D.D. Gross Motor Sales: Carrying On During Wartime

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World War II was a difficult time for D. D. Gross Motor Sales, as it was for many businesses.


In early 1942, all new car production came to a halt, since the automotive plants were needed to support the war effort. With no new Packards to sell, the dealership had to generate business by means other than selling new cars.

Dan Gross was also heavily involved in local government during World War II. He was a Wood County Commissioner from 1939 to 1947. During wartime, Dan was involved in war rationing and scrap metal drives. Dan served on the Wood County Council of Defense. This council coordinated scrap metal drives within the county. Farmers and residents were encouraged to dispose of their worn out equipment for the war effort and were paid by the ton for their scrap. Advertising and informational articles were found in the Perrysburg Messenger which supported these scrap metal drives.

Image provided by Scott Gross.

Rationing also took effect during wartime.

By the end of 1941, tires were rationed and a 35 mile per hour national speed limit was instituted. Between 1942 and 1943, sugar, gasoline, shoes, nylon, meat, cheese, butter, and many other items were rationed. For gasoline, most families were assigned the “A” ration. This allowed the family to purchase four gallons of gas per week.  A few ration coupons belonging to Frank Gross survived. Since they lived close to the dealership, Frank and his brothers walked to work during the war.

Image provided by Scott Gross.

In addition to tires and gasoline being rationed, replacement parts were almost non-existent. Mechanic Frank Gross and the other mechanics scavenged parts off of the junk cars stored on their lot. The shop remained active, but everything was a “patch up” situation to keep customer’s cars running. Part-time employee Charles Waggoner remembered a major “patch-up” project.

Ted Gross, who ran the body shop. took on a project that I couldn’t believe. A wealthy owner of a junkyard in nearby Fremont rolled over his LaSalle sedan. With no new cars available, the owner decided to pay whatever it took to repair that “limo.” When I saw the junker delivered with the top crushed, I thought it couldn’t be done, but Ted planned to cut the tops off two vehicles. Ted and Frank began by buying an Oldsmobile. They removed the glass and carefully established points at which the body and roof would be attached. A clamping system was invented and they proceeded to weld and braze the two together. When finished, it was beautiful!

Charles Waggoner

During the scrap drives, the dealership periodically sold off some of the junk cars. Roger Gross recalled:

After the war, Frank and Ted kicked themselves for selling so much of the “junkyard”, which was metal and cars that was always stored on the back lot. First, they needed a lot of those cars for parts to do repairs. However, the biggest mistake was selling a wrecked Duesenberg they had. It could have been repaired, and the value of Duesenbergs skyrocketed.

Roger Gross

With no new cars to sell, Dan had to be creative in finding cars to sell.

Employee Chuck Hitchens remembered:

Moline was basically a farming community in 1942. When gas was rationed, the farmers got a larger amount of gas so they could farm. The east coast did not receive as much. In New York City, a lot of people were selling their cars. Dan somehow contacted a spotter who would locate good used cars. Dan would then take some drivers and drive them home. One time, Dan, a married couple and I took a train to New York City. We all stayed at one of the large hotels.

The next day, Dan said that we were all going to eat lunch in the hotel. When we went down for lunch, Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra was playing. I still remember the thrill. We then picked up the cars and started for home. We drove in convoy with Dan leading.

Chuck Hitchens

Sideline work helped to generate additional income during wartime. Roger Gross explained:

A major income source that Frank took on was plumbing and wiring for local farms. Most of the farms had limited capacity electricity and still used windmills for pumping water. A Toledo Edison engineer would evaluate and engineer the electrical requirements that farmers needed to add more power to the barns and add electric pumps to the wells. Frank (my dad) and I (the gofer) would then go and install the pumps and wiring for the customer. We also ran water pipes from the well to the kitchen and the barn. This work filled a big need in the community and there wasn’t enough work in the shop anyhow. I learned a lot about wiring and plumbing during this time.

There were other sideline projects to keep the local farmers running. No farm equipment was being built, so a lot of stuff was fabricated from whatever could be found. The angle iron from old windmills was used to build hay and grain conveyors. Old cars were stripped of their bodies, truck transmissions and rear axles were installed and you had a small tractor. People called them “doodlebugs”. My father built a doodlebug to help with the lawn at our new house. We used it for leveling the dirt so we could plant the grass.

Roger Gross
Roger on the “doodlebug” made by Frank. Image provided by Scott Gross.

During the war, German prisoners of war were sent to various locations in the United States.

Some POWs were detained in northwest Ohio, housed in barracks on nearby Oregon Road and at Camp Perry, in Port Clinton. Sam Layman remembered seeing busloads of prisoners being transported through the Moline area. Some of the POWs even worked on farms in the area. Sam Layman recalled one farmer’s story.

Some German prisoners housed in the area worked on local farms. The farmer mentioned to a prisoner of war, “You don’t have to be afraid of us or try to escape.” The man replied, “Why would I want to escape? If they send me back to Germany, I’ll just be put back into the army again. It is much better here.”

Sam Layman

As in many communities, many of the young men from Moline were drafted during World War II. Of the handful of full and part time workers employed at the garage, seven were drafted and served our country. Chuck Gross (pictured left) was the only brother to serve in World War II. Other employees included, Chuck Hitchens, Sam Layman, Junior Schreiber, Bill Schreiber, Charles Waggoner, and Irwin Welling.

I was in the Signal Corps, communications. I went into the service on December 26, 1942 and was discharged on December 25, 1945. During that time, I never returned home, I wasn’t given any leave and for three years I was overseas. I went to Australia, New Guinea, Philippines, and then to Japan. We were staging in the Philippines for an invasion into Japan. Then they dropped the bomb and the war ended. I was glad that we never had to invade Japan. After seeing the coastline, it would have been very rough. A lot of the coastline was rocky and cliffs.

Bill Schreiber

I went into the Air Corps in January of 1943. I was a crewmember on a B17 Bomber, Air Force, stationed in England. A complete tour of duty was twenty-five missions. After that, you could return home. It was on our twenty-third mission that we were shot down. We were first shot while on a bombing run over an aircraft factory south of Berlin. We kept flying, but were hit again while flying over Bremen, Germany. I bailed out of the plane. I was a prisoner of war for a year.

Irwin Welling

I went into the Navy on my birthday, April 1, 1944. I served until almost 1946. I was shipped to Gulf Port, Mississippi, for engineering and ship construction. There were one hundred and twenty five in my class and I came out second in the class. I stayed there to study diesel engines. We studied for four hours in the morning and spent the afternoon in the lab. We tore an engine completely down, studied it, and then put it back together and made it run.

We also studied V16 engines, which were used in submarines or LSTs (landing craft). After this, I was sent out to sea. I first went to San Francisco and from there, the Hawaiian Islands.

Sam Layman

By September 1945, World War II came to an end.

Daily life began to return to normal. In time, the rationing program was discontinued and consumer products were once again manufactured. Most importantly, soldiers returned home to their communities.

The next installment in this series will discuss the years immediately following World War II and leading up to 1949 – Packard’s Golden Anniversary. Click here to read Part 4.

Author

  • Emily Benoit

    Lover of research and writing, libraries and archives. Graduate of Oakland University's MA of English Literature program; and Wayne State University's MLIS program with an additional certification in archival administration.