Haston L. St. Clair, R. R. 1, Box 140A, Holden, Missouri 64040 with the kind permission of the Kansas City Star newspaper. (It may be interesting to quite a few of you folks and we thank Haston and the newspaper for allowing us to reprint it. Anna Mae A Member of The Star's Financial Staff)
His most serene royal highness, Sultan of Trengganu, West Malaysia, needs a gasket for his 1956 Packard. Winthrop Rockefeller needs a part for his 1933 Chrysler Imperial and a Pennsylvania automobile dealer needs a valve for his 1928 International truck. Dayton Auto Parts company, 3111 Holmes, has them all.
The company, more than 50 years old, is unique among automobile supply dealers here. The store stocks new parts for old and antique cars. And orders for those parts come in from around the world.
Besides the sultan, customer demands last year included parts for a 1928 Buick (from Ontario), gaskets for a 1933 Flying Cloud (from Quebec) and a 1926 Hudson (from Illinois), and valves for a 1929 Nash (from Saskatchewan) and a 1931 Durant.
Mr. and Mrs. Paul Petrus are the owners, salesmen, stock boys and what-have-you for the firm. They employ no salesmen and make no local deliveries. Their customers come to them and not vice versa.
Some of their orders come from automobile dealers, some are antique automobile buffs and others just people trying to keep their old cars and trucks running. (Like the sultan).
The Petruses are quick to point out that all of their parts are new. They are not bought at auction sales but purchased directly from the manufacturers. The firm has hard parts for more than 1,200 models of cars made from 1915 to date. They do not handle accessories. Most of their requests are for out-of-date gaskets, valves and bearings.
'We had an order for the very first gasket the Victor Head Gasket company ever made for a 1916 Overland. We've had the Victor account since about 1920 and we just never returned parts that got obsolete. We have about 800 of them not listed in the present catalogue,' Petrus said.
'We were really the first business of our kind west of the Mississippi,' Mrs. Petrus claims. Dayton Auto Parts celebrated its 50th anniversary in November, 1966.
Both of the Petruses have been connected with the automobile industry since its beginnings. Petrus has been working with automobiles in some capacity or other since leaving the service in 1918. He joined the firm in 1920.
Mrs. Petrus's father, Valentine E. Mott, originally owned the Dayton Auto Parts company. In 1912 he had become a partner in the Stoddard-Dayton Parts company of New York which manufactured cars. (Part of the company's site is now Radio City.) The company decided to open a branch office in Kansas City and, after listening to the enthusiastic ravings of a traveling salesman who described it as a 'marvelous place in the West,' Mott was the one who made the move in 1916.
'My mother and I thought there would be cowboys and Indians. We were so disappointed to find paved streets and electric lights,' Mrs. Petrus remembered delightedly.
Mott was noted for the seemingly casual way in which he ran the business. The only books he had were in his head and for a time he didn't even bother with a cash register. Despite this or because of it, the business was a success. His son-in-law took over in 1947 after his death.
On a side trip to the Edison Museum in Dearborn, Mich., a few years ago, Mrs. Petrus discovered that the 1901 racer on display there had been one her father helped to build. The electric racer had won the first Vanderbilt Open race on Long Island. Mrs. Petrus recalled with delight her father's story of how furious 'Willie' Vanderbilt had been when they almost didn't get the car started in time for the race.
Six years ago the firm moved from the original location at 1623 McGee. As befitting a company involved in Americana, the building has its own bit of history. According to Mrs. Petrus the building was once an illegal gambling 'joint' and a certain gangster met an untimely demise on the front steps. The Petruses also discovered a huge sliding steel door in the rear for quick getaways or in case of raids.