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50 years of Chryslers

Third generation of Urnesses leads The Dalles dealership

C.H. URNESS MOTOR CO. receives the Chrysler Corporation award for 50 years as a Chrysler dealer. Pictured, from left are Kathy Uhalde, C.H. Urness secretary-treasurer; Mike Urness, C.H. Urness president; Grant Biehler, Chrysler area sales manager; and Tim Urness, C.H. Urness vice president.	Chelsea Marr photo

C.H. URNESS MOTOR CO. receives the Chrysler Corporation award for 50 years as a Chrysler dealer. Pictured, from left are Kathy Uhalde, C.H. Urness secretary-treasurer; Mike Urness, C.H. Urness president; Grant Biehler, Chrysler area sales manager; and Tim Urness, C.H. Urness vice president. Chelsea Marr photo

— Today, when people think of Chryslers in The Dalles, the name Urness isn’t far behind.

C.H. Urness Motors was honored earlier this month for selling Chrysler products for the past half-century.

“We’ve made not just customers, but many close friends through our relationship at the dealership,” said Tim Urness, the company’s vice president. “We continue this relationship through the generations. My dad’s friends came to C.H. Urness and now their grandkids come in.”

Tim is part of the third generation of Urnesses, also including Mike Urness and Kathy Uhalde, to own and operate C.H. Urness Motors.

The dealership is actually 67 years old this year and started in post-World War II selling Studebakers on the site currently occupied by The Dalles Chronicle offices.

“During the war, they didn’t build cars,” said Jerry Urness in a 2011 interview. Urness is the son of the company’s founder, C.H. Urness.

After the war, people wanted cars and, in 1946, nine car dealers had cropped up to serve that need, each carrying one or two automobile company lines.

In those days, the volume was lower and the competition was more fierce.

“We were still neighbors, but it was a little more competitive,” he said.

The Urnesses have carried on through decades that brought muscle cars, gas crises, SUVs and many more transformations in the automotive world.

“The cars, in general, are pretty neat stuff as far as the technology we have now,” Tim said, “but in the same breath, my first car was a 1965 Plymouth Valient six-cycle with three on the tree that got 30-plus miles to the gallon.”

The current generation of Urnesses had some big shoes to fill.

“Having clients come in and tell you stories about your dad and grandfather; it’s quite a wonderful opportunity to have that and we are very lucky and blessed to be in that position,” he said.

Even in his three decades at Urness, Tim says he’s seen a lot of local history pass before his eyes. He spent about 10 years working in the trailer office at the dealership’s used car lot on East Second Street.

“I’ve seen the Rajneeshees come in and drop busloads of people at the Salvation Army and found 10 or 12 sleeping between the cars in the morning,” he said.

He also remembers the rapid that rolled down the alleyway during the 1996 flood, when Urness Motors was at the corner of First and Union streets.

“Mike and I were sitting on the car deck, leaning over it when we saw the first rapid form in the alleyway,” he said. “We made some comment that we thought, gee, maybe we should get a raft.”

Kathy Uhalde, who handles financial matters for the business, says working for the family business comes with a commitment.

“I think it’s a commitment, too, to continuing this the way we always saw it as we were growing up,” she said.

“Being in a family business and growing up in it, I think a lot of us have intense passion for the way we feel things should be, and we always seem to make it work,” Mike Urness added. “We still vacation together occasionally and play golf a couple days a week, so it can’t be all bad.”

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