As I get ready to move Green into the garage it became clear that he really ain’t gonna move without new tires (or at least tires that will hold air). Since new tires are essential they may as well go onto appropriate wheels or rims. So the first real purchase in this reconditioning of the Green Truck is at least two suitable wheels. Let me explain why.
In 1949 a Chevy truck rolled off the assembly line on split-rim wheels, which were common at the time but have since disappeared from consumer vehicles–for very good reasons. A split-rim wheel has two steel parts: the wheel core and a separate rim or ring. The core is the body of the wheel. Once a liner, tube, and tire is fitted on the core, before the tire is inflated to pressure the split ring fits in a groove on side of the wheel core to form the second side or bead of the wheel holding the tire in place. The advantage of a split rim is that it is comparatively easy to change a tire or tube on the side of the road with simple hand tools and an air pump, an attractive quality on a working vehicle. In the 1940s tires were not nearly as robust as they are today and drivers often had to do their own repairs. Towns were small and had a lot of travel between them.
They may have been easy to use, but because the rings had to be seated just right as the tire is inflated, split rims can be terribly dangerous to handle as well. In 1976 Mary Ehmann Auger‘s son Eric died from injuries when a split-rim wheel burst as he was mounting the tire. Her complaint documentation prompted an independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety investigation, which found that such accidents were not only well-known, they were entirely too common (hey–what’s a few lives here and there; industrial redesign is expensive). Eventually Congress told companies to phase out split-rim wheels. Large rigs still use them, but only because they are serviced by professionally trained personnel using appropriate equipment–not local joes in the corner service station.
Finding drive-up tire businesses these days with personnel who can service split rims is getting increasingly difficult, and frankly I don’t want to take the risk of injuring someone for the sake of original equipment. I’ll keep Green’s remaining two original wheels for history’s sake but the best option is to replace them with modern wheels.
Fortunately something more modern is fairly widely available. Accuride made and still makes 8-lug, 16×7 wheels for Ford trucks and vans through the 1990s. Those wheels are not identical to the original equipment but are widely used as replacements and will mount the Chevy half-moon hubcaps for this model. No, Green does not have hubcaps (I have one original in my office). Some decades ago Grandpa or someone else put two Ford wheels on the front. Recently I found two more in a local wrecking yard. When I get new tires, they will go on and Green will be garaged for the first time in living memory.