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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.