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Dahl Auto Museum is a LaCrosse, Wis., Treat


Words: John Gunnell

In 1911, Andrew H. Dahl was operating a small general store in the town of Westby, Wis. He saw an opportunity for growth when his sons Harry and Chet received an approved agency agreement from Ford Motor Co. to sell Model T cars. The first of these was sold in October of that year, and that was the beginning of the Dahl Automotive group.

In 1912, the boys put up a new brick garage using bricks they made themselves. In 1913, the family opened another dealership in Viroqua, Wis. In 1915, the Dahl’s purchased an existing Ford dealership in the city of La Crosse. By the 1920s they had operations nine Wisconsin towns, as well as Aurora, Ill.

Between 1922-1932, Dahl agencies popped up in Missouri, Washington, Oklahoma, Kansas, California and Colorado. By the end of the decade, there would be additional facilities in Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York City. The Dahls were also active in Wisconsin politics, and between 1933 and 1936, Harry Dahl became president of G. Heileman Brewing Co. in La Crosse.

In the early years, people were unfamiliar with automobiles, so family members would drive around the rural countryside in their shiny “Tin Lizzies.” When they interested a farmer in a car, they would take down the farmer’s name on a paper pad and make sure to get a $10 or $15 deposit.

As the farmers learned to drive cars and came to accept automobiles, they would plunked down money to purchase Model Ts. The Dahls had no control over Ford franchise agreements, and on occasion lost a franchise they had built up because a Ford regional manager decided someone else should own it. As a result, they began selling other brands of cars and, ultimately, several brands of trucks.

The other brands sold by the Dahls over the years included Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, De Soto, Lincoln-Mercury, Oldsmobile, Packard, Plymouth, Pontiac, Studebaker and a variety of Japanese brands. Seventeen different family members managed the different groups, some of which had up to 23 dealerships in eight different states.

Seven years ago - in 2011 - Dahl Automotive celebrated a century of selling all kinds of Fords. The company is the fourth oldest Ford dealer in the nation. In 2011, the family also opened the Dahl Automotive Museum in La Crosse, Wis. This fabulous facility is the home to approximately 33 historic vehicles, from Model Ts to modern high-performance Mustangs.

The Dahl Automotive Museum is located at 711 Third Street South, La Crosse, WI 54601. It is open 10 am to 4 pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Call them at 1-608-791-6494 or visit