It is not often that any small town business can claim a continuous existence that goes back ninety five years, but Chipola Ford does.
Since the writer has, very far back, a similar dealership in his background, let me walk you through this one that began here in Marianna and continues, successfully, onward into the future.
The present dealership building and other facilities are located on Lafayette Street, about a mile from where Mr. J. J. McCaskill first sold Ford automobiles, trucks and tractors. I, as a young man and later as a dealer, often visited the old site, and even more often came to the present building, particularly during the time that the original J. J. McCaskill’s son Dexter was dealer. Dexter was my friend, even though we were occasionally competitors. After I sold my business I purchased all of my vehicles, except for a couple, from him or his successors.
Today was a stroll through Memory Lane, interspersed among the newest of the Ford line are Model T automobiles, and a couple of restored Model A vehicles, including a Model A town car that once was in a museum. Outside, gleaming like a jewel is a Thunderbird from “back in the day”.
I chatted first with Rick Barnes, the sales manager. Barnes had come into the automobile business early in life, selling cars and trucks, and eventually becoming an important part of the management team of Chipola Ford, a spot the he feels that he was meant to be in. He is proud of the past, and he is confident of the future.
I meandered out into the showroom, and stood for a few minutes admiring the old cars, so beautifully restored. I could not resist telling stories about them, about the Model T that Henry Ford built in the first mass production line for automobiles. I quoted him, once when he was asked what the public would have asked for when he began production, he said, “Faster horses.” So much for surveys! The Model T put the common man behind the wheel and forced the United States to build and pave a great network of roads.
Will Rogers, the present dealer, snared me and we went into his office, where he armed me with historical clippings. We could not resist talking shop, even though my “shop” ended in 1971. We spoke of quality, and he expressed quiet pride in Ford’s standing. “You know, Homer, folks talk about recalls as something bad. I look at it as the proof that the manufacturers are looking out for their customers. We handle them properly, too, as a dealer.”
I wandered out onto the lot and registered for several things, and got a bag containing a nice pen and a key chain and, of course, a tee shirt, proving that “I’ve been there, and got the T shirt!” The folks were nice, as they should be and always are at Chipola Ford. The salesmen greeted me as though I was really going to buy a new car, and the ladies at the tables acted as though they knew me and showed me the respect due my gray hair and wrinkles. I declined the hamburgers and hot dogs, but I promised to return.
And I will return.
This coming weekend Will tells me that there will be more of the same, and added to that will be a fleet of Mustangs, Ford’s all-time best car (that’s my opinion). The “Pony Cars” will come from Tallahassee and from Panama City, and will be polished and spiffed up and completely restored, and I will be there to admire each and every one of them.
And I will bring with me my memories, thanks to Will and Dexter and all of those in between at Chipola Ford.