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Firing Order, April 2017: The Price I Paid For Free Tires

Posted in Features on December 15, 2016
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To say I was strapped for cash was an understatement.

It was the early ’80s, my job at a factory didn’t pay much, and I liked to wheel—a lot. The perpetual wheeling translated to a lot of broken and worn out stuff on my daily-driven ’77 IH Scout. This had a way of sucking up vast amounts of cash, even though I completed most repairs in my father-in-law’s farm shop.

One time, my wife and I had vacation time from our jobs all set up, but no real plan what to do with it. A few days prior to our vaca, I announced to my wife that I thought it would be a great idea if we loaded up our old, rusty-where-you-can’t-see-it, half-restored Scout and travel from our home in Illinois to the high country of Colorado for a wheeling vacation. I figured that we could scrape up the cash for fuel and then camp during the trip to save money. My wife agreed, though I knew she was skeptical. We had been married long enough that she knew how my off-roading trips often ended up in utter chaos.

The next day at work I announced to my wheeling buddies our Colorado off-road vacation plan. They were supportive, probably because they knew how my off-roading trips often ended up in utter chaos. They knew I’d undoubtedly come back with some entertaining stories.

Just before my wife and I left for Colorado, one of my buddies looked at my Scout and noted that the all-season tires (strapped for cash, remember?) weren’t going to cut it on the rocky trails of Colorado. He proceeded to give me a set of four used mud-terrain tires. I was ecstatic thinking about the increased traction and improved durability of the mud-terrains, and they were an inch taller and a bit wider than the street treads. And they were free! There was no time to mount ’em up, so I threw two in the already-stuffed cargo area and chained two to the roof rack of the Scout. Yep, it was a true Beverly Hillbillies packing style.

We rolled into Denver early on a Sunday morning and found a tire shop to swap the mud-terrain tires in place of the street treads. And shortly after this is when the tire problems began. You see, in my haste to depart I didn’t inspect the mud-terrain tires thoroughly. If the young me would’ve had the common sense to thoroughly examine the tires I would’ve seen that the patches (each tire had been patched at least once) were very old. This important information would’ve spurred me to re-evaluate my tire-swapping plan. But as fate would have it, I didn’t and the flat tires were many.

The problems began when I aired the tires down on the trail. As the tires flexed and conformed to the rocks, some of those old patches began to leak. This added an entirely new and exciting element to the trip. Peering out of the tent one morning I looked at the Scout and saw it was sitting on two flat tires. Two! The upside was that we were at a campground that had an air compressor (I didn’t). I dismounted each tire, rolled ’em to the compressor, aired up, reinstalled, and then blasted into town to find a tire shop before each tire went flat again. This was just one of many repairs those tires required because almost every patch loosened up.

Those old mud-terrains did work great on the trail, and they did get us back to Illinois (they were ditched shortly after when winter came due to their incredibly poor handling in snow, but that’s another story for another time). My work buddies loved hearing about my tire woes. Even years later, one of them would occasionally say, “Remember that time you had all those tire problems in Colorado?” Yeah, I remember.

In the end, the price I paid for those “free” tires was high, and that was just to keep air in ’em during that trip. The young me learned a valuable, important lesson from those old mud-terrains about inspecting used tires.

Have you ever had an off-road trip get more interesting because of tire problems? If so, drop an email to ken.brubaker@fourwheeler.com and tell me about it!

Ken Brubaker
ken.brubaker@fourwheeler.com

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