Looking Back: Automobiles Come To Westby – Part 2 | Columns

Continued from last week…

Last week when we reviewed the beginnings of the Dahl dealership in Westby, I started to tell you about how the cars first arrived. Coming by railroad in crates, the major parts and pieces of the car had to be put together at the train station so that it could be driven to the shop, where the rest of the parts could be assembled.

O. P. Anderson, in 1910, owned one of the first cars in Westby and, according to an article from the October 28, 1925, Westby Times, started to sell Overland cars in 1911. Then Anderson partnered with T. J. Thorson to sell Maxwell vehicles. When Anderson left that partnership, Adolph Nustad and Olaf Onsrud rented the garage from Thorson to sell Studebakers in 1913 and 1914. Charley Brown came next until Bennie Johnson, with Milton Nustad, bought out Brown to sell cars. Doing well, in 1917, they started also selling Dodge cars.

There was also Julius Bold, who with Leonard and Ernest Johnson started selling Buicks in Westby in 1914. They were bought out by the Oium brothers in 1916 who set up a repair shop and started selling Maxwell cars.

It is hard to believe that so many dealerships were in Westby at one time but you have to remember that cars were sold one at a time as they arrived on the train. The manufacturer expected, by the agency contract, that the dealership would sell a predetermined number of cars. They had to be able to put the car together, get it running and then service it. Although farmers were familiar with gasoline engines because of working on their farm machinery, to many city folks these were new machines with small nuances that had to be studied. No one knew how to drive a car so the dealers would often have to give driving lessons as well.

Cars coming to the area were a convenience for many people. Dr. Schreiner bought his first car to help make house calls much easier and faster. However, sometimes the car would get stuck and it is reported that D. Schreiner remarked that he would like to put all cars, agents and repair men in a pile to have a big bonfire. Shopping trips and visits to family also became easier for everyone. Many families, like my parents, would leave church on Sunday and go to Grandma’s for a big dinner with all the aunts, uncles and cousins. This became a frequent event, not just on special occasions anymore. Sunday drives and automobile clubs were actually promoted by the car companies as a way to generate interest in potential buyers.

Just like today, it was reported in the Times, even back in the 1920’s, that there was a parking problem in downtown Westby, and, if you ask, loyalty to certain car manufacturers was strong, and opinions about the “coolest” car might have even been stronger back in those early years. There have been many changes brought by the automobile in the last 100 plus years. We no longer have even one automobile dealership in Westby yet it is probable that most every household has a car, or two, or maybe even three. Almost everyone who reaches the age of sixteen gets a drivers license as soon as possible, and going to Viroqua several times a week is usual for most of us. Cars are utilitarian, recreational and a true necessity, not just a convenience like they were in 1911.

Join us at the Thoreson Museum on Saturday, July 29, from 2 -5 p.m., for the Sweet Rides & Sweet Pies event. Members from Coulee Classic Cars, and hopefully more, will be showing off their vehicles. You can even vote for the coveted People’s Choice award. If you have a “Sweet Ride,” bring it to show. Registration is free.


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