Kirby Hight’s Oral Wisdom
- Hight Ford originated in 1911. In 1910, Walter Hight started selling hay, hemlock bark, and potatoes which was fairly successful.
- The first accident occurred when a potato wagon ran over my father’s big toe which caused him some trouble the rest of his 97 years.
- In 1911, Walter Hight decided to take on the Ford agency.
- Fords sold well and Walter borrowed more money and got into the car business in a big way.
- Walter took on Buick and still has it. It was a good seller for a medium price car. Dr. Caza always bought the largest Buick built. It had a wheelbase of 128”.
- In winter, they couldn’t run cars, so they made snowmobiles out of Model T Fords and a few Buicks. These machines had skis on the front and lags on the rear. Those winters were tough. The roads in Skowhegan were rolled with 3 tons of horses hooked to a big roller. Gilman did the rolling.
- The car began to take over. In 1913 and 1914 the business was good.
- We also took on Buick in 1913.
- In 1916, Kirby Hight was born and he later joined the Hight car outfit after graduation from Bowdoin in 1938.
- In 1917, ten men went out to Flint, MI and drove home 10 new Buicks. It rained during the whole trip. They about drowned. It took a month to clean the cars up so you could seethe original paint. They figured they would never make it. During WWI, they stayed in business by buying a few cars, as well as oats, grain, hemlock bark, and potatoes.
- Potatoes were selling well, so Walter went on the road buying and sending potatoes by railroad to New York. There was a farmer in Solon who was loading his railroad car with rocks, so Walter thought that he would sue him. He took the case before the jury. The jury came back with a verdict of $1. The judge said he did the best he could. So ended the suing days.
- At the first of the automobile, the driver of the vehicle had to lead the opposing horse by the car. Some women wouldn’t ride in a 4 door sedan, they thought it was a hearse.
- I think it is interesting in the development of various items and some people’s reaction to them, for example the crank to the self starter. People were afraid that the car would backfire and if you had your thumb over the crank, it would probably break your wrist.
- In 1920, Hight Ford I believe had their biggest year: 620 Fords, 250 Buicks, 200 tons of coal plus potatoes and gas. In 1914, Walter started selling gasoline and had gas stations in the surrounding towns. Walter built the first station where Cumberland Farms is now and had a big tank where the used car lot is now.
- Fords and Buicks sold well but the Chevrolet gave Ford a run for their money. Ford in 1927 closed down for a year while they built the Model A.
- From 1924-1927 to get a car to sell, you had to take a Fordson tractor which was very unprofitable. It was hard to sell the tractors and they finally caused us to lose a sizeable amount of money. Under the circumstances, they dropped Ford and took on Chevrolet, which they still have. It was a smart move because Ford had their troubles until they came out with the Model A, which was a great seller.
- Times were tough from 1930 to 1938, the depression was hard on everyone.
- Kirby Hight graduated from Bowdoin in 1938. Walter asked Kirby if he wanted to go in business with him. Kirby said that he did and Walter told him that he owed $68,000 and the bank was pretty hungry. That didn’t change the picture and Kirby joined the business.
- No cars were manufactured after 1941. All GM effort went into war material. We still ran the shop and bought used cars and trucks. Kirby joined the Navy in 1942. Walter still ran the business, the shop, parts, and used cars.
- When the war was over, we were put on schedule and we were lucky as the schedule was made in proportion to cars and trucks sold in 1940 to 1941. In 1940, we sold 20 heavy duty trucks to WH Hinman and near the very end, sold him 50 more trucks clean sale. He put them on a big fill project in South Portland. This gave us a great start after the war. Heavy Duty truck sales were strong. We could sell more trucks than we could get. New cars were tough to get but we sold them as fast as we could get them. The government came out with a program for cars and trucks, you bought on the low and sold on the high which was a money maker if there ever was one. The big question was obtaining the used cars. I remember Dana Knowles, one of the sharpest guys you ever met, and I stopped a guy with a used Chevrolet and a canoe tied to the top. The guy didn’t want to sell the car because he had no way of hauling the canoe around. So we bought the car and canoe and made him happy. We sure made some crazy deals, but we were able to get the merchandise. I think the used cars at that time were better than a few years later, due to having not been run during the war.
- By 1955, the car business became very competitive and has been that way ever since. A great many dealers have come and gone. Pelley, the Ford dealer on West Front Street changed business. Lisherness sold out to us and we went into his building on West Front Street next to the present Butler’s Dry Cleaning. We had Buick where it is now on Madison Avenue. In order to keep the Chevrolet franchise, we had to be a single operation, which was foolishness.
- In the first of the 60’s, we renovated the present building we are in on Madison Avenue and moved the Buick and Chevrolet franchises together which was a smart move. But we should have bought a farm outside of Skowhegan and built the building there where we would have had some room. But we were afraid we would be away from traffic at that time. We may have been right. We kept buying up pieces to get the room for the existing garage:
- 1st: the Chinese laundry
- 2nd: Varney Furniture Store
- 3rd: Amoco gas station
- 4th: Lindlay Chapman building
- 5th: House in front of Graffman store
- Then at separate intervals, we tore them down.
- 6th: Grist mill next to the railroad lot
- 7th: Bought Bangor Savings Bank
- This last purchase gave us the whole block. We repaired the existing garage for a complete overhaul
- If you summarize the thing to today’s market, I should say there was no money wasted. If we had gone out in the country we would have spent approximately the same amount of money and nowhere near the number of people who drive by the location down town.
- In the 1970s, my two boys were going away to school, Louis to Bowdoin College and Walter to Northwood Institute. When Walter graduated from college, he came into the business with me and when Louis graduated from Bowdoin, he also came into the business. As soon as I thought they were old enough and had learned enough about the car business, I proceeded to work myself out by going to Florida.
- In 2006, Louis and Walter bought the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep dealership in Madison. Walter’s boys, Toby and Corey run that dealership.
- In 2008, Walter and Louis bought the Ford Agency from the Friends and Sam Hight was put in charge. After Sam graduated from Bowdoin in 2007, he went to work for Deutsche Bank, a bank in Boston, on a one year contract. After the year was up, he took over the management of Ford.
- That fixed it so the Hights have Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC in Skowhegan and Farmington; Ford in Skowhegan; and Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep in Madison. These purchases were expensive, but the families decided now was the time to make the purchases when somebody wanted to sell, instead of when they wanted to buy. It has been a smart move so far.