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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History comes to life through individual stories. This two-part guest post by retired Dayton police sergeant Stephen C. Grismer gives a wonderful view of how one family’s business changed and adapted in the course of more than a century, reflecting life in the community around it. Steve serves as secretary-treasurer of the Dayton Police History Foundation and has been a wonderful source of information for the Maggie Sullivan mysteries.
Part 2 will run next week. Thanks, Steve!
by Stephen C. Grismer
With my family ancestry rooted in Dayton, Ohio, as far back as 1851, I enjoy a deeply personal connection to our local history. It began when my great-grandfather, Gustav M. Stomps, emigrated to the U.S. in 1848 and, upon settling in Dayton, opened a factory on East First Street where he manufactured chairs of all types.
His son, Gustav H. Stomps, wasn’t interested in crafting chairs. His interest was transportation. He first owned a livery business downtown, but after losing 292 horses during the 1913 flood, he realized his future was best suited to automobiles.
Gus first opened a Lexington Motor Company car dealership at 50 South Main Street, across from the Kuhns building, but in 1916 switched to Chevrolets. This was the automobile he and my family would sell in Dayton over the next five decades – through the Great Depression and World War II – until 1968.
Given my ties, it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of author Curt Dalton and his many books on local history. One of my favorites is Home Sweet Home Front: Dayton During World War II in which he recounts air raid warnings and “black outs.” My grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles experienced these from their Dayton homes, while other family members more dangerously served abroad.
This is the period setting for the Maggie Sullivan murder mystery series, each installment of which I eagerly await. The books strike a resonant chord with me, given my own police background, because private eye Maggie is closely linked with Dayton law enforcement of her day. More than the police connection, though, I love the author’s accurate descriptions of Dayton streets, businesses, districts, buildings, et al. from the bygone days of the 1930s and 1940s. In reading her series, I am drawn to my family legacy.
When Gus Stomps needed a larger building to sell, maintain and customize automobiles, he opened Stomps Chevrolet at 225 South Main Street (near the corner of West Sixth Street). The building was constructed in 1928 and still exists today across from the Convention Center.
My grandfather, John Henry “Hank” Grismer, was general manager. My dad and uncles all worked there. I would have as well had the doors not closed during my freshman year at Chaminade High School. At the time, “Stomps” was said to be the second oldest car dealership in Dayton, and definitely Dayton’s oldest Chevrolet dealership.
During WWII, Stomps, as well as the city’s oldest car dealer Borchers Ford , (further south on Main at Franklin Street) were located in the area known as the “Motor Car District.” This was a tightly compacted area which included the Dayton Buick Company at 349 South Main Street and the Citizens Motorcar Company (selling Packards) at Franklin and Ludlow. Today the latter location is the Packard Museum.
Of course, with the swelling local population, other dealerships had begun to open in other parts of the city. But how would they survive World War II when there were no new cars to sell?
Next week: A recap tire monopoly
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