A Guest Post by Roy Chaleff

I’ll never forget the expression on the face of the woman in the car in the adjacent lane of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Unlike the admiring looks I usually get when driving in my Austin Healey, this woman’s features broadcast shock and terror.  She tried to shout something to me through her closed window, but, realizing that my lip reading skills would not meet her expectations, frantically gesticulated toward the front left of my car.  Then I felt it.  The nose of the car suddenly dropped and made loud unpleasant noises.  The distinctive smell of burning rubber filled the cockpit.  Surprisingly, the car did not veer out of control, but responded nicely as I guided it over to the shoulder.  Tractor-trailers continued to race by at 75 mph as I squeezed my car and myself as close as possible to the wall bordering the narrow shoulder.

Instructing my daughter to remain in the vehicle, I got out to inspect the damage.  The front left tire was pulverized.  The cause was immediately apparent: a spoke had broken loose and was thrust outward through the rim like a spear, puncturing the tube.  The broken spoke lay a few feet away, its twisted posture seeming to deny that such a small object could wreak such havoc.  We had been on our way to a regional Austin Healey gathering in Valley Forge and were only ten miles away, but it might as well have been a hundred.   I was certain we weren’t going to make it.

As my daughter was with me, my choice of expletives was constrained.  I tried to overcome this limitation by focusing on the fact that fortunately neither our bodies nor that of the car was damaged.  Receiving some solace from that reflection and lacking the imagination to do anything else, I retrieved the jack from the trunk and raised the front end of the car.  The damaged wheel rotated with difficulty and the bearings ground in agony.  Pondering the extent of the damage and what would be involved in the repair, I wondered if it were worth risking my life to the heavy traffic speeding by to mount the spare on a broken axle.

Each spoke is a weapon of mass destruction

Two men in an AH Sprite on their way to the car show pulled over and offered to help.  I thanked them, but my face surely expressed the futility of their chivalrous gesture.  They looked at my car, at each other, at the perilously close and high speed truck traffic, and then got in their car and drove off.

Then God arrived.  Not with the unruly white hair and beard, as he is portrayed by Michelangelo, but in the form of a short burly man in a flat bed truck.  He descended from the cab, delivered a brief greeting, and inspected the damage.  I had no choice but to accept his offer to transport my car. “But how will you pull the car onto the truck bed when the front wheel doesn’t turn,” I meekly inquired. “Oh, I’ll get it up all right.”

This assurance failed to have the intended effect.  He attached chains to the front control arms and dragged our injured car without mishap onto the inclined bed.  Inside the cab of his truck, he asked if we were AAA members.  I pulled from my wallet a dog-eared membership card that I was certain had long since expired.  He phoned in the information and then declared,  “Yep, you’re OK.”

This second miracle – performed so effortlessly and in such a brief period of time – dispelled any remaining doubts as to his supernatural identity.  I gave him a generous tip, wondering if US currency is valid in heaven.

It is humiliating to arrive at a car show on the back of a flat bed trailer.  I don’t mean those trailers in which many of the more fanatic devotees tow their pristinely restored vehicles to protect them from the degradation of being driven or otherwise exposed to the environment.  No, I mean a blue flat bed with red and yellow flame decals and Bob’s Sunoco emblazoned on the size in large yellow letters.  The driver was discreet enough to drop off my car in a remote corner of the lot where I could lick my wounds and change my tire unseen.  And as if he had performed one last parting miracle, the noise from the bearings had disappeared and the replacement wheel rotated smoothly.  My daughter’s inquiries about the hotel swimming pool suggested that she was already recovering from the trauma.  What is a calamity at the moment afterward becomes an adventure.


Roy Chaleff is a scientist, author, fine craftsman, and British car enthusiast. None of which prevents him from being an all-around good guy.

4 Replies to “A Spoke Too Soon”

  1. I broke down once on a narrow shoulder as it was getting dark, The trucks and cars wizzin by was terrifying. When the tow truck arrived, I was never so happy to see flashing lights in my life !!

  2. Dear CVB (Wayne):

    Now that story was such an utter delight… I read it twice.

    Well done.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads
    (Reaching a new low this week)

  3. Dear Simo,

    I understand. Flashing lights heading in your direction is not usually a welcome sight. I once narrowly missed a stranded car on the shoulder while towing a trailer at night. He had no lights on the car and I doubt that car survived for much longer in one piece !! You can’t choose where you break down, but some places are downright life threatening. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Dear Jack,

    You can thank my friend and co-conspirator Roy for that one. I even forgive him his penchant for owning British vehicles and thereby creating more adventures. He forgives me for owning German ones and using the metric system in America. I know how much you like the metric system 😉 Thanks for reading.

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