Monday, December 21, 2015
The Rebuilt Inner Tube story
The Rebuilt Inner Tube story
A true story about rebuilding automobile inner tubes
Written 12/2010 and rewritten 05/ 2016 Unedited
In 1962 after resigning from my business relationship with Abe Zion, in Stamford Connecticut, I was now twenty three years old and unemployed, so naturally I was looking for something to do.
I had spent almost two years working with Abe, and his wisdom had opened my eyes to all kinds of future possibilities. Working with Abe had been quite an experience for me, an experience that only a few people as fortunate as me would ever have had access to.
My mother, who had observed everything I was doing, said that the education I received from working with Abe, far exceeded anything I could have received from any university, my mother was a wise woman.
As long as I had worked with Abe, I was his student, and he was my teacher. But In the end I had worked too many long hours doing Abe’s projects but I had little to show from it financially. I had learned the transmission parts business, the rebuilt wheel business, the recap tire business, the used car business, the auctioning business, and a multitude of other things, I had learned so many things that I could never list them all.
But the real important lesson I had learned, was that anything that man has made on this earth, once it is worn out, can be taken apart and rebuilt just like new again at a fraction of its original cost, and there always was a market waiting for it.
So, after resigning, my relationship with Abe I felt that to succeed, all I had to do was something I had learned from him, and all I needed to do was correct all Abe’s errors.
Unfortunately I was only twenty three years old, and I really had no idea of the value of what I had learned, it was only now after many years of business experiences that I could see that I had utilized the education he had given me. I had always heard people say they had learned at the “School of hard Knocks”, I could now relate to them as I had also attended it.
One one day I was driving through Seymour, Connecticut and I saw a small tire store with a pile of good used tires out front, so I stopped in to see if I could buy them.
That’s where I happened to meet a real nice fellow named Herb Schein, Herb owned the small retail tire business, and he was typical of many small business owners that were located in small Connecticut towns. He had been brought up in Seymour Connecticut, and everyone there knew him, and his small tire business was his whole world.
Herb was about fifty years old and just about as honest as they come. He had two employees and they sat around all day waiting for someone local to come in needing new tires, or perhaps needing a flat fixed. As we sat in Herb’s office, he asked what I was going to do with his used tires that I bought, and that led to our conversation about all kinds of tire related businesses, businesses that I had been involved in over the last few years with Abe, and that conversation led me to tell Herb all about the “Tire Breakers” that I had met in New Haven and New York. Most people wouldn’t know what a tire breaking business was, and neither did Herb, but I knew all about them, and now I was teaching Herb about them. I told him that tire breaking was a pretty big business, everywhere in New England, all they did was go to all the automobile junkyards that bought and cut up old cars and they bought the used tires that were still on the car wheels, usually they paid fifty cents or a dollar each. All the auto-mobile junkyards sold their good used tires, but they usually had more tires left over than they could sell, and having mounted tires all around took up too much junk yard space, so the tire breakers then bought them all. Then the tire breakers, would remove the tire from the wheel. So Now they had a wheel, and an inner tube, they also had a tire and the little valve stem from inside the inner tube valve.
The car wheel could be sold to people that needed a wheel, or sold as scrap iron, The used inner tubes were sold several ways, mostly the black neoprene inner tubes were sold to chemical companies, that melted them down to make chemicals. The little valve stems were thrown into a bottle and saved, and then finally there was the tire. The good used tires were sold to tire dealers who exported most of them. Slightly worn tires were sold to companies that re-grooved them with a hot tire cutting iron, those tires were sold in the south as good used tires. Worn out tires were sold to recap companies that put new rubber treads on them and sold them as re-caps, and lastly the Junk tires were sold to chemical companies like Naugatuck Chemical Company, or they were sold to companies that cut them up to make dock bumpers, rubber shoes and other things out of them. For a while some companies even chopped up the tires, and even though they were toxic, they were burned as fuel to produce electricity overseas.
Herb was astounded to hear all of this and asked me all kinds of questions, and since I had been involved one way or another with all these kinds of businesses I explained them all to him, and I mentioned that the tire breaking companies had lots of good used inner tubes, and they could be bought for about 35 cents each. That’s cheap Herb said, but what can you do with them? I told Herb that you could rebuild them and sell them as rebuilt inner tubes. I told him that a new inner tube sold depending on the size for about $3.00 to around $5.00 dollars so a rebuilt one could sell for about $1.50 each to $2.50 each, Herb listened and agreed.
The more we talked, the bigger Herbs eyes got. He said why don’t we make and sell rebuilt inner tubes right here? I told Herb that there was no reason we couldn’t do it, but in the back of my mind I knew that rebuilding inner tubes would be a fairly easy business but it was a labor intensive job, and Herb and his twos two helpers were pretty slow and easy going people, they were not really used to any labor intensive work, so I asked Herb who did he think would do the rebuilding of the inner tubes. Herb was now thinking of all the money he could make, and he was now very excited. Herb said, “All of us, we could rebuild the tubes right here in my store and we could sell the rebuilt inner tubes to tire wholesalers, and at flea markets. Herb asked if I really knew how to rebuild the inner tubes? I told him yes.
We sat and discussed the financial aspects and we agreed to split the costs and profits 50/50 each. I would go to New York and buy the tubes and Herb would donate the back yard of his store and the use of his employee’s. I would teach them how to rebuild inner tubes, and Herb and I could also pitch in to do some of the labor. So we decided to start out by buying one thousand used inner tubes at 35 cents each and we would then split the costs for any equipment and supplies we needed.
I drove to New York City and went to see a tire breaking company, the same people I had met before when I was working to develop the rebuilt wheel business with Abe. They were happy to see me again, and they agreed to separate out all the clean, black neoprene inner tubes that didn’t have patches on them. They said they would deliver them to us the following week when their truck was delivering junk tires to the chemical company in Naugatuck Connecticut.
I went back to Herb’s store in Seymour and we set up a long cable in the tire stores back yard, it was like a clothes line. We also set up a tank of soapy water to wash the tubes. Then I went to a local paint supplier and bought five gallons of black lacquer paint and lots of thinner.
I went to an industrial supply store and bought one thousand blue poly ethylene bags, the same color plastic bags that new inner tubes came in, I bought two pounds of talcum powder, and a bag tying machine, that would tie the plastic bags shut. A printer up the street printed up a generic label and we used rubber stamps to put the part number on the label, when packaged our rebuilt inner tube, it would look just like the original new inner tubes were packaged.
The inner tubes from New York were delivered and we unloaded them by hand. They had tied the deflated tubes in groups of 50, to hang off the sides and back of their big delivery truck, the tubes were heavy and dirty, but we were excited, so Herb and everyone pitched in to help. We told the tire breakers to prepare another thousand inner tubes for us.
That evening we inflated about fifty tubes, put on a valve cap and set them out in the yard to see if they leaked. The next morning, only about ten of them were deflated, that told us they had a leak.
I instructed Herb’s helpers on how to wash the inflated tubes in the soapy water, using a hard bristle brush. They did it while Herb and I found the leaks in the tubes and patched them. Herb had a rubber patch that came from a German company called Pang. When we used the Pang patch you couldn’t even tell there was a patch. The washed tubes were then dried in the sun, I set up a pan with very diluted black lacquer paint, then with very long rubber gloves I rubbed each tube with a very light coat of black lacquer, then with bent metal hooks, we hung the tubes off the clothes behind the store to dry. Then we inflated another fifty tubes for the next day, soon here was no room to walk anywhere in the stores or in the back yard, there were inner tubes everywhere.
Next day we deflated the painted tubes, folded them up using talcum powder and packed them in the blue plastic bags. They looked just like new tubes, except our label said rebuilt. As we rebuilt the tubes, I knew that what we were doing was more work than Herb had ever expected, but he didn’t complain, however I could see his both his helpers were not happy now that they had to really work every day.
We started selling the rebuilt inner tubes everywhere, and I constantly went back to New York to buy more tubes, and that’s when I found out the tire breakers would eventually run out of no patch tubes for us. They had plenty of inner tubes with big red and orange ugly patches on them, but it was not what we wanted, so this meant I had to start shopping in other places for more used black neoprene inner tube. So now I started buying some from other tire breakers in New York City and then in New Haven, Connecticut. I soon could see that we were going to have a problem buying more clean tubes, and that meant that I would have to spend more time on the road buying used tubes.
It wasn’t long before everyone in the tire business knew what we were doing. Herb couldn’t believe he was capable of actually doing a business like this. So for a while I kept buying and bringing in more inner tubes to be processed.
One day I received a call from Lebov Tire Company in New Haven, Connecticut, they were one of the largest tire companies in New England. The owner Ben Lebov wanted to set up a meeting with me, so I met with Ben and he said that his company was expanding to Tampa Florida, and they were shipping tires from New Haven to Tampa by railroad car. The problem was there was too much wasted space and he wanted to fill all that space up with all our rebuilt inner tubes. What a wonderful offer, but I knew it was impossible as we could never produce enough inner tubes fast enough for him.
I told Herb about Lebov Tire’s proposal to buy everything we could produce, but I could see that
Herb was now tiring of it all. He said his helpers wanted to quit, and I could see that Herb was right, we had a good business as long as I stayed on the road buying used inner tubes, but when I did that, it left the bulk of the work to Herb and his helpers. Herb was a nice guy, but he was not a hard worker, he preferred selling tires, better than rebuilding inner tubes, and I knew it. Herb realized that he liked sitting in his office waiting for a housewife to come in needing new tires. He would charge her full price and his employees would take their time installing them. That kind of business didn’t require any physical work on Herb’s part.
From my perspective, I also getting tired driving to New York to find inner tubes. So Herb and I decided to stop rebuilding inner tubes and we parted company as friends.