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Sam and the Smoking Tire

By Raymond Scott

One March morning in 2002, I rolled out of bed at 4:30 AM, loaded my bike onto the car, and headed into the dark night toward Clinton.  I planned to visit several towns along the western end of the Katy Trail, and had a long day ahead, so I made good time on the highway.

Three hours later, I rolled into the Clinton trailhead parking lot.  The sun was up, the early spring air was crisp, and birds were singing.  The Katy Trail was calling.  I went around to the back of the car and began to unstrap my bike from its trunk-mount rack.  Then I noticed a strange smell.  I continued to unload the bike, and as I looked down, I discovered the source of the smell, to my horror.  The lower end of my front tire was a smoldering glob of melted rubber!

Once the shock wore off, I could see what happened.  I had used this trunk-mount bike rack a hundred times without incident, but on this occasion I obviously allowed the tire to get too close to the tailpipe.  There were several inches of clearance between the exhaust and the tire, but I suppose my - um, “speedy” driving techniques that morning had fired a powerful stream of extra hot exhaust right into the rubber.  Might as well put a blow torch onto the tire.  Burn baby burn.  I wanted to kick myself for this careless lapse, but my leg wouldn't reach.

So it’s about 8AM on a Saturday morning, I’m in Clinton Missouri with a dead bike, and I have no clue where to get it fixed.  Would I have to go all the way back to Sedalia, or even Columbia, to find a bike shop?

I drove into town, found a yellow pages, and looked up “Bicycle”.  There I found Clinton Mower and Saw Shop.  Huh, Mower & Saw Shop?  OK, it doesn’t sound like a bike shop, but I’ll give them a call.  The nice lady on the phone said that yes, her son does sell and fix bikes, and she gave me directions.

This mower & saw shop did indeed have a room full of bikes, and a bike mechanic named Sam who came out to view the damage hanging from my trunk (this time with greater clearance from the tailpipe).  Sam & I shared a laugh over this ridiculous predicament (I was finally able to laugh about it), and he brought my wheel inside the shop to chip away the melted rubber and make it new again.

I don’t know how Sam feels, but many mechanics don’t like to be hovered over while they work, so I took a stroll to the town square while he was fixing things.  Clinton has a charming town square that still has that small town, Norman Rockwell feeling.

When I got back to the shop, Sam was still at work on the wheel.  I told Sam’s mom, who I guess works the “mower & saw” part of the business, about my plans to ride on the Katy Trail that day.  Filled with motherly pride, she told me that her son Sam had in fact ridden the entire Katy Trail in one day!  She brought out a well-preserved newspaper article about her son’s feat: Sam Baugh of Clinton rode the entire length of the Katy Trail on June 24, 2001, in 14 hours.  Truly amazing!  I felt even better knowing that my bike was being repaired by this guy, who is one of the legends of the Katy Trail.

When the wheel was ready, it cost about $20.  A real bargain for what seemed like an hour of work (there was a lot of burnt rubber to scrape), including a new tire & tube.  I got in a lot of good riding that day.  And when I loaded up the bike to head home, I detached the front wheel and kept in the car’s front seat, far away from the tailpipe!