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The School Bus Chronicles #1: School Bus Tires Can Kill You!

I learned this terribly important lesson in a very gruesome way and once I learned it, I spread the word fast and wide to every school bus owner I knew, as a man nearly died just adding air to my bus tire. NONE of the bus owners I knew had any idea we were driving on "widow maker" tires that you MAY NOT inflate like a normal tire. These bus tires have "split rims." And when you put air into them, the rims can split, exploding, killing people, thus the name "widow makers."
The School Bus Chronicles #1: School Bus Tires Can Kill You
By Kirsten Anderberg
Written May 19, 2007

I am writing a series of articles about my past life when I lived in school buses. It was a unique culture, and one that warrants documentation. My first article in this series focuses on split rim tires and their danger. I plan on also writing articles in this series on camping tickets and jail for bus living, gender issues, raising kids in buses, the Grateful Dead's bus caravan, and more.

Yesterday I passed a school bus and it reminded me of when I used to live in school buses. Many of my friends had live-in school buses in the 1970's and 1980's, because we traveled a lot as musicians, and it was easier to just take our homes with us as we went. I began thinking about my path to school bus living as a new mom, and all of the adventures my son and I had on our school bus. And ah, the other bus families we met along the way! The Grateful Dead family used to travel in a caravan of funky rainbow colored buses, and the bus camp at Rainbow Gatherings always had its share of mismatched carnival buses as well. The Oregon Country Fair parking lot outside Eugene, OR always hosts an array of live aboard school buses even to date. I went to jail once in Santa Barbara, CA for "driving a chrome yellow school bus" on Highway 101. I kid you not. I got a ticket for *parking* a "chrome yellow school bus" in Santa Cruz, CA at one point too. But those stories are for another day. Today's article will focus on the man who blew up trying to put air in my bus' "widow maker" tires...Unfortunately, I learned first hand why you must NEVER EVER put air in a school bus tire without first putting the tire in a "cage."

I learned this terribly important lesson in a very gruesome way and once I learned it, I spread the word fast and wide to every school bus owner I knew, as a man nearly died just adding air to my bus tire. NONE of the bus owners I knew had any idea we were driving on "widow maker" tires that you MAY NOT inflate like a normal tire. These bus tires have "split rims." And when you put air into them, the rims can split, exploding, killing people, thus the name "widow makers."

I pulled into a truck stop/gas station in Olympia, WA sometime in 1984, and an attendant said my tires had low pressure and needed air. I said I had made it all the way from Santa Cruz in the bus and was almost to my destination so I would just go to Seattle then I would deal with tire pressure. He said he could fill them with air in just 10 minutes and was pretty insistent that I needed air. I was about 7 months pregnant at the time, it was late at night, I was not sure if this was a safety issue, so I agreed to pull my bus into their mechanics area for him to fill the tires. The young man in his 20's pulled my outside rear tire off and leaned it against the bus body by the tire well. He then leaned in to the inside tire and began putting air into it. All of a sudden, there was a loud explosion and the tire he was filling burst out, taking the other tire that was leaning with it and then blasted the man hard into the wall behind him, with the power of two very heavy tires exploding. It is only by the grace of god that he, myself, and my baby were not killed right there and then.

He lay on the floor with the air hose still making noise in his hand, bleeding a river! It was late at night, no one was around. I began screaming for help, could find no one and finally ran as fast as I could to a nearby diner and screamed "I need a doctor immediately!" Two fire fighters jumped up and I led them to the man. 911 was called immediately and I was in full shock. The owner of the station was screaming at me for hurting his employee somehow, and the owner of the gas station did not want me to take my own tire with me, and it is clear now he wanted my tire to tamper with evidence. I filled out reports with the police and was told I could now leave but I only had one tire on the left side rear now, not two like the right side. The station owner would not give me a new tire since he did ruin mine, and I would not give him the tire he exploded. Blood was splattered all over my clothing, and yet the garage owner was screaming at me. I never was repaid for the tire.

I left that night confused and scared, but I did manage to take my tire that exploded with me so he could not tamper with evidence. I was 23 years old. The next week the Environmental Protection Agency came to my home in Seattle and asked to see the tire that exploded. I showed it to them, they took a lot of pictures of it and they told me that the station owner had a long record of noncompliance issues and this was yet another one. Apparently anyone putting air in split rims must be trained to take the tire off and put it into a metal cage, a square mesh box, and then they can fill it, so that if it explodes, it explodes in the cage, so people are not crushed by the tires by filling them outside the cage. I assume that the man had not been properly trained, and certainly I had no idea that was a danger, so it really did lie on the shoulders of the station owner and the owner behaved as if he was well aware of his liability.

When I went to replace the tire, I called a bunch of truck supply stores in Seattle's industrial area. They told me to drive down so they could get the right tire. As I sat waiting for the tire company to find the right tire, I heard the man over and over ask other suppliers if they had my size and brand but he always just referred to them as "widow makers" when he asked others on the phone for them. It is clear that split rims are called "widow makers" because THEY KILL! And it is also clear that this fact is well known among professionals.

So I found out that you cannot put air in a bus tire by having a man explode, bleeding all over me, when I was 7 months pregnant. As the station owner yelled at me, I learned how to lie myself and told him that I had just called my attorney and have been instructed NOT to leave my tire there. I told the station owner who was hysterical at that point, that it was not up to me, but my attorney and my attorney says I have to take the tire that exploded with me. But in all actuality, I had called Morningtown Pizza, an anarchist pizza collective I was part of in Seattle and asked THEM what I should do. I was in such shock I was worried my own judgment was skewed, so when I explained it all to them, they discussed it with level heads and told me to tell the station owner that "I just called my attorney and he says I must take the tire with me." That worked. The owner fought me when *I* said I must take the tire with me, but when I said "my lawyer" said to do that, he backed off. It was a learning experience, most certainly. I will never forget how terrifying that night was.

I also learned you can drive on only 3 tires on the back of a school bus that night. I drove all the way from Olympia to Seattle that night with two tires on my right rear, and one tire on the left rear. Bus living hippies I hung out with did not know about split rims and this type of ignorance could have killed one of us. I am sure I have saved many a hippie life by sharing this story over the last 20 years. We really did not know what we were doing with buses, many of us just lunged into it, knowing little to nothing about the actual mechanics, etc. of these buses. But over time, I learned more and more about buses and my next article in this series will focus on gender issues and how male mechanics try to rip off female bus owners, thus forcing us to share notes and learn mechanics for ourselves. I learned more about auto mechanics by owning a bus than via ownership of all other vehicles I've owned combined. Buses are big rigs, and thus working on them can often be *easier* than working on smaller cars. For example, you do not need a jack to go under a school bus, to turn the nut for an oil change! There is enough room for a person under there without a jack! So, stay tuned for more of "The School Bus Chronicles," chronicling a vagabond lifestyle that so many of us led in the 1970's and 1980's.

homepage: homepage: http://www.kirstenanderberg.com


Real Info 21.May.2007 08:28

mambo

"I am sure I have saved many a hippie life by sharing this story over the last 20 years."

This is some of the best humor I have seen on PDX Indy! I'm still laughing after first reading it Sunday! In all seriousness, though, the dangers of split rims are well documented, and have been for more than 40 years. Political efforts to ban their use have died in the onslaught of highly paid industry lobbyists and the Congressmen in their pockets. As the cover of "An Idiot's Guide to VW Repair" said, "Come to terms with your ass, for it bears you." Know what you drive, become independant of the service industry. Here is some real information, not self aggrandizing hippie life saving!

 http://www.tireaccidents.com/types_of_failure.htm

 http://www.vintagepowerwagons.com/products/wheels-hubs-drums/split-rim-safety.htm

Travel Safe, all!