Starting in 1910, the number of Snyder County’s automobile service and sales garages steadily increased. These were almost exclusively operated by men in their thirties who came from families with experience in wagonmaking or blacksmithing. They knew how to work with metal and how to fix axles—that was enough to make them early car experts.
In 1910 George Schoch opened a repair shop and dealership that connected the small town to a national network of automobile manufacturers and parts suppliers. What mattered most for a small garage like this was its connections. Schoch’s “S Garage,” at the corner of Market and Walnut, represented both the A.A.A. and the Quaker City Motor Club, an organization founded the decade before to sponsor Philadelphia-area automobile races.
The affiliations gave the 31-year-old Schoch a reputation for automotive expertise. Promising to “adjust all trouble,” the S Garage’s newspaper ads referred to both the supplies that customers would find there and the various car makers (Hudson, EMF, Jackson, etc.) for which the garage served as a sales agent. By 1912, Schoch advertised his company’s electric vulcanizing process as a cutting-edge way to retread pneumatic tires.
Beyond newspaper advertising, Schoch had also lined area roads with small, red “S” signs that led motorists to his garage. He advertised frequently for the cars that he sold. A Schoch ad for the Regal 20 Roadster from March 1912 used copy from the manufacturer, telling of that season’s automobile shows that had made the Regal a “universal favorite.”
The other main concern in town was several blocks away. The Fisher Garage on Water Street, run by 37-year-old Samuel Fisher, held the coveted Maxwell distributing deal. Fisher was one of 226 Maxwell agents in the nation by 1916. When the garage received “car loads” of Maxwells for sale every few months, they advertised in local newspapers to spread the word. By 1917, Fisher also sold Paige models, and he had adopted Chryslers by 1930.
The Bowersox Motor Company (on Chestnut behind the National Hotel) held the Maxwell distributorship after World War I. Thirty-year-old Warren Bowersox started the company during the war, having been previously employed as a mechanic for the Fisher Garage. The Bowersox Motor Company did not last; the Selinsgrove Times reported that “financial reverses overwhelmed him” and forced him out of business.
James Raudenbush stepped in in 1921 to take over local Maxwell dealing. He marked his second anniversary in “catering to the automobile needs of this community” in April 1923 by holding a 10%-off sale. In the summer of 1924, he held cash auctions at which more than a dozen cars were up for sale at a time.
Raudenbush sold the garage to 29-year-old Lloyd Zellner, a former hotel keeper. Zellner briefly employed Fisher as a salesman, before they split the company in two, with Fisher selling Chryslers thereafter.
Competing with Schoch and Fisher in the 1910s were several other mechanic/dealers in Selinsgrove. Daniel Schucker, a 39-year-old dealer in the RCH brand, briefly operated just a few blocks from Schoch. Schucker moved on to hosiery manufacturing by 1918. Merritt Richter, a 32-year-old son of a civil engineer, operated a garage at Market and Mill. Richter was a Chevrolet distributor. Charles Neiswender briefly ran a Ford distributorship before becoming a hotelier. And the Stein Motor Car Company, begun in 1915, was bought by 26-year-old Mark Bonawitz in 1917 and turned into the Bonawitz Motor Company.
In early 1922, Shambach’s garage emerged on North Market Street to offer Studebakers. Thirty-three-year-old Warren Shambach, a day laborer and carpenter, made money on the side by selling firewood. Shambach briefly owned the garage before selling out after eighteen months to 24-year-old Edward Aurand. Aurand kept the Studebaker contract and claimed to offer the utmost in service, “which the modern motorist demands.”
By the end of the 1920s, only the S Garage, the Fisher Garage, and Richter were still in operation. All the others—the “pollywog dealers” that the trade press scorned—left the business after a short time. Richter was done by 1930, when Homer Kepler owned the Kepler Chevrolet Company. Thirty-year-old Kepler had run an auto dealership and repair garage in Mount Pleasant Mills before the war, and his move to town was the start of two decades of Chevrolet dealing at Market and Mill.
Judging by their newspaper ads, it is likely that Schoch and Fisher read trade magazines like Automobile Topics. Both proprietors used sales tactics that such publications regularly advised to local garages. For instance, the owners’ emphasis on supplies and peripherals (heaters, auto robes, trunks, etc.) and their advertising efforts followed the magazine’s findings on effective business practices. Schoch followed trade advice to change newspaper advertising copy frequently and to use a system of roadway signs to draw motorists to his garage. Fisher was the first in town to run full-page newspaper ads. As early as 1915, both offered extended test drives and performance demonstrations.
Local dealers paid close attention to newspaper classified ads selling used cars. The local used car market was active in the 1920s:
- In April 1921, Edward Williams, a 41-year-old doctor in Port Trevorton, sold his Ford touring car to 32-year-old farmer Francis Gaugler.
- In April 1921, E.C. Fisher bought a five-passenger touring car to use in delivering produce to retailers.
- In May 1921, 40-year-old shoe factory foreman Elmer Miller advertised the sale of his Oakland touring car with 1800 miles on it. That same month, an unnamed party listed a 1919-model International truck for sale—unless the interested party wanted to trade with a Ford touring car.
- Wilfred Boyer, a 26-year-old farmer tried to sell his Ford ½-ton truck via the Selinsgrove Times. Boyer’s ad noted that the vehicle would be ideal for a butcher or a trucker.
In 1921, the shoe factory owner Harvey Sterner advertised in the Selinsgrove Times for two cars that he owned: a Ford runabout and an Auburn touring car. “Will sell either,” he explained, “as I only have use for one car.” He wanted to sell one of them quickly, and the ad promised that both cars were recently repainted and “in first class conditions” with “a lot of extras” Two years later, Sterner was back in the classified section, selling four vehicles: two touring cars, a truck, and an 18-passenger bus.
- James Raudenbush advertised Auburn, Paige, and Ford touring cars in the spring and summer of 1923.
- Thirty-four-year-old piano salesman John Farling advertised an Overland Model 90.
- In August 1923, Frank Eyer, a 46-year-old telephone company manager advertised his Cadillac touring car and noted that he was selling because he wanted to buy a closed model.
- Fifty-two-year-old merchant Harry Pursell advertised his REO Speed Wagon, telling prospective buyers that he was selling due to his illness. (He died three years later of nephritis.)
- Thirty-nine-year-old silk mill owner William Groce advertised his Stevens touring car in the fall of 1923. A year later, he advertised a 1-ton Ford truck, “just the thing for transporting school children or doing a farmer’s light traveling.”
- Forty-seven-year-old silk mill carpenter Fred Mutchler advertised a 1921 Dodge sedan in November 1923.
Across the country, manufacturers and dealers complained of the “used car problem,” which came down to a matter of output at the factory and space at the point of sale. Only a fraction of American auto plant capacity was used in the mid-to-late 1920s because the nation’s dealers simply could not handle that many vehicles. They did not have the space to store or display them. Dealers were overloaded with used cars by 1925, and it was more and more likely that purchasers of new cars would demand that the dealer take a used car as a trade-in.