Before paved roads, air conditioning and Lake Havasu City, there was the railroad, the CRIT reservation… and Parker Motor Company.
Parker Live talks to the Beaver family about the changes around their 100 year-old Ford dealership, how its early history unfolded in this dusty little desert town, how they and the Parker area became synonymous with motorsports, and what the future holds for the Beavers and for Parker.
“When I was a kid, they were still running passenger trains through here,” Mayor Dan Beaver told Parker Live. “That’s how we got our cars. My grandpa would get on the train here and go to Los Angeles on the train, they’d leave about 6 or 7 o’clock in the evening and they’d be in LA first thing in the morning.”
Dan is talking about Dan Beaver II, his grandfather and the first in the Beaver family to own Parker Motor Company, the dealership that’s still in operation and celebrating its 100th year with a street party Saturday. In the years before the Great Depression and World War II, the town of Parker was a long way from anywhere, and Dan II told his children about the 3-day process of getting the first Ford automobiles to Parker.
“The plant was right across the street from the train station in Los Angeles,” his grandson related. “They’d go across the street, they’d see a car come down the assembly line and grandpa would say, ‘That’s the one we want.’ They’d buy two Model Ts at a time. Then they’d set out and they’d drive those cars home. The first night they’d stay in Banning, there was an old hotel there. It was a long day from LA to Banning, but the next day was even more brutal. They’d get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and drive those Model Ts down through the Coachella Valley to where Indio is today, you know that hill you go up coming out of Indio? He said there were a hundred different lanes to go through and it was all dirt and sand, and you had to just pick a trail and follow it up that hill. If you didn’t overheat it was amazing and they carried buckets of water. Their goal that day was to get to Blythe before dark because the ferry quit running at dark. If they made it, they could make it back to Parker through Quartzsite late, late, late at night. If they didn’t, then they had to spend the night in Blythe.”
A Model T brought back to Parker Motor Company in this way is still at the dealership today, along with one of Dan II’s Model A cars. Both will be on display on Saturday.
According to Dan’s wife Deanna, who is president of the Parker Area Historical Society, the first Ford vehicles were brought to Parker not by the Beavers but by a man called E.F. Laughton, who started the ‘Parker Agency’ to get Fords out to the desert town in 1914. ‘Agency’ was a common word for ‘dealership’ back in the day.
“Laughton last week closed a deal with a representative from the Ford factory,” reads the Parker Post the day after Christmas 1914, “and expects his first shipment of cars here in a few days. He will open a garage up-town, with Harry Osborne in charge.”
Osborne was the father of Clara Osborne (later Clara Osborne Botzum), who was eventually the driving force behind the construction of the road bridge across the Colorado River between Parker and Earp. Osborne Wash was also named for him. Laughton also ran the Parker Meat Market, and by April 1916 was running an ‘auto delivery wagon’ in place of the ‘mule team’:
“A trip over the desert, which heretofore required two days of hard mule-punching, is now covered in seven or eight hours with the automobile, besides much heavier loads may be hauled without perceptible diminishing the rate of speed,” an article from the time reads. Just the month before, Laughton had excited the locals by receiving a delivery of seven new cars, arriving by train car directly from the factory in Detroit. They had all been ordered by Parker people.
The dealership changed hands and O.M. Spence moved it to Arizona Avenue, where it still operates today. It changed hands again and was bought by J.D. Matthews, who owned it by the time Dan Beaver II came to town.
“My grandfather got here because of a railroad strike,” Dan said. “He was a railroad worker and in 1921 he was stuck here because of the strike and spent the entire summer here working as a night watchman. But he liked Parker. He got to know J.D. Matthews, the owner of the Parker Motor Company, and took a job here. He sent a wire to my grandma and said as soon as the trains start to run, pack up, I think Parker would be a good place to raise our family.”
In September that year, Dan II’s wife arrived at the station in Parker with a trunk and a suitcase, which Dan still has, and five dollars. Dan II ended up running the dealership when Matthews left for a place he had in San Diego.
“He was older and as long as he kept getting a check every month, he didn’t care what happened and left my grandfather in charge of Parker Motor Company. My grandmother worked at Mary’s Cafe and she made an amazing rhubarb pie.”
“Wyatt Earp used to come in there, because he spent more time here than in Tombstone,” Deanna interjected. “He was the original winter visitor! And he loved rhubarb pie.”
Matthews never came back. The Beaver name isn’t recognized in Ford Motor Company records until 1926, when Matthews made Dan Beaver II a partner in the business. In the early years, it was known as The Big Garage. The Great Depression really hit the Parker area in 1931, according to the Beavers, with World War II changing everything shortly after that.
“It really took them a few years to get away from the war production to properly start making cars again,” Dan said. “There was a waiting list to get a car after the war.”
The list was written up on a piece of plywood on the side of Parker Motor Company. Names were painted in colors that represented the branch of the military the customers were in. As the cars came trickling in slowly, the names were crossed off as one excited customer after another got a hold of their new Ford. The 1949 Ford was a complete change of style: out was the ‘horseless wagon’ style and in was the new aerodynamic car we know today.
Dan’s dad, Marion Beaver, was a Parker legend who put his mark on the town for decades. He took over the dealership completely when his dad passed away in 1961, and by that time he’d already lived several lifetimes of experience, including growing up at the dealership.
Deanna: “Dan’s dad was larger than life, a top gun pilot, test pilot during the war, he was fearless.”
Dan and Deanna’s son Jim interjected with stories about his grandpa: “The governor and him were best friends in college. Boat racing world champion, flew planes, broke records, WWII flight instructor, huge baseball guy, him and Arnold Palmer were friends, he knew everyone.”
Marion was instrumental in bringing endurance speedboat racing to the Parker area, and loved racing horses before that. He was Parker’s second mayor. And, of course, he continued the legacy of Parker Motor Company, which he raised Dan in.
The Grandview Hotel and Parker Motor Company were built at the same time, with dirt roads all around. Most roads in Parker were still dirt roads even by the early 1970s. The Grandview Hotel burned down in 1974.
“I was up at Met with Deanna. Dad called and said I need your help to move cars, the hotel is on fire. I raced down from Met and we moved the cars away and thankfully the fire didn’t jump over to the dealership.”
Marion bought the property from the owner of the Grandview Hotel, which is used as a preowned car lot today. He got involved in the Parker community in a big way, running for office and keeping membership in lots of organizations.
Marion passed away at the age of 90 in 2007.
“I was told I would take the dealership over,” Dan said, thoughtfully. “I did have dreams and aspirations and it wasn’t always to do this, but I was told I would and I did.”
Deanna added, “[Dan] was not a complainer, ever. We met in high school. It took me ten years to realize that he liked sausage more than bacon – this is how much this man does not complain – and that he wanted to be a wildlife forestry manager. But that’s why he took over the business.”
Dan: “After college I came back because I was simply following my family’s will. But we had some great employees that I seemed to get along well with back in the 60s and I learned cars, I could take them apart and put them back together, they taught me the tricks of the trade, and I got into it. I started by sweeping the floors, filling the gumball machines. We were also a Honda dealership selling motorcycles, and I loved them. Before that we sold tractors, too, in the 50s, but Ford made us choose between tractors or cars and my dad chose cars.”
Nowadays, Parker Motor Company is not just one of the longest-running businesses in the Parker area (along with Beaver Insurance Agency next door), but one of the longest-running family-owned Ford dealerships in the country. Dan is the current mayor of Parker, and the dealership and town continue to be known for their associations with motorsports.
Jim Beaver hosts two motorsports shows from Parker Motor Company, the Down & Dirty Show which is syndicated on AM/FM radio nationwide, and Project Action, which is among the top sports podcasts on iTunes. Like his father, Jim grew up at the dealership.
“From the time I was a kid, I’d get off school, go home and get my bicycle, come here and hang out at the dealership. I worked every job here from cleaning toilets to washing cars to changing oil to just about everything.”
Parker Live asked Jim if he feels the pressure of being in the succession line of a 100-year dealership and a tradition of sequential generations of Beavers taking it on.
“No, dad never put that pressure on me,” he replied. “He always told us, hey, do whatever you want. My sister became a nurse, my brother is in real estate. I came back here because I wanted to and these other doors have opened up and if anybody’s encouraged me it’s been him. ‘Go out and do TV, do radio, do motorsports.’ He encouraged it and he’s funded it at times to get things off the ground! So I’ve never had any pressure, just support to do what I wanted.”
Dan: “I wanted my own kids to follow their own dreams and if that wasn’t about this company, that’s fine.”
And to see your kids happy, even if it means the end of the Beavers selling motors in Parker, that’s worth it?
As Parker mayor, Dan sees big challenges for the town in the years ahead.
“We need investment. It can be hard for people to stay in the Parker area, economically. We need new investment and development so that future generations can come and enjoy this beautiful area as much as we have.”
Parker Motor Company will celebrate its 100 years from its ‘appointment date’ as a Ford dealership on Saturday, November 5th, 2016 with a street party in front of the same building and shop front that was erected in 1916. Ford will acknowledge the 100 years owned by the same family in 2026.
“We have a Model T. We have Grandpa’s Model A. That’ll be there.”
There’ll be a barbecue, live music, bouncy house, live broadcast by KLPZ 1380am from 4pm and some big giveaways. And many of those in attendance will be driving vehicles sold by this dealership at one time or another, the legacy of generations of the Beaver family in action here in Parker.