It’s a place where Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison would hold gentlemen’s camp outs. The 400-acre property in Columbiana, Ohio was deeded to the Firestone family by President Thomas Jefferson and in 1952 was established as the Firestone Test Center. Today, the grounds are used for testing by Firestone Corporation as well as leased to a local farmer for production.
Many of the tests are head-to-head comparisons of new Firestone tires vs. the previous design as well as new Firestone tires vs. the competition. With the facilities, Firestone test engineers can simulate four years of wear and use in three months.\
The tests are run 12 months a year on the indoor equipment as well as the five circles with concrete, black top and limestone surfaces. The test circles are the site for wear and durability tests, and the test tractors are run without an operator. The equipment is mounted with the tires for testing, the steering is locked in position, and using a remote start the tractor takes off in its circle pattern and run for 48 hours in one direction before the equipment is stopped and the direction of travel is reversed. For safety, the tractor is tethered to a concrete post and there is monitoring equipment at each tire and on the tractor so that if something malfunctions, the engine is immediately stopped.
For more hands-on, extreme testing, the crew calls on the Mean Machine, a custom-made vehicle developed in the 1975 that has up to 32,000 lb of drawbar pull. It’s a unique Detroit Diesel engine-powered machine designed to provide drag for wheel slip tests on the tractor pulling it, and its tires are filled with beet juice, but were once filled with calcium chloride.
Another unique machine at the test farm is a ¼ scale machine used for the early screening of tire compounds. Specially prepared tires are run over a variety of surfaces to simulate different field wear conditions. Currently the testing for this machine is being focused on developing a more stubble-resistant tire surface.
In addition to those tests, the crew can run vibration pad testing to simulate furrow or hillside driving, and with its 400 acres, the team can conduct field tests.
Every tested tire is analyzed for performance. TekScan is a technology that produces an electronic footprint image to display pressure exerted by the tire. To test sidewall strain, a tire sidewall is prepped and a laser system is used to measure hot spots on the tire sidewall. A proprietary technology to Firestone is its 3D tire profile, which can be utilized on new and worn tires to provide a three dimensional profile of the tire. Upon conclusion of testing, a tire is cut and dissected. All data and tire sections are delivered to the engineers in Akron.