Thursday, May 22, 2014

My old wheelbarrow: free flat or flat free?

Flat wheel off, no-flat wheel on

I never cease marveling at our unknown ancestor who invented wheels.  Without wheels civilization as we know it would grind to a halt—which is what happened when I grabbed the handles of my wheelbarrow recently and discovered its tire was flat—absolutely and irreparably flat.

I had put a small bale of straw into my barrow to move it to what would be Tomato Patch 2014.  What does a small bale of straw weigh—25 pounds or so?  Whatever it weighed, it was too much for the wheelbarrow tire, which in a few seconds went from apparently OK to absolutely flat under the weight of the bale.

I was surprised by the flat because a year ago I had gotten tired of pumping up the tubeless tire because it constantly leaked at a rate roughly equivalent with the load being carried.  So I invested in a tube and installed it myself—not an easy task because I had to remove the wheel assembly from the wheelbarrow, loosen the tire from the rim, insert the tube, position the stem through the rim, and pump up the repaired tire.

I learned from that experience why we don’t repair our own tubeless tires.  It’s tough work without the proper equipment and tools.  A mechanic or helper at a tire store or auto service shop can do the job in a few minutes.  It probably took me more than an hour, and the result wasn’t something to brag about because the new stem made a weird angle where it exited through the rim.

And that weird angle probably was what caused the flatter-than-a-pancake flat.  An extra heavy load of four bags of LeafGro probably made the tube and stem rub against the metal edge of the rim, slicing the stem as cleanly as if I had used a penknife or razor blade.

So after years of minor frustration over having to pump up the leaking tubeless tire and then finding the irreparable damage to the tube I had inserted to solve the problem, I surrendered—absolutely.   I got out my socket set and removed the four bolts holding the flat tire to the wheelbarrow handles and removed the complete tire/wheel assembly.  I wrote down tire size (4.00-6), diameter of the axle and of the assembled wheel and tire and went to our computer to do some window shopping.

I searched “4.00-6 solid wheelbarrow tires” or something like that and after a few false starts found that two nearby Home Depot stores stocked a “universal” solid tire for wheelbarrows.  Before I knew it I was checking out at one of the stores with a solid tire in my shopping cart.  At home, I put the wheelbarrow on the back of my Tacoma’s bed and in short order installed the new tire.

Time:  Oh, maybe 40 minutes—probably four times what it would have taken an expert to do the job—but the service charge was “right.”

And the cost: $34.98 for the new wheel and tire assembly, only about 70% of the cost of a new wheelbarrow.

Was that an outlandish price for this ole Frugal Gardener to pay?  I don’t think so.  A new wheelbarrow would have a tubeless tire that doubtless would have started leaking annoyingly at some point.  A new barrow would probably have a plastic tray or bin that probably would crack or otherwise fail long before the steel bin of my old barrow will.  I also like the dents and scrapes in my old wheelbarrow.  They’re sort of “garden tool art” that we created together, one ding at a time as we happily carted who-knows-what from here to there in our gardens or to the compost piles.   In the fall I get a small degree of satisfaction as I hose out the bin and wipe down my work buddy with a light spray of WD40.

Finally, I smile just a bit because, really, I’ve recycled my old wheelbarrow and hopefully we’ll work together hands-around-handles for many more years.

Junk crusher at the Alpha Ridge Landfill recycling center, I’ve cheated you again.


  1. Your wheelbarrow doesn't look very old. Ours have rust spots and holes in them! You must take better care of your work buddy. Jeanine

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