Saturday, July 16, 2011


Dueling went out of style over a century ago, but last week I revived it temporarily! Dueling, you will remember, was the practice of fighting one on one with a social equal who had insulted or cheated a gentleman. Usually the challenge was given as a means of "restoring one’s honor" which the irate gentleman considered to have been damaged. The practice dates back at least to the 1500s when the weapons of choice were swords. Two centuries later, pistols became the preferred weapon. Some wealthy noblemen had "dueling pistols" specially built for such a use.

The goal of the encounter was for the injured party to "gain satisfaction" for his wounded honor. Sometimes the duel was halted at the first sign of blood; sometimes at the first severe wound; occasionally only the death of one of the antagonists brought the duel to an end.

Alexander Hamilton was shot to death in a duel with Aaron Burr in 1804. Andrew Jackson survived duels in 1803 and 1806. Abe Lincoln and Mark Twain narrowly escaped involvement in duels in 1842 and 1864 respectively.

The challenge to duel which I accepted last week had more to do with tires than pistols. You see, our truck has dual rear tires and the inside ones were slowly losing air pressure. The tire store technician quickly removed the tire stem caps and inflated them again to a safe level. That’s when the challenge came to me to "duel with the duals."

Our truck is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system. Each tire of the truck, and of the trailer, carries a pressure assessment guage. Each is about the size of half a roll of Life Savers and it must be screwed onto the top of the valve stem. Removing and replacing these gauges on the trailer tires, front truck tires and the outside duals is simple.

On the inside duals, however, replacing that little cylinder is more challenging. It requires a hand small enough to slip through the openings in the outside wheel’s hubcap, feel for the inside valve stem, get it lined up at the proper angle and be steady enough to screw it back on. Guess whose hands are small enough?

The day was hot and humid. Bruce eased the rig into an abandoned parking lot, and I had no choice but to duel with the duals. The weapons of choice were persistence and stubbornness; the distance was fixed by the width of the outer tire. I sat down on the warm pavement and began my attack.

My fingers found the valve stem several times, but the angle didn’t allow screwing the monitor on. I dropped the gauge at least once and we had to carefully move the whole rig to rescue it from the inside of the outside tire! Cars passing by on the street beside the parking lot slowed down as their drivers gawked. Sweat ran down my tense body and my butt felt every stone beneath it as I tried – again and again – to replace that little round monitor on the tire stem.

Finally, success. I felt the threads mesh and the gauge screwed on where it belonged. I stood up, dusted myself off, wiped the sweat from my face, and heaved a big sigh of relief. Then it was time to attack the tire on the other side! I wish I could say that practice makes perfect, but the second one took as long as the first. After nearly an hour of dueling, I had redeemed my honor as "Pressure gauge replacement expert." Bruised and weary, I had won my duel with the duals!

14 July 2001 - mshr (with the help of Wikipedia)