Things We Take for Granted

I drove several miles today, and none of my wheels fell off. No bearings seized. Around the world, billions of miles were covered by automobiles, and I’m willing to bet that damn few wheels came off those vehicles. That just doesn’t happen anymore.

Think about what that means. Up until 100 years ago, wheels came off vehicles all the time. Now such an event would be freakish (or terribly negligent on the part of the owner of the vehicle — I do have a story or two).

But I’ve had the same car for well over a decade and while I’ve had to attend to a few issues, by my rough estimate each wheel has turned about 85 million times. And that’s nothing. It’s something that doesn’t even occur to us to worry about anymore. Wheels last longer than we do.

The only actual failure of a wheel in my lifetime that I know about (other than alluded stories of negligence above): One evening my dad and I replaced the bearing in the front right wheel of “my” Opel Kadett. I called it “the heap”, but it was a mighty little car. How that front right bearing came to be cracked is a story I’ve only told to select audiences. Until now.

I grew up in a small town in steep territory, seven thousand feet above the sea. One day I had an hour to kill before I was expected at the pizzeria where I worked. I got an idea. Drive this gutless little car up into the mountains as fast as I could for thirty minutes, and take a relaxing thirty back down to work.

Brief aside: The 1967 Opel Kadett was a vehicle far ahead of its time. It was a practical, economical car produced when American factories were vomiting up land yachts. Don’t tell mom that I once got ten people home in that car.

Speaking of don’t tell Mom, off I went up the hill. There are motorcycles with larger engines than the 1.1 liters boasted by the Kadett, and the bikes are better-tuned for power. But that day I wasn’t competing against any of those other vehicles. It was me and the road.

Another quick aside here: I love driving. Always have. I love hitting the curve just right and feeling my suspension flex perfectly. Maybe my tail drifts and I bring it back in line and hit the next curve perfectly.

The above is actually pretty funny, if you picture me in a 1967 Opel Kadett.

That day, I was pretty surprised by how far I got in 30 mins. There was a dicey moment, though. I was roaring up (as much as the heap could roar) on a horseshoe corner, and looming ahead was a cement truck.

It might have appeared to an outside observer that I had two options:

1) back off, and pass the cement truck on the other side of the curve
2) pass the sumbitch

I chose the latter. Pedal flat to the floor I swung out around the cement truck (who the f needs cement out there anyway?), dove back in to my lane and hit the hairpin with gusto. I’m pretty sure that’s when I cracked the bearing on my front right wheel. High five to the tires able to exert that force!

Later, back in the real world, Dad ordered a new bearing (can you even do that now?) and we installed it into the heap. That was a good night. It didn’t go smoothly; the old bearing resisted all our entreaties, until the entreaties involved a hammer. Finally it let go.

It’s not like we were rebuilding the transmission or anything, but that night we touched one of the most fundamental parts of the machine. One of the parts that simply doesn’t break anymore. I was deeper in the machine than most people get, into the parts that we take for granted, and my tour guide was my father.

A little late for Father’s day, but thanks, dad. Sorry about breaking the car.

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One thought on “Things We Take for Granted

  1. It was only a couple of years ago that I had fun with a boat trailer wheel bearing. It took some mighty whacking to take things apart, since the wheel studs had sheared… owie.

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