Rideabout Reedley: Then & Now

Feb 22, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Hometown History, Jim Bulls, Reedley News

by Jim Bulls

After a long absence we are happy to have Jim Bulls back writing about Reedley history.

Flipping back to 1949–I just got a butch haircut at Vic’s Barbershop and as a budding “gear head” I hopped on my bike to check out the car dealers. I was hoping that they had done a sloppy job of covering the showroom windows with butcher paper, because I wanted to get a peek at the new cars for 1950.

Eleventh & D streets is the home of Reedley Motor Sales owned by Leo Tarkanian (uncle to Jerry Tarkanian of UNLV and Fresno State fame), the Studebaker dealer. His window is spotlighting a styling sensation: the revolutionary “bullet nose” Studebaker Starlight Coupe.

1950 Studebaker Starlight with Leo Tarkanian behind the wheel.

Down 11th Street is P.O. Service, where Bozo Aalto sells the Hudson. The new Hudson has step-down floors and “unibody” construction. This makes it lower than most other cars on the road in 1950.

Traveling north across G Street and just before the railroad tracks is Shultz Motors. Shultz is selling Kaiser autos. In 1950 Kaiser is introducing “the world’s first 2-in-1 car,” the Traveler. According to the ads, it is a luxurious sedan with a big cargo carrier. Kaiser was always futuristic in design, but under-powered compared to other auto makes. By 1955, Kaiser moved to South America and Shultz was out of business. When the Kaiser was first introduced after World War II, they came with wooden bumpers until the U.S. government freed up chromium for automotive use. It took my uncle six months before he got his bumper.

1950 Kaiser ad

Across the street is Braun Chrysler-Plymouth. The Chrysler Newport is the first “Town & Country” hardtop with a wood body. However, Plymouth has dropped the wood-bodied cars for 1950, along with many other auto makers. The steel bodied models look very utilitarian, but I guess you could say there is one positive: if you are in a wreck, the medic won’t have to pull out splinters!

On the corner of 11th and I streets, Winnie Jackson sells Buicks. This is General Motors most prestigious line

1950 Braun ad

, just under Cadillac. Jackson is showcasing a Buick Roadmaster convertible with “Dynaflow Drive” and “Living Space” interiors. White sidewall tires are available for an extra cost. Buick continued to use real wood on their station wagons through 1953.

We turn right on I Street and then right again on 8th and again on G. At G and 9th streets sits the Barsoom & Nelson Dodge & Plymouth dealership. The 1950 Dodge has a fresh facelift with a new grill and trim. The Cornet Diplomat is the first hardtop for Dodge that doesn’t have a post between the door and the back seat. Plymouth is debuting their first all-steel station wagon for 1950. Chrysler Corporation considers Dodge and Plymouth to be their medium and lower priced models.

Down a bit further on G Street is Martens Used Car lot and their showroom for Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles. Chevy has also dropped their “woodie” wagons and convertibles, but they have used wood grain painted panels below the windows and on the tailgate. Chevy is introducing the Bel Air hardtop with “powerglide” transmission. Oldsmobile is showcasing the Rocket V-8, that according to the ads will provide “the driving thrill of your life.” Many police departments and the highway patrol are already using 1949 Rocket 88 because it is the first car able to keep up with the hot rod Fords.

Martens Chevrolet sign -- in business since 1929

Across the street is Savateer and Bright, who sell Willys-Overland the makers of Jeep. In 1950 they are offering a pickup, a station wagon and the sporty Jeepster, that mom can use to pick up the kids and go get groceries.

Hughes Ford, located on G between 12th and 13th street, sells Ford, Mercurys and will special order Lincolns. The 1950 Crestliner is Ford’s image model, featuring two-tone paint, a vinyl top, fender skirts and full wheel covers. Unlike Ford, the Mercury models are more curvaceous in style. Since 1948, Mercury has been a favorite of the California car customizers like George Barris.

Across the street from Hughes, is Allied Equipment who sells International Harvester. Known as dependable and rugged, IH pickups and travel-alls were very economical compared to their competition.

Enns Pontiac-GMC is located on the corner of G and 13th street. Based on the same body as Chevrolet, the Pontiac Silver Streak is GM’s entry medium priced car. It is offering hardtop styling and either a straight six or straight eight engine. GMC pickups are considered the top of the line; the body style changed in 1948, so there is nothing new for 1950.

Whew! A kid can get pretty tired trying to see all 11 car dealers in one day, while covering most of the city on a bicycle. This is where it helped to know the location of all the “Reedley Watering Holes” (see KRL, Aug. 4, 2012).

That was then, this is now

At the turn of the century (1900, not 2000), it is hard to believe that American auto manufacturers numbered in the thousands. Over the last hundred years, many companies fell by the wayside. Either their designs weren’t successful or there were mergers, bankruptcies, and the Great Depression.

For example, in World War II when the War Department wanted a 4×4 utility vehicle to replace the Army mule, American Bantam won the design. However, it was such a small company that Ford and Willys-Overland produced most of the Jeeps and now, American Bantam is only in the history books.

Foreign auto makers in Japan and Germany soon discovered that the American standard was set at 100,000 miles of trouble-free service. They realized that if they produced a car that could take abuse of over 200,000 miles, they would be competitive. This, in turn, forced American auto makers into rethinking their sales philosophy, relying on new design styles or paint colors and promoting sales every time the shock absorbers wore out.

Ford’s venture into the medium market with the Edsel was short lived and General Motors cut out Oldsmobile, and Chrysler did away with DeSoto. We all remember what happened to the auto makers during the latest recession.

Meanwhile, back in Reedley…the independents Studebaker, Hudson, Kaiser, and Jeep have all left town. Winnie Jackson takes on International Harvester. Braun moves to Dinuba, leaving Ratzlaff Motors as the only Chrysler dealer.

Manning Avenue became the east-west cross county corridor, and with the completion of the four lane bridge the idea of an “auto mall” was proposed (before Selma). Hughes Ford moved to Upper Bridge Road, sold to Stephens and then to Ratzlaff. Sadly the auto mall idea never materialized.

Jackson retired and Enns took on the Buicks. Ratzlaff retires and sells to Caves. Caves has a dispute with the lease agreement and threatens to move to Dinuba. The City of Reedley assists with building a new Ford agency on the south end of I Street. But things don’t work out with Ford or Bret, the dealer. When Enns retired, General Motors decided that Reedley didn’t need the dealership because Buicks could be purchased in Dinuba. During the latest recession, General Motors dropped Pontiac and Saturn, so that leaves Reedley with only one car dealership: Martens Chevrolet, which originally opened in 1929.

Martens Chervolet dealership

I’m thankful Martens seems to be thriving and would love to see the reality of that agency adding another automotive line (like Swanson-Farney Ford, Buick & Toyota) to lure new customers the 12 miles east of 99 to shop Reedley.

Martens Chevrolet stands alone

To get the story about Martens, we must slip back in time to 1927. Here we find Henry Martens as the top salesman for Eymann & Eymann Fordson Tractors and Ford and Lincoln Automobiles. This was the last year for Henry’s Model “T”. the car that put America on wheels. Loyal Ford owners were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the 1928 Model “A”.

The story goes that if you taught school in Reedley, you drove a Ford because Mr. Eymann was on the school board. The Model “A” was an instant success and Henry Martens sold a beautiful little Sport Coupe to the Ervin Warner family–Mrs. Warner taught at Reedley High School.

In 1929, Martens was able to buy the Chevrolet agency despite the Depression. Chevrolet introduced a 6-cylinder engine in 1929, which made for a much smoother ride than the 4-cylinder Model “A”, and Chevy sales helped him weather the storm.

In 1932, Mrs. Warner bought a Chevrolet Confederate sedan from Martens, and 25 years later, I bought the little Model “A” Sport Coupe first sold by Henry Martens. Pictured is my Model “A” as it looked at Reedley High in 1958.

Jim Bulls 1928 Model "A" Ford Sport Coupe originally sold by Henry Martens

I do wonder though, if Henry Martens was ever on the school board.

For more local and California history articles be sure and check out our Hometown History section.

Jim Bulls is a contributor to our Hometown History section, being a charter member of the Reedley Historical Society; he also restores vintage cars.


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