Jerry Nelson: Finding a flat tire can be a deflating experience

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

There are few things that can elicit the exclamation, “Oh, shoot!” more dependably than discovering that you have a flat tire.

That expression – or at least a variation of it – escaped my lips recently when I decided to mow the lawn and found that the mower had a flat tire. It’s my own fault. I had ignored the mower all winter long; it no doubt felt slighted by my inattention and acted out by deflating one of its tires.

A flat tire doesn’t initially appear to be a huge problem. After all, the tire is only flat on one side.

We have all been there. We have all experienced the heartbreak of an unexpected flat tire (is there such a thing as a planned flat?) and endured the agony of shattered expectations. The day clearly isn’t going to go as you had hoped.

I have learned some hard truths about squishy tires. One is that a wagon or a manure spreader or any load bearing implement never develops a flat when it’s empty. It’s invariably stuffed to the gills when one of its tires pops.

Another certainty is that a flat always occurs at the most inopportune moment. For example, you may be rushing to get things done so that you can accompany your wife to the opera. A flat tire will let the air out of these plans, preventing you from nodding off as oddly dressed stage performers warble in a foreign tongue. Darn the luck!

My wife drove a Ford Pinto when we were newlyweds. Once a week or so, the Pinto would suddenly develop a flat tire as my wife drove to work. I would jack up the car, remove the offending rubber donut and take it to the tire shop. The tire would be reinflated, but no leaks were ever found.

It didn’t take long to discern a pattern: the Pinto would get a flat whenever my wife traveled down a certain stretch of highway. Closer examination revealed that the highway had a sizable bump in the area where the Pinto’s tires habitually deflated. The tire guy and I deduced that Pinto’s tires were so weenie and little that their beads would break when the car hit the bump at a high rate of speed.

I gave my wife a hard time about her lead foot. There were no more nettlesome flat tires after the highway’s speed limit was lowered by 10 MPH.

The worst flat I ever experienced took place one fine autumn morning as I was zooming along on a township road in our combine. Things were going swimmingly when an explosion shook the cab.   

The combine shuttered mightily and swung wildly to the right. I instinctively stood on the brakes. After the dust settled, I perceived that the combine was sitting crosswise to the road and was teetering precariously on the road’s shoulder.

As I struggled to gather my shattered wits, I espied a curious object. In the ditch sat one of the combine’s front tires. Attached to the tire’s rim was a final drive gearbox.

Our hired guy, whom we called Burnout Dave due to his Tommy Chong-like speech and his sloth-like cognition speed, had been following me with a grain truck. Burnout Dave met me as I scrambled down from the cab.

“Oh, wow, man! That was wild!” Burnout Dave exclaimed. “I saw the innertube bulging out of the tire and everything!”

“Wait a minute!” I replied in exasperation, “You saw that the tube was bulging out of the tire? Why on earth didn’t you signal me or try to stop me?”

“I don’t know, man,” he replied. “I thought that you would, like, make it to the farm. I guess I was wrong.”

I was going to reply, “You thought?” but I knew the answer. Dave didn’t think. Not much, anyway.

We discovered what a huge pain it is to jack up a 9-ton combine whose frame is resting on the ground and is perched precariously on the shoulder of the road. As we worked, Burnout Dave would mutter, “It was crazy, man! You should have seen the gravel fly! It bet it was fun!”

The ordeal was anything but fun. Because in addition to buying a new tire, I had to drive to a salvage yard to procure a final drive. There was also the small matter of straightening the inch-thick steel plate where the final drive bolted to the combine.

I later shared this tale of flat tire woe with my wife.

“Maybe you were going too fast,” she observed dryly. “I’ve heard that that can cause such things to happen.”

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.