How to fix a flat tire in Cuba

I was in Cuba. Ancient world in heaven.

Landscapes, water and vegetation.


Industry, technology, infrastructure?

Pic3Transportation In Cuba
Pic4Technology In Cuba

That’s a different story. One exciting technological experience we had in Cuba, was fixing a flat tire.  And here is where my story begins:

Once upon a time…….we hired a taxi to get to the beach. A journey of approximately 150 km. from the town named Viñales in the Tabaco Valley to coral coast called Maria Gorda:

Pic5Journey From Vinales To MariaLaGordaInCuba

 The cub and the driver, reported to duty on time (even a bit early – great exception in Cuba). The car is: Moskvitch. An old model Russian car

Pic6 Moskvitch

All the Dashboard is dismantled it means not there. All the switches are hanging about and the speedometer is just resting on the steering wheel.

Pic7 Moskvitches Radio

On the right rear wheel there is a protrusion indicating torn steel cables in the tire’s skirt. That’s all of secondary importance. What’s really important is the Peugeot icons for decoration in the Centre of the wheel. 

Pic8Moskvitches Rear Right Tire

The way to the Beach was nice and fun. Magnificent views and Cuban music (wild rhythm of salsa and bachata on the radio). No talking, no ads and no news! The road lasted 2 hours and 30 mins without any interruption. Swimming at the sea was fun, and underwater coral and fish seen as spectacular as coral reef (Ours Eilat reef, has nothing to be ashamed of).

On the way back, unfortunately, our moskvitz’s driver (the old Russian car), failed to bypass an opening in the road. The result: a double slash in the front right wheel tire.

Pic9 Damage To The Tire

As you can see the miserable tire was in a poor condition anyhow. Addition of 50 millimeters length of cut at the skirt area meant some torn steel cables that should have strengthen the tire.

 Our brave driver recovered very quickly from the catastrophe. First he drugged me backwards, 200 meters, down the road, to show me the hole in the ground to blame… , Then he pull of his shirt

Pic10 Wheel Replacement

 Of course, there was a spare tire and all the equipment that was needed, in the trunk. It took about half an hour to complete the operation. During this time only 2 vehicle passed by. One bus and one private car, driven by a woman with her children in the car. The Lady stopped and asked if we needed help. It is not so obvious to happen in all western countries. The only help we really needed was some information about the address of the closest Puncture Miester.

We continued carefully our journey. The first “Ponchera” we met, was not equipped with the ability to help, aside from filling the air in the tire to the right pressure (right front wheel) and instructions on how to reach the next “Ponchera”.

Pic11 Puncture WorkShop

I sniped a photo of the inner room hall of the workshop

Pic12 Inside Puncture WorkShop

And of the main Automated Center Machine of the Ponchera: The Stripper and Assembly of the tires:

Pic13 The Main Tool In Puncture WorkShop

The next (second) Ponchera was over crowded with customers,

Pic14 Moskvitches Radio Antena

 The photo was taken over the Moskvitch our legendary vehicle. Note the antenna.

We were gladly informed that our problem is beyond the scoop of this Ponchera, but there is a Great Meister (Puncture Master) few blocks away from there.

We followed the instructions, and arrived to a private house. The Punchera is in the yard. The Meister was about to close the business and terminate the working day. A brief explanation of our disaster, and a short examination of “the patient” (the tire) and he stepped in to help.

And so slashed tire is repaired in Cuba:

 First stage release the tire of the rim with a magnificent lever:

Pic15 Tire Release

Second stage fixing the wheel to the floor and removing the tire.

Pic16 Tire Separation

Third stage: Smoothing the tire.

The outside with a round motorized grinding stone. The inside by hand with a fragment (piece) of broken grinding stone.

Pic17 Tire Grinding

Step 4: Insertion of rubber piece and sawing it with a needle and thread!!   

Pic18 Tire Stitching

Fifth step:   Vulcanization. 2 Additional rubber layers. One on the outside, one inside. The heat was provided by iron sole that was heated on the gas in the kitchen at home:

Pic19 Tire Vulcaniztion

 In the meantime, The Madam (the Meinster’s wife) served us a Cuban coffee. 20 c.c. of coffee with loads and loads of sugar.

Step 6: The return of the tire to its place, under the inspection of one of the 2 dogs of the house. Normally Cuban dogs are not so active at all. I had difficulties finding walking or barking dogs in Cuba.

Pic20 Tire Assembly

And here are the final results:

Pic21 Tire Repair Result

Step 7: Testing. The Immersion in the water pool:

Pic22 Test Equipment

Unfortunately, the tire didn’t pass the test, and the vulcanization process was repeated.  Of course after unpacking the tire from the rim.

This time, the surgery was successful. I breathed a sigh of relief as the repaired wheel was put in the trunk, because there were signs of intention to mount the wheel back in its first place, namely the right front wheel. About balancing the wheel after such reparation? There is nothing to discuss. In Cuba it doesn’t belong to the process.

The reparation took about three hours. Long enough to sniff around the Ponchera and photograph.  The workshop in the back:

Pic23 Inside WorkShope

 Compressors Room:

The welding machines comprises  of two bare cupper coils:

Pic25 Welding Department1
Pic25 Welding Machine

 The garage Hall:

Pic26 Electric Power Center

Main Power Rack:

Pic27 Electric Center

Power Upper Line (wire in height within the reach of the hand):

Pic28 High Power Line

The Warehouse for goods in process and finished merchant:

Pic29 Finish Stock

Nowhere around, there were any rims, tire or wheels. The hole arena size was  6X6 meters, not including the garage. 

See the blue wheel in the picture? While we were there, a horse rider came, paid, took the wheel, climbed back on his horse with the bleu wheel in his hand and disappeared.

We parted amiably from the master and his wife. The driver paid 7 CUC, which is the local currency for tourists (sum equivalent to 6 EU) which is a half of the monthly officially salary around here. Onto the main road, and continued on our way back to Viñales, the tobacco Valley, accompanied by the wild rhythm of salsa and bachata on the radio.

One could think that our brave driver would drive just a little more carefully. Well one was wrong! It seemed he felt duty to himself to regain the lost time and the speed was accordingly! It was just a miracle that there was not another puncture.   

So that is how they do it in Cuba. The conditions bring human resource and solutions that were not in anyone’s mind in the western world.

In conclusion

  • • Shortage brings resourcefulness and daring

  • • The western culture of abundance that we live in, drains us of Elements. Physical basics, Engineering foundations, even basics of life (There is a flat tire-order rescue, need to navigate-there is Waze, need to join rubber – glue is a rapid solution. Who remembers what  is it Vulcanization. Need to process a substance? Who remembers what is it to sow, to file, to nail, to bend or to hammer a leaf of metal?)

  • • Engineering provide us with insufficient tools to cope with the question of “what is the real life span of parts or a system”.

  • • At the end of the day, it all depends on the human factor, personal ability, education, training, experience and experience and experience.

Now it’s your turn

 So far I’ve introduced you to a story of life and lessons, which can teach something about ourselves and life. Now the stage is yours. What can you contribute from your experience? What other rules can you learn from the Cubans? Please share with us below, in comments, so that we shall all learn and grow together.

Your next move to success

Did you like the tale? Share the article with friends and colleagues. Want to get a lot of helpful tips from me, guiding principles and practical guidance on various and diverse topics in Mechanical Engineering? Especially for you, I wrote the “Engineering under investigation” brief manual with a deep analysis of 7 basic planning failures that led to huge disasters. To download the Guide as a gift from me– click here. 

אודות משה קלמן

אינג' משה קלמן, בוגר לימודי הנדסת מכונות בטכניון במגמת אנרגיה, ובעל תואר שני במנהל עסקים, מהאוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים, מביא אתו ניסיון עשיר של כ-40 שנה בתחומי הנדסה שונים ומגוונים. את הניסיון העצום שצבר, יצק לתוך מגוון תכניות הדרכה למהנדסים בהתאמה לצורכי הארגון.

להורדה בחינם של מדריך הבזק "הנדסה בחקירה" שבו אסף דוגמאות של כשלים קטסטרופליים שנבעו מהזנחה של עקרונות הנדסיים בסיסים – לחצו על הקישור "כן, אני רוצה ללמוד מניסיונם של אחרים"

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