The Ford Dealership on Main – Part 1
George Kroell’s death in 1925 happened at the same time as the sounding of the death knell for his lucrative Livery Stable and horse drawn transportation business. It had operated for decades out of the lot and building adjacent to his popular mercantile store on Main Street, but as the automobile rapidly gained a foot-hold in the minds of Americans and transformed their lives forever, horses very quickly lost their status as a necessity of life.
When Mr. Kroell’s son, Pat, took over his father’s business the same year he died, he wasted no time adjusting to the new appetite for automobiles exhibited by his customers, and converted the old livery building into what they called the City Service Station where they sold gasoline. Pat had brought in Mr. R.E. DeSear as an assistant shortly after assuming control of the business, and then assigned him to manage and grow the upstart service station. In addition to selling gasoline, oil, and mechanical service to auto owners, Kroell and DeSear also took on a franchise for Woco Pep motor fuel. Distributed by the Wofford Oil Company of Birmingham, Woco Pep was promoted as a better fuel than gasoline and their futuristic slogan was, “More Miles, Less Carbon,” as if anticipating the role of carbon emissions on the familiar Climate Change phenomenon we know today. Waco Pep fuel was made by Alabama’s Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Co. by refining byproducts from the hundreds of ovens they operated to make coke, a key coal-based fuel used in the steel making process in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The first evidence of a Ford Motor Co. dealership in Montevallo can be seen in an advertisement for Reid Motor Co. in the 1924 Alabama College yearbook, the Technala. This business was located in the old H.C. Reynolds building at the corner of Main and Shelby Streets that later became the home for several Chevrolet dealerships, including Montevallo Motor Co.
In 1934, at about the same time that Pat Kroell was forced to sell his business and property in a bankruptcy to J.A. Brown, Mr. G.T. Towery moved to Montevallo from Opelika and bought the City Service Station. The new Towery Motor Co. Inc. also arranged with the Ford Motor Co. to become the new authorized Ford and Lincoln dealer for Shelby County and adjoining territory. It was the custom in those days for auto dealerships to also sell gasoline and provide service station services, so Towery enlisted the former owner of the gas station to manage that part of the business and converted the old Kroell livery building for automobile sales and a show room. Mr. Brown’s Montevallo Grocery Co. was now Towery’s next door neighbor and the occupant of the old Kroell mercantile building.
G.T. Towery’s Towery Motor Co. operated under this banner as the local Ford dealership for six years until the business was sold to a local entrepreneur, Mr. L.W. Wooten. The name of the dealership transitioned to Wooten Motor Co. in the fall of 1940 with the completion and opening of a new office building and show rooms in conjunction with the unveiling of the new 1941 Ford.
The new building was constructed of brick and was situated on the corner lot adjoining the original Kroell building which sat further back. The Montevallo Times of September 26, 1940 said, “The Wooten place will be a combination of both the old and the new buildings, making it one of the largest and most suitably arranged automobile places in this section of Alabama.” The space referred to, that eventually also accommodated a used car lot, is the same property used today by McDonalds for their restaurant building, drive-through, and off-street parking.
Soon after acquiring the dealership from Mr. Towery, Mr. Wooten discovered in 1941 and 1942 the commercial deprivations visited on automobile-related businessmen nationwide as a result of mandatory diversion of raw materials such as steel and rubber to the national effort to win World War II.
The war years were difficult on Mr. Wooten, as they were on everyone, but by 1946, the war was over and automobile production was returning to and exceeding pre-war levels. Even so, when an opportunity presented itself in 1949, after nearly ten years, Mr. Wooten sold his Ford dealership to an energetic young auto enthusiast and “wheeler-dealer,” who we will meet next week.
Thank you Clay Nordan, Vice President of Montevallo Historical Society, for this information!