Hanger bolt (manufacturer uncertain) and tire gauge (manufacturer unlisted)

I got into my car the other day and discovered that I had a flat. After removing the flat tire and replacing it with my spare, I drove to one of those "Fix-a-Flat" places, which patched the tire for me. "Here's your problem," said the fellow at the shop, handing me a small piece of metal. "It was wedged all the way into your tire."

What he'd given to me was a piece of hardware of a variety I'd never seen before. About two and a half inches long, it looked sort of like a screw, except that it had two distinct thread patterns -- one at each end -- separated by a middle section with no thread pattern at all. Despite being slightly bent, a little rusty, and generally battered, it had a certain elegance. Plus I felt a weird sort of bond with it, since it had essentially ruined my afternoon. I asked the tire guy if he knew what it was, and he blithely replied, "Yeah -- it's the thing that gave you a flat. Other than that, I don't what the hell it is."

By now I was getting pretty obsessed with this little item. Fortunately, I happen to have several fairly specialized hardware catalogs floating the house, so I began leafing through them in an attempt to find out what this thing actually was. I eventually hit paydirt in the pages of the Van Dyke's taxidermy-supply catlog (one of the coolest, most fascinating catalogs you'll ever see, even if, like myself, you have zero interest in taxidermy -- call 800-843-3320 and order yourself a copy), which explained that the object in question is a hanger bolt. It's described in the catalog as follows: "Extremely handy fastener with a lag screw thread on one end and standard bolt thread on the other! Especially good for attaching feet or legs to tables and for any other wood products requiring easy assembly and disassembly." There wasn't any mention of hanger bolts being "especially good for puncturing tires," but maybe they'll work that into the next edition of the catalog.

Van Dyke's sells hanger bolts for $1.66 a dozen and $18 a gross, which means my hanger bolt was only worth about 13 cents when it was brand-new, and probably cost a lot less than that to manufacture -- not exactly a valuable item. I'm holding onto mine, though, because at this point I feel like I've developed a pretty intense relationship with it. I also like the idea of collecting the things that have given me flat tires. Years from now (many, many years, one hopes) maybe I'll have collected enough of them to make a little display, listing the date and location of each flat -- sort of a chronicle of automotive frustration.

Meanwhile, all this talk of tires gives me an excuse to mention one of my all-time favorite gadgets: the hand-held tire gauge. Available for a buck or two at any gas station, tire gauges work like magic and are extremely satisfying to use --just push the head of the gauge over your tire valve and presto, the little plastic rod with all those cool little graduated pressure markings pops up.

And I especially love the just-so feeling of precision that I get when I push the plastic rod back into the gauge's metal housing after taking a reading -- an appropriately tactile pleasure for one of the last great analog devices in our increasingly digital world.