Two pictures in the January 1943 edition of Tires magazine said it all. Under the caption ``No Gas! No Cars! No Tires!'' was a picture of Times Square in New York, clogged as usual with traffic. Over the caption was another picture of Times Square, standing as eerily empty as in Stephen King's ``The Stand.''
The picture with traffic was the ``before'' shot, showing the vehicles still on the road as of Christmas 1942. The picture without cars was ``after''-after Jan. 8, 1943, when the U.S. Office of Price Administration banned all but the most essential vehicle use in 17 Eastern states and the District of Columbia.
This was the situation in the U.S. during World War II-a situation U.S. tire dealers had already lived with for a year, and would live with at least three years more.
Dealers and their customers had received the ``blunt and gloomy'' news from OPA Administrator Leon Henderson early in 1942.
In an Associated Press story, Mr. Henderson warned that there would not be ``a single pound of new crude rubber' available either for new tires or retreads on some 20 million automobiles of ordinary citizens'' that year.
The government, however, still hoped to provide sufficient reclaimed-rubber tires for the cars of 7.5 million defense workers, the OPA Administrator added.
Moreover, the tire supply situation did not get appreciably better for the duration of the war. Tire dealers, like most other Americans, took the combination of wartime shortages and patriotic exhortations with equanimity.
Advertisements reflected the spirit of the times. ``They didn't have tires in those days, either!'' said a Goodyear ad showing a Conestoga wagon trekking across the plains. ``(I)t is well to keep in mind that the very self-denial which makes the situation tough is the stuff of which Victory will be made.''
B.F. Goodrich Co., in a July 1942 ad, pitched both its foresight and its synthetic rubber technology. In June 1940, under President John L. Collyer (later special rubber director of the War Production Board), BFG introduced the first commercial SR passenger tire, the Ameripol Silvertown.
``Did you know Americans bought these synthetic tires over TWO YEARS AGO!'' the ad said. But at the same time, the company added a disclaimer saying there were no SR passenger tires available then, and it did not know when they would be available. ``This is because military needs must come first,'' the ad said.
Even military needs could not always be met. Underestimating its tire needs, the Army came up 472,000 truck tires short in the first quarter of 1944, immobilizing thousands of military vehicles at the front, trade publications reported in September 1944.
Tire dealers survived during the war on hope and retreading, with retreads comprising up to two-thirds of the replacement tire market. Michael Berra, who founded Community Tire in St. Louis, Mo., in 1935, said he kept his business alive by retreading tires for government agencies and the military, using Hercules treads and equipment.
Thousands of dealers across the U.S., retreading with equipment from Hercules, Hawkinson, Lodi Super-Mold, James C. Heintz and other companies, stayed afloat with government business and the occasional boost from private citizens who still had retreadable casings.
The Army Ordnance also became involved, retreading and repairing as many as 80,000 tires a month. The lucrative airplane tire retreading market began during World War II; U.S. and British bombers were supplied with bead-to-bead retreads so the pilots wouldn't know the tires weren't new.
Customers who had government certificates could purchase ``emergency'' new tires, which often were no more than nylon or rayon casings with a thin lamination of rubber. Full-fledged SR tires came on the market later, but trade publications warned their readers in 1943 not to discourage customers from buying emergency tires because synthetics might soon become available.
To obtain whatever tires were available, a tire dealer had to pitch his sale to more than just the buyers, according to Richard E. Lewis Sr., CEO of Lewis General Tires Inc., Rochester, N.Y.
Lewis General Tires is the oldest continuous General Tire dealership in the world, founded in 1919 by Mr. Lewis's father, Leon E. Lewis.
During the war, Leon Lewis built a substantial business in retreading, using Hawkinson treads and equipment, according to his son. ``All the used tires were gold, and Dad was able to get a steady supply of them,'' Mr. Lewis said. ``But Dad was also very good at entertaining General Tire personnel, and getting them to give him priority on tires.''
Having friends in government was even more important to a tire dealer, according to Mr. Lewis. ``The guy who gave out the tire (ration) coupons, Dad made him his best friend,'' he said. ``That guy also gave out gas coupons; once when I was home on leave and had to drive back to my base, he gave me enough gas coupons to make the trip.''
The end of rationing on Jan. 1, 1946, didn't mean the end of tire shortages. Although the situation confronting those needing tires wasn't discouraging as it was for cars-where waiting lists as long as three years prevailed-supplies failed to meet demand for many months after the war ended.
Mr. Lewis said the worst was over for Lewis General Tires by the end of 1946. Mr. Berra said he couldn't remember precisely when supplies went back to normal, but things improved at Community Tire slowly but surely, month by month.
``There was no sudden increase in supplies,'' he said. ``We just serviced our customers with the tires we could get.''
Mr. Berra also spoke highly of the synthetic tires that comprised the bulk of the postwar supply. ``They were good tires, and rubber is rubber,'' he said.
But Mr. Lewis said the S3 synthetic tire-one of the most common passenger tires of the immediate postwar era-``weren't worth a damn. You had to run them at no faster than 35 mph, or the rubber separated from the cord.''
Tire buyers in the know used single-bead small truck tires. ``On Buicks and Plymouths, they were great,'' he said. Mr. Lewis and his father knew a dealer in Niagara Falls from whom they were able to get Firestone and Goodyear truck tires.
Retreading suffered with the renewed supply of new tires, but began a comeback in the early 1950s and has enjoyed a resurgence-particularly in the trucking industry-ever since.