REPRINTS


54 Years at Carter Chevrolet
By Tom Duff

When I started working, it didn't seem as though I'd work at Carter Chevrolet for 54 years! I had worked at Sears & Roebuck when I was in high school, and it was a good company. They had a good profit-sharing plan, too, and kept me on the plan when I went into the Air Force during the Korean Conflict. I served as a Sergeant, with 67 men reporting to me.

When I got back home, I continued to work part time at Sears, and from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Sun Oil, also known as Sunoco, on Riverside Drive in East Hartford, where the tank farm used to be. In 1952, I took the opportunity to enter the Sun Oil training program to become an on-the-road salesman. This was in their building on Connecticut Boulevard in East Hartford. I was also working at Podrove's Market, a self-service grocery store in Downtown Manchester, where I stocked shelves from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Unfortunately, Sun Oil informed me that they wouldn't be putting a salesman on the road for another year, and I needed a full-time job, as I was planning to get married.

Just as I found out about the delay in getting a full-time Sun Oil job, lo and behold, in walked Vin Boggini, Sales Manager at Carter Chevrolet. He was wondering if I would be interested in coming to work at Carter's as a truck salesman. Vin Boggini evidently felt that I could sell cars! I was hired and started as a salesman at Carter Chevrolet on April 6, 1953. The next month I got married to Elaine Grady, and we have been married for 58 years. [Note, Carter Chevrolet moved to the south end of Downtown Main Street in about 1955; it was formerly at 195 Center, on the north side between Knox St. and Rosemary Place. -- Susan Barlow, editor.]

My job was contacting local businesses, etc. The job opened when Linc Carter, their truck salesman, passed away.

Walter Carter, Sr., owned the dealership at that time. He was great! He was the type of person who'd say, "Hey, Tom, let's go get a cup of coffee. And you're buying!" He'd whistle a tune as he walked around the dealership, so that he wouldn't embarrass anyone who might be goofing off. He said hello to every single person every morning, whether in the showroom or the shop.

His son, Walt Carter, Jr., who used to be an engineer at Pratt & Whitney, started at Carter Chevrolet about six months before I did. Today, his son, Steve Carter, is in charge.

Even before I started working at Carter, I had personally bought Chevrolets there – a 1950, a 1951, and a 1952, and had sold them at the end of each year. For example, I paid about $950 for the 1950 Chevrolet and sold it the next year for $800 to Wilber T. Little, who lived over on Spencer Street. He was a farmer and landowner.

I continued selling for nine years. I received the Chevrolet Motor Division's Legion of Leaders Achievement Award (the Hundred Car Club) for each of those nine years. During these years, the new car models were introduced at a show, and it was always a big event. We used to have to hide the new cars, building up excitement for the show, which included banners and unveiling the cars. Huge crowds would come out to see them.

In 1962 I was promoted to Used Car Manager, with five salesmen reporting to me. My job at this time was appraising, closing sales, and buying and selling used cars at various New England car auctions.

In April. 1966, as a member of Chevrolet's Society of Sales Executives, I was one of 43 men in the United States chosen to receive all-expense-paid advanced sales training at Wayne State University in Michigan. That was quite an experience! In this intensive two-week program, we learned about all aspects of Chevrolet dealerships – the program was the type of thing that a dealership owner might send his son to, so he could take over the business. We studied finance, politics, marketing, and advertising, and some memory techniques to help us work with people. They were teaching us how to run an efficient dealership.

In 1974, I became Carter's Vice President and Assistant General Manager. Throughout those years, Carter's continued to grow

In 1977 – it was the year before the Malibu came out – I was one of six Chevrolet sales managers picked from all over the country to go to Detroit to test drive the new prototype Chevrolets before they came out. Two of us were assigned to each car – my partner was a salesman from Texas – and in the back seat was a design engineer and a representative from Jam Handy Productions, who did all of Chevrolet's advertising. We drove on the Chevrolet racetrack and tried out the cars. Then they brought us into a room and we all sat at a table while they picked our brains. They recorded everything. We talked about how the vehicle handled and made suggestions. One of my suggestions was implemented: On the station wagon in the original design, you had to turn the key in the lock on the back to open the drop-down door. I suggested that they add a butterfly (like a wing nut) so you didn't risk bending the key every time you wanted to open the back. I was happy to see this change when the new car came out.

That was the year they came out with the small spare tire. We didn't know it, but they had put one on the right front wheel, and as we drove around, through the pilings and all, they wanted to know how it handled. We couldn't tell the difference, and that's what they were trying to prove – that the car wouldn't handle any differently with the small spare tire, and you could drive it until you could replace it with a full-size tire.

In 1993, I planned to retire and Steve Carter asked me, "What are you going to be doing in your retirement?" I told him that I had three dealers who wanted me to buy cars for them at car auctions. He then said, "Why not keep buying for us?" So for 14 years I bought cars and trucks for Carter's. I officially retired in 2007 after 54 years with Carter's, a GREAT family-owned company since 1936. My wife's friend said, "Tom doesn't have blood running in his veins. He has little cars!"

It was a wonderful career meeting people from all walks of life.

Editor’s notes: Tom was born in Norwich in 1928. The family moved to Naubuc Avenue in East Hartford in 1938. They were flooded out in the infamous Hurricane of ’38, and stayed with friends at their house up on a hill in Glastonbury. The family moved to Manchester in 1945. Even so, Tom graduated from East Hartford High School, for which he had to pay tuition, and he also attended night school at the Cheney Technical School on School Street, Manchester, where he studied drafting.

Tom is well known as a collector of antique bottles and glass, including Pitkin Glass. He and Elaine are long-time members of the Manchester Historical Society, and have contributed to many presentations and shows about glass-making over the years. Tom currently serves as Treasurer of the Pitkin Glass Works Committee and he and his wife, Elaine, are members of the Museum of Connecticut Glass in Coventry.

Tom and Elaine have five children, and one of the four boys, Christopher, works as a salesman at Carter Chevrolet


Edited by the Manchester Historical Society’s Susan Barlow.