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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

What’s in a wheel?

January 26, 2012 Archive Insight

What does lounging by the pool on a hot day have to do with automotive restoration?

In the case of one of our antique vehicles, more than you think!

Early tires for automotive vehicles were made of natural rubber and were made in one piece - somewhat like a heavily reinforced inner tube. These tires are often referred to as "tube tires," and some of the more common sizes are still produced by specialty suppliers.

But not all sizes are still made, or even available - and this was the case recently with our department’s restoration of the 1899 Duryea Trap for the new Driving America exhibition.

The 1899 Duryea Trap

This vehicle came to our labs as an older restoration that dated from the 1930s. It arrived in fairly poor condition, with seized corroded metal components, flaking paint, moth-eaten upholstery and the clincher: heavily degraded tires.

The original tires were in no shape for display.

The artifact could not be put on display without tires, as a guest would likely focus on their absence and therefore miss the aesthetic beauty of this early horseless carriage

So what to do?

Believe it or not, it became a constant source of unending debate as to how to proceed, what materials to use...until - eureka!!

Summer was in full swing and with it came lounging by the pool. Our head of preservation, Mary Fahey, came to me with the observation that a common foam pool noodle had the right diameter for the tires we needed. So we thought, why not? We could make that work...after all, the vehicle would never need to run, as it was far too precious an object to risk the damage that a restoration of that extent - and its subsequent running - would cause. It didn’t even really need to roll, as we usually do not let vehicles with original tires touch the ground anyway! It was doable.

Coating the pool noodles - er, tires

So we gathered up a few dollar store pool noodles as the base for our new tires and put them through a fairly extensive process, which involved strengthening them through multiple coatings of various flexible putties and a central reinforcing. This process produced the results that you now see.

Voila!

We only hope that now that you know the full story - and what’s behind what appears to be a natural rubber tube tire - that you won’t focus too much on them and still consider the overall beauty of this precious artifact.

Robert Coyle is a transportation conservation specialist for The Henry Ford.

car parts, wheels

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