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 away.

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 year.

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 era.

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.