The tire business, as we know it today, was shaped not only by historic events, but by men and women whose industry, hard work and perseverance improved the lot of independent dealers and other tire retailers and wholesalers. The following is a sampling of the accomplishments of some of the hundreds of tire dealers who left their mark on the road to today.
Winston W. ``Bill'' Marsh (1909-1988) was a 40-year-old tire dealer in Hamilton, Ohio, when he took over the vacated post of executive secretary to the National Association of Independent Tire Dealers (later known as the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association and now the Tire Association of North America).
As the group's second vice president and the closest elected official to its Washington, D.C., office, he had been commuting to and from the capital on weekends to sign checks and perform other necessary association functions after the previous executive secretary quit because of illness.
The group's executive committee asked him if he'd like the executive secretary job on a permanent basis and he accepted. It turned out to be so much to his liking he stayed on for the next 28 years, until retiring in 1977.
During those years, he was credited with adding numerous association services, raising the group's dealer membership from less than 1,200 to more than 4,000, reviving its once nearly defunct convention and trade show and galvanizing members into a potent political force in Washington and the industry.
Emert L. ``Red'' Davis (1912-1973), of (Fort) Knox Tire Service in Radcliff, Ky., quarreled with officials of the National Association of Independent Tire Dealers in the 1950s over what he considered that group's lack of support for retreaders battling a U.S. Army decision to begin retreading in-house.
He enlisted help from retreading consultant, George R. Edwards, editor of the Retreaders' Journal, who strongly criticized NAITD in his monthly magazine. Angered, NAITD officials retaliated by barring the pair from its 1957 convention. Locked out of the tire industry's biggest trade show, Messrs. Davis and Edwards elected to stage their own trade show.
The resulting Louisville Retreaders Conference (now called the World Tire Expo) took place the following year. This, in time, led to formation of a rival national dealer organization—the American Retreaders Association, now called the International Tire and Rubber Association.
Les Schwab in 1952 went into business in Prineville, Ore., with $3,500 capital, one employee and in what has been described as little more than a ``shed with a two-holer out back and an outdoor water pump.'' Since then, the Les Schwab Tire Centers chain has grown into one of North America's largest retreading and tire sales operations.
In the process, the company also has gained a reputation for exemplary customer service, knowledgeable, energetic employees, written warranties and honest dealings.
Throughout his career, Mr. Schwab emphasized and rewarded the important role played by the company's employees, whom he considers his extended family. Many dealers consider his book, Les Schwab: Pride in performance, keep it going, the ``bible of tire retailing.''
Harold V. James (1895-1984) played a significant role in assuring the U.S. and its allies had enough tires to fight World War II. His inventions helped extend the life of the nation's tires—a vital and scarce commodity during the war.
In 1942, when Japan's forces captured Malay and the country's rubber supply threatened, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to convince government officials that tires could be successfully retreaded. Earlier, he had become interested in tire repairing and retreading as a means of reducing tire wastes.
He gave up selling life insurance to develop better methods of repairing and reusing tires. After much experimentation, he discovered that infrared light could heat the injured portion of a tire and ``weld'' on new rubber to make the repair.
The result was the OK Rubber Welder repair and retreading system, around which he organized the OK Rubber Welders cooperative, which exists today as Canada's O.K. Tires dealer group.
Robert F. ``Bob'' Gatzke in 1966 was a founding partner in the Ventura, Calif.-based Parnelli Jones Inc. retail chain, which had grown to more than 90 retail and four wholesale locations before it was broken up and sold in 1998.
While president of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association in 1992, he formulated the ``Independent Tire Dealers' Bill of Rights,'' articulating how the association's dealer members wanted tire makers to treat them. The controversial document no doubt angered some tire manufacturers, but others said they welcomed it as a benchmark for measuring their own relationships with dealers.
David R. Lehman (1896-1962) got into the tire business in 1910, working in the tire department of the city's sole distributor of Ford automobiles. Seven years later, with $100 capital, he opened his own business only eight blocks from the White House.
The dealership dispensed gasoline using a five-gallon bucket and a funnel and had an air line under the sidewalk to provide tire inflation service curbside. In 1928, he built the city's first ``super-service'' station, with six gasoline pumps, a covered lube bay, three hydraulic lifts and a full line of auto accessories, including tires.
Six years later, he installed one of the area's first retread plants on the building's second floor.
In the late 1940s and early '50s, Mr. Lehman was especially responsible for helping rejuvenate the then-ailing National Association of Independent Tire Dealers, serving as president in 1950-51, corporate secretary eight years, and a board member 11 years. His son, Russell Lehman, later served as association president in 1971.
Manuel P. Correia, a Portuguese immigrant who left school after the eighth grade, founded Sharkey's Tire & Rubber Co., at age 19, opening a service station in Mattapoisett, Mass., and building a reputation for customer service, which remained the hallmark of his business.
Early in his career, he became a member of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association and, along with a small group of dealers, helped found the New England Association of Independent Tire Dealers.
Mr. Correia began retreading prior to World War II, and in the early 1950s, he and 11 other retreaders in need of consistent, high-quality tread rubber joined together to buy a factory in Stamford, Conn., and found the Atlas Rubber Co.
The firm was later renamed Hercules Tire & Rubber Co., becoming the first investor-owned co-op in the industry. He died May 26, 1999.
James Harlan Heafner (1904-1988), while working as a high school principal in 1935, opened a tire sales, retreading and gasoline outlet in Lincolnton, N.C. He would arrive early at the dealership each morning to line up the day's activities before putting in a full day's work at school.
The J.H. Heafner Co. has since grown to include more than 210 retail outlets and more than $950 million in sales. When he entered the business, most dealers purchased tires directly from the manufacturer through regional warehouses. Recognizing a need, he became one of the first tire distributors in the Southeast to institute personalized, same-day delivery.
Pamela A. Fitzgerald, president of Melbourne, Fla.-based Gatto's Tires and Auto Service, not only was the first woman to serve as president of the former National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, she also presided over the greatest period of change in the group's 79-year history.
During her whirlwind administration from 1997 to '98, the NTDRA: changed its name to the Tire Association of North America (TANA); departed Washington, D.C., for less costly quarters in Reston, Va.; eliminated nearly all administrative staff and began outsourcing most functions; balanced the group's budget and retired 60 percent of its long-term debt; shrunk the board of directors from 88 members to 36; merged its annual trade show with that of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA); and extended full membership to suppliers.