When buying cement and gravel by the bag, it is important to remember the designation of your pickup truck. In common parlance, my vehicle is referred to as a "half-ton". This does not mean that my truck weighs one-half ton; rather it means that the vehicle is capable of carrying approximately that amount without dire consequences. I must confess: I did not recall this while tossing bags in the truck bed at the hardware store.
One bag of cement is heavy. On average, it weighs 60 pounds. It is not a huge bag; you can fit quite a large number of them in a relatively small space. A bit of mental arithmetic will tell you that at 17 bags you will exceed your weight limit of 1000 pounds. Yet there is still considerable space in the bed of your truck, and you need more than 17 bags (combined with the sand) to get your foundation poured and your blocks laid.
By the time I had put ten bags in the bed, I could hear the springs straining. The tires looked low on air. Nevertheless, I continued to load. My prime consideration was to get my new bought cement to my home in the fewest possible trips. After all, my time IS worth 38 cents an hour; it would have been a shame to waste that kind of cash traveling between home and the hardware store.
When you climb into an overloaded pickup, you are likely to think that you are getting on board one of the Apollo space craft. The back sits low to the ground, and the front points skyward. Unlike a spacecraft, your vehicle is not likely to be launched into space, or even leave the ground. You only hope you can get the load home without scraping the transmission on a speed bump.
My wife helpfully gave a count down as we left the store's parking lot. "5...4...3...2...1..."
It was not much of a blast off. I was afraid to drive faster than 18 miles per hour for fear of a bump or that the inertial force of the loaded vehicle would become too much for the brakes if I happened to stop suddenly. I could see myself jamming on the brakes and being squashed between a bag of cement and a semi's bumper.
Robin thought I was being overly careful. "Going this fast," she pointed out, "we might get home by tomorrow morning."
I nodded and waved at a car that was beeping its horn as it passed. For some reason, I feel guilty when I am holding up traffic, even if I have a legitimate reason for driving slow.
"It's only about five miles," I pointed out. "At 18 miles per...that's not even twenty minutes." However, her comment and the passing cars led me, subconsciously, to accelerate the vehicle.
The pickup hit a bump.
I gritted my teeth as I imagined the U-joints snapping, the carrier bearing breaking and the frame cracking all on one bump.
I slowed back to the 18 mph pace.
In the time it took to drive two miles, I counted fifteen cars pass, fourteen of which looked concernedly at the severe pitch of my truck. The only car that did not pass contained an old woman in a straw hat wearing white gloves. A poodle sat beside her, yapping out the window to hurry us on our way.
Before she had a chance to pass, I hit a deep pot hole. The action spontaneously generated the sound of a helicopter somewhere in our vicinity. Robin and I scanned the sky in vain before the wobble in the back of the truck told me that the noise was not coming from above. It was being made by my right rear tire.
I groaned. Robin simply said, "Uh-oh."
I let the truck decelerate. The old lady passed, her diminutive poodle barking victoriously as if he were the cause of our pulling to the shoulder.
Robin and I got out of the cab and stared for a few moments at the flat. The weight in the bed, coupled with the rim of the wheel, had, in a few moments of motion, converted the tire into an un-repairable condition. With the tire flat, the rear bumper nearly touched the ground. I could see this was not going to be a simple tire changing operation, and fix-a-flat in a can was out of the question.
I grinned at my wife encouragingly. She knew there was nothing to smile about.
"We're going to have to unload her," I whispered.
Robin arched one of her eyebrows. "Here?"
I nodded. "The jack isn't going to hold up all that weight, and I'm not going to put my arms under that fender if the whole truck could fall."
My wife commended me on my rare application of common sense. "Well, let's get to it."
The tone of her voice told me she had already assessed blame for the blown tire and its consequences. It was a good thing she was angry. It gave her the energy to help me unload 27 stout bags of cement. The tire change seemed easy after that. Another twenty minutes were required to reload the truck.
We climbed slowly back into the ill-starred vehicle still pointing at the heavens.
The remainder of the trip home it seemed as though I could hear the tires strain under the weight of all that cement. I drove VERY slowly. I occasionally stuck my head out the window to look at the tires as though constant surveillance would ensure their good behavior. What would I do if another tire blew? I didn't have an extra spare.
Making the last turn toward home, I was faced with a hill. The truck's engines strained, and I wished I had rocket thrusters mounted on the fenders to help those six cylinders up the steep incline. I knew Robin was thinking the same thing because she was rocking forward in her seat as if that would help carry us up the hill.
"Come on, baby." I coaxed the truck.
The god of engine power was good to me. However, the god of tire pressure was not so kind. Robin and I were treated to another visitation of the phantom helicopter.
Pfft, chop, chop, chop.
"What are we going to do now?" Robin asked.
Fortunately, we were not far from home.
I shrugged. There was not much I could do. "Drive it on the rim."
Like "The Little Engine That Could", the old crate faithfully chugged up the hill. The wheel turned the tire into so many steel-belted rubber bands. When the wheel got through with the tire, it made grooves in the asphalt road surface. The driveway did not fare well either.
At home, it was a solemn and weary couple who off-loaded the cement. As I hefted the final bag, Robin patted me on the back. "You will remember this lesson won't you, Dear?"
"Sure," I replied, "I'll remember...until I have to go back and get the blocks."