Saturday, December 13, 2014

History of "The Belton Car Mart", Belton, Texas (Digby Family)

THE HISTORY OF 
"THE BELTON CAR MART" AND THE DIGBY FAMILY





Summary of the Digby automobile business 
from the website of Digby Auto Sales while at the Sparta Road location. 
(www.digbyautosales.com):

"Digby Auto Sales - Home of Quality Autos"
Martin Digby sold his first car in Belton, Texas in 1921.  In 1946 he and his brother opened Digby Brothers Auto Sales on the corner of 2nd and Penelope street in Belton.  In 1953 Martin Digby then opened The Belton Car Mart on East street in Belton.  His son Dwayne entered into the car business with his dad after high school.
After the death of Martin Digby in 1966, Dwayne stayed in the car business  for a year and then became a partner in the Ford dealership in Belton.  After selling the Ford dealership, he later started Digby Auto Sales in 1993.  His son Craig, who also grew up in the car business, became a partner with his dad and soon after Digby Auto Sales was started".

During a conversation with Dwayne Digby on July 11, 2015, he told me the following:
"In the early 1930's, Mart Digby sold his first used car in Belton.  He and Odell Hyer had a service station at the intersection of First street & East street.  There was an empty lot that was part of the service station.  Sam Street was a Pontiac dealer in Temple.  He asked Mart if he could put some of his cars on the empty lot and sell them.  I'm not sure how long this lasted.  In the early 1940's, Mart Digby was a security guard at Camp Hood (later Fort Hood).  Following this, he had a service station on North Main in Belton (where the "Mufflers & More" shop is now in 2015).

(Note from Gale Cosper: Dwayne was working for the phone company before the following jobs).

(1946 - 1953)  DIGBY BROS. AUTO SALES:
Location: Penelope & 2nd Streets.  Belton, Texas

In 1946, Mart Digby and Emmitt Digby opened Digby Brothers Auto as a used car lot; it was just south of where Pittman's Cleaners is now (2015).  They were together here until 1953, when they split.

Digby Bros. Auto Sales office (View is SW to NE).
In the above picture, Mart Digby is with his son Dwayne and Emmitt Digby is the person on the right.  I'm not sure who the two men on the left are.  Dwayne told me that William Seaborn Digby is inside the screen door and if the light hits the picture just right, you can see him.

Osie (Cearley) and Janie _________ (Mart Digby behind them).
Digby Auto Sales & The Tiger Den
(Source: Kay (Cearley) Thornton)

1950s: Mart Digby and Windy Wallace sold cars at the vacant lot where the Digby and Blair families sold watermelons.  Emmitt Digby ran the "Tiger Den" Lunch Room in the Digby Bros. Auto Sales building.  The Lunch Room was a burger place and many students would eat dinner in the large back room before their prom....  Gale (Digby) Cosper said it was a good place for groups or parties.  This is the lot where Glenn Blair eventually built the new First National Bank building.  The watermelon stand was in the same block at Digby Bros. Auto Sales in the above picture.


Glenn Blair said that he and his future wife, Jeannine Digby, did some of their dating on the same block where Digby Auto Sales was located.  Glenn and his father, H.O. Blair, hauled fruit out of the Rio Grande Valley for A & P Food Stores.  They made a deal with the Digby family to sell watermelons at their lot.  They would haul in a truckload of watermelons and park it on the lot.  Long tables with attached benches were set up for people to eat and they would sell the watermelon by the slice, half a watermelon....  Years later, when Glenn worked at the First National Bank in Belton, he wanted to build a new bank on this location and eventually did so.


(1953 - early 1960s) THE BELTON CAR MART:
Location: at North East & First street in Belton, Texas
(Immediately south of the Minimax grocery store and across the street from The Bargain Barn).


Mart Digby in his office at "The Car Mart" on North East street
in Belton, Texas.  (The door was to the right; there was a
waist-high brass cigarette stand next to the door).

Mart Digby inside the covered car
area of "The Car Mart". Odell Hyer's
gas station would be located to the left
of this picture. (View is east to west).
Mart Digby outside his office at "The
Car Mart" on North East street. This is the last
picture taken of Mart before his death (note
the hospital bracelet on his arm).
 






















After Mart and Emmitt split up in 1953, Mart and Sam Street began "The Belton Car Mart" at East & 1st street.  The Mauler family owned the property and rented the building to Mart & Sam for $ 50.00 a month.  The building on the property looked the same when both the Maulers and Mart & Sam had it.  The building was originally a trucking terminal for Brown Express.  Mart Digby's office was the old Brown Express office.  Originally, there was a wooden loading dock under the shed, but this was torn out for the car lot.  Mart and Sam worked together for two years, then Mart bought Sam out.

From the 1950s to 1966, Mart Digby ran "The Cart Mart" on North East street in Belton, Texas (across from "The Bargain Barn" where his wife Pearl worked later; there was no "Bargain Barn" the first time Mart worked in this location, according to Gale Digby Cosper).  Mart moved to the East street location when Emmitt Digby put the ice cream shop in at the watermelon lot.

The Car Mart (when it was located just south of Minimax grocery store and just west (across the street) from The Bargain Barn.  The Minimax store was adjoined to  The Car Mart on the north side.
Dwayne said that when the Minimax store was later being torn down, two tombstones were found in the space between Minimax and The Car Mart.  They found out that they were not graves, but tombstones from a company that sold tombstones.  Dwayne Digby summarized the transition to this new location: - "Sam Smart had a Pontiac business in Temple, Texas.  Mart Digby and Odell Hyer owned the gas station together.  Sam wanted Mart to sell some cars for him on the vacant lot they had next (immediately north) of the gas station, which he did.  Sam and Mart went into business together, thus "The Car Mart".  Sam put up the money for it.  Sam had the second office (the one attached to and just west of Mart's office).  Sam wanted to go into business in Temple, so Windy Wallace went into business with Mart and used the second office.  Windy ran for constable.  In 1962, Dwayne worked for Mart and used the second office Dwayne shared the following story: "I graduated high school in 1957.  I went to Temple Junior College for one semester, then got the Asian flu.  I was home recovering for about a week. When I was feeling better, I went to the car lot.  Mart asked me, 'Are you going back to school'.  I replied, 'Not if I have to'.  He replied, 'Well, you better start working then' and that's when I went to work at the car lot".  Mart wanted to start a wrecker company, so Dwayne went out there with Joe Cosper to run it.  Dwayne shared the following story: "One day Mart came back from Peoples National Bank.  He said, 'Mr. Kelly wants to talk to you'.  It turned out that he wanted to talk with me about being a teller at the bank.  I worked there for nine months.  I was working here when Mart asked me to go run Highway Auto Parts (Everyone called it "the wrecking yard") with Joe Cosper".  Mart Digby went to The Car Mart the day before he died.  He died when he was 59 years old.  Dwayne kept running The Belton Car Mart until August, 1967.

Info. from Gale (Digby) Cosper: "The Car Mart" and the "Hi-way Wrecking Company" both existed at the same time, but the "Hi-way Wrecking Company" was built later.

HI - WAY WRECKING CO. (built after June, 1960)
Location: East side of IH-35 just north and across the highway from Hill Top Courts)

Hi-Way Wrecking Company (East side of IH-35 just NE of Hill Top Courts).
(Notice that IH-35 is just one lane of traffic each direction at this time)

Mart Digby owned the Hi-way Auto Parts.  He bought the bare land.  He bought 2-3 old World War I Mess Hall buildings from Fort Hood and put them together.  Mart asked Dwayne Digby and Joe Cosper to run it.  Jack Killingsworth and Billy Ed Wilson were always hanging around there.  The company didn't do enough business.  Dwayne  was in the National Guard and was called to active duty in October, 1961, so he left.  Billy Ed Wilson bought the company and turned it into a heavy equipment company (Billy Ed was Mart Digby's nephew).  Mart sold the wrecking yard to in late 1961 or early 1962 when Dwayne was af Fort Polk, but leased the property.  Archie Guyer bought the property.  Later, he sold the property pretty quickly.  Billy Ed Wilson bought it later from the person he sold it to.  Pearl Digby worked here for Billy Ed Wilson scheduling things and dispatching calls to the wrecker.  This was a great blessing to Pearl because it helped her transition to the work force after Mart died.

Mattie (Digby) Wesson told me that Mart Digby would buy cars at the auction in Austin and then have his kids drive them back.  Rita (Digby) Locklin and Dwayne Digby relayed the following story:
"Mart and Pearl's family were visiting relatives in New Mexico.  We stopped in Eastland, Texas on the way back and bought a car.  New tires on their car threw the speedometer off.  Mart told Rita to drive the new car back and to 'keep up' with him.  Mart was driving too fast and didn't know it, but Rita knew it.  She had just gotten her driver's license.  The highway patrol pulled them both over and gave them tickets.  Mart was later eating at the R & M Cafe on Main street in Belton, Texas with two other men from the wrecking yard.  Mart saw a friend of his also eating lunch, so he decided to buy the friend's lunch as well as the two men sitting with him.  His friend later said to Mart: 'I appreciate you buying my lunch, but I was surprised you bought the other guy's lunch since he was the one who gave you those two tickets in Eastland'".


(Late 1962 - early 1963)  THE BELTON CAR MART:
Location: Central Avenue in Belton, Texas.

1963 - "The Belton Car Mart" office on Central Avenue in Belton, Texas.
(Office faced south towards Central Avenue.  View is SW to NE).

1960's - Cars & Sign in front of office.
(View is NE to SW).
SE to NW view of office.
(Note the machine shop in back).















Machine Shop behind (north) of the office. (View is south to north).
(Pic. taken in 1963; Mart Digby walking in front of the shop).

Late 1962 - early 1963: Mart Digby ran "The Belton Car Mart" on Central Avenue in Belton, Texas (It was west of Butch's restaurant at the time on the same side of the street.  It's where a convenience store and Taco Bell are now).  Rita did not think that Dwayne was involved in it at that point, but Dwayne came in later.  When Mart Digby died of stomach cancer in 1966, Dwayne ran the car lot briefly, then he went to work at the Ford Dealership just outside the south city limits of Belton right on Interstate highway 35.  Eventually, Dwayne and Johnny Boren owned that dealership (which everyone called "the Ford house").

THE CAR MART (2nd time at this location)
(Location: North East street in Belton, Texas)


The Bargain Barn.  Belton, Texas
Image by Billy Blair on March 12, 2007

Gale (Digby) Cosper was pregnant with her son Johnny Ray when "The Bargain Barn" was opened.
Mart Digby died of stomach cancer in 1966.  Dwayne Digby still worked at The Car Mart.

(1967 - 1993)  FORD DEALERSHIP IN BELTON
 (OFF OF I.H. 35 AT SOUTH END OF TOWN)
(Note: The dealership was located less than a quarter of mile north of the current Belton Expo. Center and was on the west side of I.H. 35, just off the access road).

Dwayne Digby worked for Mr. Kelly Albritton at the Albritton/ Boren Ford House on the west side of IH-35 about 1/5 mile south of Hill Top Courts in Belton, Texas.  Dwayne began working here in August, 1967.  In 1969, Dwayne bought 5% of "the Ford House", which is what people called the dealership.  Between 1969 and 1975, Dwayne increased his percentage to 10%.  When Mr. Albritton retired in 1975, Dwayne's percentage became 25 % and he and Johnny Boren purchased the Ford House.  They changed the name to "Boren/ Digby Ford".  

They sold the Ford House to Glenn Gantenbeim in May, 1979.  Dwayne and Johnny went to work for him as commission salesmen (Brookshire worked with them).  Dwayne worked here as a salesman until June 3, 1988.

Johnson Brothers Ford in Temple, Texas

Dwayne worked for Johnson Brothers Ford after he left Gantenbeim (the "Ford house) on June 3, 1988.  This was a satellite site used car lot.  Dwayne worked here for three months; he left in August, 1988.

Ron Ringles Chevrolet in Temple, Texas.

Dwayne began working here as a Used Car Manager in August, 1988.

Sonny Wooley property on Holland Road in Belton, Texas

Dwayne opens "Digby Auto Sales" on March 1, 1993.  At this location, Dwayne Digby goes out on his own to sell cars.  He shared a lot with Longhorn Auto.  (Longhorn Motors is still located at this location as of 2015).

(ca. October, 1994) Place between Ford House on IH-35 and Hill Top Courts in Belton, Texas

Dwayne built a place to sell cars which was north of the old Albritton/ Boren Ford House and south of Hill Top Courts next to IH-35 (west side of the highway).  This is when Craig Digby, Dwayne's son, joined him.


(Feb. 1993 - ?)  DIGBY AUTO SALES, BELTON, TEXAS
 (Location: Just north of the Main street and 24th Avenue intersection on the west side of Main street).


Source: The Belton Journal newspaper. Belton, Texas



Digby Auto Sales:
2206 Holland Road.  Belton, Texas
(Intersection of Loop 121 and FM 436).  939-7535

This is the same location as Sparta Road and Main street in Belton.  Dwayne said in 2015 that he moved to this location on January 2, 2005.  Dwayne owned this property for a couple of years before building on it; it contained three acres (It contained the land which is now the Big Red Drive In). When they owned the land, Sparta road didn't connect with Main street.  Gale Cosper said that Dwayne owned a place at this location, but that he also still owned the place between the Ford House and Hill Top Courts on IH-35.  The Sparta Road & Main Street location was where Dwayne's son Craig Digby was in business with him.  After he sold the lot (but not the business) at Sparta Road and Main street about July, 2006, Dwayne went back to the location between the Ford House and Hill Top Courts (He still owned and leased out this lot while at the Sparta road location).  Dwayne sold this lot in July, 2008 to the same people who bought the Sparta Road location.  This is the location that he retired from.  The final chapter of Digby Auto Sales ended on December 31, 2008.



Sources:
1.  Dwayne Digby conversation with Billy Blair on April 22, 2012.
2.  Digby Auto Sales website.
3.  Dwayne & JoAnn Digby photos.
4.  The Belton Journal newspaper.  Belton, Texas (Digby Auto grand opening photo).
5.  Gale (Digby) Cosper & Jeannine (Digby) Blair conversation with Billy Blair on December 26, 2014.
6.  Kay (Cearley) Thornton.
7.  Dwayne Digby conversation with Billy Blair on January 5, 2015.
8.  Dwayne Digby and Gale (Cosper) Digby conversation with Billy Blair on July 11, 2015.
9.  Gale (Digby) Cosper conversataion with Billy Blair on October 6, 2005.
10. Dwayne Digby: July, 2006.
11. Rita (Digby) Locklin & Dwayne Digby, July 31, 2006.
12. Mattie (Digby) Wesson, July 31, 2006.