Remember Your Steele Center Dodge Dealer?
Anyone passing through Steele Center probably notices the one building standing there, an old garage. Through old newspaper accounts I learned that it was more than a repair shop. It also served as a new car dealership for Plymouths and Dodges. Part of the building also served as a general store.
In 1925, Thomas Harris, who was born in Canada and came to Steele County in 1896, teamed up with Louis Nielsen to build the garage. Harris also operated a livestock trucking line to South St. Paul.
Tragically, Harris died in a car crash during a blizzard while driving one of the Dodges he sold. It was February 1937 when Harris had gone to Albert Lea on a call related to a car sale. He was driving a '36 Dodge. A blizzard set in and newspaper accounts state that Harris dropped off my wife's grandfather, Laurence Bartsch, at his garage in Geneva around 6:30PM. Just before 7PM, Harris had made it as far as a bit south of Steele Center, or 11 miles south of Owatonna, where he encountered an accident that ultimately involved eight cars, which were scattered in the ditches and on the road. One of the accident participants had a flashlight and found Harris lying under one of the cars. He had suffered a fractured skull and died en route to the Owatonna Hospital. There were a number of injuries, but only Harris lost his life.
Harris was a bachelor. I was aware of many little stores and creameries dotting small towns and bergs across the countryside but was surprised that such a small settlement as Steele Center had actually had a new car dealership for a while.