This week, the Dotts Motor Company of Clearfield will celebrate 100 years of serving Ford customers — and others — in the Clearfield region.
The car dealership was founded in 1921 by Droze “DA” Dotts in Curwensville, according to his grandsons, Tom and Bob Dotts. The two brothers are the co-owners of the Dotts Motor Company.
Droze Dotts grew up on a farm in New Millport and was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War I. After the war, he was sent home and arrived in Tyrone by train, and he walked home.
As he was walking through Ramey he saw a help wanted sign on the door of a Buick dealership, so he walked in and asked for a job and was hired on the spot despite not knowing anything about cars, Tom Dotts said.
Later, he started working for the Bartell Brothers Ford dealership in Curwensville. The dealership was located where Goodman’s Foodliner is currently located, Tom Dotts said.
After working for the Bartell Brothers for several years, the brothers wanted out of the business and sold the dealership to their employee. And on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 1921 at the age of 25, Droze Dotts founded the Dotts Motor Company, Bob Dotts said.
In 1922, Droze Dotts built a new building for the dealership. The building still stands and now houses the Rescue Hose and Ladder Vol. Fire Company, Tom Dotts said.
In the early years, money was tight so Droze Dotts did the bookkeeping himself. Late one night in 1927, Droze Dotts was working when the phone rang and the woman on the line said she would speak to DA Dotts. When he said that was him she replied, “Please hold for Henry Ford.”
Stunned, he thought it was a joke
But Henry Ford picked up the phone and said every once in a while he calls his “agents” to see how they are doing and to ask how they liked the new Model A they were producing.
Their grandfather said he was so nervous about upsetting Henry Ford he just agreed with everything he said. Henry Ford also gave him a phone number to call in case he had any problems, but he was too afraid to ever use it.
In the early 1930s the Ford Motor Company shut down production for months when it switched production from the Model As to the yearly production vehicles, and the dealership couldn’t get any vehicles. So he left Ford and started selling Chrysler and Plymouth cars and International and Diamond T trucks, as well as Fordson farm tractors.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, money was difficult to come by, so the dealership accepted other items in lieu of money.
“He would trade anything,” Tom Dotts said. “Jewelry, farm animals, guns, you name it.”
Tom Dotts said they still have one of the shotguns his grandfather received in a trade.
“He would trade for something and figure out what he would do with it later,” he added.
For example, one time, Droze Dotts obtained 100 chickens from a farmer in a trade, so he kept the chickens on the top floor of the dealership in Curwensville.
He made a deal with the Park Hotel in Curwensville, which was located where Snappy’s is now located. Whenever the Park Hotel needed a chicken for its restaurant, they call the Dotts Motor Company until all of the chickens were gone.
Bob Dotts said it was the job of their father, Robert Dotts, to fetch the chickens. At first when there were a lot of chickens, he said it wasn’t difficult. But as their numbers dwindled, they got harder and harder to catch.
It was also their father’s job to go to local farms and fetch a horse or a mule or a donkey that they had accepted in trade and bring it back to the stables they had near the car dealership in Curwensville, Tom Dotts said.
And at one point, the Dotts family had five pianos in their home, despite no one in the house knowing how to play the piano, because Droze Dotts would accept them in trade.
Eventually, he would sell all of the pianos and like the chickens, it worked out in the end, Tom Dotts said.
The 1930s also had Prohibition, and the Dotts Motor Company had a good business selling to bootleggers, Tom Dotts said. Bootleggers liked Fords because they were fast. And one bootlegger, Deacon Litz, would buy a new V-8 Ford every six months so the authorities wouldn’t recognize him. And every time he came to the dealership, he would give their father, who was a still a child, a silver dollar.
Tom Dotts said his father kept one of those silver dollars in his pocket for the rest of his life and eventually it was so worn it was smooth as a table.
In 1937, the Ford Motor Company asked Droze Dotts to be the Ford dealer in Clearfield because they didn’t have one there.
Droze Dotts agreed and in 1937 he built a new building on Market Street in Clearfield, where the Dotts Motor Company is located to this day.
As difficult as the Great Depression was, the most difficult time for the dealership was World War II because there was no civilian production of vehicles from 1941 to 1945. World War II was the dividing line for car dealerships because most didn’t survive the war, Tom Dotts said.
Tom Dotts said the company survived due to a fortuitous business deal by their grandfather. In 1941, a large car dealership in Pittsburgh went out of business leaving the financing company with a large stock of unsold new cars that were left over from 1940. Drove Dotts got all of them that he could. He obtained approximately 150 cars — they had so many cars they didn’t have enough room at the dealership, so they had to store them at the Clearfield Driving Park.
Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S. Navy bought every vehicle Dotts Motor Company had for use in the war effort. The only condition was they had to be painted blue. This kept the local body shops busy painting the cars blue for the Navy and the sales provided enough revenue for the dealership to survive the war, Bob Dotts said
After the war, business boomed as returning GIs wanted to buy cars. Demand was so high, the car factories had difficulty keeping up, Tom Dotts said.
During their tenure at the helm of the company, the Dotts brothers said probably the most difficult times for the company were the oil embargoes of the 1970s and the recent COVID-19 pandemic. They said the pandemic shut down the business for months and when they were allowed to reopen, they had to adjust to all of the cleaning and social distancing protocols.
And just when they thought things were going to get better, a semiconductor shortage has essentially shut down global production of vehicles.
“I don’t think our inventory has ever been this low,” Tom Dotts said.
But he said running any business is difficult and they aren’t any more different than anyone else.
The Dotts brothers credited the longevity of the business to the loyalty of their customers and said most of their business is repeat customers. The Dotts said they recently sold a vehicle to a young woman whose family has been buying vehicles from the dealership for five generations.
He said he thinks customers keep coming back because the dealership doesn’t use high pressure sales tactics or try to fool people and they try their best to give the customer a good experience at the dealership.
They also credited the company’s employees.
“We have a lot of good people work for us,” Bob Dotts said.
He said the local business community has been extremely supportive, from local insurance companies, body shops, and the media have all done a lot for the company over the years.
He also credited the Ford Motor Company. He said the company has kept to the original mission of Henry Ford to make cars for ordinary people and the company has supported its small town dealerships.
He said small family-owned dealerships like the Dotts Motor Company can often give better customer service than the large dealerships in cities and large towns because if a customer has a complaint, they can walk in and talk to the owner.
And the small dealerships are competitive on price because the car companies sell their vehicles to all its dealers at the same price, no matter how large they are.
Many of the large dealerships these days are owned by big corporations with Wall Street investors, and small dealerships don’t have the pressure of having to sell a large a volume of vehicles to satisfy investors that the large dealerships do.
“But ultimately looking back, the Dotts Motor Company has survived for 100 years because the Lord wanted us to survive,” Tom Dotts said.