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Miles of barb wire, old farm equipment rusting in the boneyards on farms, and acres of tilled soil are evidence of the ghost of the C.A. Ratcliffe Company in our community. The 117-year story of the Ratcliffe Ford Dealership and Ratcliffe Implement Company, involves three locations on a single block of Second Street between College and F.The story of the Ratcliffe implement and automobile dealership involves three locations on the block of 2nd Street between College and F.

Our story begins in 1884, when the 30-year-old Charles Ratcliffe came to Cheney as the representative of the Frank Brothers agricultural implement company.

Charles A. Ratcliffe, at right, became proprietor of a farm implement company in 1884.

Charles Ratcliffe stands in front of Frank Bros. Implement Dealers

In 1913, Lynn Ratcliffe took delivery of Ford automobiles as C.A. Ratcliffe & Son became the second Ford dealer in the state.

Automobiles being driven out of a railcar

1884 location of Frank Bros. implement dealership

Rectangle, Schematic, Font, Parallel

Charles Ratcliffe stands by a new tractor 1892ca

Charles Ratcliffe stands by a new tractor 1892ca

1912 advertisement for C.A. Ratcliffe

1912 C.A. Ratcliffe advertisement

Charles Albert Ratcliffe started life in Wheeling, West Virginia and spent his childhood and school years in Lansing, Iowa and Lacrosse, Wisconsin. As a young man he worked in the lumber business in Lansing and later Denver, Colorado. Looking for new opportunities he headed west, taking a job in the Northern Pacific Railroad auditor's office and the banking firm of Ladd & Tilton in Portland. All the while, Charles kept up correspondence with his sweetheart, Louise Bressler, a schoolteacher in Bellville, Illinois.

Events were stirring to change the course of Charles' career. The Frank Brothers Company, dealers in farm machinery in Portland, acquired the Knapp Burrell Company who had opened an implement dealership in Cheney on the corner of E [College] and Second streets in 1882. Ladd & Tilton recommended Mr. Ratcliffe to the Frank brothers as an enterprising and honest man to take over managing the business at Cheney.

Charles Ratcliffe took the reins of the Cheney operation on 10 March 1884. He arrived when Cheney was the Spokane County Seat, and the town was bustling with business and activity.

His mid-western sensibilities were sometimes shocked by the primitive country. He clearly had second thoughts about asking his fiancée to join him when he wrote:

"I cannot in good conscience ask you to come here to live as it is over-run by wild Indians….Oh Louise will I tell you of the dreadful thing that happened here yesterday and what I fear is going to happen tonight. A woman riding alone between Cheney and Spokane about dark was met by two Indians and dragged out of the wagon by the fiends, after accomplishing their purpose, left her insensible. Hundreds of men turned out, and today the principal was caught and is now in jail. Tonight an attempt will be made to lynch him. I sincerely hope they will, although it is an awful thing to do. I saw him as he passed the office just a few minutes ago."

 Louise Bressler was not a timid woman nor dissuaded from coming west. Charles traveled back to Belville, Illinois for their wedding on 24 December 1884. The couple's honeymoon included a stay in Chicago before returning to Cheney to make a home for the remainder of their lives.

Mr. Ratcliffe proved a good businessman, and in January 1892 he bought out Frank Bros., and the C.A. Ratcliffe Company was born. In those early days, he was mostly a one-man operation selling harrows, plows, barb wire, Studebaker wagons, buggies, and bobsleds. He became a dealer for J.I. Case, selling farm machinery, making sales by touring farms by team and buggy. He sold steam engines, threshers, horse-power machines, and rock crushers. Road conditions could be brutal, jarring bones over hard ruts and rocks, with plenty of dust in summer and wheel-sucking clay mud in the spring and fall.

In a 1953 interview, his son, Lynn Ratcliffe recalled, "We sold the last 14-horsepower unit that was in stock in Spokane County in 1917, and it was used to operate a 24 x 42 foot high-deck Case thresher. That sale was to the Calvert brothers of Amber."

Charles became the second John Deere Plow Company dealer in the Pacific Northwest in 1896. He also represented Gable Disk Works and Calkins Manufacturing. As important as the ag business was, his lumber operation was quite substantial as well. First located next to his building on College, he expanded to a vacant lot across the street at the corner of College and 3rd sometime before 1905. 

Eldest son, F. Lynn Ratcliffe joined the firm at age 21 in 1907 and the name of the company was updated to C.A. Ratcliffe & Son. Lynn recalled that for a number of years before he officially worked for the company, he had helped his father by driving the team hauling lumber. In 1908, they built a new lumber yard and shed beside a railroad spur between D & C streets. They quit the lumber business in 1917 selling the lumber to Potlatch Yards and the land to Frank Martin for the expansion of the F.M. Martin Grain & Milling Company.

1908 view of the lumber yard at D street.

The younger Ratcliffe brought new ideas for business opportunities, especially about the new automobiles which were starting to arrive in the region. Charles was not sold on the idea. He was certain the new "horseless carriages" could never replace horse teams, and predicted his son would "lose his shirt." On 6 December 1912 Lynn signed a contract for five Ford cars to be sold in 1913. That order made C.A. Ratcliffe & Son the second Ford dealership in the state after the one in Bellingham. The elder Ratcliffe remained skeptical until he saw that Lynn not only sold all of that first order, but a total of eleven cars that first year. Other hardware stores in Cheney offered automobiles on order, such as Maxwell and Chalmers, but Lynn Ratcliffe's investment established C.A. Ratcliffe & Son as the town's first auto dealership.

James Monroe Mason and Ross Erlandsen pooled their money and jointly bought a Model-T, the first automobile in Amber. Lynn Ratcliffe went out with the car and stayed with the men for a few days to teach them how to drive it.

In order to get those early Ford autos into the building on College Ave, some trees on the property had to be cut down. They also installed a 400-gallon underground fuel tank and gas pump on the 2nd Street side of the business.

The company's expanding line-up of farm implements and automobiles required a bigger and better space. So, in 1917, they tore down the old buildings and built a new facility.

Cheney Free Press 20 March 1959; 10 March 1944; 31 July 1953

Ratcliffe Family History

Sanborn Fire Insurance maps 1884-1916