Apr 7

The Quality Goes In...

Before we die

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More Carrots, Less Sticks
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Martin Garner of Earth asks,

What is the most impressive tire change you've ever witnessed? I'm thinking of one we witnessed together resulting from an encounter with a rolling stone (not the band), but perhaps there are others?

Thank you, Martin, my old friend, for your provocative question.

Why provocative, you ask? Because I don’t want to witness, I want to execute. I am loathe to see a tire change if it’s not me performing the feat. If you’re at all familiar with me, which you are, then you know I love to change a tire. I can think of only a few tasks in this modern life that can be executed as neatly and completely as the changing of a tire on a car or truck. Making a perfect grilled cheese. Knocking out a perfect wedged tenon. Changing a flat tire. That’s it.

Maybe it’s in the simplicity. A clear dilemma presents itself, with no equivocation: the tire is flat; you may not drive. But with a little elbow grease and the tools at hand (because you’re a responsible driver and wouldn’t be caught without a proper jack and spare tire), you can resolve your problem lickety-split and be back about your business with no residual issues. There’s no gray area, either you can’t fix the problem and get back on the road, or you can, all without needing to install an app or update your software or retrieve anything whatsoever from anybody’s dropbox.

Don’t get me wrong: like anybody, I would certainly prefer to cruise blithely throughout my livelong days with nary a flat tire, or any other mishap, inconvenience, or discomfort, for that matter, but unfortunately life doesn’t work like that. So when fortune strikes the unlucky wheel of my ride, I am thrilled to meet the challenge head-on with the tool skills instilled in me by my Dad and uncles.

Now, just because I love to change a tire doesn’t mean I’d judge anybody for calling AAA, an amazing service that provides some pretty damn affordable peace of mind. If your circumstances prohibit you from taking pleasure in changing your tire, then by all means, call these heroes in tow trucks.

That being the case, I can immodestly tell you that my second most impressive witnessing of a tire swap would be the time Megan and I were out to dinner with another couple, on, I believe, New Year’s Eve. We were in a mountainous region near Calistoga, California, and it was absolutely pissing down cold rain in what I’m guessing was fifty-degree-weather outside.

On that cold and rainy night, we were in our friends’ SUV, but I was driving as I knew the twisting roads of the area. We had been to a gorgeous restaurant for a holiday dinner, which means that I was was straining my belt with steak and cabernet. I was warm and cozy and sated, so I did not hesitate to whip out my phone and call AAA to come fix our tire when it blew. I was perfectly content to let somebody else handle the fun that night.

Of course, given the remote location and the weather, there was not a bar of service to be had, so I was on my own. Crap. But as is often the case with these things, one’s imagination makes it seem much worse than it turns out to be. It wasn’t so bad at all once I sucked it up and got to work. I had to get on my back on some wet gravel and scoot partway under the vehicle to securely place the jack, but it was perfectly bearable. I changed the tire and we went on with our night. I could have had no idea then how substantially I was setting myself up for a fall the next time something similar happened.

A couple years later, Martin, I’ll remind you, you and I were driving down California Interstate 5 in the winter in my Ford F-250 Diesel Super Duty. For the uninitiated, that’s a badass pickup truck. In the early years of my Los Angeles woodshop, I had the habit of purchasing large slabs of trees to make into table tops, usually walnut, maple or redwood, stacking them in the truck bed as high as the cab, then mightily strapping them down for the 8 or 9 hour drive south to Los Angeles.

The type of California Claro Walnut slab I loved to salvage in Northern California and haul south to Los Angeles in my trusty truck. Photo: Josh Salsbury

My Ford has a beefy suspension package, which means that it drives and rides better when hauling a couple such tons of payload as it does when empty. That left us free to revel in our memories of Stryper and other Christian rock flavors from our misguided youths as we hurtled south through the central valley, happily unaware that the mountain pass upon which we were bearing down, known as the Grapevine, was about to be closed by the California Highway Patrol due to blizzard and freezing rain conditions.

If memory serves, all of the traffic (with any common sense) was being funneled off the freeway just before the road began to rise uphill from 400 feet above sea level to an eventual summit of 4,100 feet at the Tejon Pass over a span of only 12 miles. As we approached, we could see our route snaking up into the mountains, with worsening inclement weather the further up it went. The weather station and traffic signs told us the smart play was to get off the road and wait out the storm, but we could see there were a few single vehicles staying on Interstate 5 braving the elements, and, I mean, we were in a beefy 4-wheel-drive truck, and also I was stubborn as a mule, so of course we chose to roll the dice and remain driving up the treacherous, freezing highway.

It seemed like we were pretty well in business as long as we proceeded at a moderate pace. The road was icy, but we had the 4-lane width entirely to ourselves, so as long as something crazy didn’t happen like, I don’t know, a boulder tumbling down the road—whoops, here came a boulder tumbling down the road! It was only about the size of a volleyball, but with flat facets like a 12-sided D&D die. It was bouncing at a decent clip on a diagonal down across the highway from left to right, and because I couldn’t turn my steering wheel for fear of sliding on the ice and/or rolling the truck with our top-heavy load of slabs, we just watched it, doink, doink, doink, until my front right wheel intercepted the stone doing probably 45 or 50mph. The impact was so perfect that the wheel just exploded with a loud noise that sounded a lot like, “you’re fucked!” We were both simply amazed at my great aim, and determined to carefully maneuver to the side of the interstate.

With the remains of the tire flapping on the steel rim, we made our way to the highway shoulder and began to look for a viable spot to set up my jack. The gravel shoulder was basically like a running stream of freezing water, and I couldn’t find a level enough spot to even think about trying to set up my little hydraulic jack that came standard with the truck. I even pulled a small tree slab off the pile in the bed and tried to use it as a base upon which to set up my jack, but between the uneven ground, the raging off-flow of storm melt and the tons of wood that would be adding to the load of my little jack, I pretty quickly decided to give up on my usual gumption and see if we could raise some help on the old mobile phone.

Given the amount of similar incidents that night involving motorists whose level of dipshittery was commensurate with my own, in a sparsely populated area, no less, we miraculously managed to use our zero-G cellular technology and my AAA card to secure the promise of a rescue within 3 hours or so. Imagine how we nearly fainted with relief then, when a strapping fellow in full-on Gorton’s Fisherman insulated rain gear showed up after only 45 minutes in a giant tow-truck, equipped to fix and tow semi tractors. He could not have been more nonplussed.

Three photos of me in the storm trying mulishly to find my ass with both hands. Photo: Martin Garner

I held a light for him in a torrential downpour, pathetically jabbering, explaining why I had been unable to achieve this tire-change on my own. He calmly nodded and replied, “no shit,” over the roar of the storm and the rushing water, before he staunchly changed my tire in about 7 minutes, using a massive hydraulic jack from his truck and an air drill not dissimilar from what you see in the hands of a NASCAR pit crew. What had moments before seemed like an absolutely apocalyptic, possibly life-ending tragedy, he now made look as though it was but a minor annoyance, like we just needed a light bulb change.

I gushed, naturally, then tipped him very handsomely and he went on his heroic way to save the lives of other Donkey Thinkers that night, and you and I, Marty, turned right around and got a motel at the foot of the mountain. I think I stood under the hot shower for longer than it had taken for our AAA savior to arrive.

And that, my friend, was the most impressive tire change I have seen. I hope to glory that I never have cause to top it. We are still driving that Ford at the woodshop, at just about 20 years of service, and she will still haul just as many slabs, so long as I promised never to take the Grapevine again.


P.S. the title is a reference to the old Ford advertising slogan, “The quality goes in, before the name goes on.”

My redoubtable Muleteers, this weekend’s post promises to be a video with some very charismatic Belted Galloway cows in the Cumbria region of North England. Please be sure to leave your questions in the comments and tell me where you’re from, and if you want to get all the video and audio fare, be sure to become a paid subscriber. Thank you very kindly, and see you soon. xo