Sometimes the great hand of fortune rests on us and leaves us with a, “How did I survive that?” feeling. After the excitement dies down and our pulse returns to normal we carefully reconstruct the circumstance of the event and are left wondering even more how we got away with it.
Friday morning I drove the WarWagon to Kannapolis to buy a 1995 Ford Windstar from a man. I had my trusty antique tow bar in the back and was looking forward to the extra money I would make when I parted out the van and sold it for scrap. I was really looking forward to finishing up the deal and going to pick my kids up at school to start our weekend together. I checked out the van and noted that only the right rear hubcap was missing. Then set about loading up all the various parts of the engine that the owner had removed and disassembled.
With the deal made and the van firmly attached to my trailer hitch I started back down I-85 through mid afternoon traffic in Charlotte. Things were going smoothly and I was calculating having a few minutes to eat a leisurely lunch and cleaning up the apartment a bit before going to get the kids. The van was towing smoothly and so I bumped up the speed to 65 mph and settled in for the drive.
Just before the Mallard Creek exit there was a huge chunk of tire that had been left by a transfer truck. Traffic slowed as both right hand lanes maneuvered around it. I made an easy move to the shoulder of the road and went around the obstruction then picked up speed again to head for home. Little did I know what that seemingly innocent maneuver would set into motion.
When the speedometer read about 63 mph I felt the van step to the right and instinctively I slowed and looked in the mirror. To my shock there was a tire rolling along beside my drivers door. It was far too small to be from the WarWagon so I knew that the van had lost a wheel.
The errant Bridgestone passed my front bumper and made a lazy turn for the shoulder fo the road and I breathed a mild sigh of relief. Then it decided it wanted a bit more freedom and turned left, crossed all four lanes of south bound traffic and rolled along the median. When it slammed into the cement barricade I began to really be concerned. It would have been funny had it not been so scary and potentially deadly as it leaped nearly 40 feet into the air and crossed into the north bound lanes. For a second or two it was out of sight, and then it appeared again as it hurtled skyward and vaulted a street light on the median. By this time everyone on the south lanes had stopped and were watching the show.
I slowly drove along the shoulder trying to stay even with the tire that had crossed into the south lanes again and headed straight for my front fender. I stood hard on the brakes as the tire sailed past the front bumper and charged up an embankment and went exploring in the trees along the side of the road.
After a brief scavenger hunt I located the tire and noticed that the brake rotor was attached to the back of the wheel. When I lugged the 90 pound assembly back to the van I saw what had happened. The nut that holds the wheel assembly on the van had been removed. I immediately pulled the wheel cover off the passengers side tire and found that the nut had been removed from it as well. A phone call to the man I had bought it from revealed that he had removed both of them not realizing that they held the wheel assembly on. He brought me the nuts an hour later and I was on my way again.
While I was waiting my guardian angel went and put in for hazardous duty pay – he deserves it. Me? Well I went back up in the trees and emptied my shorts.