Today, while driving down highway Seventeen from Charleston to Savannah, I noticed a slight change in how the RV was handling. We had just hit a bump in the road—not an unusual occurrence in the USA—but something had… shifted.
I glanced in my mirror.
“That’s odd. The outdoor shower is dangling. We should pull over.”
Almost as an afterthought, I added, “Does it feel like it’s handling differently to you?” Because it did feel different.
“Definitely. You should pull over,” Raquel said, always wise in the ways of prudence and caution.
“There’s a bridge, I’ll pull over right after,” I said, crossed the bridge (it was tiny, running over a creek, and there was no shoulder on the bridge) then I pulled over, perhaps 30 seconds or a minute after feeling this… bump.
Raquel and I got out of the truck, went to look at the passenger side only to discover… that one of the wheels was completely gone.
Not blown out.
Not punctured, or damaged, punctured with the antlers of a deer nor the spines of a porcupine.
Apparently, this had happened just a minute ago. The tire popped off, cut across traffic, crisscrossed behind our RV, before careening into a field and coming to rest.
I knew this because a little old lady had pulled over to tell us this. She had been following us, and had seen the whole thing, which is how I know that the wheel cut across traffic. I thanked her for this information, and then she was gone.
I realize now that I should have asked her for a ride back to where she saw it, but in that moment, I was dumbstruck.
I stared, jaw agape, at the clean steel disk where a dirty black tire should have been. The front of it was smooth and polished, but the circumference had been grinded, and was no longer in alignment with the edging. There wasn’t any obvious damage to the RV. The siding was not scraped, nor did it exhibit signs of sparks as it was dragged along the highway. The bumper was intact. The water connections were still in place. The gas lines were undamaged. The landing gear still functioned. At least, as far as I could tell.
But the tire? The tire was missing. The axle didn’t look one hundred percent either, but whatever was wrong, I was obviously out of my element. I could change a spare, sure. I have changed many a spare on many a car. But alas, even my limited knowledge of mechanical engineering was able to discern the nature of the problem, and how to resolve it.
That whole damn thing right there need replaced, and theres’ prolly gonna need to be some fancy tools.
That was about where my mind was, and then I turned to my phone, and attempted to get us towed.
The insurance company was useless, or not quite. Raquel eventually did get hold a hold of them and they did call like six wreckers for us after an agonizing amount of time spent trying to mark our location in regards to a town, which was nonsensical because we were in the middle of nowhere, but none of them would dare to a thirty-foot camper trailer. Perhaps because they didn’t have any idea where the insurance lady was sending them. I found this all this tdishearteningly ironic because I had been towing this travel trailer this entire time with my half tun truck, and now not even tow trucks could tow it but alas, ‘twas not the time for melancholy humor.
While Raquel finished a work meeting, I got a hold of the local RV dealer, who referred me to a towing company, who referred me to Denise, who might have a guy.
Desperate, and aware that I would definitely need a guy to affix a tire to a smooth steel plate, I called Denise.
“It’s just clean gone, ma’am, You’re not going to be able to tow it with a regular tow truck.”
“I got a guy. He’ll come out there and check it out, maybe fix it. Where are you?”
“On Highway 17 coming south from Charleston, near Kinloch road, by the creek, about twenty minutes outside Ridgeland.” The survivalist in me was quite proud of this location.
“Do you need anything else from me?”
“What else would I need? You’re on 17, twenty minutes outside Ridgeline. I’ll send my guy.”
I had exaggerated the distance, I realized. 25 minutes. Plus time for this guy to get ready. A half hour. Raquel got the kids food out of home that was broken down on the side of the road, and I went looking for the tire.
I jogged ten minutes and didn’t see the grass the woman was walking about.
I saw grassy spots, and lots of discarded tires in various states of repair (A troubling amount, truly) but I did not see my tire.
Disheartened, I turned around.
There was a man armed with power tools coming to visit my wife and children, after all.
I made it back to the RV, and shortly thereafter the guy arrived.
“Yep, I can’t fix that,” He declared rather quickly.
Disheartening, yet again.
‘Is there a way you can get us to someone who can?” I asked, hoping this was some sort of a code.
“Oh, Jacob can fix this. No problem,” the guy enigmatically invoked a namerd higher power. Then he squirmed under the RV and took out his cellphone. He snapped a couple pictures of the hub that was obviously in need of replacement and mumbled something vaguely negative about the axel, squiggled back out.
“I bet we could ratchet that up, drive along like that,” the guy said, rather unenthusiastically.
“On three wheels?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Jacob’ll know. I gotta call Denise.”
My eyes crossing, I let him make his phone call which ended up feeling like mistake because when he hung up, he left.
‘I sent them pictures to Denise. Jacob’ll be around here in a minute. Well, not a minute.’
The guy nodded. ‘Yeah, that’s ‘bout it.’
And he was gone.
At this point, Raquel had made it maybe half of the way through the GPS conversation with the insurance, and I had to help bring in the location (No, no, east of there. Yep, Where the 17 and 21 fork, yeah just go along seventeen and no, no, you went too far). That ate up some time and soon Jacob arrived.
His truck was not the decked out dooly I was hoping to see, with tools hanging from racks, a powerful wench? I don’t know what I wanted exactly, but I knew that he didn’t have any of it. He didn’t even have any teeth.
I said hello, introduced myself, and Jacob squiggled under the RV.
To my great disappointment, he told me that the plan was to exactly what the guy had said to do.
My heart now wet lump in the dirt, I nodded. The next hour was going to suck.
Jacob got to work.
We couldn’t hope to drive it without preventing the one good wheel on that side from trying to balance it.
So Jacob ratcheted the rear axel up as high as he possibly could. In the end, he got only a couple of inches of clearance from the ground, but we could both tell that was all we were going to get.
He told me directions to his yard (I paid very close attention to these because the internet was spotty) and we were off.
I had to drive twenty miles, most of it down highway 17, a highway with a 60-mph speed limit that I couldn’t possibly hope to achieve.
I had asked Jacob, and he had recommended thirty or forty, so I put on my hazards, and split the difference. He didn’t immediately signal me to pull over so I assumed we were OK and I got to driving.
There was none of that odd sensation from before, but there was certainly less friction. I felt like I was driving in the rain, like there was just a lessoning of something between the road and car. Twenty five percent of the traction, I guess.
What was scarier than the speed though was the quality of the road. Every bump was an obstacle, every pothole a hazard. At one point we had to switch from one type of pavement to the other, and I clenched my teeth so hard that I’ll need dental work.
But we made it.
Somehow, we limped down the road and pulled in.
It took some time (mostly because they didn’t have room for us when we got there, two other RVs were taking up space) but they got the hub replaced. No axel, so that’s a story for another day, but we were able to drive down to Savannah and unhitch our RV at a spot anyway.
I’m so thankful for Jacob and the whole crew at Ken’s Tires.
They saved our day.