Stories of ordinary families are what bring history to life. In this second of two guest posts, retired Dayton, Ohio, police sergeant Stephen C. Grismer tells how his family’s automobile business survived World War II when cars — and tires — were rationed. Steve serves as secretary-treasurer of the Dayton Police Historical Foundation. He has been a wonderful source of information for the Maggie Sullivan mysteries.
by Stephen C. Grismer
Surviving the Great Depression was difficult enough but, because of the war effort, the production of automobiles ceased altogether in early 1942. The cars that did come out then were called “black-out models” because the parts that should have been chrome were painted black. Raw materials were limited. The impact on the competitive auto industry trickled down to car dealers, including those in the Motor Car District.
There was little income for Stomps Chevrolet except automobile servicing which, alone, would not have kept the business afloat. But then the U.S. Army Air Corps rented Stomps’ garage for storage, which was fortunate since it allowed the mortgage on the building to be paid.
Stomps had another competitive advantage. During times when rubber was at a premium, it had the ability to offer “recap” tires to its customers.
Stomps’ general manager, Hank Grismer, had brought his brother, Adam, into the fold during the Great Depression. He founded the Grismer Tire Company, whose original business location was on the top floor of Stomps Chevrolet.
What made the business notable at the time was that it had the area’s only machine that could “recap,” or retread, worn tires. Retreading is the replacement of the tread casing on a spent tire. It preserved an otherwise usable tire. That may seem unremarkable now but at the time of the Great Depression and WWII rationing, it was a godsend for people needing tires.
During the war, there was a shortage of rubber that resulted in rationing of rubber products. At the time, a family could only own a total of five tires. There were local “tire rationing boards” that would certify new tires only for essential vehicles (public safety services like police, fire, etc.). The local boards would also have to certify the recapping of tires.
The Grismer Tire Company did not long remain with my great-uncle, Adam Grismer. Charles Marshall had been a silent partner and had greater interest in the tire business. Our family retelling has it that Marshall bought out Adam’s share due in part to the WWII business advantage of having the area’s only retreading machine. Although Grismer Tire later moved out of our family’s Chevrolet building, Charles Marshall retained the Grismer name, concerned that the customer base could drop away if the name of the company changed.
It has been 75 years since the start of WWII and the Marshall family still owns and successfully operates the Grismer Tire Company. There are over 20 Grismer tire centers throughout the Miami Valley today.
I have to believe that sometime during her early sleuthing days, Maggie Sullivan drove into Stomps Chevrolet so she could to buy a recap from Grismer Tire for her DeSoto.
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