It’s a classic immigrant success story. Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Saxowsky left Mindon, Germany, settled in Hebron, N.D., in 1888 and had six children. Fred, the third oldest, married Magdalene Schierbaum in 1915 and they had two children, including a son named Gilbert, born in 1918. Fred and Gilbert would become the first two generations of owner-dealers of what is now Sax Motor Co., which is celebrating its first century in business this year.
The Sax (short for Saxowsky) Motor Company was incorporated on March 24, 1923, in Hebron, with Fred as president.
Like most rural dealerships at the time, it was located near the railroad and also sold farm equipment. Sax sold Hart-Parr tractors and Twin City farm machinery, along with Overland cars and Dodge Brothers cars and trucks. A Texaco filling pump was added in late 1923—“the biggest gasoline pump ever installed in Hebron,” according to the December 21, 1923, edition of the Hebron Herald. In 1924, Sax took on Chevrolet and Willys-Knight cars, as well as Delco Light products, Maytag washers, National Batteries products, and Moline plows and binders. Firestone tires appeared in 1925.
On June 10, 1926, Sax opened a location in Dickinson, N.D., in a building shared with the C.H. Defoe Buick dealership at 118 West Villard St. Sax’s nine employees sold Chevrolet, Pontiac and Overland automobiles at what was now the company’s main operations and corporate headquarters. In 1928, Sax moved to the Turner Building down the street at 103 East Villard St.
“Everyone wanted to be close to the railroad station, so Villard Street was the only option in Dickinson that would see a lot of traffic,” says Pam (Saxowsky) Kostelecky, who represents the third generation of Saxowsky family members to own and operate the business.
Though Sax’s main operations moved to Dickinson in 1926, the company continued to operate a branch in Hebron until they sold it in 1947. Other Sax dealerships were located in Dunn Center, Killdeer and New England, N.D., and in August of 1928, Sax purchased Holm Chevrolet dealerships in Amidon and New England, N.D.
Wartime and Postwar Changes
Pam remembers the post-World War II timeframe fondly.
“My dad was a flight instructor during [World War II] and flew for Braniff for a few years after the war,” Pam says. “My grandfather became ill. And as an only child, it was my dad’s responsibility to come back. But he still had that love of flying.”
So the Saxowskys launched The Sax Aviation Company as a branch of the dealership. After purchasing the old airport southwest of Dickinson, Sax Aviation provided crop-dusting services, trained pilots, ran charter flights, held air shows and sold Cessna Aircraft. It closed in the 1950s.
Pam says one of her favorite early memories of the dealership was when new cars would arrive. Old photos show throngs of neighbors gathering in front of the windows in anticipation.
“When the new cars would come out, the showroom windows would be covered with brown paper,” says Pam. “There would be big reveals. That was always an exciting time.”
A new showroom, second-floor offices, and expanded parts and service areas were included in the “New in ’52” redesigned dealership at 312 West Villard St. Longtime President and Co-founder Fred Saxowsky passed away in 1962, and his son, Gilbert, became president. The name of the corporation was officially changed in 1964 from The Sax Motor Company to Sax Motor Co.
In the 1970s, the company purchased property at 301 Villard St., erected a building and ran its car sales operations out of it.
Two decades later, Gilbert’s daughter Pam assumed the role of dealer-principal. During the mid-1990s, the company had a separate location down the street that performed quick-service operations like oil changes, tire changes and car detailing.
Sax Motor Co. purchased Nordberg Chevrolet in Bowman, N.D., in 2002 and renamed it Sax Motor Co. Southwest. In 2011, Sax Motor Co. acquired Dean Bender Chevrolet in Killdeer and renamed it Sax Motor Co. Killdeer. Sax consolidated the Killdeer and Bowman operations into Dickinson in the spring of 2012 and 2013, respectively.
In 2013, Sax Motor Co. opened a new facility in North Dickinson at 52 21st St. E. on more than eight acres. Later that year, Pam’s son, Christian Kostelecky, took over the store as the family’s fourth-generation dealer-operator.
In fall 2014, Sax moved some of its operations back to the newly renovated downtown Dickinson location and continues to have a presence there.
Gilbert, Pam and Christian were all nominated for NADA’s prestigious TIME Dealer of Year award by the North Dakota Auto Dealer Association. Sax is the first dealership in North Dakota to have three generations of dealers nominated for the award.
Reflecting on 100 Years of Business
Pam and Christian both say that lasting 100 years is not possible without the support of dedicated employees. Many at the dealership have been with Sax for decades, and they count the family atmosphere as one of the company’s greatest strengths.
And long-term, dedicated customers are another foundation of Sax’s 100 years of operation. Every year, Sax invites customers to showcase their classic Chevrolets, Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles on the dealership lot in Dickinson and even includes photos of the cars in calendars Sax gives out to the community.
“This year, we put the 1923 [Chevrolet Superior Series F] car we bought in the calendar,” Christian says. “About a week later, we were trying to figure out the cover of the calendar and we had a 2023 Corvette come in. I said, ‘Hey, that’d be kinda cool to put the 1923 and the 2023 on there,’ and so that is the cover of our calendar this year. Just to see the difference in vehicles in 100 years, and knowing that we’ve been around for that time period, that was an ‘aha moment.’”
Both Pam and Christian call customer satisfaction the most rewarding part of the business.
“My favorite is seeing a customer leave the dealership with a smile on their face,” Christian says. “It could be for work or for play, but when we sell a vehicle, we’re not just selling machinery. We’ve helped them realize a dream or helped them with their daily activities.”
Pam says that satisfying customers by providing exceptional service is the company’s formula for succeeding in a very competitive environment.
“We’ve got many families that have continued to visit Sax Motor Co. over multiple generations,” Pam says. “Seeing them come back through the years is very rewarding to me, signaling that we must be doing things well.”
Learn more about Sax Motor Co. dealership history.
Watch videos and commercials about Sax’s 100 years in business.
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