Kellers have been a Ford family for more than 75 years

By on July 30, 2015
Today’s staff at South Broad Street

Back in 1940, if you wanted a Ford Coupe or a Ford Woody Station Wagon, the place to go was Keller Bros. Ford in Lititz.

Marking its 75th anniversary at its 730 S. Broad St. location, Keller Bros. is still a family business, with the founder’s grandson Dan Keller at the helm. He grew up in the business, and started working there right out of high school.

“I never thought of doing anything else. It was Ford all the way,” says Keller, who owns the business with his wife Suzy, along with daughter Danielle Gochenauer as director of social marketing and son Caleb Keller as manager of the Motor Sports location at the former TransAm just south on Lititz Pike.

There are more than 70 staff members at Keller Bros. Ford in Lititz, and a total of some 200 at all five Keller Bros. locations, which include Keller Bros. Dodge at 395 N. Broad St., Keller Bros. Ford in Lebanon at 1030 Schaeffer Road west of Schaefferstown on Route 419, and Truck Village at 2300 W. Cumberland St. in Lebanon across from the Lebanon Valley Mall. The newest, Keller Bros. Motor Sports, is located at 933 South Lititz Pike.

Founder Mark Keller

Founder Mark Keller

Recently, the Ford Company honored Keller Bros. for its 75 years at its Lititz location. Regional manager Steve Randall presented the Kellers with a plaque that said simply: Keller Bros. Ford 75 Year Anniversary 1940-2015.

“I don’t get to do this often,” said Randall. “This is quite an accomplishment to be in business for this long as a family business. Congratulations.”

The entire office, service, sales and parts staff were on hand to participate in the honor.

As Keller notes, “It’s everyone who has worked together to make Keller Bros. Ford a success over the years.”

The origin of the family business actually goes back even further. In 1921 the first Keller Bros. opened on the front yard of Mark Keller’s family home in Buffalo Springs in Lebanon County, north of Brickerville and near Schaefferstown.

Automobiles were a new trend that was about to change American life forever. That was before the Great Depression, which came eight years later in 1929 and lasted a decade. When the automobile scene blossomed in the 1920s, it was a time of exciting invention and ingenuity by Henry Ford. Even in Pennsylvania, there was no going back to horse-drawn carriages for modern families. The car had arrived.

“They weren’t very reliable,” noted Keller. He heard stories of people who stockpiled tires in their early automobiles because tires went flat at about the same rate at bicycle tires.

Shortly after Mark Keller and his brothers opened their garage they outgrew the space. By 1930, they built a new Ford facility at the current location of Keller Bros. Motor Company in Buffalo Springs. The business weathered the Depression, and in 1940 they opened a new dealership in Lititz.

1940 advertisement for Ford.

1940 advertisement for Ford.

Purchasing the Ford franchise from the Wolf Motor Company in Lancaster, the second Keller Bros. became the place to buy the latest Ford vehicles, which included the 1940 Ford Convertible, Ford Coupe, Deluxe Coupe, and Woody Station Wagon. These were classic cars for sporty drivers and families alike, with exciting new features like a finger-tip steering post gearshift, sealed beam headlamps, and dual windshield wipers.

In June of 1948, the Lititz Record Express carried a feature story about the new and modern showroom and service center that was dedicated at the formal service. On display was the brand new 1949 Ford, which was acclaimed as the car if the year.

“The new ‘49 Ford reflects revolutionary changes in almost as many ways as the Model A differed from the Model T,” said the article. Photographs of the Keller Bros. workforce numbered around 16 and included Norman Keller, Dan Keller’s father. There was also a picture of the 1949 Ford station wagon with its wood-paneled exterior, a classic family vehicle with lots of room for the kids, dogs, bicycles and groceries.

A history of Keller Bros. was written by Rachel Spease, only daughter of Mark Keller, as she recollected all the details of life at Keller Bros., right down to salaries, business income, repair costs and taxes. An earlier log by her father provided details from earlier times, when Mark Keller recorded that his wages when he worked for General Motors Truck Company in Michigan were 50 cents an hour for nine hours a day.

Keller Bros. remodeled its Lititz location in 1954, with a striking yellow brick exterior and bright red gasoline pumps out front. Five years later, a new painting by artist Longenecker shows the expanded showroom with even more gas pumps and an airplane weathervane on top of the brick column with big F-O-R-D letters. The O was a clock.

Painting of the Lititz facility in 1959

Painting of the Lititz facility in 1959

The building was updated again over the years, with a complete renovation of the showroom around 2004. Then on June 18, 2010 a fire destroyed nearly everything, causing an estimated $1 million in damage.

“The fire was determined to have been caused by an electric fan outside the showroom,” recalled Keller.

Most of the damage was smoke damage in the showroom and garage. Fire destroyed a portion of the building where most of the dealership’s keys were stored. So, they had unscathed vehicles on the lot that could not be driven until new keys were made. Titles and original documents remained safe. A temporary trailer served as the office until the building could be restored and renovated.

“It was just one example of the dedication of our employees’ commitment to Keller Bros. They all pulled together,” said Keller.

In 2006, Keller Bros. Ford purchased Zartman Dodge, bringing two long-time Lititz dealerships together as one, with Keller Bros. Dodge remaining at its 395 N. Broad St. address, just north of of Lititz.

Over the years, some things have changed, and others have remained the same.

Dan and Suzy Keller

Dan and Suzy Keller

“We are still a family business and a customer-focused business,” says Keller, noting that they have a “We are here for you” attitude. “Our family name is on the outside of all our dealerships, and I’m usually on the inside of one of them.”

Seventy-five years after Mark Keller founded Keller Bros. Ford in Lititz, you won’t find any Model Ts or Woody station wagons on the lot. In 2015, the Keller Bros. line-up of Ford vehicles includes the Escape. F-150, Explorer, Expedition, Focus, Fusion, Edge, Mustang and Taurus.

One can only imagine what might be on the showroom floor 75 years from now.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback at lknowles21@gmail.com.

 

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