Monday, June 09, 2014

The Cheesehead Triangle

Having recently returned from a trip to Canada where we plundered Ontario's natural resources it's good to be home. After over 30 years of continuous trips to Northwestern Ontario dragging a boat and trailer one particular zone on the route has long proven to be a concern. We call it "The Cheesehead Triangle".

Friday is the usual annual day to travel to, and Saturday is the annual day to travel from Lake of the Woods in Ontario. While our vacation generally takes place during one of the first two weeks of June we have been on this route as late as mid-July. But the results are always the same - problems. Most of the time it is severe weather and tornado warnings where we pull off to seek the shelter of a truckstop. Other times it has been a vehicle problem and more than likely they will all happen in the dreaded Cheesehead Triangle.

Whenever we pass north of the grotesquely large water parks at The Wisconsin Dells and endless billboards for Tommy Bartlett water shows, Wisconsin Duck boat rides, scenic tours and oversize fiberglass rats on a wedge of cheese I am now conditioned to be on full alert as we enter that dreaded Cheesehead Triangle.

Two years ago I had rotated the trailer tires two weeks prior to the trip. Having rotated tires on vehicles in the past I thought nothing of it. A few miles short of the Mauston exit the vehicle behind us (a cousin and his friends) called and informed us something popped off the passenger side wheel, probably a hub. As I looked at the wheel from the passinger side rear view mirror the wheel was wobbling so I slowed down, took the Mauston exit and headed for a Shell station. One lug nut had popped off and another two were loose. We tightened the loose nuts and continued on.

Not two miles on I-94 the wheel wobbled again. Seems the lug bolts had ovaled out the wheel holes and could not be tightened safely. We were dead on the side of the road. Maybe I am just too old to tighten a lug nut anymore.

My son had an iPhone with him and within a few minutes told me that he located a trailer repair shop just south of our location. We called and they sent a tow truck. Truck came, we unhitched the trailer and boat. He had the rig up on his flatbed and we followed him to the small town of Lyndon Station. The little shop was able to install new lug bolts, lug nuts and inspect our bearings. After about two hours total from the time of the first wheel wobble we were back on the road. It was then and then when I saw the value of having an iPhone and swore I would have one by the time we took our next trip.
This year as we entered The Cheesehead Triangle my Spidey senses were tingling but not badly. Weather was fine and the trailer rig was in good shape. Not a few miles north of Mauston in almost the same location as the lug nut incident the passenger side trailer tire blew out. Bam! Flapflapflapflapflapflapflapflappidyflap. There was no sign of losing control so I slowed down cautiously in the left lane and pulled over not wanting the rim to be destroyed by our heavy trailer load. When traffic subsided I limped over to the right lane shoulder on the far side of a bridge where it appeared to be the safest place to change a tire. Traffic in this area is always heavy especially semi trucks. No place on this road is safe to stop.

The damage to the tire was bad. Steel belt wire sticking out on the bottom and the sidewall. It was a total blowout. Trying to jack up the trailer wasn't easy because the jack would not allow us to raise the axle high enough to get the tire changed. After scouring the roadside I found one of those tossed retread tire treads to place on the ground under the jack in order to jack up the jack a few more inches. It worked. We used the spare. Another problem, the spare was a bias-ply and the other tire was a radial. OK for emergency short distance travel but not good for the long interstate haul. We need a new radial tire and we also needed to have a spare for the long trip ahead of us.

We need to get a new tire soon. The next exit was at Camp Douglas, a military installation and airfield. We already knew there was nothing at the exit but a mini-mart. Beyond that the next town was Tomah, where I-94 and I-90 separate. We looked up tire stores in Tomah on the iPhone and there were three. At the first one we encountered Gomer and his cousin Goober but Wally wasn't there. They had four tires that matched what we needed but Gomer couldn't break up the set without Wally's permission. But it WAS Wisconsin after all so their names could have been Oly and Sven but what difference at this point does it make?

The next store was a Firestone store but they went out of business the day before. Finally we went to the Tomah Goodyear store and the guy there was a typical Ched-Head. He had no tire to match. Had to be a Packer fan. Our next alternative was to limp slowly on I-94 to the town of EauClaire Wisconsin about an hour north.

Back on I-94 going 55 in the right lane with the emergency blinkers on I spotted a billboard in the middle of nowhere. A private tire store named Feirer Tire Sales was at the next exit which was Millston. We took the exit west, crossed a railroad track and at the intersection of US12 there was a bar. Nothing else, just a bar. A typical Wisconsin roadhouse. I went into the bar and a patron told me the tire store was about a half-mile north. As we traveled north on a vacant US12 the tire store was off on a side road of the side road, even farther out from nowhere. How a tire store can financially survive in a place like this is beyond belief. When we arrived the garage bays were empty.

When a young guy and older gent came out we explained our story. They had two tires but not exactly a match. The tires did have the same load rating but were slightly narrower. After speaking with the owner, a woman, she gave us a quote and we decided to buy two new tires at a very fair price since the passenger tire was also ten years old. Within one-half hour we were back on the road with two new tires and a radial spare after about a three-hour delay.

The two workers who were more than courteous, fast and also very professional. We then continued on our way out of The Cheesehead Triangle safely toward Canada.

There were no other incidents on this year's trip even on the return trip through The Cheesehead Triangle where there was only pouring rain but no severe weather. We caught a lot of fish, ate a lot of fish and enjoyed great weather. And the legend of The Cheesehead Triangle lives on.

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