I often talk about all the different cars I drove when I was a kid. I may have shown up to school in a different vehicle just about any day. To say we were in the used car business would be an over statement. Cecil Lewis was an entrepreneur of his own kind back in the day. He dabbled in about anything that made a little money or kept his sons busy. Buying and fixing up used cars was but one of his ventures.
In my early days working for Charlie Ulbricht, I watched him do body work out of the north stall of the Texaco station in Marble Falls. He let me do some of the work, in between my gas pumping duties. I was always pretty good at imitating others so picking up some body-working techniques from Charlie came easy.
Since the 50s and 60s cars were made to be worked on, it wasn’t so complicated to switch out parts and make em run. We didn’t have books on the cars and sure didn’t have YouTube How To’s to show us what to do. We just figured things out. It helped to be organized and put things in piles as you took them apart, so you could reverse the order going back together. That was where so many kids would go wrong tearing into mechanicals things. Throwing stuff every which way, then expecting to find the pieces when it was time to put it back together.
Finding success in repairing cars made me a perfect candidate to become enterprising at buying cars, fixing and driving them until someone came along that wanted it worse than I did.
When Cec would venture off to San Antonio to the Tex-Mex Auto Auction to buy an automobile or two, I’d go along and if saw one that caught my eye, he would let me bid on it and when the price was right, I’d bring it home as my next project. Those cars were generally in drivable condition and needed minor repairs or nothing at all done to them.
Back in those days you had to have a Texas Automobiles Dealers License to buy cars at the auction, so Cec applied for one. In order to obtain one you had to have a business location with a sign hung out front. On the side of the shop out from the house he affixed a hand painted plywood sign that read; Lewis & Sons Auto Sales. When I say hand painted sign I’m not talking about with stenciled letters. It was reminiscent of the sign kids would have painted for their lemonade stand. The fellow from the state that came to check and be sure there was an actual location, must have figured it met all the criteria and issued a him a dealers license. I guess the beauty of the sign didn’t matter all that much because there wasn’t any foot traffic in Smithwick going to be coming along looking for a place to buy a car.
That sign, even for a couple of county bumpkin teenager Sons, was always a source of embarrassment, but seeing where it was located, it wasn’t like anyone was going to see it. We still laugh about it even today, some 50 odd years later. I always wondered why it said Sons on the sign, because the older son wasn’t going to get too involved in fixing cars as long as there was livestock to tend to, dogs to train, horses to break and girls to chase.
Having a “Dealers License” got Cec hooked up with a fellow down on South Congress in Austin that ran the Insurance Salvage Pool. Issac Rabb was the fellow and when he had something come through that looked like it was the “real deal” for the Lewis & Sons, he’d call Cec. Those sales were made with a closed private bid process. We brought some real deals home from there but they always needed work, since they were wrecked cars.
So that’s how I came up with so many different cars as a teenager. Cec wasn’t greedy. If I wanted to make just about any car my own project, he was more than glad to pass it off to me. With him, it never was so much about making money as it was about doing something to keep busy. In my memory, I never remember him taking a day off or just coming in and sitting down in the house. He was always moving. Moving from one project to the next. Even in his later days he may go down to his fishing camp and sit and a have a beer or two with the guys, but soon enough he’d be off to fix something somewhere, usually getting whomever was around to go along and help him. He was like that. He got everyone around him to help do whatever he was involved in.
So if you ever heard me make the claim that I had a couple dozen cars when I was a kid, that’s not a stretch.
Working at the Chevrolet/ Buick Dealership as a kid, my job in a work program when I was a high school senior was to do minor repairs. I got out of school at noon and would go across the street to work.
The satellite branch in Marble Falls didn’t have a service department, so minor things could be handled out back rather than taking them to Burnet.
Of course my main job was rolling odometers back. That was back in the days when things like that actually happened. Who wanted to buy a car with 100,000 miles when with a little work it could have only 50,000 miles.
Those were the days.