Disabled Vehicle in the Right Lane

After visiting the Wright brothers’ old stomping grounds in Ohio, we headed for Iowa. Yes, I know there are two states between Ohio and Iowa. Indiana and Illinois both have plenty to offer, but we’re learning that we can’t do everything. At least not all at once. So with a series of long driving days and short stops, we found ourselves in Iowa – a new state for all five of us.

We were headed for Stratford, a little town north of Des Moines. Our hosts for the long weekend were a family that we had never met, but who were relatives of a friend in Sweden. They were so graciously going to receive us, show us their farm, and teach us about modern farming. We were really looking forward to it!

And we were almost there. We’d covered 600 miles in just a few days and there was less than an hour left when it happened. One of my biggest fears when the people I love most and all our belongings are riding around on 8 tires is that one of them would blow while driving. There’s a lot of mass in our combined vehicles and that’s a lot of momentum if something goes wrong. And on an unseasonably warm day in late September, that’s exactly what happened.

Signs of Trouble

We’d put a lot of miles behind us the day before, slept in a Walmart parking lot for the night, then got back on the road in the morning. Right away we noticed a strange vibration. The road surface wasn’t exactly ideal, but just to be sure we pulled off at a gas station and checked everything out. It all seemed fine. We were traveling with a full water tank so we decided the bad road was probably just sloshing the water and adding to the bumpiness. The road improved for a stretch and so did the vibration, but it wasn’t gone completely, so we stopped again and checked everything again. Still no signs of trouble.

We went on and things seemed better, until suddenly they were not. The vibration came back more strongly. We saw a sign for a rest area in one mile and decided we would pull over again and not drive on until we found the source of the problem. Before we reached the rest area, however, the rear passenger-side tire blew. Thankfully we had slowed down considerably before it happened. Staffan managed to get the car under control and get us off to the side of the road – mostly. He wasn’t able to get the trailer completely out of the right lane before the car stopped. Once it stopped, it wasn’t going anywhere without a new tire.

shredded tire
So clearly that was the problem…


flat tire
Rest Area Next Right. So close, yet so far.

Help in Many Forms

A trucker stopped to check on us, radioed for help and within minutes a state police car was on the scene, flashing lights warning other drivers of the problem. A roadside sign about 5 miles before warned motorists on I-35 of a disabled vehicle in the right lane. Traffic started to back up from the merge point where the right lane was partially blocked. I have seen signs like this dozens of times and been stuck in countless traffic jams caused by someone else’s bad day. I have never before been the cause.

state police
State police on the scene. Stuff everywhere.

We had a full-sized spare and all our tools with us, since we were towing our home. Together (but let’s face it, 95% Staffan) we had the spare down and the lug nuts removed in a matter of minutes. There was some minor damage but purely cosmetic. It seemed we’d be on our way soon. Except the darn thing wouldn’t budge. We just couldn’t get the damaged tire off. After trying everything we could think of, it was time to call roadside assistance.

We had several options for roadside assistance, so naturally we chose the wrong one first. Obviously this was not intentional. I spent nearly 20 minutes on the phone trying to help the man on the other end understand where we were. I was looking at a GPS dot on the map on my phone and described every single detail Google maps had to offer about where we were, but he still couldn’t find us. He explained that we were covered for up to $75 for roadside services, then he put me on hold while he arranged for someone to come. The total charge would be over $300. The week before, we’d unexpectedly replaced all 4 tires on the trailer and visited the emergency room, so this charge was difficult. Besides, who carries that kind of cash on them anymore? We had to say no. Staffan dug in to the tire with renewed vigor, but it was truly stuck and after working so long in the sun on a 95º day I was worried we’d soon need another ER visit.

The helpful, kind state trooper was growing impatient and considerably less kind. The traffic situation was worsening and there was an accident a mile away that required his attention but he couldn’t leave while we were still blocking the road. Tension level = high.

In desperation I called State Farm, where we have our car (but not trailer) insured. Within minutes, she’d found our location, contacted a service technician, and the whole cost (which ended up being $64) was covered so we owed nothing. We still had to wait 45 minutes for the truck to arrive, but it was a relief knowing help was on the way. When he arrived, with the right tools and years of experience, he knew just how to get that tire off and before long we were back on the road. Traffic patterns returned to normal as we drove the remaining half-mile to the rest stop to recover.


Altogether, the whole ordeal lasted over 2 hours. We are thankful for electronic devices to entertain children in a hot car going nowhere, and for a sand bucket for children to poop in since we couldn’t access our bathroom without extending our slide room into the middle of I-35. (Life on the road isn’t always so glamorous!) But above all we are overwhelmed with gratitude that everyone is safe and it all turned out well. We look back on it as a difficult day, but it wasn’t a life-altering tragedy and it could have been.

They say bad things happen in threes. Since this was our third thing, we were ready for a break from all the drama. And so, our spare tire took us to Stratford for a quiet weekend on a farm.



7 thoughts on “Disabled Vehicle in the Right Lane

  1. Had a similar adventure in driving while returning from my cousin’s in New York to Philadelphia. Around midnight just as I was approaching the NY-NJ state line, I felt the dreaded “vibration” and pulled over on the shoulder to verify I had a tire going flat. YUP. Saw a sign indicating an exit a mile ahead and decided to head for the exit where I could find the light of civilization since it was pitch dark and the absence of cars and trucks whizzing past at 65 MPH. I had AAA, but, hey, this was just a tire change. Safely parked in a parking lot, I donned my winter cap, jacket and gloves (did I mention temps were in the teens with a wind chill down to zero), popped the trunk to retrieve the jack, lug wrench and spare. Up went the car. Off came the lug bolts. STUCK stayed the wheel. Considerable force refused to budge an immovable object. After twenty minutes of bone-chilling frustration, I gave in and called AAA. Said they would be there in an hour. Hunkered down listening to the radio and playing solitaire as the temps in the car plummeted. Hour… hour and ten… hour and twenty… No AAA. Called back and was told, “Oh, we don’t provide coverage in your area.”Apparently I was a member of AAAA, Automobile Association of Almost America. Called 911 to ask what towing service they used that time of night. Called the towing service. Guy arrived in ten minutes. Had wheel off in another ten minutes. On my way in twenty, much warmer and $100 lighter in my wallet. Local AAA manager reimbursed me and gave me a free year of membership. I now coat all my wheels and hubs with anti-seize and while the wheels may stick a little, they ALWAYS come off.

    1. We may need to invest in a bit of that anti-seize! Glad it all worked out for you in the end. It usually does, just that it’s not fun while it’s happening! It was a little frustrating that we did so much of the work ourselves but still needed to call for help for the last little bit. I’m sure you felt the same! We don’t use AAA because of the trailer – if we needed a tow, they’d tow the car but leave the trailer on the side of the road. Not optimal, especially since that’s our home. But after this experience, we’ll call State Farm first in the future!

      1. The crucial detail in all of this is that the five of you were safe from the start until you were back on the road. Your experience and every time I call AAA, I remember when we had to call AAA up at Algonquin because “someone” locked the keys in the Kirkwood bus.

        1. Absolutely! We hugged each other a little tighter that night and felt so thankful that everyone is fine. Funny, but I don’t actually remember the keys getting locked in the bus at Algonquin. That was a memorable trip in so many ways… but that part I seem to have forgotten!

  2. Oj jag kände vånda med er. Så utelämnade – nej ni hade ju änglavakt! Väl att ni inte har frosthalka!Här är ett tunt lager av snö alldeles för tidigt. – I morgon ska jag på “Befriande bibelläsning” m Jan Fredriksson på Brosels. Ser fram mot det. Allt gott till er!/Kerstin

    1. Tack Kerstin! Nej frosthalka var ju verkligen inget problem. Det var närmare 35C den dagen! Men att det inte var värre än att köpa några nya däck – det är vi otroligt tacksamma för! Föreläsningen imorgon låter roligt och intressant – njut och hälsa alla däruppe i snö-landet!

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