By Norris Chambers

             It was a hot, dry day and Clifton and I were hauling a wagon bed full of freshly headed maize from the field to the barn. The two horses pulling the wagon, Alec and Stranger, were sweating profusely and a sensitive moisture detector might have detected a little honest sweat on us. Heading maize was always a hot and uncomfortable chore, but it took things like that to provide a typical farm life in the thirties.

            Fortunately, Clifton noticed the left front wheel’s steel rim about to slide off of the wooden felloes and managed to stop the wagon before the wheel collapsed.

            A wagon wheel is a pretty simple device but many old timers will tell you that a wheel can cause more trouble than a wild hog in a tater patch. Some of the smarter old timers carried a spare wheel. We didn’t have a spare and we knew that a repair job was not an activity to look forward to on a hot afternoon. If a rim came off of the tire and the wagon was stopped before the wooden wheel was damaged the next step was to get it back on. This was not a simple matter. If the tire could be slipped back on the wood it would still be loose and would soon come off again.

            After a hasty conference we decided that we had two choices, do a temporary fix or take the wheel and rim to the blacksmith shop for a more permanent repair. The shop job was accomplished by heating a portion of the rim in the forge and cutting out a small section, then welding the gap. The entire rim was then heated until it expanded enough to slide on the wooden wheel. The wheel was rotated in the water tank until the steel was completely cooled. The tire was then very tight and was ready for several months of farm use. When we thought about the small shop building and the heat from the forge we decided on the simpler outdoor repair.

If a wheel became damaged, or the steel tire came off, the wagon was raised by means of a long pole used as a fulcrum and the spare was slipped on. A single nut held the wheel on the spindle. These spindles were designated right and left and were installed on the right and left sides of the wagon. The front and rear spindles on the right had “right hand threads” and those on the left side had left hand threads. The rotation of the wheels tended to keep the nuts that held the wheels from loosening. The tapered spindles were called thimbles and were fitted on each end of the wooden axle. The damaged wheel was taken to a professional blacksmith for repair or the owner might have his own shop in which he could probably make the necessary repairs.

The most common wheel problem on the farm was loosening of the steel rim. The hot weather caused the steel tire to expand and the wooden structure of the wheel to shrink. This was the problem that Clifton and I and the load of maize encountered that hot afternoon.

The first step was to unhitch old Alec and Stranger from the wagon. We didn’t want them to move the wagon with the wheel off. They were capable of doing such a thing if they thought it might cause us a little grief!

We had to make several trips to the barn and the blacksmith shop to find the things we needed. We had to have long steel tongs to handle the steel tire and plenty of water to cool the hot rim after it was back on the wheel.

It was necessary to find many small stackable rocks. We spent considerable time carrying rocks from the edge of the field to the scene of the wheel repair. The steel tire was elevated on the rocks about four or five inches and a fire was built completely around and under it. The wheel was placed flat on the ground and the outer wood edge was supported by small rocks at about the same height as the steel tire. When the tire was hot enough to have expanded we took the blacksmith tongs and carried it to the wheel. With a lot of pampering and jiggling we managed to slip the tire back on the wheel. During this procedure the wood was showing its displeasure by trying to smother us with smelly smoke!

Eventually was got the tire in place and started pouring the water to cool and shrink it on the wheel. The smoke drifted away and we congratulated ourselves on a good job of replacing the tire. A tire replaced in this manner usually gave good service for many miles.

The day was almost done when we forked the last head of maize into the bin. Alec and Stranger were under the shed gnawing on the ears of corn we had placed in their feeding troughs.

“I hope that’s the last wheel problem we have,” Clifton commented as we closed the doors and gates and headed for the house.

“Just one,” I answered, “When I put the stuff back in the shop I noticed that your Model T truck has a flat tire!”