Sheets auto garage closes after 91 years
Green Bank, W.Va. – Friday, December 14 is the last day in the 91-year history of the Sheets auto garage in Green Bank. Clarence Sheets opened a repair shop in 1921. Clarence’s son Charlie, the current general manager, says the family business was an oasis for stranded backroads travelers.
“We were right beside the garage, as we grew up,” he said. “At the time, there wasn’t any restaurants around in the area. Mother was never actively involved in the garage itself, but she was actively involved in keeping the meals for the people who broke down in the evening. My father would always bring them over for lunch or for evening meals and she never knew who was coming to the house for dinner and that was never a surprise or never a problem with her. But they were just great community people and the garage was a part of this community.”
At a time when deadly German U-boats patrolled the seas, Clarence Sheets served a hitch in the Merchant Marines.
“My father said, after he got out of the Merchant Marines – that was toward the end of World War I – he wanted to pursue a career and he heard about automobiles. There was very few around here at the time. So, he decided that he would go to the automotive school, and he found out about it somehow, that there was one in Kansas City, Missouri. So, he got on a train at Cass and found his way to Kansas City, Missouri, and found his way back after he graduated.”
Clarence went to work for a Ford garage in Elkins. Charlie tells a story about a special delivery to Pickens.
“He and another man were told to take two Model Ts to Pickens, West Virginia,” he said. “They got on the first train to Elkins, loaded two Model Ts up and, when they got to Pickens that morning, it was such a big day in Pickens that the mill shut down. And all these men were standing around – they wanted to see the first automobiles. So, they helped them assemble the cars. He said, ‘we didn’t have to do much, we just told them what to do. They were so excited to see those cars.'”
In 1923, Sheets repair shop started selling gasoline.
“As many of you will remember, or some of you who might remember – the pumps – you had to pump the gas. They were not electric, of course. But the pumps would hold as much as five gallons and there was marks. They started from one gallon, two, three, four, five. And he tells a story that many people would sit out there and argue that the gasoline isn’t high enough on the mark – ‘Pump it one more time, Clarence. That’s not enough. You’re going to cheat me. You got to pump it one more time.’ And he would sit out there and look up in the air and point at the level of the gasoline mark on the tank.”
The shop would soon become a dealership.
“From that humble beginning, he first was a sub-agent for – I think it was Mr. Brill in Marlinton, who sold Chevrolets. And then, his first franchise with General Motors was in 1927. It was a Pontiac and Oakland franchise and he sold those until about 1935. At that time, General Motors dropped the Oakland automobile line and he said the most popular car was the Oldsmobile. He remembered that Oldsmobile had the first car with “knee action” and it had brakes that would stop the car and they always got the latest innovations. So, he switched from Pontiac to Oldsmobile in about 1936.”
Charlie and business partner Alfred Irvine took over management in 1974. GM discontinued Oldsmobile in 2004, a decision that left customers scratching their heads.
“Really, it was a difficult thing for everybody to understand and we still get the questions of, ‘why did they do away with Oldsmobile?’ Sheets said. “And one of the most common phrases that people ask me – they say now is – ‘that was the best car I ever owned.’ So, that was the beginning of the end, I think, for the small dealers.”