Former Senator Gaylord A. Nelson, D-Wis., easily might be called the father of the government's Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) system.
Some 37 years ago, while serving in the U.S. Senate, he tacked on a last-minute amendment to what then was about to become the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, best known today for ushering in federal tire standards.
Mr. Nelson's controversial amendment called for establishing a federal tire grading system within two years. But it wasn't until 1979-nearly 13 years after his legislation's passage and 11 years past its originally stated deadline-that UTQG became a reality.
Now 87, the former Wisconsin governor who served in the Senate from 1963-81, lives with his wife in Kensington, Md.
Best known these days as an environmentalist and founder of Earth Day, Mr. Nelson is completing his 23rd year working for the Wilderness Society, where he still clocks in at the group's Washington offices each morning. He received the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, from President Bill Clinton in 1995.
Mr. Nelson told Tire Business he became interested in tire safety and in providing consumers with some means of making informed tire-buying decisions after receiving a letter from an engineer in Milwaukee who said the tires of that day wouldn't support the weight for which they were rated.
Mr. Nelson said he sought the advice of a large-volume tire retailer who told him: ``Look at these tires. They all appear the same on the outside. But just grab this one and try to squeeze it. Now grab the other one.''
Mr. Nelson said that although the second tire looked much like the first one, it obviously wasn't of equal quality. ``Even I, as an amateur, could tell that,'' he said. ``So I introduced the legislation, and it went to the Senate Commerce Committee and finally passed. But it took a long, long time'' to be enacted.
Asked what behind-the-scenes political maneuvering had taken place to allow the insertion of such a controversial amendment just as the overall auto safety bill was about to be voted on, Mr. Nelson said he no longer can recall. ``At my age, I hardly can remember what went on 30 minutes ago-let alone more than 30 years ago,'' he joked.