Lyle & Colleen Grover
This article originally appeared in the Chapter 38 International Harvester Collector Club for Western Canada's IH Legends newsletter and is reprinted with permission. Click here to visit their website: http://www.ihc38.com/
Oscar Grover and his wife Thelma began their business careers in the southern Alberta town of Wrentham in 1923. Oscar moved a small building onto Main Street, installed a fuel tank and gas pump and opened a service station. One of his other services was charging batteries for battery-operated radios. In 1925 they purchased a neighbouring garage and soon became the Massey-Harris farm machinery and Ford truck and car dealer in their district. When Grover’s took on International Trucks and Equipment in 1940 they stopped selling Massey-Harris and Ford Trucks but continued selling Ford cars under an agreement with Madge and Company in Milk River.
In the 1920’s the average family farm was a quarter section, or at best a half section. Farmers were in the early stages of making the switch from horse power to tractors. Steam had been used as a common means of ‘breaking’ the prairies but other than on a few farms, seeding, harrowing, and harvesting relied on manpower and lots of four legged horse power.
Going wages of 50 cents a day and room and board were a common arrangement for farm labour at this time. Of course keeping and caring for the horses used in farm work also had a big affect on the farmer’s bottom line. Oscar realized there was a definite advantage for those who could afford to make the switch to a tractor. The machine only used fuel when running, thus cutting operating costs.
A gallon of gasoline sold for 7 cents in 1920. By 1930 it had jumped three cents, to a dime. In 1940 the same gallon retailed at eleven cents. Distillate and kerosene sold for less.
When Grover started selling bulk farm fuel he arranged to have fuel shipped to Wrentham by a three-compartment rail tank car that was spotted on a railway siding. Oscar’s younger brother Eddy worked at Wrentham for several years in the 1930s. He used an old one-and- a-half ton truck with a five hundred gallon tank and 45 gallon drums to deliver fuel to
customers. In his spare time Eddy assembled machinery and did repairs.
Prosperity certificates (Legal tender in Alberta in 1936) were accepted by Grover’s during the late 1930’s.
More information on the history, purpose, and value of these Alberta Social Credit initiated certificates can be found on the internet.
No two tractor deals were exactly the same. One might include a small amount of cash, a trade in, and a promise to pay the balance when the crop was ‘off’. A team of heavy horses, some feeder calves, a crop of lambs, or a litter of weaner pigs, might make up the next one. Luckily Oscar and Thelma had enough friends and relatives in the area that they could find a temporary home for livestock that were part of a deal.
Trade-ins at Grover’s were repaired and worked for a few days in the field to ensure reliability, then offered for sale. When trade-ins backed up they were loaded on railway flat cars and freighted to other dealers in far away places like Rocky Mountain House, St. Paul, and Peace River. In 1942 Oscar built a new garage and put an addition onto their original building, thus enlarging the business to include a merchant line of groceries and hardware, such as Model K “Sight” optional signaling packages for 1930s and 1940s trucks. Many of these sets were sold and installed at Grover & Sons.
By the mid 1940s, the two sons, Willis and Merlin, were actively engaged in all areas of the business. Willis concentrated on trucking and delivering fuel to farmers in the Wrentham, Etzikom and New Dayton areas as well as oil wells at Conrad, east of Wrentham. After 4pm or later Willis would leave to truck another load of fuel from the refinery at Turner Valley.
Mrs. Willis Grover (Carla) 1945
Merlin Grover concentrated on machinery and truck and car sales. He was very good at selling. In one month in the early 1960s, Merle delivered 27 brand new vehicles!
In 1950 the L line of International trucks was a big seller. One time Grover’s loaded old K and D series trucks on six flat cars and these were shipped to somewhere in Mexico. One wonders how that deal was set up?
First Grover fuel trucks before the changeover to Internationals
Sales invoice for a short wheelbase C110 pickup truck sold in August 1963
Willis Grover and Grover grandchildren checking out some newly arrived Internationals!
Grover’s Propane Ltd. was incorporated in 1958. Willis Grover trucked propane with his big V-liner from Empress, Harmatton, and Pincher Creek. Their delivery trucks and fuel tankers served a wide area of southern Alberta.
On one Christmas Eve a farmer south of Foremost telephoned to say that he was out of propane and his wife couldn’t cook dinner the next day. A ‘Manyberries’ Chinook was blowing from the east and the north and south roads were drifting in. What normally would have been a couple of hours trip out and back kept Willis away from home until late into the evening. Many times Willis or his wife Carla answered a knock on the door in the middle of the night because someone needed gasoline or help with an engine, or flat tire. They would lend a hand and get them on the way. Payment was often a personal item like a watch or some tool or some cash and ‘a thanks’.
One of Grover’s fleet of heavy-duty propane delivery trucks. (1961)
Grover’s Propane was sold to Canadian Propane in 1968. Oscar Grover & Sons dealership agreement with International was also terminated that same year. Grover’s service stations operated in south Alberta into the early 1980’s.
A recognized Alberta Heritage Building
Oscar Grover died unexpectedly in 1963. In his lifetime he was a strong supporter of community events. He served on the local school board and funded and coached the Wrentham Arctics ball team. Grover sat on the southern Alberta International Harvester dealer’s council. He was president of the Wrentham Mutual Telephone Co. He played violin concert style, but also played with a local dance band for many years. Oscar was known for his ‘positive attitude’. He held the respect of customers and fellow businessmen alike.
His wife, Thelma, lived until 1992. As a young woman she worked at the Wrentham Post Office. She ran the general store and mercantile for fifty plus years. After the passing of her husband and sons, Thelma was assisted in the operating of Grover’s General Store by her daughter-in-law Carla Grover and niece LaDene Nelson. She was a member of the Lutheran Ladies Aid and the Birthday Club. A short story on Thelma Grover’s business life was written by Lyle Walker and published in the Grain News farm paper. A biography was printed in the Lethbridge Herald.
This article and pictures were submitted by Willis and Carla Grover’s son Lyle of Lethbridge and daughter Colleen of Calgary.