Q: On a current TV commercial, George Weber says his dealership has been selling cars for 114 years. What kind of cars with a crank were they selling in 1902? Is that even possible?
L.C., of O’Fallon
A: By luck, I heard that very ad just before I started writing this answer, so I must respectfully suggest that your mind played a nasty trick on you: You put a couple of facts together and jumped to the wrong conclusion.
Yes, George IV did boast that his family has been making deals for 114 years. But if you ever see that ad again, listen carefully. I think you’ll agree that at no time does he specifically say that all those deals involved cars. Because they weren’t. Here’s the real story:
George Weber Sr. did indeed found his family’s company in 1902, but it started as the Weber Implement Co. on Main Street in St. Louis, roughly where the Gateway Arch is today.
If you search for 1902 automobiles, you’ll find a surprisingly diverse variety available, including the Cadillac Runabout, the Rambler C Stanhope and even the Brecht Dos-Dos and the Dyke Runabout, both assembled right here in St. Louis. (See many, many more at www.earlyamericanautomobiles.com/1902.htm.)
But horseless carriages hadn’t captured Weber’s fancy quite yet. Instead, he and his sales staff were selling plows, thrashers, sawmill equipment and buggies to farmers in Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas. He also sold steam engines, which could be powered by anything from coal to corncobs. His warehouse was in East St. Louis, where the goods came in by railroad before taking their short trip across the river.
Business boomed from the outset, the company history states, so just three years later Weber had to move to the southwest corner of 19th and Locust. Not only did this site give him more room, but it also was just a short walk for farmers coming in to Union Station. That was important because in those days most people and much of the nation’s freight rode the rails.
Finally in 1908 came the decision that changed everything. Realizing what the future held in store, Weber began phasing out his old-fashioned buggies and wagons and started adding cars to his lineup as the company changed its name to Weber Implement and Automobile Co.
Back then, the country had hundreds of small automobile manufacturers, and Locust Street apparently turned into no less an automobile mecca than what you see today in O’Fallon as you drive along I-64. Mitchell Motor, Moon, Gardner, Doris and Maxwell were just a few of the brands on which you could have kicked the tires. As for Weber, he chose to become a distributor for Hupp Motor Corp. and was appointed dealer of the Huppmobile over a 150-mile radius. In 1925, his son George Jr. joined the company full time.
“In the early days, you had to teach the prospective customer to drive before you sold the car,” the Weber history notes. “The Weber firm was one of the first to accept trade-ins when someone wanted a new model. They still kept the farm implement business in order to service and repair what had been sold earlier.”
Just after the stock market crash in 1929, the Webers were given the Plymouth and DeSoto franchises, and, in 1938, they moved even farther west to 4035 Lindell. Then came perhaps the most difficult time of all as World War II broke out. Automobile production stopped as gas rationing put the brakes on traveling at will. New cars were put in warehouses and sold only to those who had a government certificate stating that such a sale was “essential to the war effort.”
As sales plunged, Weber concentrated on service while converting his showroom into a die-casting plant for airplane parts. Curtiss Wright in St. Louis, North American in Kansas City and Boeing in Wichita, Kan., all became customers before Japan finally signed surrender documents in September 1945.
With that, car production — and sales — shifted back into high gear. In 1952, General Motors awarded the Webers a Chevrolet franchise, which is when it officially became Weber Chevrolet. Yet another generation of Webers came on board in 1963 when George Weber III joined George Jr. full time. Six years later, the Webers again saw the future and moved to a 12-acre site at Olive Boulevard and I-270, where it became the largest dealership in Missouri and one of the biggest in the country.
Finally, the Webers looked to the east as well, opening dealerships in Columbia in 1989, Granite City in 1993 and Waterloo in 2005. And in 1994, George Weber IV, who you swear channels the voice and mannerisms of his late father, joined his dad to start preparing for the company’s second century of business — even though it hadn’t always been in cars.
Q: I thought I heard the other day that you really don’t have to fast 24 hours before a cholesterol test or did I misunderstand?
B.T., of Edwardsville
A: Soon, perhaps, you won’t have to go to Denmark to do as the Danish do.
Since 2009, doctors in Denmark say they have successfully been using non-fasting cholesterol tests at any time of day even if their patients had eaten minutes before.
In research published last week, a study involving 300,000 people in Denmark, Canada and the U.S. concludes that patients do not have to have an empty stomach for such a test. The study shows that cholesterol and triglyceride levels are similar whether a patient had fasted or not.
If these findings become common practice, experts expect improved health care. U.S. patients usually are required to follow a 12-hour or overnight fast, but this can be a headache for both doctors and patients due to noncompliance and the need to reschedule. Researchers hope the new findings will help in implementing proper treatment for more patients.
Remember, however, that I only play a doctor in the newspaper, so please follow your own physician’s orders.
What is the meaning of the red star on the labels of Heineken beer?
Answer to Saturday’s trivia: With all the talk about Cleopatra’s beauty and her suicide by asp, many may not realize that the last active Egyptian pharaoh gave birth to four children by two men. The first was Caesarion, who, as you might guess, resulted from an affair between 22-year-old Cleopatra and 53-year-old Julius Caesar. Caesarion would succeed his mother as pharoah in 30 B.C. — but only for 11 days before Octavian (who became the first Roman emperor, Augustus) ordered him killed. Later, Cleopatra and Marc Antony would have twins — son Alexander Helios and daughter Cleopatra Selene — and a final son, Ptolemy Philadelphus. Only the daughter would survive childhood, eventually helping her husband rule over Mauretania (part of today’s Morocco). She died in 6 B.C. at roughly age 34.