Business is brisk, but Dennis Egglefield is spending little time on the floor these days at the family Ford dealership in Elizabethtown, N.Y. He’s planning a party.
A big party. A once-in-a-lifetime party.
Aug. 1 is the 100th anniversary of Egglefield Ford, a full century since great-grandpa Wilbur first opened up shop at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains.
So a week from Sunday, Dennis -- the fourth generation of the Egglefield clan to run the business -- and fifth-generation sons Cory and Kent will play host.
We’re talking an all-day event in a hamlet of 1,100: potato salad, barbecue, a big display behind the dealership and in nearby parks, some visiting Ford corporate brass -- and a parade of about 200 vintage Fords.
The whole town’s invited. Most will come. When Dennis throws a party in a burg the size of E-town, as the locals call it, you either leave town before it starts or fill your plate and relax, because the streets will be jammed.
Last August, Egglefield drew 130 cars and their crews to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Ford Mustang -- that number doesn’t count the several Mustangs he owns.
“We discovered a single parade that big just doesn’t fit on the local streets,” Egglefield recalls. “So this year, I think I’ll run little parades about 20 cars at a time all day long.”
I’m with the Egglefields on this one. It is time to celebrate.
Century-old dealerships are rare. Ford Motor Co. says it has only seven dealerships older.
Dealerships that stay in the same family through a hundred years and five generations are rarer yet.
The Egglefields are a determined bunch, but even they have been challenged to keep together what Wilbur took on as a sideline to his carpentry business. How did he get the franchise? In 1910, Ford offered it to Wilbur after he picked up a third car kit (one for himself and two others for friends) at the railhead in Westport, assembled it and drove it home.
Wilbur passed the business on to sons Spencer and Harrison. Spencer Jr. and brother Lew were the third generation, the one that kept the business going despite the biggest hurdles: first Spencer Jr. survived crashing his Marine fighter plane on a Pacific island in World War II; then the dealership Wilbur hand-built burned down in 1971.
Dennis took over from dad Spencer Jr. But even he figures the business wouldn’t have made it in 2003 if he hadn’t purchased a second Ford franchise in Ray Brook, just the other side of Lake Placid. The combined sales and service of both shops give the Egglefields the critical mass to keep the business profitable.
The Egglefield story is one of building, surviving, rebuilding, reinvesting, taking risks and making them work. The Egglefields do pretty much the same things that other dealers do, as Dennis would readily acknowledge. They just have been doing it longer than most.
Finding old Fords
I talk with Dennis from time to time. He’s a thoughtful man, always happy to talk business. I know the fun he gets from the business, his pride in his family, his passion for go-fast vintage Mustangs.
But last week Dennis was preoccupied with finding old Fords, particularly 1910-13 Model T’s. His original goal -- to parade a Ford matched to each of the 100 years the dealership has operated -- is threatened by scarcity, frailty and distance. When you’re halfway between Albany and Montreal and the “big city” 90 miles away is Burlington, Vt., you’re not really close to much.
“We’ve got Fords coming from all over the Northeast,” he said. “But pre-’15s are really hard to find.”
So hey, you got an early Model T Ford and a hankering to party in the Adirondacks, call the Egglefields at 518-873-6551. Fill in a blank year, and I’ll bet Dennis would personally barbecue you a big burger.