Gene Logsdon: Tired of Tires


From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
Upper Sandusky, Ohio

Do you know how many pneumatic rubber tires you own? I bet when you count them up, you’ll be surprised. Even on my little one horse farm, there are 40 tires in use, not counting the ones on the car. And ten percent of them are flat at any given time. This is partly because most of my tires were vulcanized in the late Middle Ages or thereabouts. But it is also because there is something unsustainable and unnatural about riding around on air wrapped in a substance that comes from trees that grow half a million miles away.

This is the time of year when I fare forth to another season of mowing and planting. I know without looking, that my first chore, after getting all the motors (6) running, will be fixing flats. I thought maybe this year would be an exception. The green tractor started right up and the hydraulic system on it worked fine. I backed up to the disk to hitch up and the hole on the disk tongue lined up with the drawbar hole perfectly on the first try. Oh perfect joy.

One pass across the field and behold, the left tire on the disk was as flat as a pancake. I pumped it up (by hand) and proceeded on to the gardens which were actually dry enough to disk (the corn ground wasn’t) and worked up two of the plots before the tire went flat again. Pumped it up again and it lasted until I had finished the other two plots. I would not have been so stubborn about it except rain was threatening and it might be another two weeks before the soil was dry enough to work again.

Have you ever stopped to think just how dumb it is to have pneumatic tires on a disk? They are only in use when the disk is not disking and that would mean, in my “operation”, about three hundred feet a year at a speed of not more than two miles per hour. Those tires could easily be made out of metal or even some high grade plastic. I should never have gotten rid of my really ancient disk which had no tires at all, but an adjustment to swivel the disk blades straight enough so they wouldn’t cut into the dirt as they rolled along.

Yes, I know, I know. Modern farming requires many acres scattered over ten townships or so, with more time spent moving on the road than actually working in the field. But how about us small timers and slow timers, or how about garden tillers and lawn mowers that will never move off the homestead and rarely move faster than 3 mph?  How about my two-bottom plow once owned by Daniel Boone’s grandfather, or my manure spreader, wheelbarrows, and pull-type sickle bar and rotary mowers? The only piece of farm implement I own that exhibits intelligent design is a side delivery rake. It mercifully has steel wheels.

None of my garden and farm implements need tires made of rubber with air inside them. Nor my tractors. Sometimes I even wonder why science has not found better things for cars and trucks to ride on than air. We had to replace all four tires on our 2005 car because of faulty valve stems. I hear other people complaining about car tires too— they refer to “bad batches” of tires where the outer tread slips loose from the inner tread.

The most ludicrous of all are pneumatic wheelbarrow tires. They are, in my experience, very cheap and go flat almost before you get them home from the hardware store. I have seriously thought of sawing off nice round discs from a red elm log of the right size to make wheelbarrow wheels. Or why does a rear end garden tiller need pneumatic tires? My tiller’s tires like to annoy me by taking turns going soft. They could be made out of metal easily enough.

I am very much in accord with those Amish sects which allow their members to use tractors so long as they aren’t equipped with rubber tires. One Amish community I know decided it was okay to cover their steel wheels with rubber mat treading so they wouldn’t tear the road up too much. When the bishop was teased about this minor transgression of the rule (I tell this story in one of my books), he replied:  “We prayed over the matter and finally decided it was not the rubber itself God was against, but riding on air. Only angels should ride on air.”

During spring flat tire fixing time, I heartily agree. And the next time someone tries to get me on an airplane, that’s going to be my answer.
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