We were an hour east of Nebraska, returning home from Thanksgiving with family, when the tire blew.
This wasn’t the first time we’d suffered a blowout while traveling cross-country to visit relatives. This wasn’t even the second time we’d had a roadside emergency on one of these trips. At this point, I wasn’t even surprised. Spending quality time on the side of the road had become a questionable holiday tradition, like fruitcakes and drunken uncles.
I spend the next 30 minutes crawling around the vehicle in the cold and dark, grateful that I’d packed a flashlight for just such an occasion. We would have been on our way and hoping to find a tire store open at 9:00 PM Saturday night, except for one. Last. Stupid. Lug nut. It wouldn’t come off.
To be fair, the nut itself wasn’t technically to blame. The true culprit was the bolt it was attached to–a piece I later learned is called a “wheel stud.” This stud had come loose from wheel assembly; it turned with the nut, so the nut couldn’t unscrew. We had no choice but to call for roadside assistance.
Our roadside assistant was named Sam. His garage was just at the next exit, which we could see from our spot on the side of the freeway. Sam grunted at troublesome wheel stud.
“Very unusual,” he said. “I think we’ll have to cut it.”
I gave the nod. Sam hacked through the studs with a power cutter, producing enough smoke and sparks to satisfy Michael Bay. He then attached the spare tire to the four remaining studs, though he didn’t recommend driving for long like that. What’s more, he warned us that the end of the stud still inside the wheel would fall inside and tear up the emergency brake system.
Turns out, it didn’t so much tear stuff up as lock stuff down.
We got the van to the Super 8 at the top of the ramp before the tire refused to turn more than half a rotation. Dragging the dead tire, we literally limped into a parking space and rented a room for the night.
Long story short: We weren’t able to get the wheel fixed and tire replaced until Monday afternoon. Even then, as Sam handed over the keys to the van, he warned that the battery was old and weak.
“If it was me, with my wife and kids, I’d keep it running all the way to Colorado.”
As much fun as that sounded, we opted instead to pick up a new battery in Omaha. At this point, our credit card was already fat and sweating, so I figured the cost of a battery was nothing compared to the risk of spending yet another night on the road.
We finally got home from our Thanksgiving road trip around 2:00 Tuesday morning, about a day and a half later than expected. We were exhausted, broke, and missing a day of both work and school, but safe.
And that’s something to be thankful for.