. After rocking a bit of a gap, I discovered that while high speeds were useless against the crumbling snow, if I eased the old tractor forward very slowly it would in fact climb back up onto the crust and creep the final 150 yards to where I could turn it downhill and run the cable 150′ to the Ranger. That was 5800 pounds + driver riding on the crust at least a foot above the field.

The buried Ranger offered no resistance whatever to the 8800 lb winch. In no time it was back up on the crust and after a couple of spins around the fields to celebrate and allow the battery to charge up, I put it away. The MF35′s as comfortable there as anywhere.

UPDATE: 27 March, 2014, 5:30 p.m.

It only gets worse. I need spring to get here.


UPDATE: 30 March, 7:30 p.m.

After a day of thaw I was able to drive the winch tractor from where I had abandoned it to a road a half-mile away. With the winch I then rescued the Bolens by dragging it through three feet or more of snow to a path I had blown out with another tractor.

We still can’t get to the sugar bush with wheeled implements, snowshoeing has become an agonizing way to travel now with the uncertain footing, but the thaw is gaining momentum.

UPDATE, 3 April, 2014:

Rod vs Snow

So far it’s Snow 6, Rod 0.

The path back to the woods remains stubbornly impassable for wheeled vehicles. There’s just too much snow and with mud underneath. The task overwhelms even my larger tractors. The situation improves each day, but only by a little.

Four days ago on snowshoes I sank to the bottom so drastically that I could barely travel. In one area in the middle of the walnut field I dropped into snow above my knees. Sore muscles leave me disinclined to try that again soon.

But waiting for spring is a difficult concept even for a not-so-young fellow hardly brimming with energy, not to mention a son whose travel agenda allows only a short time in which to expose all of his friends to the joys of sugar making.

Of course the trees in the lane (now 33 buckets) have stopped running. Yesterday I tried to use the new Kubota with its large turf tires to smooth the ruts in the driveway. Nearly got the thing stuck. With a trailer attached it’s useless in mud.

Today is another day. It’s frozen quite hard outside this morning, so the sap may run. The tractor may even make it from the big walnut tree (a quarter-mile back the lane) across the 450′ of walnut seedlings to the woodlot, where more deep snow awaits. Then at least the Ranger will be able to haul people and materials back and forth to the house.

Saturday, 5 April, 2010

We’re still far from our goal of free passage to the woodlot, though it rained heavily overnight. At 6:00 a.m. on Charlie’s last weekend before he returns to Vancouver, who knows how today will unfold?

Re: 2014 Ice-Out Contest

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Please note a suggestion from 2012 winner George Kitching:

Rod, perhaps you might consider a cut off date to ensure fairness – what do you think of 1st April?

Do I have a second for this motion?


Please offer comments on this post but continue to post your contest entries on the original page to your right.


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