Shapiro Motors at 35 Union St., North Adams, in March 1948 added a Dodge B-1 pickup with power-operated, double-boom Holmes hoist to its fleet. In an advertisement in The Transcript, it declared: “Tow Anything — Anywhere — Anytime.” The truck was the first postwar model from the manufacturer.
The “Job-Related” half-ton truck model with an aerodynamic shape had a 95-horsepower flathead straight-six engine and 108-inch wheelbase. It boasted a “Pilot-house” cab with greater visibility. A hoist was on the back was the invention of Ernest Holmes Sr. (1883-1945) of Chattanooga, Tenn. He patented a crane and pulley system in 1916 and brought it to market, equipping various makes of trucks for road rescue work.
“The 485 wrecker unit was designed to fit a small truck,” according to John Gunnell in “Tow Trucks” (2003), “but its double swinging booms gave it big capabilities in the field. In addition to the booms, it consisted of a freework made up of tubular steel member and a hoisting mechanism equipped with two speeds and a full-floating power shaft.”
Well, that’s about all there is to say about the tow truck, leaving space for more about the Shapiro auto empire. Patriarch Samuel Shapiro (1881-1958) liked Dodge vehicles.
Industrialists John F. (1864-1920) and Horace E. (1868-1920) Dodge — both died of the Spanish flu — initially supplied parts to Ford. They started their own vehicle assembly line in 1914. Dodge, by the way, adopted the bighorn ram symbol in 1932.
Locally, Shapiro sold the vehicles as a sub-agent for City Garage & Sales in North Adams and Pittsfield. He took the franchise for Dodge in North Berkshire when W. McConnell took over City Garage in 1927. He conducted a service station in connection with his agency. Shapiro timed his open house for March 29, 9 to 10 p.m., when the Dodge Brothers radio program featuring Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Norma Talmadge and Dolores Del Rio aired over NBC’s Blue network. In 1940, Shapiro acquired the Windsor mill buildings on Union Street at auction. By 1958, he also sold Graham trucks.
Dodge Motor Co. appreciated Shapiro’s enthusiasm and hung his photo in a special room at its headquarters in 1952, marking 25 years as an agent. Shapiro in turn hung a plaque on his office wall.
Shapiro was born in Russia and came to North Adams in 1900 to join his brothers and sisters, who had emigrated earlier. He opened a shoe business on Union Street. In 1907, he became a dealer in horses as well. Seven years later, in 1914, he switched hooves for tires and opened an auto agency. He added the Plymouth franchise in 1932, the same year he took over McConnell Motors’ Pittsfield showroom. His sons with his wife, Annie Kronick Shapiro (whom he married in 1905), Stanley, Sheldon (in North Adams) and Allan (in North Adams) joined the firm. (The Shapiros also had daughters Rose, Helen and Lillian.) The Shapiros were active in the United House of Israel congregation; Samuel cut the ribbon to formally open the remodeled synagogue building on Center Street, North Adams in 1951. That same year, Shapiro Motors purchased Clarence M. Crosier’s garage business in Pownal Center, Vt., moving its Dodge and Plymouth agency to Bennington.
Stanley (1914-2003) graduated from the Wharton School of Business and took an advanced management program at Harvard University. He worked for the Red Cross during World War II. He eventually assumed operation of Shapiro Motors in North Adams and was active as a real estate developer. He added the Chrysler franchise in 1977. Doing business as Windsor Motors at the Adams Print Works complex, he closed the Chrysler-Dodge business in 1979 when his license expired.
Sheldon (1919-1986), who studied at Wharton and Harvard, received his master’s degree from the Graduate School of Business, served in the Navy during World War II and took part in the Normandy Invasion at Utah Beach. He became publisher of the North Adams Transcript in 1959 but remained associated with his brother Allan in Shapiro Chevrolet. The businesses in Pittsfield and North Adams in 1967 added Oldsmobile cars. The North Adams outlet hired employees of the former George’s Tire Radiator & Body Works in North Adams in 1968. In 1977. Sheldon Shapiro took as Shapiro Chevrolet partner his cousin, Sterling B. Shapiro (1923-2004), then president of A. Shapiro Steel Corp, formerly A. Shapiro Scrap Iron, founded in 1899 by Burton Shapiro. He also owned a Honda motorcycle franchise.
Allan Shapiro (1923-2016), a graduate of Purdue University, in 1946 worked for MIT on a U.S. Army contract dealing with military tank cannon stabilization. He operated a Chevrolet dealership on Union Street in North Adams.
What came of the dealerships? The successor to the Pittsfield business since 1972, Perry E. Joslin closed the doors of Joslin Dodge at 631 North St. in 1980. Bedard Brothers acquired Gateway, aka Shapiro Chevrolet, and moved it to Cheshire in 2007.
What came of the 1948 wrecker? How many dead batteries did it jump start? How many flats did it inflate? How many bumper crunches did it tow? Don’t know.