Although it took more than three decades for the word ``Retreaders'' to be added to the association's name, retreading's practitioners have played an important role in much of the NTDRA's colorful history. Some of the association's toughest battles were waged in the name of retreading. In fact, the NTDRA's most important legislative victory was persuading Congress to remove the excise tax on tread rubber in 1984.
It was the association's formation of the Tire Retreading Institute in 1955 which added the word ``Retreading'' to its name-becoming the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association rather than the National Association of Independent Tire Dealers. (The word ``Independent'' was omitted for reasons of brevity.)
Those retreaders who took part in the association's founding 75 years ago called themselves ``vulcanizers''; and it's likely they thought of themselves as tire repairers rather than remanufacturers, as many now regard themselves.
Nevertheless, the concept of extending a tire's useful life by rejuvenating its tread appears to be as old as tire manufacturing itself.
Not much more than 75 years ago, treads were actually sewn on by pioneering retreaders. Since few roads were paved in those days, ruts often wore out a tire's sidewalls as quickly as its tread. So enterprising mechanics took advantage of this fact by remov-ing the treads of such tires and then sewing them over top the worn treads of otherwise sound casings.
Later, the process was improved by removing the old tread using a knife or buffer and then replacing it with the ``new'' tread. A flexible steel coil was placed inside the tire and the whole assembly wrapped in canvas strips like a bandage and then cured with live steam in a kettle.
Shortly before World War I, the first curing molds were introduced. However, they permitted only a portion of the tire to be cured at one time. In the case of third-circle molds, for example, the tire had to be shifted three times during the curing cycle. Clamps, bars and sand bags were employed to provide the necessary pressure.
Since some tread rubber flowed from the ends of the mold, extra stock had to be applied to compensate for the flow. Because of the stock's humped appearance, it was called ``camelback.''
The introduction during the 1920s of full-circle molds, requiring no shifting during curing, gained retreading additional practitioners and increased its importance in the tire marketplace.
However, the cotton cord tires of that era were plagued with flex and impact breaks, reducing the supply of retreadable casings and limiting retreading's growth.
It was the unprecedented need for tires during World War II-along with more durable rayon and nylon cord tires-that really launched retreading as an industry.
With North America's supply of natural rubber severely curtailed by the Japanese occupation in the Far East-and nearly all tire production needed for the Allied war effort-new tires were strictly rationed and often unavailable to much of the civilian population.
Retreaders rose to this challenge, supplying nearly two-thirds of civilian tire needs during those years.
Meanwhile, far away in Europe and the Pacific, retreading also was playing a vital role in the war effort.
The war's mobile nature required that tires be retreaded and returned to service as rapidly as possible. In the war's European theater of operations, for example, the U.S. Army operated 10 tire repair companies turning out 80,000 truck retreads a month-in mobile shops not far from front lines.
Service men working in these Ordnance Tire Repair companies didn't have a glamorous job. They handled millions of tires-sometimes working and even sleeping in mud. Yet they realized their role was just as important as those on the fighting front.
However, in order to meet the demand, retreaders often had to process unsuitable casings using inferior materials and inexperienced personnel.
Retreading saved the day and grew into a large, established industry in the process. But the sometimes poor quality of its product during that era left retreading suffering from a negative public image it still is trying to overcome today.
The post-war years of the late 1940s and '50s were prosperous ones for retreading. Many new tire dealers, in fact, got into retreading during that era expecting to reap high profits. But retreading's heyday was short-lived.
In the decades that followed, retreaders faced a formidable number of challenges-from learning to process new tire constructions to an increasing array of new tire sizes and tough competition from low-priced new tires.
To make matters worse, the federal government in 1956 imposed a tax on tread rubber that had it been enacted as originally proposed would have eliminated any price difference between retreads and new tires.
Twice, the association succeeded in persuading Congress to reduce the proposed rate of the tax. (One such proposal, for example, would have amounted to three times the raw material cost of the rubber.)
As a result, the tax rate was held to three cents a pound in 1956, when the tax was enacted, and at five cents in the 1960s when federal officials had sought to triple the earlier rate.
Then, after fending off yet a third attempt to raise the tax in 1984, the NTDRA and its allies persuaded Congress to eliminate the 28-year-old tax.
However, time has taken its toll on North America's retreaders who once numbered more than 10,000 and now total less than 1,400.
Meanwhile, the retreading of passenger tires-once practiced by the majority of U.S. retread shops-declined from a record 40 million units in 1971 to less than 6 million last year.
On the other hand, it's doubtful that even the most optimistic in the industry's early days would have foreseen the time when the output of medium truck retreads would outnumber that of new tires-which exists today.
The NTDRA's Tire Retreading Institute was among the first with processing standards for retreading and a certification program for retread shops. It also initiated one of the first public relations efforts to upgrade retreading's public image in the 1960s.
But the image-building program proved too costly, leaving the TRI in debt to the association.
As an organization, TRI now exists mostly on paper-its membership having been absorbed by the NTDRA.
But the TRI certification program is still going strong. The NTDRA estimates that its three full-time inspectors will conduct about 300 shop certification inspections during 1995.