FARMINGTON — One hundred years ago, Walter Hight started selling cars and today his passion has passed down through four generations of Hight men who now own a total of four dealerships.

Hight Chevrolet is celebrating 100 years of selling cars this year, making it the oldest continually operated car dealership in the state.

The local Hight Chevrolet is run by Lou Hight, whose grandfather, Walter, started the family business in 1911, selling Model T Fords from his shop on Madison Avenue in Skowhegan.

Walter’s son Kirby, Lou’s father, joined his father at the dealership in Skowhegan (which is still in the family) after serving in World War II. Kirby took over ownership in 1944, although his father stayed on the job, coming into work everyday until he was in his 90s. He passed away in 1975, at the age of 98.

Kirby, too, remains on the job although 95 years old and supposedly semi-retired, while his son Walter (Lou’s twin brother) runs the original dealership.

“We still send him the statements every month and he reviews them,” Lou said.

The family bought the Farmington Chevrolet dealership in 1992, and it has been Lou’s baby ever since, while his son, Sam, now runs a family-owned Ford dealership in Skowhegan. Lou’s twin brother Walter’s sons, Toby and Corey, run another family acquisition, the Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership in Madison.

“Just think,” Lou said recently, “when the family first started selling cars, you had to start the car with a hand crank, now you can start it from your easy chair in the living room.”

The Hight family was selling cars before the two world wars, before sound motion pictures and the discovery of penicillin and many stories about the early days have come down through the family.

In 1911, when Walter Hight opened the Ford Agency in Skowhegan, cars did not show up on carriers. Drivers had to go get them. One time, 10 men went to Lewiston and started back to Skowhegan with 10 Fords. They blew eight tires on the way home.

During the first World War, Fords were assembled in New York. Walter Hight sent men to New York and they would drive one car home and tow another behind. He kept a crew on the road all of the time delivering them.

“When my grandfather Walter started the business, he had to teach people to drive,” Lou said. “No one knew how to drive cars back then and everyone had to be taught to drive before a sale could be closed. In most cases, it was harder to teach a person to drive than it was to make a sale.”

Lou said his grandfather, Walter, wrote this story.

“A woman I was teaching to drive tried to crank the car. It backfired, her mouth hit the radiator and knocked out a front tooth. After paying the dentist bill, I still made the sale. It was an uphill battle to convert the public to the horseless carriage. The old gray mare was good enough for them.”

“Winters were always tough in central Maine,” Lou said. “From November through June, there were plenty of sales made, but they could not deliver a car. They stored cars in every stable, farm and shed around town to be ready for spring delivery.”

Lou said there were many other hurdles in the early years.

“People were afraid of progress,” he said. “Some women wouldn’t ride in a four-door sedan because it looked like a hearse. When hydraulic breaks and steering were introduced, people were afraid they wouldn’t work and people were nervous when the self starter replaced the hand crank.”

Lou said he’s also heard through the years that in the early 1920s, the Model Ts wouldn’t run in the cold weather because the oil wouldn’t flow.

“So drivers would jack up the cars at night, drain the oil out of it and put it on the wood stove at night to keep the oil warm. Then they’d add the warm oil in the morning and start the cars!” Lou said.

In the early 1900s, dealers had to take possession of cars at the factory or assembly plant and get them home the best way they could.

In the spring of 1917, according to Hight family history, Hight Chevrolet Buick employees went out to the Buick factory at Flint, Mich., and drove 13 Buicks back.

“This is how grandfather Walter told the story,” Lou said. “‘We paid for new cars when we left the factory, but I wish you could have seen them when they landed in Skowhegan. They got stuck in the mud in New York and some even burned out the clutches. The cars were all sold before we went after them and about every one of the customers said that they were now second hand cars, so we locked the cars in a building, kept the lookers out, put a crew of men on getting them cleaned up and polished. Finally, we delivered them to our customers.’”

Lou said the car business became very competitive during the 1950s and has remained that way ever since.

“Just as my father and grandfather had had to convince people to believe in power steering, my brother Walter and I, when first in the business, had to convince people to buy air conditioning in their cars,” Lou said. “They all said, ‘I don’t need it. I’ll never use it.’ The AC costs $400 so we told them if they’d take the car with the AC and in a year if they’d never used it, they could bring it back and we’d take the AC out and give them their money back. No one ever came back!”

Only 4 percent of family businesses survive until the fourth generation and Lou said their secret of success has been treating the customer the way they want to be treated themselves.

Lou and his family are having fun looking back at the past through their ancestors’ eyes as they celebrate 100 years of selling cars.

“Just imagine,” Lou said. “We’ve gone from having Grampy Walter selling cars he had to teach people to drive, to his great grandsons selling vehicles with GPS systems on board and DVD screens. It’s unbelievable the distance we’ve traveled.”