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By Staff | Dec 9, 2016

You can’t live in this part of the world without developing a close personal relationship with tires.

There are so many different kinds of tires to choose from these days – bias, radial, the spare one that many of us carry around our midsections – but the type that we focus on at this time of the year is snow tires.

During my childhood, it was common for cars to wear studded snow tires in the wintertime. Studded snow tires came with two majorly manly benefits.

First was the aura of invincibility that they gave the driver. Studded snow tires could make a guy believe that he could drive in any weather conditions, no matter how cataclysmic they might be.

Worried wife: “Are you sure you should go out in this? The weather service says that this blizzard might last a week and that it could mark the beginning of a new ice age.”

Overconfident husband: “Ha! I have studded snow tires. I don’t care what they’re saying about that glacier forming out on the highway, this rented movie isn’t going to return itself.”

Another advantage to having studded snow tires was that they had to be swapped out for your summer treads each fall. This gave guys an excuse to go to a tire repair shop where they could hang around with other guys and toss about such manly, tire-related terms as “PSI” and “sidewall” and “valve stem.”

These things would rarely, if ever, be uttered at a Ladies’ Aid luncheon.

One problem with being the age that I am is that I can recall when a new tire cost about the same as what a person might currently pay for an extra-large super-combo deluxe pizza. And let’s face it, pizza isn’t known for its cornering abilities.

When I was a kid, a new top-of-the-line tire cost about $20. These days, if you were to walk into a tire store and tell them that you wanted $20 worth of tires, they might let you take a sniff of air from their air compressor’s hose.

It doesn’t help that I have a long history of purchasing the most inexpensive tires possible. This isn’t because I’m a cheapskate, but mainly because I’ve been broke most of my life.

When I was a struggling young dairy farmer I would buy tires at our local farm supply store. I’m not implying that their tires were cheaply made, but wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that they were constructed from recycled bologna skins.

The farm supply store lacked the ability to change tires, so the purchaser of a new set of treads was given a certificate for a tire swap. This certificate was redeemable at a place called Duff’s Tire Repair.

Duff’s was owned and operated by an old duffer named Orville. A tire buyer would take his purchase to Duff’s and Orville would slowly and methodically jack up your vehicle and remove its wheels. Working at speeds often associated with molasses in January, Orville would demount the old tires from the rims and install the new rubber.

The interior of Duff’s Tire Shop looked like the aftermath of a tire tornado. There were random stacks of old newspapers amidst the piles of used tires that reached nearly to the ceiling.

A handful of old guys were always hanging around Duff’s, sitting on rickety wooden chairs and smoking roll-your-own cigarettes. It appeared that the old guys’ idea of excitement was watching Orville break an especially stubborn bead on a tire that had originally been mounted during the Paleozoic Era.

I don’t know what Orville did with all his used tires, but in one corner of his shop there sat a rusty stove that was always red hot. I’m not implying anything; I’m just pointing out that the piles of used tires in Duff’s Tire Shop never seemed to grow despite the constant influx of worn-out rubber.

Orville was as weathered and grimy as an old tire. But he certainly knew his way around rubber-based, donut-shaped road surface interface devices.

Whenever a new tire is mounted, it must be checked for balance. Orville rejected the modern computerized spin balancing doodads, instead relying on an old-fashioned bubble balancer.

“If a bubble level was good enough for the Egyptians when they built the pyramids, it’s good enough for me,” said Orville when I asked about this. So much for the customer always being right.

Orville and his pals are now gone and Duff’s Tire Shop is no more. Which is too bad, because it would be fun to once again listen to those ancient duffers toss around such affectionate yet manly tire terms as “alignment” and “bolt circle.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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