Walter Matter loved cars; so did his older brothers, Gottlieb and Paul. They were long-time Ford dealers in their beloved hometown of Hawley, Pa., and adored antique cars.

HAWLEY - Walter Matter loved cars; so did his older brothers, Gottlieb and Paul. They were long-time Ford dealers in their beloved hometown of Hawley, Pa., and adored antique cars. Walter’s nickname was “Sparky” for a reason to be mentioned later.

P.S. It really had nothing to do with selling spark plugs, though no doubt they handled a lot of them.

The family business was known as G. Matter & Sons.

Gottlieb operated the auto repair shop at 614-616 Church Street where Hawley Garage is today. There was a showroom in a separate building in front. Paul later operated a garage on Main Street in Honesdale, next to the theater where Turkey Hill market is today.

Walter had a Ford showroom and auto parts business at 324 Main Ave., Hawley, next to Hotel Belvidere and the current site of B. Madigan’s shop.
They also sold Tydol gas from this location.

Livery and grain

Their father, Gottlieb Matter Sr. was born in 1858 in Germany (a later Census record gives Switzerland) and immigrated in 1903.

Gottlieb Matter Sr. and his wife Louisa lived at 236 Bellemonte Avenue, just east of Water Steet. The house is still standing.

In addition to their sons, Gottlieb, Paul and Walter, they had three daughters, Rose, Louise and Emma.

Walter was born in 1892.

The 1912 directory had Gottlieb Sr. and Jr. in the grain business on Church Street. Walter was a clerk there. Paul purchased a livery across the street (located where Wayne Street meets Church today) in 1912. He had seven horses at the time. This of course was a time of transition, as the automotive age was already competing with the day of the horse.

The 1925 directory puts all three sons in their father’s auto business at the two locations mentioned earlier. An ad in that book says they sold cars, trucks and tractors, under the Lincoln, Ford and Fordson names. In 1931, Paul is listed as the manager. Their father had died by the time of the 1935 directory. By that time, Paul and his wife Eugenia lived in Honesdale, where he also managed an  auto store at 518-520 Main.

His nickname

In the 1940’s, Tom Sheridan and his brother Gene had routes selling the Grit newspaper. Sheridan was asked about the Matters a few years back, for an earlier local history story in this series. He said that Matter’s shop on Main was one of his stops.

Now for the nickname.

Sheridan said that Sparky had two Fords on display, a Model A and a Model T, in nice condition. No one was to touch them, especially not curious kids.

Sparky had the two cars wired so that anyone touching them would get a shock. This is how he is thought to have earned the nickname.

Eugene “Art” Glantz also recalled Sparky Matter. He said Matter sold gas and managed the show room. He used his big plate glass window on Main Avenue to post the running box score of the World Series games. The Series was played in the early autumn in those days, Glantz recalled.

Glantz also recalled seeing a 1929 Lincoln in the showroom that was “built like a fortress.”

“When he fixed tires, he seemed to enjoy dropping a tire wrench on the sidewalk with a loud noise,” Glantz said.  “I used to spend a lot of time around the showroom and I recall seeing one of the first postwar cars that was available for sale.”

Glantz added that Sparky was always laughing and joking.

Both Glantz and Richard “Dick” Teeter recalled the story about the electric shocks.

Nationwide tours

Walter Matter enjoyed taking his 1910 Ford Model T in local parades.

Sheridan recalled that Sparky Matter and another man started the Great American Race, involving Fords which crossed the country from California to New York.

Sparky also was a founding member of the Antique Automobile Club of America, which organized in November of 1935.

He was a familiar figure at antique car shows around the country. Teeter, who is also an antique car fan (especially the Hudson variety), recalled that Sparky was very active in Gladden car tours in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

He was pictured in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1937, at the wheel of the 1910 Ford, with Daisy Bushwaller. He had won the Inquirer’s trophy for the greatest distance traveled (137 miles) to the Philadelphia Auto Show. The prize was a silver platter and $5.

The Geneva (NY) Daily Times, June 5, 1946, carried a story about the reaction of townspeople when they saw Walter Matter drive his 1910 Ford through town. He was on his way back to Hawley after visiting Detroit.

It reads in part, “Piloted by an intrepid motorist clad in appropriate costume, the venerable vehicle chugged into town on South Main Street and after stopping twice, attracted large crowds of the curious- not to say amazed- onlookers… Complete with a carriage top and brass lanterns, the old car had made the trip from Buffalo to Geneva yesterday in the brisk time of six hours…. Bedecked with various signs which proclaimed the date, owner and home town, the Ford also carried a page stating it had attended the 50th anniversary celebration of the birth of the motor car in Detroit this week. A 1910 license plate and lettering proclaimed that Hawley is only one mile from some unpronounceable lake completed with decorations.”

Matter was wearing goggles and a headpiece that seemed part bowler and part football helmet. The Geneva paper continued, “Cheerful beyond the ability of many owners of more modern but less study cars, Mr. Matter didn’t seem to think much of the difficulties if driving the old buggy the hundreds of miles between his home and Detroit, summing it up with a casual, ‘Why not?’”

While back in Detroit for another a show in 1948, The New York Daily Sun reported, Walter sported a dirty linen duster, red bandana and a flat derby topped with a circus clown’s haircut.

Another 1946 article stated he was getting 350 miles on 11 gallons of gas.
A news article from 1947 told of Walter winning a Model T race at a show in Putnam County, NY. He was the crowd’s delight with his bowler hat, goggles and duster. He raised both hands in triumph as his beloved car crossed the finish line, edging out a 1915 “flvver” in the three lap race.

He seldom came home without having captured a first prize. His picture with his vintage Ford appeared in Esquire, newspapers, news reels and on the new medium of the age, television.

A newspaper story was found from September 1949, listing him showing his 1910 Ford in a large Gladden Tour show at Gettysburg.

His last appearance was at a nationwide antique car show held in Washington,D.C. Teeter said he has seen his picture on the tour in front of the U.S. Capitol, wearing a duster, cap and goggles.

At home, Walter attended St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Hawley. He was a charter member of the Hawley Lions Club.

Nephew George Haas

Walter Matter was the great-uncle of Cathleen (Haas) Spall, who is the wife of attorney John Spall. Although she was only a young girl when Walter died in 1950, she recalls his sense of humor and that he was always smoking a cigar.

She said that Walter Matter was never married. He lived in the homestead, where his sister’s daughter Rosa and husband George Haas lived as well.

George J. Haas was known as “Haasie”. He was Cathleen Spall’s father, and a nephew of Sparky.

George Haas’s father died young and grew up around his uncles. Like them, he was every bit a car enthusiast. George J. Haas was born in 1910 to George and Rosa (Matter) Haas. He was an auto dealer for G. Matter & Sons and was excellent at memorizing numbers on Ford car parts. He knew just what his customers needed.

His interest in antique cars was a longtime hobby from Model T Fords to the 1980s. He was often seen driving a 1936 Ford Cabriolet in area parades & shows. Mrs. Spall said that her dad made sure she too learned how to drive a Model T.

Haas was a World War II Navy veteran, a charter member of Hawley Rotary, and a long time Wallenpaupack school board member. He was wed to Dorothy (Muller). Mr. Haas died in 2004 at the age of 93.

In the early 1970’s, five antique cars in the Matter family were sold as part of the estate, Mrs. Spall said. They included Walter Matter’s 1910 Ford Model T, an untitled 1927 Lincoln, a rare 1929 Ford taxi, and a couple others. A man from Binghamton bought them.

One time the Haases were at the Hershey (Pa.) antique car show where they had a booth with vintage automobile literature. While there a man who had purchased the 1929 Ford taxi from the man in Binghamton, happened to come up to their table.

Some tidbits

Among their many customers was Thomas Alva Edison’s chauffeur, who lived in Lake Ariel. He had his vehicle serviced at G. Matter & Sons.

Lee Iacocca delivered Ford parts to Matters’ garage in the early years of his automotive career- that concluded as President and CEO of Chrysler Corporation. Mrs. Spall related Ford was very particular and assessed their dealerships. One day Iacocca came to Hawley and brought some new demand that did not sit well with Gottlieb Matter. Gottlieb got so mad that he threw Iacocca’s briefcase out onto the street, she said.

Gottleib became president of the Hawley Bank, and was close friends with Gifford Pinchot, who was twice governor of Pennsylvania and held the role of the first U.S. Forester.

A separate building near the Matter garage that was part of the business, was taken down at one point. Mrs. Spall said that the wood and glass that made up the office was acquired for use inside The Settlers Inn.

The Matters weren’t only interested in cars. The family operated an airport on Route 652, the Beach Lake Highway.

Died in his car

The Citizen-Times reported of Walter Matter’s death, which occurred Tuesday afternoon, May 23,1950. He was 57. The Honesdale newspaper (which had an office in Hawley) said right in the headline on page 1, “Walter Matter Found Dead in His Car Here on Tuesday.” The long time Ford dealer and vintage car buff, died in his automobile in his driveway on Bellemonte Street, the result of a cardiac arrest.

“With the passing of one of our prominent business men and esteemed citizens goes a large part of advertising Hawley throughout our own state as well as in others,” the editor penned. Walter enjoyed his excursions across country, all the while promoting his hometown, with the name of Hawley displayed with his 1910 Ford.

“Mr. Matter was kind, thoughtful person, always rendering assistance to everyone in need and even to the children, as many times one wold see him ‘pumping and patching’ their bicycle tires so they could enjoy their sport,” The Citizen-Times reported. “His cheery greeting and happy smile for everyone will be greatly missed.”