Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Check Your Tires Lately?
“Those tires look pretty smooth,” I commented, looking over my father-in-law Don Kutz’s newly purchased ten year old Winnebago motorhome. “If we are going to make the trip to Wisdom, don’t you think you should put new rubber on this?”
“Oh, I don’t know, those tires still show some tread,” Don said. Don had made do with equipment that was always in need of repair on the farm, so his response didn’t surprise me. He was willing to take the chance with tires as bald as a cue ball on a big motorhome.
We loaded up, planning on spending ten days traveling and sightseeing on a trip to Wisdom, Montana, a little community that used to make the nightly winter weather report as the coldest spot in the lower 48 states. Cousin Tom and his new bride lived there when he began his career with the Forest Service. They were getting baptized and wanted me to be part of the ceremony. The first morning we stopped in Hayes for gas. Don, not knowing what kind of mileage the motorhome averaged had filled up in Highmore, and had watched the gas gauge drop on the eighty mile drive to Hayes. We figured out pretty quick we would have to stop for fuel often, since the motorhome only averaged a little over three miles per gallon. I did most of the driving, and kept a close watch on the gas gauge. I would get used to worrying about running out of gas along with blowing a bald tire on the trip. We learned as we traveled, figuring out how to level the motorhome when we camped, filling and emptying tanks and being careful to find places the motorhome could navigate when we stopped for meals along the way.
The trip was going well, aside from the fact that when Don drove he would speed. Several times the vibrating of the motorhome woke me up from a nap in the back bedroom. I just knew one of those bald tires was going to blow as we were traveling up to eighty miles per hour down the freeway. I delegated Jackie to be the monitor on Grandpa Don’s speeding when I was napping.
We spent several June days at Tom’s, one of which he and I rode up to the timberline looking for elk. When we left we drove to West Yellowstone, camping that night in the park. It was a beautiful evening, crisp and cool, and we enjoyed the night around the campfire. The next morning we drove east out of the park, spending some time in Cody, Wyoming, taking in their nightly rodeo and going through the wonderful museum that had recently added the Winchester Firearms collection of rifles to their display. It was all very interesting, but things really got interesting when we left Cody. We had been told to avoid the northern route through the Big Horn Mountains. There was still a lot of snow in the high elevations, and the road had just been opened for the summer, but could still be a snow and ice-packed concern. I don’t remember who was reading the map, but of course we ended up on that road, only realizing it when we started climbing on a narrow, winding road, being able to look out the window over the edge of the mountain. I didn’t see much scenery, focusing instead on keeping the motorhome on our side of that road, envisioning dropping one of those bald tires off the pavement. The conversation in the motorhome went from excited about the wonderful view to concerned about how high up we were getting. The motorhome labored up the seemingly endless winding road, and as we reached the summit, everyone except me uttered a sigh of relief that we would be starting back down. I knew the stress on those bald tires would be extreme as we took the curves on the backside of the mountain, riding the
brakes and running in a low gear. I could see the headlines in the Pierre paper; “Local Family Drives off the Big Horn Mountains, Because of a Bald Tire Blowing Out”!! After what seemed like hours of driving we arrived in Sheridan, happy to have the big motorhome on level ground again. We were all anxious to get to our homes so we drove straight through, getting into Harrold in the middle of the night. We unloaded my families’ gear, and as Don climbed into the motorhome to drive to Highmore, he casually said, “Told you those tires would last.” I was too tired to do anything but shake my head and smile.