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Saturday, January 16, 2021

60 years of Memories: Cars in Butler


60 Years of Memories of Butler

by James Ring


When I first arrived in Butler in 1960 I was driving a twice-wrecked ten-year-old Ford coupe, for which I had paid the princely sum of $100, a figure soon doubled by repairs and upgrades. It was powered by a flat-head V-8, and it had a 3-on-the-tree stick shift, a 6-volt electrical system, 16-inch tube-type tires and vacuum windshield wipers. I sold it for what I had in it, a feat never to be repeated in subsequent car ownerships.


As my fortunes improved, I moved into a 1955 Chevy BelAir, the cult favorite of the times, and periodically traded every few years for newer and flashier wheels. I had a1956 Ford Crown Vic, and then a 1959 Fairlane, before Don Eads sold me a 1962 Ford with a police interceptor package—spotlight, 375-hp 390 cubic-inch V8, three-speed transmission with overdrive. It had been Red Underwood’s reserve deputy car, and it served me well for years.


Butler was replete with automobile offerings then. There were three car dealerships and several used car lots, all ready to upgrade your ride. Cubbins Motor Co. had the Ford dealership at 201 N. Main street, briefly becoming Eads-Parks Motors under the ownership of Don Eads and Wendel Parks. It shortly became Kenny Barr Motors and soon moved out to the corner of Orange and Fort Scott. Stanley Gray had the Pontiac/GMC dealership at 103 East Dakota street, and Kahn Chevrolet and Cadillac was on the Strip, just north of the Super Service station; Lester Kahn, with his son Ronnie, had bought Gilbert Chevrolet, which was once at 107 West Dakota. 


In the 1960s, Don Eads opened a Plymouth/Dodge/Chrysler dealership at 109 West Dakota, with his used car lot across the street. During his tenure, Chrysler brought one of the experimental TurboCars into town to show off, powered by a gas-turbine motor and featuring huge fake jet-exhaust taillight moldings. It was impractical but showy; somewhere I have a picture of it parked at the dealership.


For a brief time, after Stanley Gray Motors was destroyed by fire, a Pontiac dealership was located at 620 West Harrison street; Frenchman Gillies Bruneaux ran it first, then Dwain Hall operated it. Over the years, Orville Jackson, Stan Elliott and Bill Hoots sold used cars in various locations around town.


It was to be expected that tow, or “wrecker”, service would be provided by car dealers, and Kahn Chevrolet had a tow truck big enough to handle over-the-road trucks. The specialization of such retrieval led to on-call 24-hour wrecker services, offered by Don Malan and by Jazzbo and James Burton. 


Today, car dealerships are huge acreages with eagle-eyed sales persons roaming among the dozens of shiny offerings, no longer simple sales offices with a single model in the showroom. And the service bays are lined with computers, devoted to swapping modules instead of fixing things. The government mandates what cars have to be and how they are  to be equipped; they are designed to be thrown away when a major component like the engine, transmission or air bags need replacement. Our once-proud American automobile brands have been over-run by foreign competitors.


Long live the muscle cars of the 1960s!