Read and reminisce about vehicles of the past.
In my last column, I mentioned that while I had
covered a lot of parts about older pickups, I’d been reminded that I had not
covered a couple of them, namely tires and windshield wipers. So, here are some
thoughts about older tires.
One thing you younger readers have to keep in mind is that, years ago, we had
bias ply tires; modern radials were unheard of. I don’t know the difference in
constructions methods between the two, but I do know that radials are vastly
superior to bias ply. I remember the first set of radials that I ever saw, and
they were on a sports car in the parking area at a car show my wife Shirley and
I were attending in Dearborn,
Mich. I remember mentioning to
the driver that I thought he had a flat tire, and he responded that, “No,
indeed, I have radial tires.” I believe they were of European manufacture, and
while they looked like they were partially flat, indeed they were not. I
remember thinking that they sure looked strange, and I wasn’t sure if this
fellow knew what he was talking about. As it turns out, he did, in fact, know
about these tires.
Meanwhile, back to our trusty older pickup, if you bought a half-ton truck any
time before the mid-1970s, it came with 6:00-16 or 6:50-16 bias ply tires. If
you bought a 3⁄4-ton, they would be 7:50-16 or perhaps 8:00-16 or even 8:25-16.
These very likely would be of a highway tread that was not very effective as to
traction in snow or mud. If you were in the well drilling, farming or other
business that took you off the road, you probably paid extra and got so-called
mud-and-snow tires. These would have some type of a modified tractor tread, and
were much more effective in slippery conditions than the highway tread. Many of
these mud-and-snow tires would sing or howl loudly on dry pavement. It seemed
the more effective the tires were in slippery going, the louder they were in
good going. If you were driving a four-wheel drive, and had so-called M & S
tires on all four wheels, people could hear you coming a quarter-mile
To get around this noise, some people used highway tires in the summer or dry
season, and then put the mud and snow tires on, at least here in the North,
from late fall through early spring. Some people even, in trying to save money,
bought six tires but only four wheels, and mounted, then demounted the tires on
these wheels once each per year. People who wanted to or could afford extra
wheels had M & S tires mounted on spare wheels, putting them on in the fall
and taking them off in the spring. I never did this on our pickups, but I had
two cars for which I had extra wheels and tires, and changed these twice a
If you drove a 3⁄4-ton pickup, and it was a heavy-duty model or perhaps a
1-ton, which really was heavy-duty, your wheels would likely be of the
split-rim type. These wheels had the advantage that they could be loaded until
the truck could not move it was so heavy, and they still would not break. A
one-piece wheel, which is pretty much standard in 2011 (and made much
stronger), literally would split if loaded too heavily. My dad and I had a
1⁄2-ton Ford pickup years ago that we loaded too heavily most of the time. I
remember coming home from a job one evening, and the truck started acting extra
funny due to being overloaded – it drove sort of funny all the time. I stopped,
got out, looked at my tires, and found that I had a flat; indeed, the rim was
split in two. I put on the spare, and went home. I got a used wheel, and we
drove the truck for several more years.
These split-rim wheels, as used on heavier-duty pickups, had the advantage of
great strength due to their design. They had one very bad disadvantage – they
were very dangerous to work on. The split-rim design included a locking ring
that was cut or broken by design in its 360-degree circumference. If you had a
flat and needed service, the repairman was required to pry this split ring off.
If it was installed wrong on reassembly, when the tire was inflated, this ring
could blow off, and badly injure or even kill anyone in its path. Some repair
shops had a steel cage in which the tire and wheel assembly was held as the
tire was inflated, and that was supposed to save the repairman from injury.
Most of the shops I used had one of these – and never used them. I have been
told that many repair shops in 2010 will not work on split-rim wheels, due to
OSHA regulations and for the safety of their repairmen. I use a shop that will
work on these type rims, but I have only one truck with split-rim wheels
anymore, and they are 7:50 – 20 wheels and tires on my pump hoist truck that,
for some reason, will get flat only extremely rarely.
Speaking of flats, it seems that we had a lot more flats in the old days,
either from punctures or other causes. I do know that blow-outs were all-too
frequent in the old days, and would be caused when the inner tube got pinched
between the wheel and the tire. The result was a loud noise, a blown-out tire
and the need to really concentrate on keeping the vehicle under control.
Tubeless tires have pretty much done away with that, and I can only use the
phrase often heard at car and truck shops, “They don’t make them like they used
to – thank God.” If one avoided the dreaded blow-out, too many flats or a
broken wheel, he still could expect pretty limited mileage by any bias ply
tire. Seems to me, if we got 20,000 or 30,000 miles out of a tire in the old
days, we thought we were way ahead of the game. I currently have a pickup with
65,000 miles on the odometer, and the original tires look to me like they will
make the 100,000-mile mark with plenty of tread left.
One of the more interesting types of tires used briefly here in the North Country were tires with studs. While mud and snow
tires really helped in loose snow, they were no better than highway tires on
hard-packed snow or ice. In the early 1970s, at least here in southern Michigan, somebody
decided that studded tires were the answer to these conditions. The studs were
made of carbide, and stuck out of the tire about 1⁄8 of an inch as the tires
were made with little holes in the tread on about a 1-inch grid, and the
dealers would “shoot” these studs into the tires. These studded tires really
would pull on ice or packed snow. I had only one set on one vehicle, and in bad
going, they were really worth it. On the downside, they were very, very noisy
on dry pavement. They were quite popular near the end of the bias-ply-tire
After a few years of popularity here in Michigan,
the highway department figured out that these studs were tearing up the
pavement, and studs were outlawed. My studded tires were quite new, and the
dealer told me that I could pull the studs and go back to regular snow tires.
This I did using long-nose pliers, a lot of silicon lubricant and a couple
nights of hard work and cussing after the regular workdays. I think I still
might have the studs stored some place. With the advent of much better traction
provided by radial tires, the need for studs largely disappeared. Unless you
had a job in extremely muddy conditions and strictly off-road, you almost never
used tire chains in southern Michigan.
I think I used chains a few times, and they provided an extremely rough ride –
with extreme noise to boot. Readers in northern Wisconsin,
Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana
may be far more familiar with chains than we are here in Michigan. All I can say is enjoy them, along
with the beautiful scenery in your areas.
Next time, I will write about windshield wipers – or the lack thereof – on
older trucks. I’m writing this column on Dec. 20, and can’t let that pass as it
is our 52nd wedding anniversary. My life changed for the better and forever on
that day, and I’m sure glad that I met Shirley, married her and had kids with
her; I love her dearly.
“Let Me Tell Ya”: Still More about Older Pickups - the Tires
February 1, 2011