Wells, Cecil M.

1902-1954 | Automobile Dealer and Distributor

Cecil Moore Wells was born in Litchfield, Bradford County, Pennsylvania on October 27, 1902, the son of Winfield Aaron Wells and Frances Capwell Wells. He was educated in the public schools in Spencer, Tioga County, New York, and graduated as valedictorian of his high school class.

Wells completed his technical training at the Buffalo Automobile School, Buffalo, New York, in 1920. He then joined his father, Winfield Wells, in the operation of a garage in Spencer. He married Elmira Batty on December 25, 1920, in Genoa, New York. She gave birth to the first two of their three children while in Spencer. Their daughter, Phyllis Evelyn, was born on December 27, 1921. Their son, Clayton Edwin, joined the family on November 30, 1923. Later, in Anchorage, their third child, Joyce Elmina, was born on November 19, 1924.

During the summer of 1924, Wells decided to relocate to Alaska, which was receiving national publicity due to the completion of the Alaska Railroad. He packed up his family and drove across the country to Seattle, Washington, and then traveled by steamship to Seward, and by train to Anchorage. After their arrival in Anchorage, he was hired by the Alaska Railroad, working in the foundry. The following summer, he joined a gold stampede to Valdez Creek, which for him was unsuccessful. He then returned to Spencer to assist his father in business.[1]

In 1929, Wells returned to Anchorage in the employ of the Anchorage Motor Service, and formed a partnership with Bob Loudermilch, the local undertaker. Loudermilch had opened a machine shop and a winter storage garage for automobiles, which enabled Wells to keep his own equipment running and to provide service for his customers' equipment. Their partnership lasted for less than six months, when in October 1930, he established the Wells Garage on 5th Avenue, between E and F Streets.

In 1932-1933, Wells secured the Oldsmobile dealership license for Anchorage from General Motors and returned with automobiles for his showroom. Prior to this time, the prevalent method of selling an automobile in Alaska was for the buyer to make a selection from a catalog, a risky and often disappointing, procedure.   In the first year of his experiment, he sold seven cars, which boded well for his dealership and repair business.   He shipped his cars to Anchorage with the Berger Transportation Company, as deck load on the M/V Discoverer, a thirty-ton gas schooner, fifty-three feet long, with a fourteen-foot beam and a one hundred horsepower engine. The owner, Heinrich “Heinie” or “Heine” Berger, operated a freight and passenger service between Seldovia, Homer, Tyonek, Kenai, and Anchorage.

Wells added the sale of General Motors trucks and, in 1935, he became the agent for Cadillac and LaSalle cars. In 1936, he was promoting the sale of Hudson and Terra Plane automobiles.

Wells then specialized in Pontiac and Chevrolet automobiles, and sold about one hundred cars annually. In 1937, he obtained the distributorship for the Alaska district for Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Cadillac automobiles. In 1939, he added General Motors diesel engines and trucks, and that same year the name of his business was changed to the Wells Motor Company.

Wells subsequently brought in the first mobile home to Anchorage and put it on display, and people were again surprised at being able to view what they wanted to buy. Around 1943, he also started the first bus line that went to the Willow Creek mines over the newly built Palmer Highway.

When the Alaska Highway was completed during World War II, Wells brought in the first automobiles hauled over the highway. Unfortunately, he failed to consider the low clearance for overhead bridge structures, and when his first vehicle arrived on the top load of a truck, the car, a Cadillac limousine, had its top torn off. This ended the highway method of bringing in vehicles. Despite this setback, he was able to provide his customers what they needed before they knew they needed it, and as a result he played a large role in the business development of Anchorage and of Alaska.[2]

Wells reached into the interior of Alaska by opening a branch in Fairbanks, operating as Wells Alaska Motors (412 1st Avenue). His dealership sold such vehicles as the Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Cadillac, and General Motors trucks and stocked and distributed automobile parts. He introduced such lines as valuable in mining as Allis-Chalmers tractors, General Motors diesel, Lima Drag Line, and other products.[3] 

In 1940, Wells sold out his Anchorage business and other holdings and moved to Fairbanks. In 1953 he was named president of the Alaska Chamber of Commerce. His business interests included a partnership in the Amy Creek Mining Company, a gold placer operation in the Tolovana-Livengood district, and a thirteen-story apartment house development with the Lloyd Martin Company in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Wells was involved in civic activities in Anchorage and Fairbanks. He was affiliated with the Anchorage Elks Lodge and Lions Club.  In Fairbanks, he was the road commissioner for the Alaska Road Commission’s Fourth Division. In 1953, at the time of his death, he was president of the All-Alaska Chamber of Commerce, a director of the Bank of Fairbanks, and a member of the Elks Lodge.[4]  His favorite recreational activities were fishing and hunting.

Wells was married five times. In 1920, he married Elmira Batty. He married Maud Rodabaugh in 1929, and then Nanele Artz Kees. In 1941, he married Ethel Hedges.[5]  On September 25, 1949, he married his fifth wife, Dissie Diana “Diane” Baker Walker Wells.[6]  In April 1928, Wells pled guilty to the crime of adultery.  U.S. District Court Judge Thomas M. Reed sentenced him to serve thirteen months at the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary at McNeil Island, Washington.[7]

In 1944, his former wife Nanele Wells sold the Wells Garage Company to investors Max Kirkpatrick, Denny Hewitt, and Jack Clawson. They changed the name to Alaska Sales and Service and the company continued to be one of the leading automobile dealers in the area.[8]

Cecil Moore Wells was killed on October 17, 1953, when he was found shot to death on the eighth floor of the Northward Building in Fairbanks. In 1954, the Wells murder case was described as “one of the most sensational in Alaska’s criminal history.”[9]

Wells is buried in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery. In addition to his widow, Diane Wells, he was survived by six children: Phyllis Evelyn Wells Rafferty of Hermiston, Oregon; Clayton Edwin of Lawndale, California; Joyce Elmina Wells Corey, of Inkom, Idaho; Cecil Warren George, of St. Paul, Minnesota; Wendell Reuben, of Fairbanks; and Marquam Lathrop, of Fairbanks.[10]


[1] Ed Ferrell, compiler and editor, Biographies of Alaska-Yukon Pioneers, 1850-1950, Volume 2 (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 1997; reprinted from the Encyclopedia of American Biography, 1948), 320-322.

[2] John P. Bagoy, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1935 (Anchorage: Publications Consultants, 2001), 262-264.

[3] “Canada Now Looking to the North,” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, December 29, 1939, 2, https://newspapers.com/image/4529191 (accessed October 9, 2016); and Ed Ferrell, compiler and editor, Biographies of Alaska-Yukon Pioneers, 1850-1950, Volume 2, 320-322.

[4] “Graveside Rites to be Held Here for Cecil Wells,” Anchorage Daily Times, October 21, 1953, 1.

[5] Tewkesbury’s Who’s Who in Alaska and Alaska Business Index (Juneau, AK: Tewkesbury Publishers, 1947), 86. https://newspapers.com/images/4521598 (accessed October 10, 2016).

[6] “Here is History of Diane Wells; Wed Three Times,” Fairbanks Daily-News Miner, March 9, 1954, 1, https://newspapers.com/images/4521598 (accessed October 10, 2016).

[7] Judgment and Sentence, United States of America v. Cecil M. Wells, April 14, 1928, Case No. 1946-B, U.S. District Court, First Division, District of Alaska, Juneau, AK, Criminal Case Files, 1900-1960, Record Series Number 1826B, Alaska State Archives, Juneau, AK [note:  this records series was formerly held by the National Archives at Anchorage but was transferred to the Alaska State Archives in 2014]; entry for Cecil M. Wells, no. 6894, National Archives Microfilm Publication M1619, McNeil Island Penitentiary Records of Prisoners Received, 1887-1951, Roll 2, McNeil Island Penitentiary Records, 1887-1951 [database on-line], http://ancestry.com (accessed October 26, 2016).

[8] John P. Bagoy, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1935, 262-264. See also, “Alaska Sales and Service,” in John Strohmeyer, Historic Anchorage: An Illustrated History (San Antonio, TX: Historical Publishing Network for the Anchorage Museum Association, 2001), 98-99.

[9] “Murder Suspect Takes 30 Sleeping Pills in Hollywood Hotel Room,” Anchorage Daily Times, March 9, 1954, 1.

[10] Ed Ferrell, compiler and editor, Biographies of Alaska-Yukon Pioneers, 1850-1950, Volume 2, 320-322; and Cecil Moore Wells, U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line], http://ancestry.com (accessed October 10 2016).


This biographical sketch of Cecil M. Wells is based on an essay which originally appeared in John P. Bagoy's Legends & Legacies, 1910-1935 (Anchorage:  Publications Consultants, 2001), 262-264.  See also the Cecil Wells file, Bagoy Family Pioneer Files (2004.11), Box 8, Atwood Resource Center, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Anchorage, AK.  Edited by Mina Jacobs, 2012.  Note:  edited, revised, and substantially expanded by Bruce Parham, October 11, 2016. 

Preferred citation: Bruce Parham, “Wells, Cecil M.,” Cook Inlet Historical Society, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, http://www.alaskahistory.org.

Major support for Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, provided by: Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Atwood Foundation, Cook Inlet Historical Society, and the Rasmuson Foundation. This educational resource is provided by the Cook Inlet Historical Society, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt association. Contact us at the Cook Inlet Historical Society, by mail at Cook Inlet Historical Society, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, 625 C Street, Anchorage, AK 99501 or through the Cook Inlet Historical Society website, www.cookinlethistory.org.