|Michael Nahm does not ride a motorcycle. He has, in fact, never ridden a motorcycle, and the suggestion that he has even a passing interest in motorcycling is enough to make him laugh. Out loud.
But that hasn't stopped Nahm from coming up with an invention that is very important to motorcyclists-an invention that is revolutionizing the restoration of motorcycle parts that are often expensive (sometimes even priceless) and that tend to be rare (even, in some instances, irreplaceable).
The invention is a liquid into which Nahm dunks your expensive and rare parts. But this is no ordinary dunk. It's a patented organic rust remover that will actually remove the rust from your priceless parts and leave them ready for refinishing. It will remove the rust without harming the paint, rubber or plastic on your precious tank, fender or what-have-you. And, if you happen to spill it all over your skin, it won't hurt that, either.
Nahm's wonder product is called Rusteco and it's been Nahm's life since about 1983.
"Back then, the regulations started changing on environmental issues and the EPA was getting more involved in hazardous waste handling and disposal," Nahm explained. "We wanted to come up with something special that would meet-and exceed-the regulations. We did it the old-fashioned way; we worked very hard for it."
"We," in this case, is RUSTECO LLCoration, the family owned business that developed Rusteco and that now owns the trademark on it.
"What we were looking for was something that satisfied three major requirements," Nahm explained.
"First, we wanted to find something that is environmentally, not only compliant, but totally safe without any small print. We wanted to come up with a product that, whatever we advertised, that's what it is. One where you didn't have to read 20 lines of small print saying don't do this, that or the other thing.
"Second, we wanted a product that worked on ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Steel equally as well as chrome, aluminum, stainless steel, cast iron-any metal.
"And third, we wanted a product that was cost effective and that meant it had to have repeat usability or multiple repeat usability. With one batch or whatever size order you buy, you can clean many, many parts."
And Rusteco does all three. The product is actually an organic compound that's made from natural plants. The active ingredient is citric acid-a food grade citric acid of the type that's found in Cola drinks.
"If you read the side of a Cola can, it will be listed as one of the ingredients," said Nahm. "And if you put a rusty nail in a can of Cola and leave it overnight, you will see that some of the rust is gone the next day. Of course, it doesn't remove all the rust or protect the metal against rust like our product, but it has some of the characteristics that you'll find in our product."
To remove inside rust, gas tanks, with paint, rubber and plastic still attached, are simply lowered into a vat of Rusteco and soaked for 48 hours.
Rusteco is about as acidic as lemon juice, so it is safe to use and can be tipped down the kitchen sink when you're through.
"It is environmentally completely and totally safe-not only in handling but also in disposal," said Nahm. "You can put it down the sink without worrying about the affect it has on wildlife or marine life. Fish actually like it. It's food product, so they eat it."
Rusteco is so safe, in fact, that, rather than dump it down the drain when its useful life is over, Nahm recommends that you pour it over your garden.
"Lots of our customers put it in the garden. All the iron that you add to the product while you clean rusty metal pieces makes it a very effective fertilizer. Go ahead and laugh, but it's true," said Nahm.
When Rusteco was first formulated, Nahm's focus was on the marine business.
"We were in the shipping industry and we were looking for ways to clean ballast tanks, cargo tanks-big jobs like that," he explained. "I worked together with a chemist and we did a lot of developmental work over a number of years, then, in 1992, we had a product that we thought was ready to go to the market. We started with all the regulatory certifications-with the EPA, the FDA, the USDA-all the different organizations. It was voluntary at that time but we knew we would need them for government agencies and other different companies who wanted to use the product."
"We did commercial work, but we also worked with people across the country doing sample cleaning so they could find out what it did and how it worked for them," said Nahm.
Nahm may not have bikes of his own, but he understands both the monetary and sentimental value of his customers' two-wheeled treasures.
And that's how he stumbled-quite by accident-on the idea of using Rusteco to help motorcyclists.
"That wasn't something we planned; it just came about," said Nahm. "I think our first customer was Kolbe Cycles in Woodland Hills. I went to see the service manager at the time and he asked me if it could clean a rusty gas tank. He said that was a major problem for motorcyclists. I said, 'I think it can; let's give it a try,' and we did."
Nahm cleaned his first motorcycle tank in 1993. Since then, more than 5,000 tanks have been processed at the Rusteco service center, which is now located in Long Beach. And that total does not take into account the tanks that people are cleaning at home.
"For the past two years, we've been selling the product for people to use at home," said Nahm. "We give them very simple-to-follow instructions. A six-year-old kid could do it-literally speaking and because of the safety aspects. You have no problems. We've had some people… I remember one at a Harley-Davidson swap meet a few years back. One of the guys had a beer in one hand and, when he saw the jar with the blue liquid in it, he grabbed it and drank it. He said, 'Hey, beer takes better,' but he was fine. Of course, we don't recommend that people drink it but it has no hazardous or toxic components whatsoever. No fumes, no odors, and it doesn't affect your skin."
And using Rusteco is almost as easy as taking a bath.
"Basically, you soak your part in it and it loosens the rust up, then you use a little bit of force-the motion of your hand with a pad or a pressure washer on the garden hose-to remove what's left," said Nahm. "At home, if you wanted to clean a tank, you would just seal off the petcocks, fill the tank to the top and let it sit there. Normally we recommend 48 hours if the rust is real bad because it's pretty much the best time frame, but you could do it in 24 hours.
"After that, you pour the product into a bucket or container, then you wash the tank out with water. Use a garden hose or car-wash gun or something similar. With that little bit of pressure you remove any loose chunks and any rust that might still be in there. Once you've washed it out, you put the liquid in one more time. Let it sit overnight, then drain it and then you're done.
"You can dry the tank with any kind of hairdryer on low heat or with rags, or just put the gas straight in there and go because it has no affect on running the bike. The reason we say to dry it off is that, if you let it dry naturally on its own, some of the residue that might still be on the metal can turn to a brownish color and people sometimes think that means there might still be rust in the tank. It appears to be a discoloration if it dries on its own but, if you dry it with an air compressor or hair dryer or wipe it with a rag, it removes that little bit of residue and you have a nice shinny metal surface. And it will not oxidize again, provided you don't expose it to air and moisture over a long period of time."
Although the bulk of Nahm's business is heavy industrial work, he deals with a lot of motorcyclists and he has come to understand exactly how important a piece of iron, steel or whatever can be.
From rust to resurrection: 48 hours in Rusteco not only removes rust, it provides a protective coating and a great adhesive for any type of paint.
"I don't want to disappoint all the bikers out there. We don't ride bikes, we don't have tattoos or any of that good stuff, and we only got involved with motorcycles probably by coincidence, but we realize that there's a big need for people to whom motorcycle tanks are really, really something special," said Nahm. "It might be a custom tank or custom paint, or a tank that is not manufactured any more, and these people need a remedy-something they can do cost effectively and safely that will ensure they have a trouble-free ride for many years to come.
"I would say at least 70 percent of the tanks we get in are really, really important to their owner because of the situation. Some of the tanks, like on Indians or Harley-Davidsons, have paint jobs that are worth $5,000 or even $10,000 and a lot of the tanks are irreplaceable, especially in the restoration business. If you can't mount the original tank again, the value of the bike goes right down the drain, and we know that.
"We are very concerned and, to us, each tank is really something very special" said Nahm. "We put a lot of attention into these tanks when they come to us and, if the tank is so special, or it's a vintage situation and you don't want to ship it across the country in case you lose it, or get damaged in transit, that's why we developed our instructions for using the product at home."
With the family owned business taking up about 18 hours of each day, it's unlikely that Nahm will have a chance to discover the fun of motorcycling in the near future, but for now he's content just to hear those who know what two-wheeled fun is all about say the magic words: "Tanks, Michael. Tanks a lot."