110 North Waco Street, Hillsboro, Texas
The "most famous garage in the world" was opened in Hillsboro in 1906 by Fred Grimes Sr., the first auto mechanic in the area. At the time, there were only 3 or 4 cars in the area, and another 2 or 3 passing through daily. This was not enough to sustain the business and it soon closed.
But by 1913, the automobile had become more prevalent throughout the country, and Grimes Garage reopened. Besides replacing parts in his garage, Fred learned the machinist trade and made unavailable parts in his shop when necessary. At this time, automobiles arrived at the local dealers in parts and had to be assembled locally. Grimes would provide this service for $5 per car, later raising this to $7.50 per car. He also began the first wrecker service in Hill County.
Before Interstate 35, Waco Street in front of the garage was the major road between Dallas and Waco, and Hillsboro was a major transportation intersection point. Grimes worked hard to actively promote the highways that went through town, and he and others were successful getting these roads into the Old King of Trails association. This in turn led the Texas Highway Department, begun in 1917, to select Hill County as one of the first areas to see state-funded road improvements.
With 14 gas pumps, a machine shop, a repair shop, a tire store, 20 employees and free soft drinks to any customer who had to wait more than 30 seconds for service, Grimes Garage became the Neiman-Marcus of garages. Maids, dressed in white uniforms, greeted customers with ice water and ushered them into the first lounge and restrooms ever located in a service station.
Customers were invited to sign a guest register, with many famous names appearing over the years. Will Rogers once said that what he remembers about Texas is the Alamo and Grimes Garage. Elvis Presley stopped in many times while he was stationed at Fort Hood. The garage also had the distinction of being mentioned in the old comic strip, Gasoline Alley [more] .
|Grimes Garage, 2013|
Fred Grimes was a master at promoting his business. The first sign advertising the garage was carved on a large stone on Pikes Peak by Fred himself. As customers began to mention that they had seen it, Fred decided to increase advertising. He collected 6-foot lengths of 1" x 12" pine boards and painted "GRIMES GARAGE HILLSBORO TEXAS" on them. He and his wife then drove Highway 81 from the Oklahoma border to south Texas. Every few miles they'd pick out a likely roadside tree, find the owner of the land, and pay a silver dollar for the right to nail one of the signboards to the tree.
The next summer, the results were phenomenal. People traveling Highway 81 stopped at Grimes Garage out of curiosity, just to see the place the signboards advertised. While they were there, they usually bought a few gallons of gas or a spare inner tube, or had a minor mechanical problem attended to, or bought some snacks. Grimes Garage had its best year ever that year after the signs went up, and the family continued trading the right the nail a sign to a tree for a silver dollar until they had placed signs in 44 of the contiguous US states (four states did not allow advertising such as this).
Friends and customers began picking up signs at the garage and placing them along whatever route they traveled. During WW II, servicemen from Hill County placed these signs in many foreign locations. Signs advertising the garage began to appear in China, Europe and the South Pacific. But as the Interstate system of roads began to divert traffic away from the downtown area of Hillsboro, business began to decline, and the garage closed in 1965.