The next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor of the garage in a pool of blood. I couldn't hear anything, but that soon changed to ringing as hearing slowly returned. I tried croaking, "Help me," but the unintelligible mumble that came out didn't bring any. The pain in my left knee was unbelievable. Both hands were the size of softballs, and blood was pouring out of my torn right little finger. My wife and little girl heard the explosion but thought Dad had just dropped something big in the garage while working on the Jeep. When they didn't hear any more noise, my wife and daughter decided to take a look. Imagine their consternation as they opened the garage and saw what looked like a crime scene with me looking at them and saying, "I think we better get to the hospital." My wife immediately went into action while my little girl started crying and repeating, "Oh Daddy, oh Daddy!"
I was going to Moab to produce a couple of stories for this issue when I decided to torque the beadlock rings on my radials and install them on the Jeep for the trip. When driving locally, I like to use bias-ply tires for off-roading. When long highway drives are in the offing, radial mudterrain tires are my choice. I propped the wheel/tire combo against the wall and started checking the torque of the ring bolts when, on the third bolt, the explosion occurred. These were Jeep JK Sahara wheels that I had sent off to be beadlocked. The Sahara wheel's spokes are out at the front of the wheel, so when the factory bead was removed, and before the beadlock ring was welded on, the spoke area behind the ring had to be relieved for the ring bolts. you can usually tell if ring bolts are bottoming as after they're torqued, the washer will still be loose. The washers weren't loose, so the beadlock manufacturer and I didn't know that the bolts were bottoming out a bit and acting as jack screws against the weld. With the 30 psi of pressure in the tire and the mechanical leverage of the screws pushing on it, the weld gave way, allowing the welded ring, tire bead, and outer ring to fly out and hit me.
I've been using welded beadlock wheels for 20 years with no problems. I've now learned some things. First, I shouldn't be checking the torque of beadlock ring bolts with air in the tire. This gives a false torque reading, and if there's anything wrong with the wheel, it may come to light while I'm right down next to it. Second, there is tremendous force stored in an inflated tire. I shudder to think about my younger days when I used a nonbeadlock spare as an air tank, filling the tire to 100 psi. Luck kept me alive back then. This tire was only inflated to 28-30 psi and did tremendous damage (to me) when it exploded. Beadlock wheels perform a job and work very well. We all need to respect what can happen if something goes wrong by standing off to the side and not putting our face into the wheel when working on them.
So, how have I fared? The first thing the doctor said when he returned to the emergency room was, "Well, you don't really need a little finger." They wanted to ship me to Salt lake City, but the vascular surgeon said that I would lose the finger for sure if they waited that long to repair it. So they did what they could, said that if it didn't change color from black to pink, they'd have to remove it. It did change color, so I still have it with me, healing away. My right hand has the third metacarpal snapped, and the little finger is fractured. My middle finger is also fractured. My left hand has a broken trapezium, and the index finger is fractured. My left patella (kneecap) is fractured. Obviously I'm barely typing with two fingers, and I'm told it will be a number of weeks before I'm back on the trail.
Please respect the force that's stored in our tire/wheel combos and continue to be safe to hit the trails for years to come.