Bob Mitchell: Decades ago social event

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Eight or nine decades ago — yep, that’s 80 or 90 years ago — remembering one of the long past social events that occurred in this neck of the woods, is no longer considered at all and probably not remembered by many.

This was the new car showings that rolled around each September and continued into October.

There was an air of secrecy about the events, as manufacturers chose for the public to not have any information concerning the appearance of their new models before the showroom appearances. Each would provide newspapers with illustrations or mats that could be used for illustrations on strictly regulated release dates, violations of which would result in a severe criticism from the local dealer and eventually the manufacture themselves.

After the arrival of publicity materials would come the advertisements that were valued by all publications, both this and the public relations material were to be a highly guarded secret until specific dates were released.

Much interest

It became a well-known fact about automobile show dates that the newspapers already had these materials, so there were those in the community who would use whatever means possible to get a first look at the materials. Some people were known to explain their interest in trading vehicles that model year as an inducement for a peak at what auto makers might be putting on the market that particular year.

Back in those days, manufacturers would make significant changes in appearance as an incitement to keep their customers or to lure other model owners into their market.

The closer to show dates, the more interest and number of inquiries those holding materials might be urged to reveal. In all cases, it was a known fact that agencies would have the new models on hand days before the showing, with dealerships having attended pre-release events elsewhere. It wasn’t unusual for those who really were interested in a first look to attempt obtaining the whereabouts of storage of the models to get a sneak viewing.

Cassville’s five agencies

In those days, there were five agencies that would favor the Cassville Democrat with their new model release information — three were in Cassville, two were in Monett.

The Monett agencies were Tommy Young for Pontiac and Stark Brothers for Buick.

Cassville agencies included Blalack Motors for Chevrolet, Hailey Motors for Ford and a couple of partnerships for Dodge and Plymouth. These were J. C. Kenney and Bill Cowen and then Kenney and S. L. Allison.

Either by agreement or accident, most of the show dates would open at least a few days apart. Apparently, the agencies did not choose to share a showing with another model.

Good for business

The showings were good business for others in the community since those doing business with the agencies would send a message of appreciation for the showroom such as flowers or other remembrances.

Agencies always had give-away items for the viewing public, and refreshments were always served. When multi-showings did occur on any particular day, it was nearly impossible to get a breakfast while making the rounds in the morning.

In the refreshment department, Ma Blalack and daughter Mary Koon usually got the nod in the best cookie department. Their baking skills were obviously better than some others that used commercial purchases.

A good memory

One of the best memories of the showings came when Chevrolet made a substantial change in their motor availabilities one year.

For years, J. A. (Pop) Blalack, one of the most avid boosters to be in business here, had called the engines of competition Ford, “the forked eights.” Chevy had only the six-cylinder engines at that time.

The first year Chevrolet came out with an eight-cylinder engine, Blalack wasn’t much available to take some of the comments regarding his vehicles joining the larger engine availability list.

Interesting note

It might be interesting to note that today’s agency availability finds no new car company doing business in Monett and only two, instead of the three, that were once in Cassville.

Whatever might be the reason for no longer having public showroom events like in days past, not having the secrecy of materials relating to new car arrivals in the community takes a burden off the staff of a publication. However, the advertising that once accompanied show dates has also gone away.

With no really significant changes from one year to another, it might be that no major showing of models from year to year is required these days. People seem to continue being interested in their love of the automobile.

If there are any doubts concerning this interest, just view the number of vehicles on agency property lots.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.