Backstory: Ghosts of Nolan Chevrolet's auto empire still linger in Casper (Photos) - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Backstory: Ghosts of Nolan Chevrolet’s auto empire still linger in Casper (Photos)

Nolan Chevrolet on 322 S. David, mid-1920s. Wyoming State Archives Photo Collection, Carrigen Collection

CASPER, Wyo. – When Casper’s Nolan Chevrolet was established in 1924, the American auto industry was very young.

The dealership was started by Jack Nolan, who soon sold part of the interest to brothers Arthur A. and Ralph Schulte.

The Chevrolet Motor Company had been established barely a decade earlier, becoming the mainstream volume brand of the growing General Motors Company.

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Chevrolet would overtake Ford in total vehicle sales by 1929 helped at least in part by brisk sales at Nolan.

The decade was a time of rapid growth in Casper as the town transitioned from ranching and sheepherding industries to oil and gas. Car dealerships popped up on seemingly every block to sell Fords and Chevys, along with mostly forgotten brands like Studebaker, Hudson, Essex and Hupmobiles.

An April 1924 article in the Casper Morning Star– written under the byline of “Spark Plug”– announced the overwhelming demand for new automobile deliveries in the Casper area by local dealers.

“Mr. Nolan is thoroughly optimistic, and with the installation of the company in its new building on South David Street expects to establish a new record for Chevrolet sales,” said the article on what was described as a “record breaking season.”

“Two (railroad) carloads of the popular DeLuxe touring cars arrived Saturday at the Nolan Chevrolet Co. Call out the cops. Let’s avoid a general riot,” said an announcement in the July 20, 1924 edition of the Sunday Tribune.

At least two full pages of the Sunday, September 8, 1929 edition of the Casper Tribune-Herald were dedicated to the upcoming grand opening of Nolan Chevrolet’s new showroom and maintenance garage at 321 South David Street. The building officially opened a few days later on the 11th.

A full-page of the Sept. 8, 1929 Casper Tribune-Herald announces the upcoming grand opening of the new Nolan Chevrolet building on South David.

A message by Jack Nolan printed on that day breathlessly rhapsodized on the mood and excitement in this boomtown.

“With the air of permanence given us by our mammoth refineries and other diversified industries, our many miles of paved streets, our beautiful hotels and office buildings, fine schools and public buildings, and with the Great Salt Creek Oil Fields at our doors, we feel that our town will rank foremost in its class in comparison to any other town in America and we feel privileged to live and do business in this thriving aggressive community,” wrote Nolan.

Jack Nolan, center, is shown with his Nolan Chevrolet business partners Arthur and Ralph Schulte in a Jan. 31, 1926 ad in the Casper Tribune-Herald.

The Nolan Company soon opened branches in Glenrock and Edgerton. A Douglas branch was opened in the mid-1930s.

The company’s community presence was large and involved sponsoring its own string quartet to perform regular live programs on radio station KDFN, and organizing countless community events and publicity stunts.

While it was Jack Nolan’s name on the brand, he was referred to as general manager during the majority of his tenure, while the Schulte brothers were given president and vice president titles.

Nolan Chevrolet co-owner Frank Schulte, at left, is shown posing with Capt. Elmer Maki of the CPD during a Dec. 11, 1955 publicity photo announcing a donated car to use for driver’s education.

By the late 1940s Jack’s paper trail goes cold, and it appears the Schultes took full control. Arthur’s sons eventually joined the family business.

At some point in 1965 the dealership was renamed Schulte Chevrolet, only to be sold in September 1966 to Ray and Les Shellabarger of Colorado.

Ray soon bought out his brother’s share and in 1969 the renamed Ray Shellabarger Chevrolet moved to a brand new, custom-built facility at 2400 E. Yellowstone. That location is now White’s Mountain Motors. Thought it’s been modified over the years, some of the original building’s peaked roof can still be seen.

The new Ray Shellabarger Chevrolet on East Yellowstone is seen in a special section of the Casper Star-Tribune on Nov. 5, 1969. The building is now part of White’s Mountain Motors.

However, the old Nolan Chevrolet building’s story wasn’t finished just yet. In 1970 the building became home to Plains Furniture, which had a West Yellowstone location before that.

In 1973 a drastic remodel and expansion would completely cover up what was left of Nolan Chevrolet for decades to come. The remodel also covered a municipal garage attached to the historic Fire Station No. 1.

A 1989 Casper Star-Tribune ad shows the Plains Furniture buildings over the years. At center is how the old Nolan Chevrolet building looked soon after Plains moved in. It was heavily remodeled in 1973, becoming buried inside the new additions until being uncovered in 2016.

In 2016 the building was purchased by the city with possible plans to clear the site for David Street Station parking or other developments. However, the long forgotten link to Casper’s past was soon uncovered and any plans were put on indefinite hold.

Investors have shown interest in incorporating the historic pieces into a redevelopment, but the city has so far been unable to agree on what the next move should be.

There is hope that a once-forgotten slice of Casper’s past can be brought back to life nearly a century after it was built to sell Chevys.

Nolan Chevrolet on 322 S. David, mid-1920s. Wyoming State Archives Photo Collection, Carrigen Collection
Nolan Chevrolet on 322 S. David, mid-1920s. Wyoming State Archives Photo Collection, Carrigen Collection
Nolan Chevrolet on 322 S. David, mid-1920s. Wyoming State Archives Photo Collection, Carrigen Collection
Nolan Chevrolet executives pose in front of a 1955 Chevy inside the Nolan showroom on South David. (Kukura-True Collection, Western History Center, Casper College)
Nolan Chevrolet hands the keys to a new Chvey patrol car to the Wyoming Highway Patrol in an undated publicity photo, likely made around 1950. (Kukura-True Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
A 1952 newspaper ad shows the Nolan Chevrolet staff and its “OK” used car lot on Second and David. (Casper College Western History Center)
A newspaper page shows the surprising number of auto dealerhsips around Casper in 1925. Nolan’s original building is seen top center. (Casper College, Western History Center)
The Schulte family is shown in this Aug. 12, 1964 Casper Morning Star newspaper photo taken at the Petroleum Club. At center are Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Schulte surrounded by their children.
A May 1965 Nolan Chevrolet newspaper ad shows a graphic of the new Chvey Impala.
The Plains building during exterior demolition in 2017. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
The former Plains Furniture building sits empty on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 in Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
Councilman Ken Bates admires the mosaic tiles in the old Plains Furniture building during a tour on March 15, 2019. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)
The original facade of a 1920s-era Nolan Chevrolet Company dealer’s garage can be seen surrounded by a major addition during a public and city council tour of the old Plains Furniture building on Aug. 29, 2017, in the Old Yellowstone District in downtown Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
The old Nolan Chevrolet dealership is exposed after demolition of the Plains Furniture addition on Dec. 7, 2017. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
Original tile from a 20s-era auto dealership is exposed after interior demolition of the former Plains Furniture building. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)
Cameron Botkin, 12, examines the brick work of a 1920s-era dealership after pieces of a later renovation had been stripped away during a tour for the public and city council members of the former Plains Furniture building on Aug. 29, 2017. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
The facade of the Chevrolet dealership’s maintenance garage is seen surrounded by an addition for the Plains Furniture building in Casper in 2017. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)