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Frank Shoemaker - 1st Missoula Garage and 1st. Tourist Camp

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Shoemaker First in Garage Field

Veteran Automobile Man Recommends 1924 Franklin as “Last Word.”

“Times have changed!”

Nobody knows that better than Frank M. Shoemaker, who opened the first garage in the city of Missoula in 1901.

Mr. Shoemaker came to Missoula from Nebraska in 1896, and opened a bicycle shop – they were numerous in those days – in partnership with Wallace Lynn.

But times were bound to change!

Mr. Shoemaker was the first to realize the possibilities of the coming industry when the one-cylinder motor-driven vehicles first came chugging down the streets of Missoula. Therefore, he opened the first garage in the city.

“Time went fast,” Mr. Shoemaker said, “and soon the new cars showed marked improvements. The progress of car builders was very evident in the bringing out of two or three new models a year, each one a shiny new creation of the very latest ideas, until the limit was reached in the 1924 Franklin.

“This car,” Mr. Shoemaker said, “is without a doubt all anybody could ask in a motor car. Ask the man who drives one.”

In those days of one and two cylinder automobiles, when one made a purchase he got the car – nothing else. There was no windshield. There was no top. In fact the ancient “horseless carriage” was a crude affair. But then it was the eighth wonder of the world.

Quite a contrast with the present day Franklin four-door sedan, with its many comforts and accessories. The present cars are “parlor cars” as compared with the “gondolas” of the past.

Consider this, in the surroundings which made the one-cylinder auto seem so wonderful:

A car entirely closed; Austrian wool cloth upholstery; Wilton velvet rugs; taffeta window shades; white interior trimmings with pyralin inlay; Miro-Tilt headlights; cowl ventilators for air circulation; powerful six-cylinder air cooled motor; demountable rims; electric lights; in fact, every convenience imaginable.

Mr. Shoemaker is not alone in watching this march of progress in the automobile field. For the man to whom he sold his first car is still a resident of Missoula.

J. J. Lucy purchased a two-cylinder Kissel Kar from Mr. Shoemaker in 1901. It then was considered practically the acme of motor construction.

There were other cars in Missoula at the time. Mr. Shoemaker started up the business, but they were bought in other cities.

In those days, Mr. Shoemaker said, the sale of automobiles was a different proposition than it is today. No stocks were carried on hand. But fully descriptive catalogs were always on hand. The old time customer often would select his car from pictures and order it by mail. Several cars were purchased that way, he said.

Another contrast. Consider the methods of salesmanship today. How many would purchase that Franklin sedan described above without the most careful investigation and several demonstration rides. And yet it is luxurious to the extent of which never before was dreamed of. It costs more to sell a car now. The dealer must have his cars in stock and he must demonstrate their ability.

A few years ago after he had handled the Kissel Kar, Mr. Shoemaker shifted to the Buick. He sold the first Buick that was sold in the state of Montana.

O. E. Peppard was the purchaser of that car in either 1906 or 1907. It was the first car to come out with the slanting steering gear. The older ones will remember it. But there was another reason why Mr. Peppard bought it. He is fleshy and the steering gear of this new wonder could be tilted forward to facilitate entry to the driver’s seat.

Lighting has kept apace with the development of autos too, since Mr. Shoemaker went into the business. The first cars were equipped with the old carbide lamps.

The next step with the Presto-Lite tank. These were a vast improvement over the carbide system, and were sold to the customers for $25. The advent of the Presto-Lite, Mr. Shoemaker said, was in 1907.

And now every car Mr. Shoemaker sells is equipped with electric lights. The lighting plant in the new Franklin would put to shame the lighting system in the most up-to-date home in these days.

Mr. Shoemaker formerly was the only dealer selling gasoline to the auto trade. He kept the petrol in five-gallon cans, but finally he purchased a 50-gallon tank so that he could keep enough on hand to last for nearly two weeks.

All through these years Mr. Shoemaker has kept pace with the development of automobile building. He built the first place especially constructed as a garage in Missoula. It is now occupied by Louis Croonenbergh. Today he operates one of the most up-to-date and best equipped garages in the state of Montana.

Many experiences were encountered during the 23 years Mr. Shoemaker has been in the automobile business. Of course it must be remembered that the olden car was one which was difficult to keep in motion. It would stop on the slightest pretext.

In 1904, Mr. Shoemaker contracted with the Missoulian to deliver the Christmas edition in the Bitter Root valley so that the subscribers would have the paper early in the morning. The consideration was $75, and was a stunt seldom pulled in those days. The car used for the proposed flying trip was an old White Steamer. The chauffeur and mechanic left Missoula as soon as the papers were printed and reached Hamilton that afternoon at about 3 o’clock. It took 50 gallons of gasoline to make the trip.

Today the modern Franklin goes from 20 to 25 miles on a gallon of gas. The Franklin has several astonishing records, but Mr. Shoemaker placed his estimate on the reports of Franklin owners on the mileage they get on ordinary road work.

Perhaps one of the most thrilling events that Mr. Shoemaker remembers was an old automobile race. It was during the county fair, when the racetrack was located on the site of the old sugar factory.

The race was between a one-cylinder Cadillac, piloted by Arthur Thompson, and a one-cylinder Reo owned by Dr. F. D. Pease and driven by Howard Edwards. They thundered and tore around the one-mile dirt track at fully 20 miles an hour, lap after lap, with first one car ahead and then the other, causing the throngs in the grandstand to rise to their feet and cheer at every change of the leader.


The above article appeared in The Daily Missoulian on October 10, 1923

Mr. and Mrs. Shoemaker celebrated their 50th anniversary at their home in Polson in 1959. An article about this event appeared in the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake newspaper on February 22, 1959. Part of the article is quoted below:

During the afternoon they renewed their marriage vows with Dr. W. D. Copeland of the Presbyterian Church officiating. Their attendants were John and Jean Polich of Missoula, great-nephew and niece. Miss Ann Avery of Missoula, a great-niece, sang “I Love You Truly” and “Through the Years.”

Frank M. Shoemaker and Elsie E. Brown were married at Larson Idaho, Feb. 8, 1909, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Shoemaker, brother of the bridegroom.

At the time of her marriage, Mrs. Shoemaker was working at her profession as a nurse in Missoula. Shoemaker was operating a garage and automobile sales agency, the first business of the kind in Missoula. Later he engaged in raising purebred Jersey cattle on his farm near Arlee. In 1943 he sold the farm and retired. Since then the Shoemakers have been living at Finley Point and Polson.

Mr. Shoemaker died in 1964. His obituary, below, appeared in The Missoulian on December 27, 1964:

Funeral services for Frank M. Shoemaker, 89, will be at 2 p. m. Monday in the Retz Chapel. Officiating will be Dr. W. D. Copeland. Burial will be in Lakeview Cemetery.

Mr. Shoemaker died Wednesday at his Finley Point home. He was born April 15, 1875, in North McGregor, Iowa. He came to Montana many years ago and was the first automobile dealer in Missoula. He sold his automotive business in 1929 and retired to an Arlee area farm where he resided until moving to Finley Point in 1947.

Surviving are the widow, Elsie; a sister, Mrs. J. A. Phillips, Hamilton, and several nieces and nephews.

The October 10, 1923 Missoulian, quoted above, carried a special 10-page section devoted specifically to automobiles. The article above on Mr. Shoemaker appeared in this special section. Several articles mentioned other dealers and trade businesses in Missoula. Billed as Missoula’s first auto show, the Western Montana Fair Association sponsored a 4-day event at the Fairgrounds. An area for the auto show was provided under the grandstands and 25 temporary stalls featured new automobiles from 12 Missoula companies. These are listed below from the article:

Edwards Motor company, Studebaker, sedan and two touring cars.

Murray Motor company, Buick, touring car and chassis,

H. O. Bell Motor company, Ford, touring, sedan and coupe.

Kennedy Motor company, Dodge, sedan and touring,

Shoemaker Motor company, Franklin, sedan; Overland, coupe and touring,

Marsh Motor company, Chevrolet, touring, roadster and chassis,

Hopkin Transfer company, Oakland, touring,

Johnson Motor Company, Durant, touring and sedan,

South Side Garage, Velie, touring,

Garden City Motor company, Jewett, touring,

Montana Motor company, Maxwell, touring and sedan,

Ross-Eldridge Motor company, Reo, touring; Dort, touring.



One of the interesting Missoulian articles that day mentions a special campground for tourists:

Tourists Still Visit Missoula Campgrounds

Rain and fall weather does not bother the tourist of the 1923 vintage, it appears from the register at the city campgrounds on the Rattlesnake. Monday there were 31 cars checked in at the auto park. Tourists who are guests there say that there are still hundreds of cars on the roads, the passing of summer not being permitted to interfere with their pleasure. The camp will be kept open as long as the patronage continues at the present rate, Manager C. H. Roberts of the chamber of commerce said yesterday.

During the month of September 1,072 cars were registered at the auto park. Carrying 3,380 passengers. While this was approximately 700 less than in August, it is an unusual number for this late in the season.

Indications are that the auto camp will have accommodated considerably more than 20,000 guests during the season when it finally does close, which will mean 7,000 cars or more. The camp is supported by the fees and is conducted under the sponsorship of the chamber of commerce, which inaugurated it and made all the improvements for the accommodation of the visitors.

Another article prophetically noted that plans for a series of hotels for autoists were in the works:

Work has started in Sacramento on the first of a chain of 20 hotels for motorists, extending from Vancouver, B.C., on the north, through Washington, Oregon, California and parts of Nevada, and terminating at San Diego on the south.

These hotels will be one day’s run apart, an average distance of 120 miles. All will be easily accessible by paved highways.

Last Updated on Monday, 29 January 2018 19:44