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Federal Tires ad I HAD WORKED AT West Hill Shop in Putney, Vermont for about six months in 1978, when Jan VanderTuin walked in with a pair of wheels and asked to look at tubular tires. I knew who he was. He’d been in before, and my boss/mentor Neil Quinn, the owner of West Hill, had told me how VanderTuin had raced a bit in Vermont, done pretty well and had then headed west and had even more success road racing in California. I didn’t doubt he could ride. He was tall, lean, fit looking.

Jan (say “yawn”) asked if we had Clement Campionato del Mondo Setas in stock. I led him to our aged supply of tubulars stored on rims in a corner. He studied the del Mondos a bit sort of the way Rafa checks balls before a match, picked two out and asked me to mount them for him. He said he’d be back that afternoon.

Neil wouldn’t be in for a while, so I contemplated what to do about the wheels without his help. I knew a bit about tubular tires, having installed a few on my Motobecane and Raleigh. But I was no expert. My mechanical schooling to this point had been almost exclusively Schwinn approved. I’d spent one summer working at a funky here-today-gone-tomorrow shop before landing a job in an established Schwinn shop, which had sold over a thousand Varsitys a year for a decade.

I spent five years learning the intricacies of Huret derailleurs, Ashtabula bottom brackets and forks, straightening welded-steel rims and working with hot patches. I learned how to center bolt-on wheels; the difference between EA3 and S7 26-inch tires; which indicator to use with a coaster-brake Sturmey hub; how to seat stubborn tires in a vise; how to perfect Simplex shifting. In short: I knew a bunch. But tubulars? Shoot, we didn’t even stock ’em.

But Neil had taught me a lot. I figured I could handle the tubular job okay. Besides, I wasn’t sure when he’d be in and Jan seemed eager for the wheels. I got a tube of Clement red glue, jigged up the wheels and dabbed the goo between each pair of holes in the rim. Putting my finger in a baggie, I turned the wheels and spread the sticky stuff smooth. I waited fifteen minutes or so and added a second coat.

In New England, summers can be warm, and that day in ’78 it was hot; so hot that that Clement glue had a mind of its own. When I got the sewups mounted I watched in horror as it oozed from under the basetape and spread up the sidewalls like some blob in a fifties monster flick. Panicked, I grabbed a rag and spastically tried to wipe the spreading dollops off before they grew any more conspicuous. Like India ink on a white shirt, the stains only grew. It occurred to me that I might be able to cut the awful blotches with WD40, which I hastily applied to a rag and worked into the now hideously tainted $40 tubular. It didn’t touch the glue. I went for the solvent. Again, no effect besides adding a gray tint to the blemished sidewall. Disgusted, I hung the wheels on a hook, filled out the repair tag and went on to the next job.

The day passed slowly. Jan finally came in. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything so feeling embarrassed and ashamed, I just handed the wheels over. I had that black-out feeling you have when you stand up too quick and see spots. He held a wheel up studying it. He put it down, picked up the other and turned it over in the light examining my handiwork. Then he lowered the wheel, looked at me, and said, “You don’t do this very often, do you?”


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