I started reading this short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, What to Do About It, published in 1933. And the story starts with a character trying to free a wheel from a tirelock:

[...] he continued to sit in the middle of the dirt lane and try to wrest a 1927 tire-lock of its prey.

Immediately afterwards we know the car is his and he's been using a "chisel" to unlock the wheel. And we are supposedly given an explanation of how the car came to that state:

He was not a burglar—he was a doctor and this was his car and had been for some months, during which the "rubber on it" in salesmen's jargon had endured beyond modest expectations. Turning into the lane from the main road he became aware that the rubber had yielded gently to the pressure of time, thus accounting for the innacuracy of the steering wheel.

Afterwards, he finds a "gong" (which seems to be some kind of device to screw bolts in a wheel), and he uses it to struck the chisel onto the tire-lock:

Bill adjusted the chisel and the gong—it was curious thing he had found under the seat that [sic] he thought of as a gong because it gave out a ringing sound—and struck a discouraged blow. To his surprise the lock yielded [...]

So I'm left very confused. I don't know if the problem is whether I don't understand the story, the words, or maybe history. If he has a flat, how does the wheel end up with a tirelock? Maybe they used tirelocks to secure the cars while they were repairing them in the 1930s? Should I ask this in a history forum?

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    This tirelock is probably where the spare tire was locked into place in the boot or rear of the car: forums.aaca.org/topic/145336-spare-tire-lock Even today, spare tires are sometimes locked in place. Does that now make sense to you? So, basically his tire was flat and he was trying to get the spare out of gizmo holding it: the tirelock. Look at the picture I posted. Don't confuse modern wheel locks [what the cops put on a wheel] with this iron holder/housing for a tire in the boot or back of a car. – Lambie Feb 21 '19 at 20:15
  • Perhaps the lock is a device to prevent the theft of a wheel or a tyre (tire in US), which is what "rubber" refers to, and is plainly worn out and needs to be replaced. The gong seems from the context of hitting a chisel to be some kind of hammer, perhaps the mallet used to strike a gong. – Weather Vane Feb 21 '19 at 20:16
  • @Lambie I didn't know that. Nor that you'd have to wrestle with it to unlock it. – Alberto Feb 21 '19 at 20:20
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    To wrest is not wrestle. Wrest means to pull it out with force because something is stuck. – Lambie Feb 21 '19 at 20:22
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    He was wresting the tire out of the tirelock; the thing that holds it down/in.. – Lambie Feb 21 '19 at 20:27

This is an absolutely hilarious story. Keep trying. This is simply changing a tire, just as you said; but, it has alot of descriptives that let the reader know this was at the most inopportune time for a breakdown on a hot day, when the salesman swore that would never happen--it did. It can be very difficult to follow descriptive writing for someone new to English...just keep reading, asking questions..just keep trying.

Fitzgerald is using descriptive writing. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA (USA) has a good writing center that talks using this to evoking sounds, feelings, taste, or smell (senses) when a person reads. It's a way of placing the reader right along side this man changing his tire.

Changing a tire in the middle of a dirt road with the tires the salesman swore were all brand new, but are pretty much all worn out. Trucks in 1927 had one, huge dome shaped nut to take the tire off vs. today, usually 4-6 smaller lugnuts hold the tire in place.

Because it had only one, big dome shaped nut, it had to also lock in place, so if it did accidently come loose, the tire wouldn't fly off. Just picture changing a tire today vs. how someone had to do it 100 yrs ago. This is how they did it.

..and when you drop it against metal or rattled under the seat it did sound just like Fitzgerald says in the story...and you really had to be wrenching on that spanner to get that nut off the axle.

Here's what one looked like. https://c8.alamy.com/comp/C13YKP/1927-american-la-france-60060-fire-truck-C13YKP.jpg

Here's .edu writing center on descriptive writing https://www.iup.edu/writingcenter/writing-resources/organization-and-structure/descriptive-writing/

The "dome" is the socket that fit on the one, big nut holding the tire & rim on the car. It fit over the nut, and you really had to wrench down hard to get the wheel & tire off, just like in the story.

https://www.modeltford.com/i/c/475373l.jpgenter image description here

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  • "when the salesman swore that would never happen" - he says this was his car and had been for some months, during which the "rubber on it" in salesmen's jargon had endured beyond modest expectations. As far as I'm concerned, no salesman duped him, the tires wore out after having been using them too much. And thanks for the "dome" thing! Very interesting. But he explicitly says "tire-lock" in the story, and I have only seen that term used for spare tires hanging out on the back of old cars (when they where on the side they seemed to use strings and aesthetic covers to hold them, I reckon). – Alberto Feb 28 '19 at 8:38

In I'd Die for You and Other Lost Stories, published by Scribner, a compilation of unpublished stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, we find this entry in the Explanatory Notes:

41 1927 tire-lock: In 1927, the Ford Model T went out of production and was succeeded by the Model A. Other cars were of course widely available in America then, but a young doctor without much money would have been constrained to the most affordable. Whatever the car, it is seven years old and has had hard wear. The tire-lock held the spare tire in place quite firmly, to prevent easy theft.

So, as Lambie pointed out in the comments, the character is trying to unstick the tire from the tire-lock. Following the information given in the entry, if we take a look at a 1927 Ford Model T, we see that the spare tire was locked at the rear end of the car.



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