Our 1997 Chevrolet Lumina has traveled nearly 222,000 miles. Many of her minor parts – fuel pump, gas tank, wheel bearings, etc. – have been replaced at least once. She’s even sporting some age spots above the rear wheel wells. She’s old and she’s tired.

At least that’s my opinion. 

Glen thinks otherwise. He says we’re going to drive her until she dies.

The debate about when to replace the Old Lady usually comes up when we’re trying to cram our children and all of our luggage into the cargo hold for a trip up north, or when we’re talking about having more children. The Lumina only has room for two carseats in the back seat. So, either Baby No. 3 comes after Dan is old enough to drive, or Glen will have to ride in the trunk when we go anywhere as a family.

But as much as I would love a bigger, newer vehicle, Glen doesn’t want a new loan payment (even though we spent more money on repairing the Old Lady in the last 12 months than she’s worth on the market).

The last repair became necessary during my trip home from the Minnesota Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Conference in Duluth at the end of January. (Let’s just say it’s a good thing I hadn’t calculated how much we’d spent on Lumina repairs until after this last repair was decided upon.)

I was just pulling into Brainerd when that helicopter-like sound that flat tires make started coming from the passenger-side front tire. Great, I thought to myself. I pulled over to see how bad it was. But the tire wasn’t flat. In fact, it looked fine.

The sound returned when I got back on the road. So I stopped, inspected the tires again and dislodged the snow and ice that were packed in the wheel well of the passenger-side front tire. 

The sound didn’t go away. Since I’m not very mechanically inclined, I called Glen and asked him to listen to the sound. Of course, he couldn’t hear it through the phone, even though it sounded like there was helicopter in the passenger seat.

He suggested I check the actual pressure in the tires before continuing. The tire pressure was normal, and since the sound seemed to lessen when I cornered, he suspected that it was a wheel bearing going bad. He figured it was safe to drive on, but decided to double check with our mechanic. In the meantime, I headed south on Highway 371.

Somewhere between Fort Ripley and the Randall exit I began to worry again. So I called Glen again. He had talked to our mechanic, who said it was safe to drive with a bad wheel bearing and that I should take it easy.

I drove a little slower as the Sunday-afternoon-rush-home traffic whizzed past me.

Then, about a mile north of the Little Falls exit, it all fell apart. Literally.

The driver-side front tire fell off the car. 

My phone call to Glen went like this: 

Me: “Well, the tire just fell off the car.”

Him: “What?”

Me: “The tire just fell off the car!”

Him: “What?”

(I didn’t think there was a problem with the reception.)

Me: “The. Tire. Just. Fell. Off. The. Car!”

I don’t remember the rest of the phone call real well, but I did remain remarkably calm. I didn’t swear or start to cry.

Glen asked what the situation looked like, to which I replied, “I don’t really know because I’m sitting in the car.”

After the car had so violently thudded to the ground when the wheel fell off, I barely made it across the rumble strips on the right shoulder of the road. The traffic outside was neither moving over nor slowing down. The last thing I wanted to do was get out of the car.

But I did, and since it’s been a very long time since I’ve changed a tire, all I could tell Glen was that it didn’t look good. I ended up sliding out of the car again, taking a picture with my phone and sending that to Glen so that he and our mechanic (who happens to be Glen’s cousin) could evaluate the situation.

He then asked the only question that nearly made me lose my cool: “Can you go get the tire while you’re waiting?”

Now, in general, I have a hard time saying no to requests, but it didn’t take more than a second for me to shoot that idea down.

“No!” I said. “One, the traffic out there is awful. Two, the tire rolled across the median and is now sitting on the shoulder of the northbound lane about a hundred yards behind me. Do you know how deep the snow in the median is?”

In the meantime, he suggested I call 911 and request a state trooper’s presence to help tame the passing traffic. The trooper who came was extremely kind and helpful. He called a tow truck for me. He informed me that my tire had hit a vehicle in the northbound lane and so he would need my insurance information (which, for some reason, wasn’t in the car, so I had to call Glen yet again to get the policy number). The trooper even went and picked up my tire for me and brought it to the towing company’s lot. 

As I climbed up in the cab of the tow truck, all I could think was, “Thank goodness Dan and Monika are at home and not with me (which had been the original plan for the weekend), because there isn’t room in here for me, two car seats and the driver.”

The tow truck driver dropped me off at Perkin’s and brought the car to the lot. Glen’s cousins came with a dolly to pick me and the car up. Miraculously, my impromptu pit crew was able to get the wheel back onto the one lug bolt left on the hub, which was enough to get the car loaded on the dolly.

We made it back to Melrose safely. From wheel-off to home, the ordeal cost me about four hours and 84 dollars (80 for the tow truck and four for the glass of milk and muffin at Perkin’s). 

But when Glen’s cousins drove the car off the dolly at the shop, the lower ball joint broke and the whole wheel assembly fell off. What had initially been estimated to be a relatively inexpensive repair was now going to cost us close to $600. That’s nearly half what the car is worth!

I took advantage of the opportunity to lobby for a new vehicle.

“Maybe you’d think differently about fixing it if you had been the one in the driver’s seat when the wheel fell off,” I told Glen.

I lost the debate again and we decided to go ahead with the repair. The bill wasn’t quite as bad as the quote, since the lower control arm wasn’t damaged. The Old Lady is back on all-fours again.

In the end, the only thing that’s changed, other than the checkbook balance, is my take on the expression, “Drive it till the wheels fall off.” Because obviously not even that will be enough to retire the Old Lady. 

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have two children – Dan, 3, and Monika, 1. When she’s not parenting or farming, she’s writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.