I actually used something I learned in high school

Derrick Knutson

I had an algebra class in high school in which the entire class did really poorly on a quiz. The teacher was livid and yelled at us, “You’ll need to know this someday!”
Have I used algebra since that point? Yes — for the one course of it I had to take in college. Since then, pretty much the only math skills I’ve utilized on a weekly basis have been addition and subtraction, which I learned in early elementary school.
I’m not saying nobody needs those skills; I’m sure some of my classmates got jobs that require them. Those of us who graduated college with liberal arts degrees, however, have all but forgotten most of our menial math abilities. Most weeks go like this: “Did I get paid for my work? Looks like that number in the bank account went up, so I think so.”
Will I ever need to use algebra in my life again (if I could even remember how to do it)? Probably not, but you never know. I recently used a skill I learned in high school that I didn’t think much of and assumed I might not ever have to implement.
Like many high school guys, I took a bunch of shop classes my senior year to fill up my schedule: hot metals, woodshop, small engine repair and auto shop. My welds in hot metals were shoddy, and wood filler was my best friend in woodshop. I was really good at taking small engines apart, but putting them back together without having parts left over was a monumental task.
I think I’ve forgotten most of the skills I learned in those classes, but two hung on from auto shop: How to change the oil in a vehicle and how to change a flat tire. The first skill I’ve utilized quite a bit. I’m not really sure why, because changing the oil in one’s own car hardly saves any money, but I guess it makes me sound manly. “Hey, see that car over there? I changed the oil in it (wipes palms on ripped, oil-stained jeans).”
For the second skill, I remember my auto shop teacher using the same line as my algebra instructor: “You’ll need to know this someday.”
Some of us cocky, future-liberal-arts-degree-holding teens probably thought this was a bunch of hooey. Vehicle design would advance exponentially, and we’d all be driving hover cars by the time we graduated, which didn’t require tires.
Well, pretty much everything people operate still have tires, so that didn’t come to fruition. And that auto shop teacher was right — I did need to know how to change a tire.
A few weeks ago, my wife, my dog and I were heading to the Brainerd Lakes area to camp for a few days on my in laws’ cabin land. My father-in-law and mother-in-law were already at the cabin when we started our journey, with our camper hooked up to our car. We got to about Onamia when a tire on the passenger side of the camper blew.
I quickly pulled off to the side of the road and assessed the damage. I always check the tire pressure before trips, and it was fine, and there was plenty of tread left on the tire, but obviously something had happened. When it popped, the portion that ripped off the tire at a high speed blew a hole in the bottom of the camper and bent a non-structural part of the camper’s frame, which would later have to be bent back into place by me and my father-in-law. We also fixed the hole later, too.
When it came to changing the tire, I was a little unsure of my rusty high school auto shop skills, but I was able to get the camper lifted with the aid of my car jack and the stabilizer jacks on the camper. Breaking the lug nuts with the speed wrench I keep in my car took nearly all the strength I could muster, but they came off.
By the time I was ready to put on the spare, a state trooper showed up and asked if I needed any help. I had finished the hard part of the procedure, so I just asked that he stay by the side of the road to keep traffic away from me and then follow us up to a nearby business when I got the spare on the camper.
My in-laws showed up about an hour or so later at that business to help us out with the camper. My father-in-law and I tried for a while to move the bent part of the frame away from the spare tire with tools I had in my car, as it was about 1/10th of an inch away from it, which made hauling the camper dangerous.
Realizing we’d need heavier-duty tools, we went to Milaca Unclaimed Freight to pick up a five-pound hammer and a pipe wrench (these did the trick and we got safely home). When I asked a store employee where those items were in the building — a guy about 65 years old — I told him what had happened. He said to me, “I’ve never had a tire blow on anything I own.”
I didn’t say anything to him, but in retrospect I should have said, “You might think you’ll never have to change a flat tire, but I hope you paid attention during tire change day in high school auto shop.

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