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Passed by a Bridgestone Dueller at 70 MPH

July 14, 2004

It's not often one is passed on the freeway by a single tire. Generally there are four of them traveling in tandem attached to sheet metal with a driver behind the wheel. But today I was passed by a single Bridgestone Dueller AT 33 x 10.5. It is a model I am familiar with since I purchased that exact tire for my car. The same tire that just passed me in the southbound lane heading northbound.

Let me explain.

I was bombing along about 70 miles an hour heading up US-97 about 15 miles south of Crescent, Oregon. This is a very desolate place. It is the gateway to the Oregon Outback where you don't see many houses along the side of the road. You don't see many towns along the side of the road. My Suburban was towing a double axle trailer containing fire toys. I was coming back from a fire festival when suddenly there was an explosion where my front left wheel was located. The car started swerving and the drivers side suddenly dropped a foot and the car was becoming hard to steer. I was aiming for the shoulder to handle what I thought was a massive blowout when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.

It was my left wheel.

Tire and hub were now passing me on the left and leaving me in the dust like a muscle car threatening a Geo Metro. I stared at the wheel as much as I could because it was a sight I have not seen before. There was also the consideration that if this tire hits another car, it's going to do some serious damage. I was watching the wheel for another reason, I wanted to see where it would end up.

Thankfully the wheel continued to veer to the left when suddenly it left the roadway down a driveway, where it made contact with a rock, bounced more than 40 feet into the air and came crashing down through the woods and slowly coming to a rest right where my car finally quit scraping along and came to a rest.

I jumped out of my car to check the damage. The steel from the disc brake drum was obviously turning for part of the journey without a tire, but it got to the point it quit spinning. This was most likely the time I was jamming on the breaks hoping I would stop careening across the lanes of traffic. Since it wasn't spinning, it started grinding across the pavement and throwing sparks. The disc rotor was worn flat like a bad blowout. I had snapped two of the studs used to anchor the lug nuts and the tire to the car.

I decided to call 9-1-1.

Two people showed up to see if I was OK and I was fine. As I called, I searched for my missing tire.

911: 911, what is your emergency?

Wally: I uh, lost a wheel on my Suburban and I am sort of blocking traffic. I'm going to need a tow truck.

911: What is your location?

Wally: I am about 15 miles south of Crecent, Oregon, on US-97 heading northbound.

911: What did you want us to do?

Wally: Uh, I don't know. I'm just calling to let you know what happened and I am blocking traffic.

I gave them the particulars and since I was a foot over the white fog line into the northbound lane, they were going to dispatch a unit and a tow truck. This was great for safety sake, but it was a problem for my bottom line. My AAA was cancelled by my ex-girlfriend back in February and I never started it again because I was broke. There was a chance that I might be able to get my cell phone to cover the costs. I had heard that some companies have roadside assistance, but I had no idea if I had the coverage or what it costs. All I know is that I had a Suburban with 3 good wheels and a heavy double axle trailer full of fire gear. My heart said this would be an expensive tow and I knew I needed some sort of solution.

When I got back to the car with the wheel, an old guy had wandered up to check on me.

Old Guy: Did you snap any studs?

Wally: Yeah, I snapped two of them.

Old Guy: Do you have more than three studs do you have left on the wheel?

Wally: Um yeah, but I don't have any lug nuts.

Old Guy: Well if you have more than three, just take a lug nut off each remaining wheel and drive it.

Brilliant! Bless the old guys. They are the ones that know how to really get things done. Screw the fact that I was missing studs, an old guy knows it will still work.

It was dicey as could be, but since I had more than three studs, I could put the wheel back on and drive it away. This might allow me to limp to the nearest service station and save money on what would be a very big towing bill. I looked at the rotor and even though part of it was ground flat, the damage did not extend to the part of the rotor where the pad made contact with the rotor.

I pulled out my jack and I started to lift the car. Since the car was so low to the ground, I had to jack it up near the front differential. This is a bad spot to actually try and change a tire, so I jacked it up a ways to where I thought I could get a block of wood under it. Then I went to get a block of wood. I was trying to work fast because once the Oregon State Police showed up, I would suspect the trooper would never allow me to drive this car, even if the idea worked.

I managed to get the car safely jacked up to the point I could get my big wheel back on the car. The rotor was turning just fine except for a little grinding noise. I pulled a lug nut from every wheel and two from one in the back and fastened the wheel back on my car.

I started it up and rolled clear of the fog line. I was now ha-ha-ha, legal.

I called back 911 to cancel the tow truck and the State Police. I figured that if I broke down later, I would break down later and chances are the towing bill would be lower.

911: What is your emergency?

Wally: Hi, I called earlier. I had a Suburban that broke down on 97 and was blocking traffic. I wanted you to know I was now clear of the road.

911: Is this Wally?

There is a funny feeling when you realize that right now, my simple accident is apparently the only thing blocking a roadway in Oregon and 911 knows me by name.

Wally: Um yeah. Everything is fine now. I'm OK. I do not need a tow truck or a trooper.

911: Ok, I'll cancel the call. Have a nice day.

Wally: Ok, Buh-bye now.

I drove along the shoulder of the road at 5 MPH trying to determine if this was a good idea. I knew this was really not a good idea, but I was trying to determine if I was going to get anyone else killed. The grinding noise subsided once the metal ground down enough to no longer make contact. I slowly brought the car up to 10 MPH, then 25, finally 40. I called the owner of the trailer and the fire toys to let them know the dilemma and see if they could offer any help. They didn't know anyone in the area, so I drove on.

When I got to Crescent, the entire town was closed. It might have been a bright and sunny day, but it was past 7:30 and Crescent doesn't even look like a town, let alone one with a nightlife or one I wanted to spend the night in. So I decided to risk it and drive to La Pine, another 10-15 miles away.

When I got to La Pine, the car was working fine, but the town was just as closed as Crescent. I figured I would just risk it and keep driving to Bend. When I hit Bend, I realized the town was just as closed as the other two, so I continued my way down 97 towards Hood River, the home of the trailer and the fire toys.

I had a rather enjoyable journey up 97, then 197 and down I-84 where I finally stopped when I ran out of open gas stations. I slept in my Suburban overnight, dropped the trailer off, then continued up 97 until I arrived back home in Seattle. I drove almost 450 miles on a wheel I never would have risked 10 feet if I wasn't flat broke and desperate to get home. But the reality is, the car stops just as well, it drives just fine and unless you peek into the wheel, you cannot there is any problem.

Still, don't try this at home.

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