November 20, 2008 in Voices

Tire-changing machine provides hours of entertainment

Mary Jane Honegger Staff writer

A few years ago my husband purchased an old Coats tire-changing machine – the kind no self-respecting tire store would be caught dead with these days. Little did we know the purchase of that old dinosaur would lure friends up the hill to our house like a Banjo Minnow lures big mouth bass.

It has also provided hours of man vs. machine entertainment right outside my kitchen window. The last few weeks have been especially entertaining.

Jake was first. The longtime friend of my son arrived in his 1997 Dodge pickup with a set of 35-inch tires the two boys soon discovered were too big for our old tire-changing machine to even handle. Things did not go well.

That first day the boys spent over four hours trying to break the bead on those tires. I looked out once to see them take turns driving a truck, and then a four wheeler, over the tires again and again.

When asked, my son told me, “We’re just trying to pop the bead. We’re being careful to drive over just the sidewall, not the rim,” he said in self defense. “But it’s not working.”

Next, the boys went to work with screwdrivers, trying to break that cemented bond between rubber and metal. One tire popped just before dark. The next day, Jake returned for a second go at the three holdouts. After another four hours of exertion, a couple of screwdrivers, brute strength and hard labor won out.

A few days later, Spanky pulled into our driveway with a truckload of nine tires he needed to break down. A friend of my husband, he got right to work like a pro. A few of the older tires were hard to break down, but the machine eventually powered them off. A little over an hour of hard work and he had the tires loaded up and was headed back down the hill. No real drama and quite a victory for our old tire-changing machine.

Next, Pete, another of my son’s friends, arrived with a set of snow tires tossed in the back of his Chevy Sonoma. The boys pulled the front tires off the truck and threw the first one on the tire machine. It popped the bead immediately. They used the machine to power the old tire off – then the fun began.

“We had so much trouble taking Jake’s apart that when Pete’s came off easy, we thought the rest would be easy. Crap,” said my son, shaking his head. “The problem this time is that the rims are really wide and the tires are a normal size. We can get the tire on easily, but then can’t get it to air up – can’t get the bead to seat.”

Although they never quite figured how they did it, one tire went on pretty easily; they fought that second one for hours. As the afternoon light faded, I watched them pile junk on it, light it on fire, cuss at it, kick it and, finally, stare at it in defeat. Finally, they took it back to the tire machine and put it on the old rim so Pete could drive home.

Once Pete left, my son spent hours on the Internet, trying to figure out what they were doing wrong. Amazingly, their concept, spraying lighter fluid into the tire and then tossing a match in, was pretty popular online.

Together we watched dozens of entertaining videos. We saw pros use a quick blast of forced air to fill the tire up from the inside and pop the bead. We watched innovators use bicycle inner tubes or ropes, and several neophytes try that starting fluid method the boys were so fond of. We even watched one bright guy provide the weight by standing on the rim while friends threw matches his way.

The next time Pete came out, the tires were still temperamental. As the hours passed, the boys began stepping up their game by trying other flammable fluids and more of it. “We eased into it,” said my son, “but eventually tried everything we could think of.” I noticed a lot of flames and kicking were involved – thankfully, the language was muted by distance.

In the end they attributed their success to extra weight they piled on top and the pliability of the tires as they heated up – not to mention hours of work, a couple of singed forearms, and some panicked instruction from me when I looked out to see both boys stomping out a pretty big fire in the middle of our driveway.

Not quite sure how much money was saved, but Pete seemed happy as he drove away, new snow tires slapping against the pavement. Mike’s coming out tomorrow. I’m going to make some popcorn.

“We had the right concept the whole way, but couldn’t get it done,” said my son.

Contact correspondent Mary Jane Honegger by e-mail at

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