40: Boraxo Soap

Boraxo Soap is a Godsend

This is not a paid advertisement... though I wouldn't mind if the company 
sent me a crate of hand soap as a thank you.

Wagons for the 20 Mule Team
TD introduced me to it decades ago. He swears by it. I totally understand why because this stuff works. Coming from a garage mechanic's standpoint he says nothing gets automotive grime off hands better than Boraxo. I view it from a gardener's viewpoint and say the exact same thing: Nothing beats it either...pardon the grammar.

A vintage staple
Remember these old vintage Borax dispensers in the bathrooms? I'd love to have one in my laundry room. Instead, I have the little cardboard canister. It's a staple at the clean-up sink. 

A Little Factoid: 

As cardboard shaker cans became available for public purchase, the company made the canister with a heavy coated wax overlay so that wet hands wouldn't sog down the cardboard. Genious. These coated cardboard cans are still available today but sometimes a little hard to find.

Easier to procure are the large boxes, thus my wish to find a vintage canister to hang on the wall by the sink! 

The shaker cans are much better to use than grabbing the large box because of the special outer wax coating. The big boxes don't have it and break down faster with wet hands. 

I'm going to presume anyone who gets their hands dirty already knows about this product but in the off chance I reach just one person and make them a believer I will be happy. 

One of the best sites for information on Boraxo comes from a Blog (no kidding!)  Written by a man known only as "Kevin," it is entertaining as well as informative. 

The blog can be found here: Boraxo Soap 

I've attempted to grab pieces and post directly below for those too lazy to visit Kevin's site.

Notes from Kevin's blog:

The company began with Francis Marion Smith who established the first successful borax mining operation in 1872 at Teel's Marsh, Nevada. At the age of 21, Francis left Wisconsin for the West to prospect for minerals. He staked his claim with his brother Julius to a borax mine at the edge of a marsh. The borax works separated impurities from the borax crystals. The brothers shipped their product by mule train, the origin of the now famous 20 mule team that is the symbol of Boraxo and other Borax-based products to this day. One of the routes led them across the Mojave Desert through what is now known as Death Valley. Francis worked several other borax operations, hauling the mineral by mule train until it was possible to transport by train. Today, the Borax company and Boraxo powdered hand soap are owned by Dial.
20 Mule Team Ready to Go!

Reasons to Use Boraxo Soap:

Reason #1: Boraxo powdered hand soap is environmentally safe
It is made from all natural ingredients that will not pollute the environment.

Reason #2: Boraxo exfoliates
Boraxo is a fantastic skin exfoliate. It's affordable and leaves your skin feeling great - and yes, even your face will love it. 

Reason #3: Boraxo cleans where other powdered hand soaps fail
Grease and grime is a real problem for regular hand soaps, but Boraxo scrubs your hands clean and carries away all of that grit and grime. 

Reason #4: Boraxo has a great history
It's not often that you get a chance to use a product that has changed little in over 100 years. 

Reason #5: Boraxo is unusual
There really isn't anything quite like Boraxo soap on the market today. While it can be a little difficult to find in the store, it is well worth ordering online. 

So there you have it.

Boraxo rocks. Go get some. 

And send me some!


39: I Love You in Pieces

TD surprised me and bought a 1952 Chevy 3100 truck front axle assembly. It has 6-lug wheel hubs. This means we use it on Abbey and have more options for things like wheels and disc brakes.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine 
getting excited over this.

He also bought the rear axle assembly of the same vehicle because it gives us better wheel options for the back end. It also allows us to change the differential ratio. This allows us to go faster or slower at less engine revolution. 

(Truly, I only partially get this lingo but just nod and smile when he explains).

Note: "Merry Christmas" was also mentioned. I just thank the stars that those car pieces are too big to actually fit under the tree.

Basically speaking...we will be able to go over 35mph when all is done.

The parts are sheltered in the (sadly) non-heated garage and tucked under and around Abbey during her winter hibernation. 

Waiting for warmer weather
The truck will still look the same but drive like a normal one instead of a shake-rattle-and-roll very slow heavy-duty farm vehicle.

Remember her wheels issue? These new changes allow us to get wheels and wheel covers that we like and not worry about being killed by our current "widow maker" ones... 

...because death-by-tire was never really a great mental image or personal preference.

We will be able to drive her longer distances than right around town and even take her on the highway and visit places farther away.

*gasp* … at this point I can’t even imagine what that would be like.

There is something to be said about keeping a vehicle stock with the matching numbers engine, transmission, wheels and whatever else makes a thing stock…but there is ALSO something to be said for having a vehicle that you can rely on and use as a daily driver without ruining what it looks like. This is what we want for Abbey.

Even with these new changes and expenses, what we bought her for and what we may someday sell her for would still give us money in our pocket.

Let the record state that I have NO plans to sell.

There is fun in this old gal (I’m talking about Abbey here) and THIS old gal (meaning me) wants to have fun with her. 


38: Winter Hibernation for a Vehicle

Leaves fell and those that didn't were knocked off by tornadic storms that hit the Midwest. Fields were plowed and overnight frost killed any vegetation left in the garden. These are all signs that point to hibernation for vintage vehicles.

Abbey's brand new (albeit wrinkled) cover was gently placed over her clean robust body and while she rests during the cold months, we plot the changes in her future.
Last night's conversation with TD revealed how much he wants to do and how much he wants to farm out. Bottom line discussions were concurrent in that we both want to feel safe when we take old Abbey out on the road for distances longer than 10 minutes away.
TD would appreciate not bouncing so hard that he hits his head, and that means a softer ride. A softer ride means more than just a new engine.

I've mentioned wanting a straight H-pattern feel with the gear shift instead of a "stirring soup" feel when changing gears.

We both would like to rid ourselves of the Widow-Maker wheels.

In the spring when things warm up I foresee a garage being used primarily for Abbey and not the other vehicles generally housed there. This could potentially be a large project.

In the future I also foresee a heated garage.

I used to scoff at heated garages but I totally get them now. Do the automotive  projects during winter when yard work and other outside projects cease and you actually have the time to do them - then when spring and warmer weather hits just go out and enjoy the dang vehicle.


37: New Acquisition - Engine Stand!

Nearly one month to the day that TD found "our" engine hoist, he found and purchased a new engine stand. Again, finding one at a local estate sale for only $25 (retail for around $100) it was THE find of the day.

Even I am getting excited about these things.

Engine Stand. *Ta Da*

Combine the two new acquisitions together and you can see where this is all heading.

me: "So we are definitely yanking the engine then?"

TD: "Probably."

me: *nodding as if I understand everything that is going on*

me: "So... are we doing something to our engine or getting a replacement?"

TD: "Probably."

As fall is upon us and the snow and cold right around the corner – and seeing that our garage is not heated - Abbey will soon be covered up and we (TD) will be contemplating and planning her transformation (engine wise) during the cold months.

Just like all vintage beauties, Abbey will hibernate well in the garage under wraps.

Spring is fun in the Midwest farm country not only for what the ground offers in terms of new growth, but also for spotting the first vintage vehicle out on the road. These wonderful vintage beauties are the exotic birds of our area. They appear when it is warm and leave when it gets cold.


36: ROAD TRIP! - Funks Grove Leaf Peeping

We recently took a road trip down to Funks Grove, Illinois.

Funks Grove (via Wikipedia) is: A historic unincorporated community on U.S. Route 66 in McLean County, Illinois, southwest of Bloomington. The grove for which the settlement is named is a National Natural Landmark.

Neat link for more info and photos: Funks Grove

Around 1824 a man named Isaac Funk settled in this area. The Funk family started selling "sirup"--yes they spell it that way--and continue to sell it today (I have some in my refrigerator). It is so popular that you have to know when they are processing it and get on down to grab some or you'll miss out.

Visit the sirip store in the off season and you just might get a private walk through of the processing area by one of the family members.

Funks Grove is a gorgeous forested area with year-round beauty and home to abundant wildlife. People don't think we have much in the way of fall color out here in corn and soy flat country but we do! Blue skies and the shades of orange and red are rampant in our area and Funks Grove is a treasure trove and quiet little secret enjoyed by everyone who visits.

 The trees were just starting to change and drop their leaves.

Warm fall days like these are just made for old Chevy trucks and this vintage Chevy advertisement proves that. There is something about driving with the windows down and hearing the crunch of fall leaves under the tires that makes everything right with the world.
Chevy tough and still bringing joy to people decades later! 

I like to imagine Abbey on her farm long ago doing what this truck is doing.

Happy Fall y'all.


35: New Acquisition: Engine Hoist!

Local household auctions are great for finding things you need while working on a vintage vehicle. 

If you don’t believe me, take a look at THIS baby.

This is a 2 ton engine hoist.

Purchased new they can run a couple hundred bucks, but at the recent auction TD snagged it for $75. I think he smiles every time he walks by it. $75 by the way, is what you would pay to rent it for one day here in town. Renting would also include driving out to get it, loading it in your car, unloading it and setting it up and the return back to the store. Now you understand why he smiles when he walks past it in our garage.

If you've been following this engine discussion saga you "get" why an engine hoist would be needed for Abbey. This new hoist just puts us one step closer to making a definite decision.

Actually, TD doesn't really need an excuse for new tool purchases, or going to household auctions for that matter. I generally refrain from attending those things but this time he got a hoist and a tossed in a vintage Halloween decoration for me so...win-win.


34: Compression Testing the Engine

We compression-tested the engine.
First you rent a compression tester. I didn’t even know this was possible, but then again I didn’t know about compression gauges and/or testing. Live and learn.

The premise of this test is to see what the overall health of the engine is. This helps when making assessments on engines...like doing a rebuild VS purchasing a new one.

Compression Testing
The compression gauge is stuck in the spark plug hole (minus the spark plug) and the starter mashed. Using a handy-dandy clipboard, make a grid chart for all 6 spark plug readings. This is a much better idea than trying to remember which spark plug had what gauge number associated with it. Numbers are recorded and on to the next spark plug hole.
This little gadget by the way is FREE to rent from any O’Reilly Auto Parts store. No kidding. Actually, O’Reilly (a national chain) rents a lot of equipment free for the asking. They figure when you find something wrong on your vehicle (and you probably will) you will come back to them for the parts. Very clever marketing.
After the first round of gauge testing and numbers are recorded down the line, each hole gets tested again but this time with a bit of oil squirted into it beforehand. The comparison tests (with and without oil squirts) tell the mechanic if the issue is a worn piston ring, a blown head gasket, leaking valves or both rings and valves. That last paragraph was for any gear head reading this blog (which is doubtful).
If you’re really curious (again doubtful), detailed discussion found here:

I asked TD what Abbey’s health diagnosis was and he said she was in full blown cardiac arrest.
Afternoon and evening discussions continued well into the next day about an engine rebuild or purchasing a new engine. 
At one time TD said, “You know, when we bought the truck you just expected to pay for it, and then hop in and drive it straight home 3 hours on the highway." 
That’s when I did the laughing. 
I told him back then I didn't know about the Old Car Domino Effect.

I’m learning.


33: Conversation Circles

Lunchtime Conversations Circle Around These Topics:

(Emphasis on the word circle)

Purchasing a Differential


Purchasing a Chassis


Purchasing a Chevy S10 Pickup (cheap) Donor Parts Truck and

Purchasing a Conversion Kit to Go With It


Garage Takeover of Truck Parts and Mess


Time and Effort


Purchasing a Front Suspension Assembly Clip


Just trying to find:

8 Lug, 6 ½ ” Bolt Circle, 4 5/8” Center Hole - Wheels


Leaving it As-Is
It’s all intertwined and messy.

We want the truck to drive smoothly.
We'd appreciate the gear box/shifter to be more accurate and smooth.

We wouldn’t mind the truck going over 35 mph without fear of a major disaster.

We look at the trucks at car shows and throw our heads under the them to see what they've done. Then throw our heads in the engine compartment to see what they've done. Then we go home and ponder what we want to do with Abbey. Do we make her a smooth ride? Do we change out the differential, or chassis, or both - or do we go the donor-S10 route, and do we then drop in a new engine? Do we just rebuild the old one? How original do we want to keep her? She'd still look the same, just drive nice and be a safer truck. Don't we want this as a daily drive?

The front suspension assembly clip route gets welded on, and would provide us better steering, better ride, plus the wheels we want. We’d farm that out and not do it ourselves. The other choices mean a lot of work done by us (okay, TD), and a garage takeover. Kinda been there, done that.

Maybe we just do these things in increments with the wheels first, and see how the truck rides. Then rebuild the engine because no matter what you do to the suspension and wheels, TD hears a knock. For the record, I hear nothing …but my ears are not trained to such things.

Then if the engine gets rebuilt and we’re still not happy maybe we do a more aggressive operation.

We've circled and circled and circled these conversations until we feel like this:
What to do, what to do...


32: Midwest Hand Signals

We live out in farm country, so it's no big deal to see a tractor or other large piece of farm equipment on the road. When other drivers want to pass, they just wait until it's safe and then move around them. This is why it doesn't bother me to drive Abbey at her maximum speed which tops at around 35mph.

Personally, I like 25-30 best as things start to shake-rattle-and-roll when you hit 35. TD and I laughed at the "80" number on the speedometer because the only way the truck would hit that mark is if it were being dropped from a plane. 
Not having turn signals (yet) makes communicating with other vehicles interesting. They want to pass me because I'm driving slower than normal, but they don't understand my hand signals for turns. Remember, out on the farm roads there are no traffic lights, and few stop signs, so when you want to turn down a lane, you slow down and put your signal on. Being that I'm already slow, and have no turn signals (yet), I use the universal hand gestures. 

(I know some of you just thought of the one universal hand gesture EVERYONE knows but we don't use that out here in the Midwest)

Out here, hand signals mean something completely different.

Let me enlighten:

 "Hidey-ho neighbor"             "Look at that corn!"             "Skunk roadkill here!"

The good news is that because it's the Midwest, people are very patient, especially if they see farm equipment or say, a 1949 Chevy truck. Once they understand what you want to do and where you want to go, they just sit back and wait for you to finish and usually follow up with a friendly wave and a nod.

I still want turn signals though, so I gently asked TD about the wiring harness that's still in the "to-do" box.

I definitely heard a sigh. 


31: ROAD TRIP! - Car Show

One of the great things about summer days are the car shows. TD loves them. Me? I'm getting "in" to them slowly. He will zip up to one and spend hours there. I have to admit now that we have Abbey, I do enjoy going to these things more and naturally gravitate towards the older vehicles and especially trucks. I think TD will always have a soft place in his heart for the low and fast cars. We are Yin and Yang that way.
The recent show proved fun. TD went early in his personally owned low and fast beauty, and I went an hour later. The place was packed. It was a huge turn out and was actually pretty neat.
All the low and fast vehicles park together, and the rest just park wherever a spot is open. Meandering through the rows is fun as you never know what is going to be down the aisle.
Anyone who has not been to a car show may not know that often numerous car clubs get together en masse to show off their rides. There are raffles and drawings, information areas about OTHER car shows, and lots of people who just enjoy looking at cars.
It's an enormous tribe and TD belongs.
As we walked through the lanes and he showed me the trucks he had already scoped out, the loud speaker started announcing raffle numbers. TD stopped short and said, "That's MY number!" He had won something!
(It is important to know we never win anything.)
Watching the man check the numbers and nod approval that the ticket we held was indeed valid, we both blinked twice as he handed TD the prize.

Ironically, he won a really neat signed print by artist Mary Watt Yeadon, Called "Old Chevy Truck"  ...a beautiful print of a vintage truck like Abbey.  
I take it as a sign.
I must join this tribe.


30: ROAD TRIP! - Atlanta, IL

It was a beautiful day for a car event, so off to Atlanta we went.
No, not Georgia...
Atlanta, Illinois.
Located on historic Rte. 66, Atlanta was truly a neat little surprise. The band was good, the cars great, people friendly (that's a given, it's the Midwest) but the cafe we stumbled upon was really cool.

Called the Palms Grill Cafe, and located on the main drag, it boasts all homemade food like your Momma makes, and is chocked full of vintage decor. We chose to sit at the old fashioned bar on old fashioned bar stools so we could talk to the staff and get the skinny.

They work hard 7 days a week just to make your taste buds pop, and we even met the pie-maker herself. Oh... did I not mention the pies? They have 'em in spades, and all homemade. I double-dog-dare you to not have a slice. The casual atmosphere and great food made for a fun lunch stop that we will definitely do again.

Parked just outside the cafe was a vintage vehicle sporting a car-side food tray, complete with (fake) A&W goodies. Anyone old enough to remember not only curb-side service with roller-skated servers, but how much fun making a trip to A&W was... this inside photo is for you.

This is what it looked like getting car-side delivery.
Wind wings, crank window handles, and the old metal trays that hung on the glass are wonderful memories to have. Turn the car lights on to have the roller-skate girl come get the tray!

Further up the street, and parked prominently on the grass was this vintage beauty. Suffice to say no other car was given such a parking honor, though there were other lovely vehicles present.

This shiny Pierce Arrow (hood ornament photo only) was gorgeous, and the owners just happy to have people look at it.  
(Car people are like that)
Okay, Lincoln looks a little tired, 
the debate must have been difficult.  
TD asked why I was only taking a photo of the ornament and I had to explain I love the accessories best. It's a woman thing.
Immediately nextdoor to the cafe is the museum. My first thoughts of "this will be a quick in and out" were quickly tossed aside once we stepped inside and were greeted by the museum caretaker and his pet Lab. 
The museum houses a nice collection of Atlanta's rich history, including a life-size display of Lincoln as he debated Stephen Douglas while in town.  
While Mr. Lincoln worked in Springfield (just south of here), he stumped all over Illinois and made a stop in Atlanta, and the town is very proud of that fact!
I like this photo so much, I think Atlanta should use it for a postcard.
Call me Atlanta, we'll make a deal.

The car show was a huge success and we were sorry to learn the town had already hosted 2 previous ones this summer. Apparently they host several each year and this was the last one for 2013.

Now this next thing... this is really something.

If Victor Mature and Arnold Schwarzenegger had a love child...

....it would look like THIS

Fair thee well Old Blue, you were a faithul
companion, and soon to be lunch.
Interestingly, one of the larger-than-life attractions in Atlanta is the Paul Bunyan (aka: Victor/Arnold) statue. TD read the sign below old Paul, while I snapped a few photos. Atlanta was actually gifted this statue (previously a Midas Muffler advertisement) and people come from all over just to see it. Really?
No clue on why Paul is holding an
all-beef hot dog the size of an actual Smart Car, we suspect this must be what happened to his pet ox named Blue

While the band played away at Paul's feet, Atlanta's local library--complete with chiming bell tower--hosted a book sale and TD picked up a couple books for a dollar.
All in all, Atlanta is a quiet little blink-and-you-miss-it corner in Illinois that deserves more visits, whether they are car show related or just stopping in for lunch.

Rte. 66 bound people should definitely make an effort to get here!


29: Bleeding Brakes

After the wheel cylinder was replaced TD announced it was time to bleed the brakes. I take this news in stride. Being married for 30+ years to a car guy, I've helped bleed brakes on every single vehicle TD has worked on; Abbey, is no different.

It is boring, and I'm not sure why I hate it because I'm always the one sitting comfortably inside the vehicle mashing the pedal while TD is the one under it.

So THAT's what the little hole in the floor was for!

For those who have never enjoyed this *bonding* experience, the dialogue goes like this:

TD: "Down, down, slow, slow..."

me: "Okay, down."

TD: "Hold that," silence for a second, then "Okay, up slow..."

me: "Okay, up."

TD: "Hold that."

Repeat all of the above several times until there is no more air in the lines and you get a cramp in your foot.

Bleeding brakes is very important. Air is leaving the brake lines while all this lack of dialogue occurs-and-air in the brake lines means poor working brakes.
One can see why this is an important exercise.

Anyone who has assisted someone bleeding brakes knows not to say anything and just do what they are told. I also suggest everyone be in a good mood before you begin this task. I cannot stress that enough. It's also quite common to be sitting inside the vehicle and suddenly think of a thousand questions to ask the person under the vehicle about brake bleeding. As your council, I advise against this practice.
You also can't be interrupted. So let the dog out, feed the kids, and do whatever else you need to do ahead of time, because if you jump off the pedal in the middle of the process and leave, you will NEVER hear the end of it. (I'm using the word never here.)
People bleed brakes differently, and this guy's write up was amusing.
It starts like this:
If the term "brake bleeding" conjures up images of a clean, contented person stepping on a brake pedal while another grumpy, dirty, frustrated person yells, "Push down!" from under the car, your image would be correct.
Don't recycle all of your empty jars people.
You'll need them in the garage.  
The article discusses the importance of double-checking to make sure you have everything on your tool checklist in your immediate workspace before beginning this task. 
I agree.
I also just want to add that whoever is actually under the car getting grungy and watching for air bubbles should not be doing this on an empty stomach, so attacking this job after lunch is advisable.


28: Men and Wheels

Differentials and wheels - and - wheels and differentials.
It's a head spinning merry-go-round discussion.
No, a decision has not yet been made.

One thing I do want to mention (as long as we are on the subject) is the disproportionate passion men have to wheels compared to the other areas on a vehicle.

I equate it to a woman's passion about shoes, except that men only get 4 wheels and women get...okay, never mind how many shoes we get.

Understandably this is a generalized and stereotypical statement, but it has merit. We've all heard men joke about a woman's arsenal of black shoes. Comedians often use it for fodder. Jokes have been made for decades about women's shoes and the fact that men don't understand or see the differences from one pair of black shoes to the next.


"Honey, do you like these?" dangling little black sling-backs in front of him, "Or these?" now showing him the black open toe pumps. "How about these?" featuring closed toe wedges.

I don't even need to insert an image of a man with a blank stare here to emphasize this visual.

Newsflash: Men...women feel exactly this way about wheels.
(Chip Foose, I am so very, very sorry.)

TD can pour over pages of wheels in a catalogue and OoooOOOoooo and Ahhhh over all of them. I've watched this happen and am still befuddled by it. I look at the images and my eyes start to bleed after the fifth page. I just see round metal wheels. They all look the same to me. They're round, they are metal, and they go on the vehicle so the tire has something to grab. I can't for the life of me get in to the subtle differences.


TD: Look at these four wheels.

me: (nodding and staring at them) Umm, hmm.

TD: Which ones do you like best?

me: Wait...they were different?

Black Shoes = Wheels

I've mentally pictured an outfit for each of the items on the left.
I wonder if guys picture different trucks for each of the things on the right.
These are questions that keep me up at night.


27: Painting the Cab Floor

Abbey's cab floor was painted.
Backtracking… the cab is already in great shape. It could use a new interior paint job, but right now, it’s fine and we will leave it as-is. The flooring is sound and has very minimal rust (all sandworthy) under the floor mat. All of that is completely normal for a truck that was well cared for by all owners. For trucks NOT well cared for, the rust could be a huge issue. My sincere condolences. 
To give the truck a quick make-over with POR15 paint, except...POR15 is about $45 a quart, so we went with the Rustoleum equivalent (and substantially less expensive) substitute for interior jobs like this. Just as an FYI: Sears was the only place we could find POR15 in our area, but Rustoleum paint quarts can be found in any paint section of a DIY store.
TD started this project before I could turn around. The paint goes on quick and easy and with the milder summer weather we are currently experiencing it made for a pleasant afternoon.

Too bad none of this will be seen when the mat goes back in.

BTW: That round hole in the floor has a plug.
It's still unsettling to see openness and earth underneath little plugs and battery box lids.
The smooth glossy surface that goes on when wet is exactly how it looks when dry. What a difference it makes inside the cab. Of course all this shine will be covered with the floor mat.
TD noted that the underside of the seat bench (open springs area) still scatters fine rusty particles on the cab floor after a drive. For those who missed it, I noted in the Have a Seat post that it was like having a '49 Chevy Rust-Fairy riding in the cab. To stop these free particles from cascading down on the cab floor we *could* strip the material off the seat benches, paint the springs and then reupholster, but if you look at the photos in Have a Seat, you'll see there is absolutely no need to do that. 
The job was quick and easy (according to TD who did it all) and dried very fast.
The whole thing was done in one quick afternoon.

That is all except the battery box lid which we took off and set aside...and then forgot about.

Dont do that.


26: Wheel Cylinder

TD told me he was replacing a wheel cylinder. Being married to a car guy, I know he's done this before on other vehicles but to be perfectly honest, it never peaked my interest.
(He loves it when I bother him when he's under the truck)

Today (thanks again to Wikipedia) I educated myself on what the whole deal is with wheel cylinders:

A wheel cylinder is a component in a drum brake system. It is located in each wheel and is usually at the top, above the shoes. ("Shoes" ...I started paying attention) Its responsibility is to exert force onto the shoes so they can contact the drum and stop the vehicle with friction. What connects these wheel cylinders to the shoes are usually small rods shaped like a birds beak. The wheel cylinder consists of a cylinder that has two pistons, one on each side. Each piston has a rubber seal and a shaft that connects the piston with a brake shoe. When brake pressure is applied, the pistons are forced out pushing the shoes into contact with the drum. Wheel cylinders must be rebuilt or replaced if they show signs of leaking.
Can't say it's fascinating information, but it is very educational.
In Abbey's case just one rear cylinder leaked. Every time the brakes were applied, a little bit of fluid came out. (Like a leaky bean bag chair that squirts white Styrofoam balls when someone sits on it).

Not fixing this issue would mean that eventually you could hit the brakes and have nothing happen. I can't think of  single scenario where that is a good thing.

On older vintage vehicles you watch for drips under the car and the way the brake feels when you mash the pedal.

So TD dutifully changed out the old for the new.

For the wheel cylinder challenged, it is the funky little thing that looks like
a large bedazzled and filthy D-sized battery at the top of the big brown round thing.

This is a new one. They are rather pricey,
..and not really all that interesting except for that bird beak description from Wikipedia 

It pushes on the half-circles (shoes) to help stop the truck.
You need them.
Every time we get a new part for the truck I say it's too bad the shiny new whatever-it-is can't be seen once you get everything back on. In this case, suffice to say I guess it's good just knowing it is there and works. That, and the fact that it makes TD happy.

I never really understood or cared about how brakes work, and now that I see it from a mechanical standpoint up close and personal I have to say...I'm sorry I know. This is equated to the "no one wants to know how the sausage is made" scenario.
I find it very disconcerting seeing springs and half circles, and D-Battery-shaped pieces, and what Wikipedia above calls "bird's beak" points, that all come together and work in unison in some mechanical wonderland to stop a vehicle that zips down the road at a whopping 35 m.p.h. I don't know what I expected to see in terms of truck brakes, but something more robust would be preferred.

Ignorance is bliss.