Forget Valentine’s, Happy Ferris Wheel Day!
Did you know that February 14th is not only Valentine’s Day, but also Ferris Wheel Day? This unofficial national holiday is held on this day to honor the birth of the inventor of the Ferris Wheel, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. What better way to celebrate Ferris Wheel Day than enjoying this old photograph of the Ferris Wheel taken at the Rockville Fairgrounds, courtesy of Lewis Reed. The fairgrounds were just outside Rockville, about where Richard Montgomery High School is today. The Fair lasted four days, from August 21st to the 24th, and drew visitors from local counties, Washington, and Baltimore.
For the singles and the “enough already with the Valentines”, here is your perfect alternative excuse. Go wish all your friends and family a Happy Ferris Wheel Day!
This 1912 photograph taken by Lewis Reed depicts Vinson’s Drug Store in downtown Rockville. This post is a part of the blog feature called, “Rockville’s Past Through the Lens of Lewis Reed”. Lewis Reed was a well-known photographer in the county and many of his early photographs are now part of the Montgomery County Historical Society photo archives. I wanted to share this photograph, because it offers a visual history of a part of Rockville’s past taken more than 100 years ago.
Previous to Edgar Reed’s enlistment in World War I, he had been employed as a clerk by R.W. Vinson Drug Store for eight years. In 1919, Edgar became a partner with his brother, Lewis Reed, in the firm Reed Brothers Dodge.
The drugstore was built in the 1880s and was run by Robert William “Doc” Vinson from 1900 until his death in 1958. A document on the Rockville website says the drugstore was also a popular gathering place for city politicians, and that President Woodrow Wilson once personally traveled there to buy Wolfhound tablets. The building was torn down in 1962, and replaced with an office building during Rockville’s “urban renewal”.
Ask anyone who has been in the car business for a while how they create lasting customer relationships. They’ll tell you it’s through conversation. The benefit of an actual conversation is that it builds engagement, which ultimately builds a relationship between the salesman and the customer. Engagement fosters relationships, which build trust.
Selling cars in the 40’s and 50’s was very different than what it is today. Growing up in the car business, one of my favorite things to do as a kid was to go to the dealership with my grandfather on weekends. My grandfather was always on the showroom floor or walking around the dealership talking with customers and the employees. What I didn’t know at the time, was that by being accessible and not spending a lot of time in his office behind a desk, he was actually building rapport and trust with his customers and employees.
In Lewis Reed’s day, a customer would come into the showroom and sit for hours and talk about local sports teams, the weather or family. But they’d never mention an automobile. Then, the customer would come back, maybe talk a second day. And on the third day, they’d get down to dickering about a car. But it was all cautious, deliberate and very polite.
In the those days, it was unheard of for a salesman to spend the whole day in the showroom. There were no salesman’s desks in the Reed Brothers showroom until after World War II. Lewis Reed allotted specific sales territory to his salesmen in four different directions from the dealership. The salesmen spent all day in the outlying areas of Poolesville, Rockville, Barnesville and Spencerville demonstrating cars to potential customers. At that time, Reed Brothers was selling about eight new cars a month and most sales resulted from knocking on people’s doors. It was direct person to person sales contact, relationship building and trust – all built and sealed on a handshake.
The year was 1941 — Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, the United States officially entered World War II, a first class stamp was five cents, the average price of a new Dodge car was about $800, and for 15 cents, you could buy a gallon of gas.
Things were quite different back in 1941 when Marvin Shultz started working at Reed Brothers Dodge. As Reed Brothers longest tenured employee, Marvin worked for 43 of the company’s 97 years of existence before retiring in 1984 as a new car salesman. Marvin began as Manager of Reed Brothers full service Gulf Gasoline and Service Station when it was located at its original location at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike. The service station carried a full line of Gulf lubricants, Goodyear tires, Willard batteries and many other well known brands of merchandise to meet their patrons needs. In fact, the company was the first Gulf gas dealer in the Washington, D.C. area.
Marvin’s four-plus decades at Reed Brothers spanned some major and minor bumps in the road for the business. The U.S. entry into World War II had led to rationing of gasoline, rubber and anything else critical to the country’s war effort. During that time, Reed Brothers had no new cars to sell for three and a half years. When manufacturers halted car production and many dealers went bankrupt, Reed Brothers converted its car showroom into a display room and sold GE washing machines and other large appliances to fill the gap. At the end of the 1940s a gallon of gas cost 26 cents. After the war when new car production started back up, and Reed Brothers once again had new cars and trucks to sell, it continued to grow.
Marvin’s 43 years of tenure puts him among a handful of employees who have worked at both Reed Brothers’ locations, at the triangle at Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike and at 15955 Frederick Road Rockville Maryland. He was with Reed Brothers through three renovations and expansions, including demolition of the 1953 service station to make room for a new free standing Gulf Service Station and a new car showroom. At the time, Reed Brothers employed twenty-two people to assist in the operation of the business.
Marvin became a new car salesman in 1965, the same year that Reed Brothers celebrated its 50th Anniversary. He began selling new cars when the average sticker price of a new 1965 Dodge Coronet was about $2,600. When the state widened the roads in 1970, he relocated with Reed Brothers to its new location at 15955 Frederick Road Rockville Maryland. Marvin stuck with Reed Brothers through three recessions, two energy crises and the first Chrysler Bailout and resurgence under Lee Iacocca.
A lot of my memories include fond recollections of Marvin. For us to be able to say that we’ve had anyone work for our company for 43 years is a milestone that is unsurpassed. We should all aspire to do what we love in our work, and I think Marvin’s long history with Reed Brothers is a testament to that.
Lewis Reed understood automobiles. He knew how they worked and how to fix them. He loved cars and anything associated with them. Prior to World War I, Lewis Reed’s love of automobiles led him to becoming a chauffeur. Chauffeurs were not only trained to be proficient with their driving skills, but they also had to keep the luxury automobiles in tip top shape which is where his mechanic training – a vital skill in the early days of motoring – would have come into play.
Lewis Reed received his training at the Pierce-Arrow factory at Buffalo, New York, the Dodge Hamtramck and Hudson Motor Car factories in Detroit, Michigan, and the Washington Auto College. Pierce-Arrow was once one of the most recognized and respected names in the automobile industry. For 38 years, the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company in Buffalo, New York, produced some of the finest automobiles made.
The photo above would have to date to the time when Lewis Reed drove as a Chauffeur and before he started the Rockville Garage in 1914. Based on the time frame he drove as a Chauffeur and its appearance, the car in the above photo appears to be an early Pierce-Arrow limousine. If you can help to date it and/or identify the model, please leave a comment. The license plate in the photo below is dated 1914, and I would guess the car to be a 1910 – 1911 Pierce-Arrow Model 48.
The earliest car owners had no real repair business to turn to. To be a successful motorist in the early 1900s, you needed to have some sort of mechanical skills. Or you had to find someone who did. Wealthy people employed private chauffeur-mechanics to not only drive, but also maintain and repair their large, expensive automobiles — rather than learn to do it themselves. Chauffeurs would be in charge of everything to do with the owner’s motor vehicle including repairs and maintenance and cleaning this meant that early personal chauffeurs had to be skilled mechanics.
With every car sold was a tool box that had the necessary to tools with instructions on how to dismantle and clean each part of the engine. It was recommended to do so after a certain amount of mileage depending on the make of the car, usually around seven hundred miles. When a tire wore out or was damaged, it was recommended that an expert do it, because it was glued to the rim and it took some doing to get it off. The new tire had to be cut to size for they were not always made to fit.
A mechanical aptitude was also necessary to be a car dealer in the early 1900’s. When cars were shipped to the dealer from the manufacturer, they arrived partially assembled in railroad boxcars. It was the dealer’s responsibility to unpack and assemble the cars at the rail yard and drive them back to the dealership. Mechanics were often needed to repair the new cars if they broke down along the way. During the early years, Reed Brothers represented several franchise nameplates along with Dodge, including Oldsmobile, Hudson and Essex. The Hudson and Oldsmobile were sold at Reed Brothers from roughly 1917 through 1921.