Huffines Motor Company

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[excerpt from "Reflections: A Folklore History of Lewisville, Texas." written by Jeff Fielder, edited by Dawn Cobb]

Up in Denton, a man named J.L Huffines opened the Huffines Motor Company in May 1924, selling Overland automobiles for $500 and Willys-Knight automobiles for up to $1,500. By now, there were an estimated 4,500 cars and 250 trucks in Denton County.

J.L. Huffines was known to tell folks he founded his business on one simple principal: treat the customer the way you would want to be treated.

As the story goes, in 1927 Daniel Carl Degan went to Denton to buy a car. There were no car dealerships in Lewisville.

While in Denton, D.C. Degan met J.L. Huffines. Mr. Huffines was said to be honest, fair and persuasive. D.C. Degan is rumored to have sold Mr. Huffines, "If you can sell me a car, you can sell anyone a car."

J.L. Huffines and D.C. Degan were given financial backing by J.W. Degan, and a franchise by Chevrolet to operate in Lewisville. In April 1927, they opened Huffines Motor Company in the old livery stable on the corner of Main and Mill streets.

 
Huffines Motor Company photo

It is difficult to enumerate the many impacts J.L. Huffines and his car dealership had on Lewisville through the years, but his contribution was significant and enduring. He served on the school board and on many community committees. The city's first traffic signal was operated by a switch inside the dealership. The family donated land off Valley Parkway in the mid-1990s that was used to build Huffines Middle School. The family home was used by the crew of television's Route 66 as an on-screen hotel during an episode of that program filmed in Lewisville.

The photo below, taken in1938, shows the Good Roads Committee awaiting the arrival of Gov. Walter Woodul. Mr. Huffines is sitting atop the white horse in the middle front, leading the group as a representative of Lewisville. The group is pictured on Main Street, just south of Poydras, facing west.

1938 Good Roads Committee

Mr. Huffines died in 2009 at the age of 85. His legacy is perhaps best summarized by this story, also excerpted from the "Reflections" book.

 As the story goes...  

During the Great Depression, farmers were like everyone else in that they lived from hand to mouth. As soon as a paycheck came in, it was spent. But unlike regular folks, more often than not, the money was spent paying back loans they had taken out just to get a crop in the ground or get a harvest in.

 

It was during the Depression that J.L. Huffines Sr. really made his mark as a businessman in Lewisville. His reputation as a member of the community and an honest salesman had already been solidified, but his actions during the Depression went beyond what any would expect from a business.

 

It's been said that during the Dust Bowl, a farmer had stopped making payments on his truck. A man was sent out to collect the vehicle. But when he returned, Mr. Huffines sent him back out to the man's farm to return the vehicle.

 

The bewildered employee wondered if Mr. Huffines had lost his mind.

 

"If the man doesn't have his truck, he can't bring in his crop," Mr. Huffines explained. "If he doesn't bring in his crop, he certainly can't pay for his truck. Take it back to him and we'll work something else out."

 

Mr. Huffines suddenly found himself in the business of taking livestock in trade. He'd fatten the cattle up on his farm in McCurley Prairie and sell the cattle to the local meat markets. He'd get his money, and the farmers would get their crops in.

 

The following newspaper articles were published in 2004 when a community celebration was held that spanned several Denton County cities to mark the 80th anniversary of Huffines Motor Company.

From generation to generation: Huffines auto dealerships celebrate 80 years of a family business   
By NICOLE BYWATER / Lewisville Leader
June 16, 2004

When J.L. Huffines Jr. was just a newborn in 1924, his father opened the first Huffines car dealership, never knowing he was starting a family tradition that has been carried out over 80 years and three generations.

On Saturday, the six Huffines dealerships, including two in Lewisville, will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the opening of that first store in Denton. The buildings have changed some over the years, and the different models carried have changed, but the Huffines name has always remained.

Ray Huffines, 52, is the third generation of family in the business and co-owns the Huffines Auto Group with his father, J.L. Huffines Jr., 80.

"A lot of dealerships have sold out and are now owned by publicly traded companies," Ray Huffines said. "They're under that pressure to meet quarterly earnings for the stockholders and worried about short-term profits. Our major concern is building relationships with customers and we can take a much larger interest in them."

This respect for customers and an interest in the community stems back to the companies 1924 roots, and has been continued in the dealerships open today, said Ray Huffines, who worked for his grandfather at the dealership in Lewisville.

"There's no doubt that he set the philosophy and the tone for how our businesses are operated today," he said. J.L. Huffines Jr. has a large picture of his father hanging in his Lewisville office, just next to one of his wife. Having grown up in the business, and an only child, J.L. Huffines Jr. continued in his father's footsteps when he opened a dealership in 1950 in Commerce. In 1971, the elder Huffines passed away and J.L. Huffines Jr. returned to the area.

While the frontage roads of Interstate 35E in Lewisville are lined with car dealerships, J.L. Huffines Jr. remembers when he was surrounded only by pastures.

"Today, it's not anything like what it was in the '30s," he said. "There were dirt streets, and you knew everybody. In the '50s is when Lewisville and the area around it really started growing."

In the earlier days, J.L. Huffines Jr. remembers getting to know all of the customers by name. That's a little harder to do today, he said, but they do see a lot of repeat business including some of the grandchildren of people who have bought cars from the Huffines dealership in the past.

The first Huffines auto dealership sold Overland-Willys automobiles. It has closed, but the original storefront still stands on east Hickory Street in Denton. In 1927, the family moved the store to Lewisville. Over the years, they expanded to two dealerships in the area.

In 1983, they opened a dealership in Plano, soon followed by the openings of two more stores there. In 1994, Huffines returned to Denton with the opening on another dealership of I-35.

J.L. Huffines lived on Lewisville Lake in Highland Village for 22 years, but has since moved to Dallas to be closer to obligations and activities there.

He has six children - four sons, a stepson and a stepdaughter -- as well as 17 grandchildren whose ages range from 5 to almost 15. While that fourth generation is young, he said he would be honored to have a representative of that generation in the family business.

"There are very few businesses that have lasted a third generation," Ray Huffines said. "The fourth would be even rarer, but it would be nice. We like the car business and have certainly have had success in the car business. We would very much like to see it continue on."

J.L. maintains an office in the Lewisville Chevrolet/Subaru dealership, while Ray works in Plano.

"I've always liked cars," Ray Huffines said. "Ever since I got a driver's license, I started working in the summers, first as a mechanics helper in the shop, then through all the different areas of the dealership. I began selling cars after graduating from college.

"It's something different every day. There's never a dull moment. It's really a people business and I enjoy working with people."

The extended family is close to one another, with most of them in the Metroplex, all of whom attend a yearly vacation together.

"Family is very important," J.L. Huffines Jr. said. "That's what your blood is, who you provide for and teach your values to."
 

 

Dealership started with Willys-Overland autos, expanded to 3 cities  
By DAWN COBB / Denton Record-Chronicle
June 18, 2004

DENTON – Eighty years ago, J.L. Huffines Sr. opened his first dealership in Denton, selling Willys-Overland Motor Co. automobiles.

The car, now a classic, had wooden running boards, white-rimmed tires, and brightly hued finishes – far different from the vehicles available today at Huffines' six dealerships in Plano, Lewisville and Denton.

Huffines, among the oldest family-owned dealerships in the area, is celebrating its anniversary this weekend with a parade of vintage automobiles through Denton, Lewisville and Plano.

J.L. Huffines Jr. remembers when his father would take animals in trade for automobiles during the Great Depression.

"He had a farm where the lake is now," the 80-year-old said of his father, who died in 1971. The cattle, fed and fattened, were sold at the Fort Worth Stockyards.

Lewisville historian James Polser remembers helping the late Mr. Huffines with the trade-ins as a youngster. Mr. Polser's father worked for him for more than 50 years.

"An old man had a team of mules and a wagon that he traded with Mr. Huffines for a pickup," Mr. Polser said. "I was the designated mule feeder."

Father and son are also known for their community involvement.

"J.L. and his daddy both were very much a part of the community here," Mr. Polser said. "His dad was a tremendous support to the city and the schools."

In the mid-'90s, the Huffines family donated a 15-acre plot off Valley Parkway to the Lewisville Independent School District, where Huffines Middle School now stands in memory of the late Mr. Huffines, who served on the school board in the 1940s.

"He did a lot of things," Mr. Polser said. "He didn't want credit, didn't need credit. He just saw a need, addressed it and took care of it."

The Huffines automotive endeavors began on May 5, 1924, with the first store in downtown Denton. The dealership's second location at 215 E. Hickory still stands.

The first vehicle's capabilities were demonstrated by driving it up the steps at the southeast corner of the Denton County Courthouse and the library steps of what is now the University of North Texas, according to Denton Record-Chronicle archives.

In 1927, the Huffines family moved the dealership to Lewisville, where the population of 700 to 750 people still drove on dirt roads.

The late Mr. Huffines switched the Lewisville dealership to a Chevrolet franchise.

In 1950, Mr. Huffines bought a Chevrolet Chrysler dealership in Commerce and, in 1957, came back to Lewisville to manage the local Huffines dealership.

Mr. Huffines' father stayed involved in the family business until 1971. The family sold its Commerce location in 1979.

In 1984, his son, Ray, became the third generation to become involved in automotive dealerships, opening locations in Plano.

Mr. Huffines takes pleasure in the industry after all these years.

"I enjoy the business," Mr. Huffines said. "I enjoy coming to work every morning."