DALLAS — When Caddie LaBar’s opened in 1947, Harry S. Truman was president and gas prices averaged about 15 cents a gallon.
Sixty-nine years later, the gas pumps are gone, but LaBar’s commitment to providing quality service and products continue as five of his seven children run the business.
Larry, Woody, Don, and Tim manage the company and their sister, Ruth Wolfe, works in the sporting goods store.
Their familiarly with the business is second nature as Caddie and his wife Florence LaBar nurtured their children as they grew the venture.
Maintaining a family-owned business presents its struggles, and the siblings agreed getting along can be a challenge.
“Mom was the person that kept everyone in line,” Woody said.
But the siblings learned to compromise and incorporated Caddie’s tradition of treating customers well to carry the business forward, possibly to a third generation.
“Mom use to say, ‘There are good years and bad years, but you have to keep going,’” Larry said.
Caddie built the Sunoco Gas and service station in 1946. He was a teacher at the Dallas Borough School. His wife, Florence, was a teacher at Beaumont School.
The couple wanted to supplement their income, Don said.
“Teachers didn’t earn much then,” Don said.
There were no daycare centers at the time, so Don and his siblings came to work with their parents.
“I remember when gas was 18.9 cents a gallon,” Woody said. “I started working when I was 10. I helped by washing car windows.”
LaBar’s was one of about five gas stations in the Back Mountain area at the time, Woody said.
“There wasn’t much out here (in the Back Mountain) at that time,” Don said.
Old black and white dog-eared photos carefully stored in Don’s desk drawer show how rural the Back Mountain was when Caddie was building his business. Trees lined the back side of the property along Toby Creek. Another photograph shows an old Model T at LaBar’s Sunoco gas pumps.
Caddie seemed to know how to evolve to keep his business successful.
In 1953, Caddie constructed a second building, a retail store, that carried a variety of Firestone products, Don said.
“Firestone sold everything at the time, including refrigerators,” Don said.
The business changed again to include boat sales in the mid-1950s.
Don and Woody remembered that day well. Caddie had a boat stored at the business. One day a customer came in and offered to buy it.
“He sold it and then bought two boats,” Woody said, laughing.
LaBar also sold Johnson Marine Motors and a selection of sporting goods which was a personal interest and hobby of his, according to his sons.
“He liked to go hunting and fishing,” Don said. “Mom would run the whole place.”
“We were the biggest sporting goods store around in the 1950s,” Don said. “There were no Kmarts or Walmarts at that time.”
Customers come first
Caddie’s fairness and big heart were well known in the Back Mountain.
“He would trade used ice skates for new ones,” Don said.
Another example Woody recalled was his dad selling a child a fishing pole for $3 when it cost him $5 wholesale.
“If a kid only had $3 in his pocket, he would give him a fishing pole for that amount,” Woody said. “He felt every kid should have a fishing pole.”
In the 1960s, the business changed again as Caddie sold toys along with boat sales, auto and boat repairs and Sunoco gasoline.
“He had the biggest toy store in the Back Mountain,” Woody said.
But, this reign was short-lived. Both Woody and Don said all the siblings use to play with the toys.
“Dad got out of the toy business because we played with the toys,” Woody said. “Sometimes pieces were missing because we could not get the toys back in the boxes.”
In 1989, LaBar’s evolved again. The Sunoco gas pumps were removed ending 42 years of gas sales.
The Dallas Post captured this moment Feb. 8, 1989, as Woody pumped the last gallon of Sunoco gas for customer, Art Spears.
Sunoco wanted to sell the gas pumps to the business for $1, Woody said. The family would then be responsible for the cost to upgrade the underground tanks to meet environmental requirements, he said.
“I missed the customers (when the gas pumps were closed),” Woody said. “You knew everything going on (in the Back Mountain) when you talked with the customers.”
Under the management of Caddie’s children, the business changed again, this time incorporating all-terrain vehicle sales plus sporting goods.
Caddie made it known he wanted to see the business go back to its roots of selling fishing gear, Larry said. But the inclusion of all-terrain vehicles gave the business an edge over the big box stores, Larry said.
Caddie died in December 2009 at the age of 96. His wife, Florence, died at age 85 in March 2004, but their lessons in customer service and honesty has carried over to the children.
“Treat customers right and build a relationship with customers will keep them coming back,” Larry said.
Reach Eileen Godin at 570-991-6387 or on Twitter @TLNews