Shortsville Wheels & Detroit Demountable Rims

Our car has, as many of the Michigan Motor Car Company advertisements proclaim, Shortsville artillery wheels.  I’m still trying to figure out what makes them “artillery”. When I do, I’ll share it here.  Apparently the Shortsville Wheel Company was a fairly substantial business located Southeast of Rochester NY on the Flint River.  They made carriage wheels from about 1889 and then automobile wheels until they went out of business in 1918.

The wheel factory - outside & inside

The wheel factory – outside & inside

While the brand of rims for the car was not touted in the advertising, the demountable rims themselves bear alignment clamps bearing the DETROIT brand.

DETROIT brand rim clamps. Rear on left. Front on right.

DETROIT brand rim clamps. Rear on left. Front on right.

And our car has this improved type of interchangeable tire & rim combination which is called a “demountable rim”.

So what’s the big deal and why should you care? There was no AAA to summon or a cell phone to make a call when you got a flat.  You and your passengers were on your own. And it was not “if you got a flat”, because you would. It was just a matter of time and distance traveled. The roads and highways were primitive. There was no such thing as an interstate highway. Paving was for Main Street and Broadway only – the rest of town was envious.  Gravel was great, but most roads were dirt and frequently mud. Horses have long legs and can step over obstacles. Cars………. not so much.  Hit a rock, a pothole, or a sharp something or other and you got a flat.

My paternal Grandfather told me a story several times about repairing flats on his Model T Ford seven times in one day — all within sight of Mt. Shasta in Northern California. The year was not 1912……. it was more like 1923. And the main road from California into Oregon was unpaved.

Modern cars have wheels that unbolt as a unit comprised of the tire and the rim and wheel on which the tire is mounted basically two parts. The rubber part and the metal part. Five or six bolts or nuts hold the wheel on the car. Your spare is the same size or slightly smaller and in your trunk or back hatch. You simply swap the wheel with the flat for the spare with air.

Daughter Tori practices changing a modern tire.

Daughter Tori practices changing a modern tire.

Antique cars were an outgrowth of the former horse and buggy carriage days. As such, they had light weight wooden wheels comprised of a central hub, spokes, felloes (the semi-circular wood at the outside edge of the wheel), and perhaps a steel or thin solid rubber tire.

The automobile age introduced pneumatic air filled tires with inner tubes. It was a much softer ride, but presented some additional issues — like flat tires.

In the early days, a flat tire was changed with the wheel and rim ON THE CAR. Jack it up. Take the tire & inner tube off the wheel. Patch the inner tube. Replace the tire & inner tube. Inflate the tire. Lower the jack.  The alternative was to have an entire spare wheel and tire strapped to the vehicle. Sort of like today. They were big and awkward. The process was different in that the entire wheel had to be removed and replaced with another wheel while the car was jacked up. Again like today, but here is where it gets significantly different. There is typically a single large nut that holds the wheel on the axle that has to be removed. Wheel removal like this requires a big wrench and sometimes considerable effort. Like a several foot long wench extension and standing & bouncing on the end. AND…. even if you DO get the nut off, the wheel may remain stuck on the axle.  Oh dear.  What to do now? You better have that tire patching kit or access to a blacksmith.

Demountable rims were a more reliable and less strenuous way to change a flat. Much like today’s multiple nuts or bolts wheel system, the demountable rim was held to the wheel by 5 or 6 bolts and clamps.  These were approximately the same size as today’s wheel bolts and required about the same effort.  What looks much different is that the tire and demountable rim combination resemble a giant donut or hula-hoop. The entire center is where the wooden wheel goes…… and the wheel stays on the car, when you change the flat. Just the rim and tire are removed and replaced.

The wheel is on the car. The rim is demounted with inflated tire installed.

The wheel is on the car. The rim is demounted with inflated tire installed.

In addition to having the modern improved “demountable rims”, the DETROIT DEMOUNTABLE RIMS had several other notable features, the most significant being a removable section of the rim itself.

Black rim section is removable from the grey rim. Top portion pivots and locks under grey pins. This is locked position.

Black rim section is removable from the grey rim. Top portion pivots and locks under grey pins. This is locked position.

Removable rim section - out.

Removable rim section – out.

The Detroit Demountable Rim company thought they had a real winner and pointed out all the benefits of their design in a company brochure that I acquired in my research. Click on the highlighted text to see and read the brochure.Detroit Demountable Rim Brochure

I’ve patched several of the inner tubes on our car, and I must say that although it is not as difficult as installing clincher tires on the wheels of our Model T Ford, even demountable rims are not “easy”.  They are perhaps — not as difficult. (Installing clincher tires will test your strength, test your patience and will typically turn the air blue.)