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Friday
Mar312006

The John Howard Frame Saga


There is a part of the story I have not told before; how I opened my frameshop in San Marcos, California in 1983 and started producing John Howard frames and why this arrangement only lasted about a year?

I went to work for Masi in October 1980 and through the following year I built about 25 or 30 frames a month. The problem was they were not selling close to that number and by the end of 1981 there were hundreds of Masi frames hanging from every available space in the shop. I had in effect worked myself out of a job, and in December 1981 I was laid off temporarily and told to sign on unemployment.

I actually got as far as standing in line at the unemployment office. I found it very degrading and left without actually signing on. I went back to Masi and asked if I could build my own frames in their shop using their equipment. I had already been building a few of my own frames on my own time the year before and I had a few orders to get me started. I started calling bike dealers all over the US offering to build custom frames. I could build a custom frame within two weeks which was unheard of at the time.

Enough work came in that I did not have to sign on unemployment. The problem came six months later when Masi had made inroads into their stockpile of frames and wanted to start production again. I now had enough work on my own frames and didn’t want to go back to building Masis. It just so happened that Dave Tesch had come along and was able to step into the breach for Masi. But the problem was we were all using the same equipment, and it became obvious that I would soon need my own shop.

I had about $7,000 of my own money saved but needed to borrow another $23,000 to open a full production frameshop. I managed to borrow this from a local bank which was somewhat of a miracle because I had only been in the US for three years and didn’t have enough of a credit rating to even get a credit card.

One of the things that helped me get the loan was that John Howard an ex Olympian and had won the prestigious Iron Man Triathlon in 1980, had asked me to build a line of frames with his name on them. I opened my frameshop around July of 1983 in a brand new industrial building in San Marcos, CA about a mile from the Masi shop. John wanted his frames to be of the same standard of workmanship and quality as the Masi frames, but he intended to sell them for less. Tough to do but we agreed on a price; the agreement was that I would build five frames all the same size at one time, and repeat that every week.

Now here is were the story gets interesting and is the part I have not told before. There was an individual who had a business in La Jolla, next to San Diego. He was a broker dealing in foreign currencies. He had salesmen going around getting investors and everyone was making lots of money. He was sponsoring the local triathletes and paying John Howard a considerable amount as their coach.

This was the money John was using to buy frames from me. Every thing went great for about a year then the investment broker it appears was not investing in anything. He was a crook and the whole thing was a Ponzi scheme, a scam using new investors money to pay off old investors.

John Howard was of course a victim of all this as much as anybody, as well as losing his source of income; he too had invested heavily with this guy. John no longer had the means to order five frames a week from me, and I had to scramble to fill the void in my production. This is when the Fuso was born.

I don’t remember the name of this individual from La Jolla which is perhaps as well. He did go to prison for a long time. He also indirectly helped the then new sport of triathlons get a boost, helped me get my frameshop going and forced me to start a line of frames called Fuso.

Reader Comments (11)

Great story. I've been trying to remember the name of the guy too, but can't just yet.

Thanks for the history lesson again.
The name of the fellow in San Diego was J. David Dominelli
I just acquired a John Howard. I used to own a Dave Moulton Special Road that I loved. I am so sorry I parted with it.
April 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter youdelr
I saw your blog listed over at The Lowcountry Blogosphere(http://postscripts.typepad.com/lowcountryblogs/) and thought I’d stop in for a visit. My husband is a HUGE fan of yours and can't believe you live in the area.
April 28, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Lisa
Nice to know. About a month ago a John Howard came into my shop. I didn't do the repair but I noticed it hanging in the racks since it was lugged steel. Obviously a nice frame but I had no idea of its history, had my attention diverted by other tasks at hand and completely forgot about it --until today of course.
July 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Anthony King
I recently picked up a John Howard frame for such a small amount of money that I should be whipped by Karma for the rest of my life. The paint is in Mediocre condition but it IS one of your bikes by all accounts. Campy drops front and rear, chrome rear chainstay, stamps on seat stays name on left rear stay
September 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Noah
so before I cut myself off I was going to say, I am too poor to properly restore the bike but it is so great I feel crazy about the idea of just selling it to some shmoe. What would you suggest? If youd like I could send you some pictures.
September 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Noah
Noah,
I love to hear stories like this; there are bargains to be had out there. Look on it as fortune smiling on you. You could turn it around on eBay for a quick profit; or just hold on to it as the value will only increase with time.

I would like to see pictures; let me know the frame size and serial number. Email me at dave@ProdigalChild.net
September 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Dave Moulton
Dave,

I just purchased a John Howard frame. Serial # 063DT53

I'm very excited about building it up; it'll be my first "project" bike.

http://i21.ebayimg.com/01/i/000/ab/e8/ab30_1.JPG
August 22, 2007 | Unregistered Commenter bill
Dave, I have a good idea of how you feel here. I'm an "ex-framebuilder" myself. I built for a very well known builder in Boulder, Colorado years ago and fell victim to the rather unpredictable financial roller coaster ride that so many small companies encounter. Back then (early 90's) things went south in the shop and we tried different marketing, and some higher profile partnerships, namely with KHS, but it was all in vain. The shop was closed and we (the three full time employees) were laid off. I stayed in bicycles nearly through 1999, then went back to school and have worked in law enforcement since then. I didn't even look at a bike for a good five years before just recently getting the passion back, but not for racing anymore. I just picked up a KHS made John Howard and am looking forward to having a good start to a nice retro collection of ridable bike. I remember the Fuso's distinctly by the way, I always liked your work.
January 10, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter trancematt
http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&rd=1&item=230271652082&ssPageName=STRK:MESE:IT&ih=013

I have one of your awesome john howard bikes for sale. it is mint.
July 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous

I remember that guy who sponsored all these athletes in the Sand Diego area in the early 1980s. His name was J. David Dominelli, and the athletes wore clothing that had "J.David" listed on them in big letters. The last name of Dominelli wasn't used, but everyone knew the name "J.David" at the time because the big shots in the sport of Triathlon were sponsored by him. This includes most of the top guys at the time like Mark Tinley and the Scotts (Scott Molin and Dave Scott). I remember when the whole thing collapsed for J David. It was in all the papers at the time. As it turns out this guy was spending millions donating to many charitable causes all over the area and he was tight with the local politicians--donating to their campaigns. You bet everybody distanced themselves very quickly from this guy when things turned sour. This episode reminds me of the scandle with the Dupont corporation heir when he was sponsoring Olympic wrestlers and things fell apart.

September 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDave G
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