Touring The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan last year, my husband Rodney and I were fascinated by not only the Presidential vehicles, including the 1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, but also the Driving America exhibit. There, we learned how the automobile changed American society over the last century.
Automobiles were in abundance in Washington Parish during the twentieth century, with the exception of a shortage during and right after World War II. Early automobile dealerships in Franklinton include the Ford agency, founded by Paul E. Greenlaw, and the Quick Service Auto Company, founded by E. L. Magee, which dealt in Durant's Star car line, dating to the 1920s. J. M. Stafford opened the first Oldsmobile agency in town in 1939. Digressing, he was the father of the late Charles Stafford and Yvonne Crawford, my mother's best childhood friend - they were inseparable. H. F. Magee, Sr., sold Plymouth-Dodge in the late 1930s, and in 1940 Houston Don Bickham brought the Pontiac to town.
Situated on the corner of Main and Pearl Streets (where the Shell Station is today), Green Brothers’ Motor Company sold Dodge and Plymouth. Owned by brothers Heyward and John Green and founded sometime before World War II, the dealership sold new automobiles and pickup trucks with the showroom up front and repair facility in back. Buying out his brother's interest, Heyward Green --- father of Johnny and Heyward Carter --- operated the business until he closed it in the 1950s or early 1960s. Owning the old Vessier house situated behind the dealership, he maintained his office there until he eventually moved it to the old family home on Highway 16.
It was Gaylord Bickham who, in a conversation with me several years ago, recalled Walter Green driving a new green Kaiser, a car made in Michigan from 1945 to 1953. Gaylord's father Mouton Bickham founded the first Buick dealership in 1948. The Bickham family owned Bickham Chevrolet Co., Inc., which later became Bickham Motors. By 1961, Bickham Motors, selling Chevrolets and Pontiacs and GMC trucks, had been in business 26 years.
In 1964 Franklinton automobile dealers advertised a wide selection of wheels. Verger Motors, situated at 10th Avenue and Self Street, sold the complete line-up of 1964 Chevrolets - the thrifty Chevy II/Nova Sport coupe; the Chevelle Malibu Sport coupe; the Corvair Monza Club coupe; the luxury Impala Sport coupe; and the exciting Corvette Stingray. Digressing, locals remember the late Kenneth Strahan's collection of eye-catching Corvettes, which he kept in mint condition --- the topic of one of my very first columns. For those not in the market for a Corvette, Verger advertised 45 different models, including an enticing step-side pickup. Available in 6½, 8, and 9-foot body lengths, it featured side steps for easy loading and a wood floor with steel skid strips --- practical in the country.
Miller Ford Company, located at 1432 Washington Street, touted the 1964 Ford Fairlane 500 2-door hardtop.
Bert Stevenson at 913 Cleveland promoted the Pontiac Grand Prix as the top of the line and the Pontiac Tempest Sports coupe as a starter model, with 28 choices in between. Stevenson also sold Buick, advertising the Skylark, LeSabre, Electra 225, and Riviera. Remember "Wouldn't you really rather have a Buick?"
Stafford Motor Company, situated at 1116 Washington Street, was still selling Oldsmobiles in 1964. They featured the Olds F-85 and the sporty Cutlass.
The 1964 vehicle line-up varied greatly from those of today --- in size, style, and price. A nice set of wheels could be had back then for a fraction of what we pay today. I'm still smarting, from our purchase back in April (touted as touchless delivery) during the pandemic. It made me yearn for the once popular car give-away, which has gone by the wayside. Historically, a brand new car was given away in the Annual Washington Parish Fair Membership Drive. And vehicle giveaways were not limited to the Fair. During Franklinton's Super Bargain Festival in 1964, the grand prize was a Chevrolet Station Wagon, awarded to Elvis Edgar Hunt of Route 3, Franklinton, by Lawton Verger and Jewell Blair, members of the Merchants Committee of the Chamber of Commerce.
In the summer of 1964, Verger Motors, owned by J. Lawton Verger, recognized its valuable employees, as part of their third anniversary celebration, in The Era-Leader. They included Robert E. (Bobby) Magee, Sales Manager, along with Alton Morgan, Ancil Primes, and Larry Fussell. J. N. Magruder was Office Manager, and Joyce Briscoe and Versie Burris were office personnel. Heyward Ard was Service Manager while Wade Bahm was Assistant Service Manager. Curtis Davis and Harvey Barber were body shop technicians. Other employees were J. L. Miller, used car mechanic; Ellis Barber, parts manager; Daniel Bryant, parts manager; Tom Schilling, new car service; Robert Davis, Earl Fussell, Kernia Willet, and Lavelle Penton, all mechanics; Hilton James and J. R. Bates, used car reconditioning; Robert Maxwell, porter; Doe Thompson, lube and welder; Robert Brown, wash and lube rack; N. C. Dillon, used car body shop technician; and Dallas Manning, wash and lube rack. It wasn't long before Bobby Magee had his own dealership, Magee Motors on Washington Street.
For years, because of his role at the helm of the Bogalusa Community Medical Center, my dad had to buy his automobiles in Bogalusa --- one hand washes the other. My mother's green Buick Electra came from Lindsley-Feiber Motor Co. on Austin Street. Her silver Lincolns came from Eisworth-Talbert as did Daddy's yellow Ford Ranchero and my very first car, a yellow Ford Futura --- Dad and I liked yellow. Yet on Sunday afternoon drives, he and I marveled at the shiny automobiles on the lots of Magee Motors, Miller Ford, and Lynch Chevrolet in Franklinton. I knew my best chance at having one would have been a give-away.
•Stay tuned for next week's column which covers even earlier transportation.