Writer’s Roost

Tales of tires, inner tubes and rubber patches



Guys used to be required to “pass a course” in something that might be called Flat-Tire-Fixing 101, to qualify to drive a car. With what you had to know to enable you to drive the family jalopy (a term for automobiles in at least the first half of the 20th Century), you could easily be granted certification in a high school automotive repair class today.

First, early 20th century tires were not nearly as reliable as today’s combination of synthetic rubber, steel “belts” and air pressure capacity.

Usually, in addition to the “casing,” meaning the tire itself, there was an inner tube plus a tire repair “kit.”

The kit contained several items, among them a cylindrical container of patch material, usually some form of rubber like the inner tube within the tire/casing. Cut a patch just large enough to cover the affected area.

You inflated the tire by airing up the inner tube.

Most of us never wanted to have a flat tire, especially late at night, although it offered the opportunity to show off for your girlfriend. To some, having to get out of the car, grab the jack and lug wrench showed “manly” traits in the spindliest teen boy. Others of us were more inclined not to have such a drastic interruption of our girlfriend time.

If you were a full-blown 1950s car expert, you might relish the idea of having a midnight tire problem whilst out watching fireflies on Lover’s Lane with your teen sweetheart.

So, instead of radio do-wop, you hear wop-wop-wop and feel the car’s lop-sidedness as the signal of no air in one tire registers in your teen noggin. If it’s after midnight, you and sweetie-pie might be dragging Main and listening to Randy’s Record Shop on a clear channel Gallatin, Tenn., radio station.

Service stations weren’t open after dark-thirty much less midnight, so you had to do, as my wife would drawl in her imitation gruff, nasal masculine voice: “maaan’s work.”

Such a midnight emergency was unwelcome by most of us because it usually meant an end to the night’s necking opportunity.

However, a daytime flat tire could provide the fullblown manliness thing of not only taking the wheel off the car but putting the spare on and driving to the nearest service station where the owner, one of your dad’s buddies, allowed you to use his equipment (all manual in those days) to repair the tire/ inner tube.

Briefly, the process involved taking the inner tube, inflating it, moving it around in a huge vat of water and watching for the bubbles in the water thus indicating the leak. Uponfinding the damaged area, you took the cap off the patch cylinder. The cap had a rough top, made so by holes punched from inward to the outside top. You used that to rough up the area around the leak which helped the patch adhere.

If you didn’t have heat means, as would a service station, you’d use a match to heat any tube surface to achieve adhesion. Most 1950s teen boys carried matches even if they didn’t smoke.

Being the non-mechanical type of earlier confessions, I usually opted to pay the service station 50 cents to repair the tube so I could quickly return to more romantic pursuits.

Those so inclined could remove the afflicted tire/ tube, do the hot-patch repair and be back on Main Streetcruisin’ in less than an hour. Meanwhile, in doing the repair yourself, you took advantage of an opportunity to take off your shirt, flex around while repairing the tire/tube in your undershirt (today’s ‘muscle’ shirt) hopefully impressing your date.

And, you hadn’t spent 50 cents which meant you could treat Missy to a Coke float at the Tastee Freeze.

WILLIS WEBB is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher. He can be reached by email at wwebb1937@att.net

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