Ralph E. Vinton
Pioneer Auto Dealer
By Merri Allen Vinton-2018
The first Chevrolet sales agency in Blair was opened by Walter and Martin Jacobson in 1917. Interest in automobiles was booming and business was good. By the next year, the Jacobsons built a large two-story building with a basement located at 18th & Washington Streets in Blair, Nebraska, that would ultimately become the home of Vinton-Evans Chevrolet a decade later.
Ralph E. Vinton’s life spanned the advent of the automobile, the airplane, manned spacecraft, and he lived to see man travel to the moon and back. Born in Glenwood, Iowa, in 1884, he could be considered a pioneer in the automobile business in Nebraska.
Ralph was destined to become a salesman. He began his career in shoe sales and as a young man, co-owned a shoe store in Glenwood called “Vinton-Workman Shoe Store” having bought out Fred Workman’s partner in 1913. By the end of World War I, ladies’ high-top shoes were becoming obsolete and the Bull Dog toe shoe was no longer in fashion for men. It became increasingly difficult to maintain a stock of shoes welcomed by the public, however he spent eighteen years in the shoe business.
Ralph had always had a fascination with automobiles and many called him a “car buff”. About 1907, he purchased his prized Apperson Jack Rabbit sportscar. A two-passenger roadster, it was equipped with a four-cylinder 60 horsepower engine. The four-speed transmission boasted a guaranteed top speed of 75 miles per hour. He was the envy of all the young men in Glenwood.
At some point, Ralph took on the Hudson Automobile Agency in Glenwood, but details of that endeavor are sketchy. In the meantime, the Chevrolet dealership in Blair had changed hands a few times, and by 1927, it was owned by Everett Aronson. Ralph’s nephew, Floyd Evans, in the automobile business himself in Council Bluffs, became aware that the Blair dealership was for sale and there was talk of the two men going into the automobile business. The matter must have been a point of serious contemplation for Ralph and his wife, Zula, at their stages of life—to purchase a new business, uproot their high-school aged sons, and relocate to a different state. However, In June of 1929, Ralph and Floyd purchased the Chevrolet Garage from Everett Arnson and named the business Vinton-Evans Chevrolet. Ralph and his family moved from Glenwood to Blair shortly after the purchase.
In October of the same year, just four months after the purchase, the stock market crashed, and the country was headed into an economic depression that would last for the next 10 years. Floyd stayed only a year which left Ralph to weather the depression alone. Those were hard times for the family, but somehow, they were able to hold on. Ralph credited his good friend and salesman, Walt Peterson, saying, “I never could have made it without him.”
It was in the 1940s that Ralph’s sons, Gordon and Keith, came into the business. Gordon operated the Chevrolet Garage in Tekamah, and Keith joined them after returning from military service in the Air Force in World War II. The name of the business was then changed to R. E. Vinton and Sons.
In the early 1960s the business was incorporated, and it became known as Vinton Motor Company. Two of Ralph’s grandsons, G. Richard—Gordon’s son, and Bob—Keith’s son, came into the business at this time. By the 1980s, Gordon retired and sold his portion to his brother, Keith, and Richard sought other opportunities—leaving just one side of the family in the dealership. Keith retired soon after and Bob was killed in an automobile accident in 1991. It was at this time that Vinton Motor Company was sold to Dillon Chevrolet of Fremont, Nebraska, ending a family automobile dynasty which had lasted for over sixty years.
Pioneer auto dealer, Ralph Vinton, was an honest and hard-working business man. He remained active in his community and his business until the time of his death in 1980, at the age of 95.
Shrader, Forrest B., History of Washington County Nebraska, “Vinton-Evans Chevrolet”, pg. 350, 1937.
Washington County Historical Association, Washington County History, “Ralph Vinton” by Mary E. Vinton, pg. 446, 1980.
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