EdwardsLOUISVILLE, Ky.-George R. Edwards, who co-founded the Louisville Retreaders' Conference in 1958, said he's neither surprised nor displeased that both the show and its sponsor have been renamed-and that the word ``retreaders'' no longer appears in Either of these new designations. The 75-year-old Mr. Edwards, who along with the late E.L. ``Red'' Davis, a Radcliff, Ky., retreader, launched the first Louisville conference 39 years ago, will be inducted into the International Tire Retreading and Repairing Hall of Fame during this year's Louisville gathering, April 17-20.
But Mr. Edwards, who's largely been absent from the conference since 1968, is likely to find much has changed.
For one, the event is now called the ``World Tire Conference & Exhibition,'' the name having been changed in 1992 to reflect an expanded scope beyond retreading.
Likewise, the organization planning to honor Mr. Edwards no longer is the ``American Retreaders Association.'' It's now called the International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA).
Mr. Edwards sees nothing wrong with these changes, which merely enlarge the foundations laid nearly four decades ago.
``They've got a bunch of ambitious people (now running the association), and I'm proud of them,'' Mr. Edwards said.
The association's new name, adopted April 8, will enable it to attract members beyond retreaders, whose ranks have dwindled as a result of falling demand for passenger tire retreads, he said.
Mr. Edwards sees this fallout among passenger tire retreaders, who once numbered as many as 10,000, as the biggest change in today's industry vs. 30 years ago.
``We're nearly out of the passenger tire retreading business today,'' he said.
He places most of the blame for this decline on new-tire manufacturers for not turning out passenger tires that are as retreadable as today's steel radial truck tires-something they could accomplish if they wanted, he contended.
Born in Denver on March 6, 1921, Mr. Edwards started his long and colorful tire industry career at age 13, working part time in his father's tire sales and retread business.
When his father died unexpectedly in 1938, Mr. Edwards, then 17, took over the business and kept it afloat until he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he saw combat during World War II.
Returning to Denver following the war, he went to work at Gates Rubber Co., which then produced most of the private brand tires sold by Montgomery Ward & Co.
From Gates, Mr. Edwards went to work for Armstrong Rubber Co., where he directed the research and development of tread rubber for both new tires and retreading.
Some time later, he was wooed away by Manchester, N.H.-based Connaire Manufacturing Corp., one of the nation's largest retreaders, producing 1,000 passenger retreads a day and employing 250.
Once there, Mr. Edwards converted the company's formerly dark and dingy plant into a production showplace that attracted retreaders from across the U.S. Their interest made Mr. Edwards aware of the acute need for technical information on retreading.
He left Connaire in 1954 to found Retreading Consultant Services in Manchester, N.H., and launch Retreader's Journal, known today as The Tire Retreading/Repair Journal, which is owned and published by the ITRA.
It was in this capacity that he met Mr. Davis in 1957. The feisty Mr. Davis retained the New Hampshire consultant to do battle with the U.S. Army, which had decided to do its own retreading, thereby withdrawing its business not only from Mr. Davis's Knox Tire Service, but from other independent retreaders nationwide.
After several trips to Washington and protracted talks with military officials, the two men finally won assurances that the Army would give up retreading and return to its former policy of buying retreads from independents.
However, they became angry when Dealer News, the magazine of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, published an article crediting the NTDRA for the Army's favorable decision and failing to mention any contribution on the part of Messrs. Davis and Edwards.
In retaliation, Mr. Edwards angrily penned an article in the Retreader's Journal, denouncing the association for trying to steal the credit. This apparently so angered NTDRA officials that Mr. Edwards was told he was unwelcome when he arrived at the NTDRA's Cincinnati convention later that year.
Infuriated, Messrs. Edwards and Davis and their wives left the Cincinnati convention and drove to Louisville.
En route, they drove past the newly constructed Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center, where Mr. Davis had an inspiration. ``Hell, George, we'll start our own convention. Everybody needs a little competition. . . . And it's time retreading had its own show.''
Mr. Davis, who was president of the Central States Retreaders' Association, persuaded the group to sponsor the event, and the first Louisville Retreaders' Conference took place the following year-with 27 exhibitors and 375 retreaders in attendance.
Mr. Edwards ran the conference for more than a decade with the help of his wife, Stephanie, whose infectious smile and sunny disposition warmed conference-goers at the registration booth. She died of lung cancer in 1977.
Among Mr. Edwards' conference memories are:
The U.S. debut of studded winter tires at the 1959 conference, when nationally known automotive writer Tom McCahill delighted conference-goers with a demonstration of high-speed maneuvers over the ice rink of the Kentucky Exposition Center. Having just demonstrated the advantages of studded tires, he drove onto the ice with an identical car not equipped with studded tires.
Unfortunately, the car was traveling too fast by the time he slammed on the brakes. It traveled across the ice, crashed into the opposite wall of the rink and was totaled.
The cement spray patent case, which caused the association in 1964 to change its name to the American Retreaders Association to rally national support for the legal defense of retreaders accused of infringing the patents on the spray application of cement.
Introduction of the fiberglass-belted tire by Owens Corning in the late 1960s, a concept soon adopted by most U.S. tire makers, who produced hundreds of thousands of such tires before completing their conversion to radial tire construction.
The appearance of consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who had authored the book, Unsafe at any speed, as a conference keynoter during the late '60s.
Mr. Edwards' introduction to American retreaders of the concept of mixing their own tread rubber.
In 1971, Mr. Edwards left retreading to found International Rubber Industries (IRI) in Louisville, Ky., the first new U.S. manufacturer of passenger tires in more than 50 years. He later lost control of IRI, and the company, operating under different management, ultimately folded.
Mr. Edwards remained in new-tire manufacturing, serving for two years as a full-time consultant to Goodyear before choosing to confine his consulting practice to tire forensics.
Frequently employed as an expert witness in cases involving tire-related accidents, Mr. Edwards soon became aware of the problems resulting from the mismatching of 16-inch tires on 16.5-inch rims. Working on his own, he conceived of certain changes in the bead configuration and the diameter of the individual bead wires, which prevent 16-inch tires from exploding when mounted on the larger rims.
He obtained a patent on his bead design, which he later abandoned to encourage tire makers to adopt the safer bead, and it became the industry standard in 1991, he said.
Mr. Edwards takes pride in the fact that no bead explosions have occurred in tires designed according to his specifications.