Rubber Inner Tubes and Summer Storms


“Today’s read conjures up a plethora of memories of thunderstorms from my youth and into the present, but I will recount only one today. One of floating the Little Tennessee on an inner tube.

That was our Summer sport if you can call it a sport. Everyone knows what an inner tube is, right? It was (and still sometimes is) the inner liner of a car tire. But you can blow one up and it keeps you from sinking in water, right? Ours were a bit different. You see, my friend Beanie’s dad worked at a rock quarry. They had big haul trucks with tires and tubes to match. He would bring a few of these home with him. They would be dry rotted and have multiple holes but with concerted effort we could patch them up enough to hold a little air.

The threat of a thunderstorm was only one of the dangers we faced. Snakes and hornets often dwelt amongst the limbs of the trees overhanging the riverbank. Other kids throwing rocks sometimes followed us downstream. Fishermen confounded by their lack of luck blamed us for disturbing the water cussed us and cast in our direction. All this and more convinced us to maintain our course in the middle of the river. In the middle where we were the highest point. The center of lightning’s target.

We were on a rubber inner tube. We were insulated, right? Electricity follows the path of least resistance, right? What to do? Do we paddle ten minutes to shore and face the possibility of lightning striking the very tree we seek shelter under?

That’s was fifty-some years ago and I don’t still know the answer. We chose to stay the course. Rather than endure the cold rain of a summer thunderstorm we would bail off the tube, swim under and poke our heads up through the hole. Could lightning have struck us out there in such an exposed position? I don’t know! But, it didn’t! Some of our number have since departed Earth’s travails but none by lightning strike.”

—Ed Ammons 2019


Ed’s memories remind me of the inner tubes we played on in the pond that used to be below Granny and Pap’s house when I was a girl. 

My uncle had a log truck and the inner tubes came from those big tires. They seemed huge to us small kids. If one balanced carefully they could stand on top of them. I was too much of a scaredy cat to try that, much less dive into the hole like my brave cousins did. But I did enjoy riding on the inner tubes and laughing at the others as they tried various acrobatic feats on the big black circles.

Afternoon summer thunderstorms are part and parcel for the mountains of southern Appalachia where I live. All of the recent ones have either skirted above us or below us. We finally caught a corner of one late yesterday evening, but it was barely enough to wet the ground.

Yesterday’s video: How to Make Old Timey Gritted Bread.

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  • Reply
    August 15, 2021 at 8:36 am

    Thank you for reminding me of the memory of inner tubes. We didn’t live by a body of water, but my dad would always bring home those big innertubes from large farm tractors tires. We played with them in the backyard. One of our favorite things to do was turn it on end. One of us would sit in the middle and hold on as the other one rolled it across the yard. That was so much fun! We also jumped on it a little bit like a trampoline. We would sing a song, “shammy shammy Coco pop, shammy shammy Pop! “ we would jump for every beat of the song but when we said pop we jumped to our knees and then jumped right back up to standing. If we had a nice big one that was inflated really well we could have four or five kids jumping on it at the same time. We loved our innertubes!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 13, 2021 at 4:23 pm

    Here is a video I found showing the Narrows of the Little Tennessee River where we rode. That’s a 920 cubic feet per second flow. 60,000 pounds of water coming at you every second. That ain’t no ride down a lazy river at a water park. That can kill you in a heartbeat.

  • Reply
    Denise R
    August 13, 2021 at 3:34 pm

    As a kid we spent part of our summer vacation in Minnesota at Island Lake. There was a huge inner tube that us kids would play with. We would get out in the deep water, all of us would sit on the edge of the tube and start rocking it until we all ended up bucked off by the inner tube. We had such fun doing that! Miss those days and those friends that were there when we were. Thank you for the memories of the inner tube!

  • Reply
    August 13, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Yes I remember those black inner tubes…..I remember they could get really hot in the sun so splashing a bit of water on them from time to time was a bright idea….we sure enjoyed floats of all kinds as we grew up but always headed to shore when a big storm was a brewing especially a big electric storm , the kind I’ve not seen in a while when the lightening is almost non stop and fiery bright…sometimes we almost didn’t skedaddle in time … floating, twirling ,racing, giggling on those inner tubes was perfect for 2 silly sisters,( we could giggle over anything) and then not be able to stop. We called that ”our giggle box turning over. We need rain too . A gully washer or a soaker would be fine with me. Tipper, I never dove into those inner tubes either 🙂

  • Reply
    August 13, 2021 at 1:17 pm

    That was a BIG decision to make. I don’t know what I would have done either. We as children use to get on inner tubes and float around , even at a big rock quarie close to us. Kids would jump off the high cliff into it. Not me. It was so big , your voice would echo.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    August 13, 2021 at 12:16 pm

    I can not swim…only time I tried to learn as a kid was in a run off odd colored pond below a strip job coal mine . That’s when I saw the big snake in the water!
    Daddy tried to escape the black death of the mines in the early 60s…took us for a year to Washington state right on the ocean. I was a VA. kid who had never seen the Atlantic, now I was wading the PACIFIC! Until I stepped off a shelf there and nearly drowned. No more water til college …went to the wide New River with gang of pals…was pushed in water….they laughed at my trying to stand up but the rocks were slick and again, I thought I was drowning. I thought I’d learn to swim when my 4kids did, but never had time. I thought I’d learn when I was 55 and my last dependent parent died….but I got too busy . So I never learned and now I’m almost 70 and trying to survive cancer. I have had many dreams of jumping in a crystal clear lake and surprising my kids by swimming ! A dream…..
    Water holes, no….but lightning …oh yes!
    If you live where your home is stuck on the side of the a mountain, the storms can be very scary. As the only girl in the middle of 4 ugly brothers , my job all summer was to PROTECT THE PHILCO TV SET. We got our signal from a two wire line running a thousand feet on up to the ridge. This line was attached to a flat wire ribbon and came into the house through the window. It attached to a clothespin like pincher that grabbed two screws on the back of the Philco. When the storm was coming. I was to run and unhook the pincher, quickly open the window and toss the wire way out in the yard. One day that electrical storm arrived too soon….you know how sad it is for 5 kids to look a lightning struck TV and it was HOWDY DOODY TIME.
    My mommy hated storms. Her cabin had been struck when she was a child. When a electrical Storm came, she let us go sit on her red 3piece sectional sofa…sit, but not talk.
    If mamaw was there, she’d quietly tell us the scariest booger tales she knew. Took our minds off the storm and too soon , it was time to go out to work again.

  • Reply
    Pat Wilson
    August 13, 2021 at 11:39 am

    The lovely picture of the mountains is a poignant reminder of where I wanted to be today but I am NOT … Wildacres (right off the BlueRidge Parkway a bit south of Little Switzerland). I had planned to be there for the seven-shape variety of Sacred Harp singing music camp. The risk of a flight cancellation or not being able to rent a car at the Charlotte airport even with a confirmed reservation was just too great. I will miss seeing a vista like this and singing the old music and the old words, dodging the late afternoon showers, and eating homemade peach ice cream. Those of you who call these mountains home are indeed blessed!

  • Reply
    August 13, 2021 at 10:24 am

    Scarry situation with the bad folks throwing rocks and the lightning above! Sorta like life at times. As the song goes,” if the thunder don’t get you the lightning will !”

  • Reply
    August 13, 2021 at 8:54 am

    Inner tubes could be made into all kinds of toys in the days when we made our own. After we nearly wore them out sliding down a slick hill, we made useful things like shoe insoles and fly swatters. We didn’t live anywhere close to a large body of water but they did serve as a float in the creek behind my aunt’s house.

    • Reply
      August 13, 2021 at 1:43 pm

      We used them for sleds too, and the neighborhood boys made sling shots out of them …also people used the old tires for planting flowers in .

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 13, 2021 at 8:42 am

    I’ve done some floating on a tube. I recommend it be done where there is a decent current. If not, you might be tempted to paddle with your hands. Then if the tube is too big the inside of your upper arms will get raw. No fun. Our problem was, we were too ambitious or optimistic one. We tried to do too many miles and the current was just too slow. Plus the water was too low to float in the rapids.

    But I would still like to do more floating. I’d just make adjustments. One of them might be a kayak, or maybe a raft.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    August 13, 2021 at 8:36 am

    I haven’t seen enough rain to speak of for over 2 months and my water bill tells the sordid tale by its increase into triple digits after watering my plants every day. We need about 3 days of a steady rain to even wet the hard and cracked ground here in southern WV. My own food is so much better than what you buy now, the water bill is worth it in many ways. I’ve never rode an inner tube in my life. I never knew how to swim til I went to Norfolk, Va at the age of 12 years for a summer. Then I have swam everywhere you can think of- even SCUBA all over this hemisphere.

  • Reply
    Donald Wells
    August 13, 2021 at 8:33 am

    As a young boy, floating down The Little River in Townsend Tn, on a inner tube with cousins, sure enough made a fun day, and now brings back alot of good memories.
    As for the Summer Thunderstorms, we sure could use a good soaking rain.

  • Reply
    August 13, 2021 at 8:18 am

    Thanks to Ed for reminding me of an almost forgotten memory of riding an intertube in our swimming hole on Pinnacle Creek. Maybe I never quite got the hang of it, but it seems that intertube would flip us over into the creek much too easily. Cousin Kenna had to watch from the bank after his dad dreamed he drowned.

    Living in the country could be quite exciting, as it was understood that a creek belongs to everybody. Sometimes in the Summer, they would have baptizings or a random load of kids would show up from a neighboring community. Back before the government controlled everything it was very common for families to block a stream with logs to make a great swimming hole. They were inventive back then, and there was no chlorine smell just the endless supply of water from the mountain streams. Our snacks were from berries, apples, and water from cool mountain springs. The last time I passed by there it did not look much like it had seen a crowd for a very long time.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 13, 2021 at 7:24 am

    I’ve always loved water. Part of my growing up years we lived in a papermill town that was built on the river. It takes water to make paper. I loved that river. I went to camp on that same river back up behind where the papermill was. The water was so cold that it would make your head throb from it, but we got in it anyway. There’s nothing like playing in the river. The wonderful running water was an amazing thing to a child and still, to this day, I love the water!

  • Reply
    Donna M Wood
    August 13, 2021 at 7:13 am

    We were hurting for rain here until last night, when we got more rain in 12 hours than we had gotten altogether since July first. There was wind that knocked some of my corn stalks down, but it was so dry that I’ll take it any way I can get it (as if I had a choice anyhow).

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