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Here's what it's like inside and on top of the Giant Uniroyal Tire

When we heard that the Automotive Press Association was holding an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Giant Uniroyal Tire along 1-94, we couldn’t resist.

Not only because, well, it’s the GIANT TIRE – who wouldn’t want to see inside of it?! – but also because it gave us a chance to look into a question put to our MI Curious page.

Steve Uptegraft, a trucker from Lansing, had a burning question:

“I would like to know how they moved the world's largest tire to its current spot along I-94 after the 1964 New York World Fair.”

When we contacted him, Uptegraft said as a professional driver who deals with bridge clearances and logistics all the time, he wanted to know more about how they moved the tire back in 1965.

"My understanding is that this is a real tire and does not just come apart."

“My understanding is that this is a real tire and does not just come apart,” said Uptegraft when we contacted him. “That would make any moving an interesting conundrum I would be interested in hearing about.”

Uptegraft specifically wondered how they got that giant tire under bridges when it traveled by train from New York City to Allen Park, Michigan (right outside of Detroit).

A myth debunked

Like Uptegraft, I’d always heard that the Giant Tire was the “world’s biggest tire” – meaning that it was a real tire - a giant, 80-ft tall, real-life rubber tire.

That, it is not.

You never know where stories might take you... like atop the giant Uniroyal tire near Detroit.
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
On top of the Giant Uniroyal Tire.

When I clambered to the top of it yesterday and touched it, I didn't feel rubber. I felt steel and fiberglass.

I was told the hatch at the top was heavy, so you had to push hard to open it. The reporters 80 feet below likely got a sense for the tire's non-rubber hull when I flung the hatch open with a loud CLANG! that echoed throughout the inside.

(Oh, and I snapped a selfie when I was up there - because.... I was on top of the GIANT TIRE, afterall.)

Ray Fischenich, Michelin’s Uniroyal brand manager, confirmed it. It’s made out of metal.

"Some people have shot arrows at the tire. I don't know. I guess maybe to try to deflate it."

“Some people have shot arrows at the tire. I don’t know. I guess maybe to try to deflate it. It’s actually made out of steel, so it’s going to handle the arrows pretty well, but we have to have people come in and take the arrows out,” said Fischenich.

So we’re not talking about the “world’s biggest tire.”

We’re talking about the world’s biggest replica of a tire.

It was first built as a Giant Tire Ferris wheel for the New York World's Fair in 1964. Ten cents would get you a 10-minute ride in one of the four-person gondolas and a "spectacular view of the fairgrounds."

When the fair ended, it was taken apart and moved. 

Stepping inside the tire, you see the metal structure holding it all up. And you can see that the tire comes apart in sections. Here are a few shots of that:

The tire tread as it looks from the inside.
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Inside the Giant Tire, when you look close, you can see it's made up of sections.
The tire is metal and was moved in sections to its current home in Allen Park.
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
A closeup of a section of the tire. It was taken apart and moved by rail from New York to Allen Park, Michigan in 1965.

The company saysthe tire was shipped in multiple sections by rail:

When the fair ended in 1965, the tire was shipped by rail in 188 sections to Detroit. It was reassembled in four months and anchored in concrete and steel off I-94 at the tire company’s Allen Park, Michigan, sales office.

Speaking from inside the Giant Tire, Fishenich explains why the company today doesn’t possess a lot of historical photos of the tire’s move.  Our resident digital archivist at Michigan Radio cringed at this explanation:

So if anyone out there has some historical images of the Giant Tire’s move from New York to Allen Park, let us know, or share them below.

For now, Fischenich suspects the move was pretty uneventful.

He says they obviously didn’t have any trouble moving it, and he believes all the pieces fit inside the rail cars.

A piece of personal history

The tire is not open to the general public. It's on private land and it's surrounded by a 12-foot chain-link fence with razor wire (that tire is NOT escaping).

So a chance to see it up close was a treat - especially for those who remember riding on it in New York.

The Giant Tire celebrates 50 years.
Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
The Giant Tire celebrates 50 years.

Jim Bianchi remembers going to the New York World's Fair in 1964 and riding on the Giant Tire Ferris wheel as a 10-year old boy.

"It was pretty much like riding on any other Ferris wheel, but it was kind of cool especially for somebody that was from the Detroit-area and growing up around cars and the car industry."

Bianchi grew up in Allen Park. Today he says he always points the tire out to people.

"I really do feel a sense of connection on it. Every time I've driven by the last 50 years I've pointed to that and said, 'Oh, I  remember when I was on that when it was a Ferris wheel as a kid,' said Bianchi. "So it's kind of cool to see it still up and being honored today."

Scroll through the photos above to see what it’s like inside and on top of the Giant Tire. 

*This post was updated to clarify that the replica tire also is made up of fiberglass.

Mark Brush was the station's Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.