Coke County, Texas


by Mrs. Frances W. Lomas

At the turn of the century a fellow in Michigan, who some folks called a screwball, had been tinkering in his shop. The results of his building was a car he said everyone could afford to own. His name was Henry Ford, and that's what he did. Down in Texas there was an enterprising teen-age youth who worked in his father's blacksmith shop, later taking over and eventually becoming a dealer in the cars Ford manufactured. His name is Jess Sinclair CRADDOCK and this is his story.

The CRADDOCK family came to Texas from Missouri, settling in Fannin County, in the l840's. Thomas Elmore and his wife, Melinda Linius CRADOOCK had nine children - Mary Hannah, Elizabeth, Sarah, John David, Phillip, Sinclair Step, Catherine, Julia and George. Sinclair, though better known in later life as "Uncle Sink", was born Auaust 10, 1850 at Honey Grove in Fannin County. Malinda died April 5, l859. November 10th of that year Thomas married Adaline Hawley who bore him two children - Ellen and Edman.

"Dad was very young when his mother died. When Grandad remarried, to protest the marriage, Dad and Phil hid out in the woods until they became so hungry they came home," related Mrs. Vela Craddock BRISCOE, daughter of Sinclair.

On July 8, 1874, Sinclair and a young girl from Huntsville were mar­ried. Mary Elizabeth, daughter of William and Cynthia Upchurch SCARBOROUGH, was born September 14, l857. The new Craddock family made their home at China Springs until the early 1890's when they came to Coke County where, in addition to his farm, Sinclair established a b1acksmith shop at the old Sanco site, a mile east of the present site when the town was founded In 1838. When the townsite of Sanco was laid off on Yellow Wolf Creek, he moved the old shop to a site just west of the present Sanco Store. There it stood until about 1913.

Ten children were born to the Craddocks - Donah, Will, Mattie, Edmond Lee, Elizabeth Vela, Cora Lois, Jess Sinclair, Mamie Hester, Lottie Lavenia (Dutch), and James Marvin. Mary Elizabeth passed away September 7, 1897 at the age of forty, survived by eight of her children and predeceasing her youngest by less than three years.

June 29, 139S, Sinclair married his second wife, Mrs. Emma Elizabeth WHITESIDE, who bore him a son - Rufus Orba. She died two years after the marriage. One son, who died in infancy, was born to the union of Sinclair and Emma Merchant. Uncle Sink lived to the age of seventy-eight when death claimed him January 13, 1929, at the home of his youngest daughter in San Angelo where he had lived for some time.

Jess Sinclair was born in China Spring, September 28, 1889, three year's after Henry Ford's first car, the Quadricycle. Jess is the man; the automobile, the business; and this how they intertwined.

For a time Sinclair ran a little grocery store at Sanco. When making trips into near towns he would leave young Jess in charge of the store. At one time, when Jess was fourteen; Sinclair made a trip into Robert Lee. A customer came in for some molasses. Jess went into the back to start the syrup flowing from the barrel, and then proceeded to wait on the customer. After a brief period, young Jess remembered the molasses and returned to find the jug filled and eigbt to ten gallons of the sticky substance on the floor.

"If you don't think I had a time trying to clean up," relates Jess of the incident. "I got scared of what Dad was going to say to me so I decided to go off somewhere."

He packed a change of clothes, mounted his horse and went north to Colorado City and to his sister, Donah's home. He was there a day or two when John CREIGHTON, the husband of Mary Elizabeth's sister, Emma, came from Gale. Jess returned home with him working there and different places for the next fifteen months. In the fall of that particular year he and some other boys went to Big Spring to pick cotton. At Christmas time Jess returned to Colorado City and his sister's, where she talked the wandering boy into returning home.

"You talk about somebody glad to see me. My dad was really glad to see his boy."

During Jess's travels on the plains, he was employed by a man and his wife who owned a couple of sections along the Salt Fork of the Brazos east of Tahoka. The family left Jess in charge while they went visiting. His chores consisted mainly of tending cattle and several hounds.

"I was sleeping one night when those old hounds really gave out. They were barking and running down near the lots some one hundred yards from the dugout. I heard one yelp and they came back to the house as hard as they could come. In a minute or so I heard a lobo wolf open up. It like to have scared me to death, being by myself and the nearest neighbor two and a half miles away. I stayed in until the next morning, then went down to see wolf tracks around the lot."

About 1907, in the midst of a roar and a cloud of dust the first auto­mobile, a Maxwell, came into Coke County. The driver went over a stump near Yellow Wolf Creek and bent the drive gear from which the chain worked. He had someone take him to Jess, who was working in his father's blacksmith shop. The auto owner asked Jess if he could repair it and he said he thought he could.

"Tom Goss and I decided we'd straighten the running gear and see if we could drive it. We did! That was the first one I ever drove."

Thus the automobile business was started in Coke County - started in the mind of a youth and born out of the necessity of the times.

About that time Jess took over the shop where he had helped for some time, moving to Robert Lee in 1913 and operating the old Tom Green Blacksmith Shop.


I have purchased the W. E. Brown
Blacksmith and Repair Shop and want your patronage.
Besides, a general Blacksmithing and Horseshoeing
Establishment, I am prepared to repair all kinds of
machinery. I have also bought the building adjoining
the shop, remodeled it and fitted up a FIRST CLASS
GARAGE (sic)... I expect to keep a full supply of
gasoline and oils of all kind. Also do all kinds of
Auto repair work and take care of the Autos of the
traveling public. Give me your patronage. I can
please you at a low cost.

J. S. Craddock * 1 

After entering the market, cars were given a number upon purchase. The number "10" was given to a 1912 model T original1y purchsed by Bill Hickman who at the time was County Sheriff. He could not learn to drive it and thus in the winter of 1913 traded with Jess for a horse, buggy, and two hundred dollars. That evening Jess drove in quite fancy style to Sanco for the weekend. The next morning the car would not start. After repairing it - Jess accompanied by his sister, Lois, who was teachlng in Robert Lee, and a Boykin girl was on his way back home.

"J. S. Craddock Garage General
Gasoline Machinery Repairing, Oils
Of ALL kinds. Service Car anywhere
at any time. Prices reasonable.
Salesman for Ford Automobiles." * 2 

Craddock Motor Company was the name given to the garage in early 1914. Subagencies or sub-dealerships were assigned to smaller areas. R. P. Amacker was Ford Dealer in San Angelo at the time and the sub-agency was placed through him. One car was sold the first year. The purchaser was Mrs. Jake Morrow, sister of the late Bruce Clift. The second year of auto sub-dealership five cars were sold.

Toward the end of l9l4 September 28 to be exact, Jess took a very energetic, vivacious twenty year old young lady, for his wife. Little did either realize how these atributes were to be an asset in their business years. Lela Adaline MORROW was the daughter of James Franklin and Lela May Westbrook Morrow, pioneer, farmers of the area. She shared his interest as well as the labors of the auto world. Many a surprised customer would suddenly find a woman behind the parts counter, and later walk out with a startled expression and a speechless tongue to have found a woman finding and handing out parts as fast as any man.

The main work on the early Model T was in repairing and replacing front springs and rear ends. The springs were nothing more than slightly strenght­ened buggy springs and they had to take the jolts of chug holes, bumping into rocks, getting over the country roads and maybe across the ranchman's pasture, for it was not long until the Model T was a work horse in Coke County.

In 19l7, a direct dea1ership was acquired and the business changed locations to across the street. Between 19l7 and 1920 Jess sold one-half interest to Sam Russe

The first mechanics in Robert Lee were Chism Brown, Lewis Wilson, Frank Smith, Jess Varnadore, Orb Craddock, Freeman Clark, Bud Maxwell and Wilfred Murtishaw.

Each youth who started his career tidying up Craddock Motor Company got his introduction to mechanics by being sent about town to borrow a "left-handed monkey wrench" which suddenly seemed to be in short supply at that time.

There was not any electric power available until Jess bought and installed a Delco battery in 1919. The new auto establishment was the first to install electricity in a place of business in Robert Lee and wore out three batteries before electric power came to town.

Gasoline was dispensed, first from a hand-operated pump attached to pot-bellied barrels, and later from a pump still hand-operated. Auto-mobiles were lined up for a block up the street to await their turn at the gas pump, especially on Saturdays, as it was the only pump in town.

In the fall of 1920, Jess - or Pop as he was soon to be known - sold a Mr. Witte his one-half interest in the business and moved to San Angelo where he was service manager for Amacker Motor Company. Fifteen months later, in the sprlng of 1923, Jess returned to Robert Lee and regained the business from both Russell and Witte. He was active manager with three-quarters interest and Chism Brown, Freeman Clark and Wilfred Murtishaw owning the remaining fourth. The name, Coke Motor Company, was given the establishment.

Jess purchased three buildings on the south end of the block in the mid twenties. One day a man came in and talked to Lela about renting one of the buildings and had the ready cash available. Without further ex­change, she rented one of the buildings to him. A brief time of carpentry work passed before the new store was opened - a liquor store. Needless to say it was an even shorter time until the building was vacant.

Jess did literally lose his pants in the automobile business. While working with a battery, it burst and acid completely covered him. He went to the vat which was used for testing tires and tubes, and washed the acid from his eyes and face. After removing his shirt, he continued working for some time. While at home later and changing trousers, the acid covered one just fell into pieces.

In March 1928, Jess attended a Ford dealers convention In Detroit. Dealers of the area boarded a special train, at Dallas about four or five in the afternoon. As not unusual for March weather in Texas, it was quite warm.

As Jess recalls of the day, "We were all just about to burn up in our shirt sleeves. Then when we got off the train in Detroit it was four degrees below zero. The bunch of us liked to have frozen to death. From the train we had to walk about a half mile to the administration building in that cold. Bob Harwell, who was the Ford dealer in Bal1inger at that time, gave out about half way there. Two of us carried him into the building and called the doctor. When he arrived, he called an ambulance and took him to the hospital. Four or five others took pneumonia and had to be hospitalized too. The convention lasted three or four days. When the men weren't touring the plant they stayed in their hotel because it was so cold."

Jeffie Bell set up the Norrick Bookkeeping system the earlier part of l928.

"We went to Colorado in July and August of that year. When we came back I was feeling much better and I went to work keeping the books at the garage and worked until we moved to Colorado City, in August of 1944," says Lela.

Of the depression years, she relates; "When we weren't maklng a proflt, we used red ink. I got to using so much red ink that finally I got a quart of it from the salesman. Before the depression was over I had used the whole quart."

When asked of his most embarrassing moment, Jess recalls, "I was work­ing by myself in the shop on the, rear end of an automobile. Cleaning it up with gasoline - the old greasy parts in a pan. It was too dirty so I just walked to the front door and, not looking, threw it out. It hit a woman in the face - all over you might say - just down her - that old greasy gasoline. That was my most embarrassing moment. I begged her pardon. She said she knew I didn't mean to. I told her to go have her dress cleaned and she said no, it wasn't my fault as I wasn't expecting anyone to walk by."

The Craddocks have four children - Mary, May, J. S. Jr., Billy Frank and "Maxine Morrow who grew-up on the odor of grease, cut their teeth on wrenches and learned the linqo of the car business as their flrst words.

In 1944 the Robert Lee business was sold to Cumbie Ivey and the Craddocks moved to Colorado City where they had purchased the dealership, naming it, Craddock Motor Company, also.

The year 1946 saw the return of the sons from the war and their entry into the business which was worth $20,000 at that time. Four years later, l95O, sales were nearly $80,000. In 1952 when Bill left the company, it was worth $168,000 with $90,OO0 in cash.

July 1, 1954, Jess sold his interest and retired from the auto world. George 0. Witten, formerly the Dodge, and Plymouth dealer, acquired one-half interest.

It has been said that Henry Ford was puritanical in thought; restless in mind; capable of prolonged, concentrated work; hated indolence, abhorred ostentation and display; had deep sense of public responsibility; and he and his wife were as close-knit and devoted a married couple as I have ever seen. * 3 

These same remarks can be said of Jess Sinclair Craddock.

No mention has been made of Jess's other lives - his family life, his devoted Christian life and his civic life. These are all different sides of him. They do intertwine with his business life but this writing is devoted only to that business life.

Pop is as active as ever with machinery though - from wrenches and
grease pans to hammers, lathes and paint brushes. The interest in means of transportation are not far away. He loves to reminisce of those repairs with bailing wire and the "any color as long as its b1ack" days. Also any space shot or moon walk will find him in front of his television so entran­ced that ashes may build up on his ever-present cigar. Just ask him about any of it from that first car he ever saw to the latest moonshot! He will love to tell you about it.

* NOTES: 1. Ad from March 14, 1913 Robert Lee Observer;
3 columns wide and 4 inches deep.

2. Ad from September 11, 1914 Robert Lee Observer;
2 columns wide and 1 1/2 inches deep.

3. Charles E. Sorenson. MY FORTY YEARS WITH FORD

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Mrs. Frances W. Lomas is a Grand-daughter of Jess Sinc1air and Lela Adaline (MORROW) CRADDOCK.)

Copied from "Stalkin' Kin, Vol. I, No. 1 & 2, by Mary Love Berryman, Used with permission by the San Angelo Genealogical and Historical Society Inc, P O Box 3453, San Angelo, TX 76902 and Mrs. Mike Lomas, Robert Lee, TX.

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