A Blowout in Massachusetts

Exit 60 on I-95

Salisbury Plains, MA

September 28th, 1999


One of my trepidations on the road has always been the treacherous blowout. Those wiser than I, have commented that it's not whether, but when, with a loud report the trailer will shudder and swerve as one side sinks, with rubber flying in all directions, when some tire disintegrates out from under the trailer. It's an image that caused chills and a desire to hide from its ugly reality. These thoughts had no place in my mind, as I whizzed along at 60 mph in the center lane of I-95 just across the border into Massachusetts. Trucks and cars sped by us like we were some kind of turtle crossing the road. Suddenly there was a sedan riding abreast of me. I remember thinking how peculiar as I watched the passenger tapping on the inside of his rolled up window as if I could hear him. Then he made that finger gesture far more threatening than any hand salute. A single index finger jabbing at the back of my trailer. I could feel the panic building up as I slowed and in unison we slowly rolled down our respective windows. He then shouted those infamous words. "You have a flat!". I knew what he had said as I could hear myself ask again "What?", hoping he would somehow change his statement. "YOU HAVE A FLAT!" came his words loud and clear over the sound of the traffic all around me. By this time I had slowed to a speed that caused cars to speed by on both sides. There was no sensation of a flat. No swerving or bucking. Actually the vehicle seemed to be performing normally as I finally got into the right lane and then off on the shoulder, the good Samaritan having long since sped off on his own course. I breathed a sigh of relief as I brought the rig to a stop in the pull-off lane. As I exited, I noted the full size semi coming fast in the curb lane. I had no idea they created that much wind when at close range. Wow, I was 18 inches from the white line, and this line was full of tractor trailers. I made a quick retreat to the other side of the rig and there it was. The right front axle tire had broken the steel belt and shredded the tread. I stood in the grass with Laura for a few minutes gathering my thoughts as to what to do first. I elected to put out a slow-triangle (Laura had insisted on buying over my disapproving attitude). As I cut the package open I could remember an article I had read in one of the periodicals about taking these packages apart before they are needed to learn how to open them. Guess what? Good advice. As I stood leaning into the front of the rocking truck trying to read the fine print containing the insturctions. The distraction was horrendous and I found myself lacking the concentration needed. I finally got the darn thing assembled and walked it out to the suggested 100 feet where I set it on the white line. Meanwhile Laura got on the cell phone and was attempting to convince two different state police dispatchers that she really knew where we were (we had just crossed from New Hampshire into Massachusetts) and have them dispatch a wrecker. I went to the rear of the trailer to attempt to detach the spare tire. This is secured with a lug nut and a locking center pin, for which we had to find the key. It was on Laura's key ring and although I was uable to get the lock free, Laura with a little feninine finesse freed the tire. That left the major problem of getting the damaged tire off the ground so that it could be replaced. As far as I know, trailers do not come with tire jacks. Again I rememberd one of those tech-trend articles that offered a suggestion of placing the leveling blocks under the undamaged tire until it was elevated to a point that the damaged tire could be removed. I had never seen it done, nor had I ever talked to anyone who had ever done it, but there was nothing to do while waiting for a wrecker in 4:00 traffic on a 4 lane expressway. We carry the 1 foot square survival orange leveling blocks we bought at Camping world. They come in a package of 10 and interlock. We had done this exercise many times before when leveling the trailer, but never to the heights required for this to be successful. We decided Laura would drive and I would build the blocks. We did it in 2 inch stages. First, 2 blocks behind the good tire, then 4 blocks in front of the same tire, moving the trailer back and forth, rocking it on top of each increasing pile. When the blocks ran out, I used fire wood to form the bottom layer. Fortunately, we had worked out our signals in the past, so Laura was able to manuever the truck exactly as needed. A couple of inches either way and the truck would have fallen off the blocks and we probably would have ended up with two flat tires, instead of one. As it was, we raised the tire to seven 1 inch blocks. It was enough to get the bad tire off. It would have taken 10 blocks to elevate the damaged axle to a height required to put the new tire on. However, the damaged axle was hanging free and raising it with a log as a pry-bar would have worked. As it was, the wrecker driver arrived and applied a small hydraulic jack to the axle raising it about two inches which was enough to get the new tire on. Having completed the repair I felt pretty good about myself even though I noted that the spare was 15 lbs under-pressured. However, I now know that in a pinch, YES it will work.

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