By Al Vinikour
All of us of a certain age have something we relate to as the symbol of a by-gone era; the “good old days” if you will. Some look to hula hoops, Pet Rocks, their first transistor radio, etc. However, not one to be conventional, I have a different object to fondly recall my youth; the inner tube. The simple fact that millions of youths have no idea what an inner tube is, I find quite sad. It seems that our very way of life started deteriorating about the time of the tubeless tire. But, as usual, I digress.
First a history of the inner tube: when the first vehicles were produced well over 100 years ago, I didn’t pay much attention to things because I tended to get high a lot, no doubt triggered by horrific experiences with that egomaniac Teddy Roosevelt as we stormed up San Juan Hill during a drunken fraternity initiation. (But that’s grist for another mill.) The first tires were often solid rubber so you can imagine how comfortable a ride those produced, especially when traversing washboard roads. Most of the anatomy books had to be rewritten because of what the conditions did to one’s kidneys.
Engineers at the various tire companies developed what they said would be a more comfortable and adaptive ride by inserting an air-filled tube that fit between the hollowed-out tire and the wheel. The ride was indeed smoother, but it created its own set of problems, the most common being a flat. A hole would develop in the tube or an explosive puncture from hitting a rut at the wrong angle or any other reason to cease air being held within the inner tube gave birth to a new set of toilet words. Also, it begat yet another industry—tube and tire repairs. I won’t go into the specifics of what constituted these patches because as I’ve so often said, a native of Ohio could figure out how the patches were administered.
Regular readers of my senseless drivel will recall that my family owned auto junkyards when I was a kid. Consequently we always had access to any auto part we desired. (No, I didn’t have a collection of 6-, and 12-volt generators or starters.) But in the summertime we would often go to one of the many swimming holes around my beloved home town of Valparaiso, Indiana. These would range from small ponds like Lake Eliza or Spectacle Lake to bigger swimming venues, like Lake Michigan. When we’d pile into the family truckster to head out to the Dunes or wherever we’d always have a bunch of blown-up inner tubes in the trunk. After rubbing suntan lotion all over ourselves, we’d take our inner tubes with us, jump into the lake and spend what seemed like hours floating around the swimming area while using the tube as an easy chair. It’s a lucky thing for us that there aren’t any fresh-water sharks. Otherwise it would have been a party for great whites as they’d “bob for floaters.”
Are you deep enough to think what I’ve just said through, Bobby? Kids today really don’t have inner tubes to take with them to the beach. They’re certainly not able to bring a Michelin R17S20M6 tire to sit in. Rather, they have to bring along some candy-assed blow-up air mattress that they can float along on like Benjamin in the move “The Graduate.” No wonder they’re messed up.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that tires with inner tubes would give a better ride than today’s tubeless tires. I’m just saying there was life beyond spending ones existence inside a tire like those poor inner tubes had to do. Obviously technology has made for a better existence, and except for the relative “pussification” of low-profile tires, it seems like today’s tires are strong enough to stay inflated even if a car is air-dropped from a C-130 at 2,500 ft. But along with the old technology came a variety of other things that could be adapted, like the aforementioned swimming hole hijinks with inner tubes. Try doing that with an iPad.
I’m sure that even if we still had inner tubes, and some bureaucrat happened to witness hundreds of kids frolicking along the shores of the Yalu River, floating along the shores and having a great time, this pay-roller would somehow discover an environmental hazard. Maybe something like the treated rubber emitting possible “butyl mites” that could bring harm to the breeding grounds of the rare Sanibel Island mollusk. I think this is the prime example of how the memories of the good old days will be forever just that… memories.