Remember When: The J. J. Moates Auto Company Story
Published 2:30 pm Friday, March 17, 2023
The Speller Moates Radio Collection is located at the Three Notch Museum. Before the television was invented, the radios especially of the 1930s were popular in every household. There were table top models and floor style cabinet models. Usually when visitors tour the local history museum, the story is told to children about families listening to the radios at night like families of today watching televisions.
There was news from not only America but also from across the world and entertainment from Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Musical shows with dancing and singing on Vaudeville and Broadway were popular as well as drama and mystery. Every family was tuned in to their radio after supper at night. They would not only sit and listen but sometimes get up and dance around – or it was like that in my mother’s family, I was told. Lullabies and melodies would lull one into dreamland.
A local business in Andalusia at the time sold radios. Let me introduce you to this long gone company positioned on one of our main streets which firm experienced great success in their years in business.
The Andalusia Star – July 27, 1939 – “J. J. Moates Auto Company Announces 18th Anniversary – The J. J. Moates Auto Company known over the state for their slogan “The Post Office Is Just Across the Street From Us” is announcing their 18th anniversary, August 1st.”
“This establishment was founded by J. J. Moates on August 1, 1921. He took into the business his two sons, J. T. (Jake) who is sales manager, and H. S. (Speller), service manager.”
“The business started with one gasoline pump. They handled tires and auto accessories and employed five people. Today they have one of the most modern radio and auto shops in South Alabama. They sell radios, tires, auto accessories, records and refrigerators, and employ 13 people. J. T. (Jake) Moates says he attributes his success to consistent newspaper advertising.”
In November of 1935, the Moates family held the formal (re)opening of their newly remodeled one-stop service station and garage on South Three Notch Street, and yes, it was situated right across the street from the post office (now the public library).
“The business has grown rapidly from a one-pump filling station with improvements and enlargements made from time to time. Recently the volume of business has forced them to seek larger quarters and additional space. Buildings have been added until the station now proudly boasts of being the largest ‘one-stop service station’ in South-East Alabama.”
The formal opening featured advertising such as – “FREE – 1 bottle Coca-Cola to every person making a purchase of 25 cents or over.”
Also, this message astounded some folks – “The Key Is Gone – WE ARE OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY, 365 DAYS IN THE YEAR.”
The Andalusia Star – November 26, 1936 – “You have made this year the best in the history of our business, exceeding by more than 20% the peak year of 1929. This is evidence to us that our quality of service and merchandise has met your approval. We wish for each of you a joyous Thanksgiving.”
The Andalusia Star – November 14, 1935 – “The firm of J. J. Moates Auto Company is made up of three generations of Moates including J. J. (Jim) Moates, J. T. (Jake) Moates, H. S. (Speller) Moates, and J. T. (Jimmy) Moates, Jr., the youngest member of the firm, who is a ‘silent partner’ – silent only as regards to business (for he was only a year old babe)!”
“The variety of services available to customers include: U. S. Tires, Exide Batteries, Champion Spark Plugs, Tiolene Oil, Acetylene and Arc Welding, General Automobile repairing including brake, ignition and windshield service, washing, greasing, polishing, etc. – anything and everything necessary between top-and-tire and bumper-and-bumper.”
“In our radio department, we offer the General Electric, R. C. A. Victor, Atwater-Kent, Zenith and Philco, in both electric and battery sets with expert repair men available at all times. This department is the biggest radio concern in this section probably doing the largest radio business in South-East Alabama.”
“Last Saturday our sales were the largest of any single day in the history of our organization.”
The December 24, 1936 edition of The Andalusia Star advertised, “ Give a Radio – The Family Gift. General Electric Model E-61, 6 Metal Tubes, Standard and Short Wave, $29.95”
In talking with several family members, Marianne Merrill Moates (Weber) and Mary Emma Moates (Vickery), they remembered it being said that young Hank Williams would come regularly to the Moates Auto Company garage. There was a basement area down the stairs that was called the “radio room” where repairs would be done on the work bench. Also, tires were stored and lined up in that lower level. Williams and his country music band would practice there quite often. That would have been in the late 1940s.
J. J. Moates loved to celebrate at annual anniversaries of his going into business. He would give away 6-packs of RC Cola and 5 gallons of gas. One year he invited several entertainers of the Grand Old Opry to come. It was probably in the 1940s that “String Bean” and “Minnie Pearl” accepted his invitation. They performed right in front of the business there on South Three Notch standing in the bed of a pick-up truck!
What a story of business men from the past – Customer Service, Consistent Advertising, Updating the Business House, Expressing Gratitude to the Patrons, We Never Close!
Maybe you readers may have never visited the Three Notch Museum on Historic Central Street. When you do, you can view the Speller Moates Radio Collection and Remember When.
Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a former choral music teacher, a local real estate broker, and a long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.