A Charles of all trades

By Rita Halter Thomas

Some people are just born traders. They have a particular knack for buying, selling and exchanging just about anything and everything: cars, guns, motorcycles or a good bird dog. Charles Freeman of Greenbrier, owner and founder of Freeman Motors, learned to trade at an early age from his grandfather. Charles then passed it on to his son, Blaine Freeman.

Mary Ann Freeman and her son, Blaine, at the family business in Greenbrier. Her husband, Charles (see inset photo), retired in 1992 after 15 years as postmaster of Greenbrier. In 1994, Charles established Freeman Motors Inc. He is now 89, so his son leads the business.

Charles was born in 1930, a time when things were harder to get. If he wanted something, he either built it or traded for it. “He wanted a bicycle, so he built one,” Blaine said. “And he loved trading.” Even today, at 94 years old, Charles asks about the car his son is driving and wants to know what he paid for it. “It’s just in his blood,” Blaine said.

“He has just always loved cars and trading. I’d come home to just about anything in the world you can think of. It wasn’t quite as bad as Mr. Haney on Green Acres, but we did call him that some,” Blaine said. “Aside from my mom, my sister and me, everything was for sale.”

Charles didn’t really buy too much, preferring to trade for what he wanted or needed. An avid quail hunter, if he wanted a good bird dog, he’d try to trade for one. Or when he wanted a motorcycle for himself and his son, he traded for it.

Whether intentional or not, Charles built a foundation for the family tradition to continue by teaching Blaine about cars at an early age. He taught him how to wash them properly and how to present them for sale or trade. Blaine said his dad always did his own mechanical work and never trusted anyone else.

Freeman Motors Inc. was established in 1994 after Charles retired from a 22-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, working in Greenbrier. He first served as a substitute mail carrier and worked his way to the postmaster, a position he held 15 years before retiring in 1992.

Prior to his postal career, Charles and his wife, Mary Ann, owned Freeman’s Grocery and Phillips 66 gas station combo. It was more than the gas, grab-and-go of today’s convenience stores. Back then, the groceries they carried included kitchen staples and filled a need for the small, growing community.

The couple’s home was a part of the store, and they lived in the back with their two children, Charlotte and Blaine. Like the car lot, the store was on Highway 65. “Back then, it was still a two-lane,” Mary Ann recalled. It was located one mile north of the last traffic light seen in present-day Greenbrier. She ran the store mostly by herself for a while. Charles, then a foreman at Ward School Bus Manufacturing in Conway, eventually traded in his job there to run the store and offer more services. “Light mechanic services, tires, oil changes and such,” Mary Ann said.

Like Charles, Mary Ann grew up in Faulkner County. She established an early career with the town’s first bank, First State Bank, from which she retired in the late 1980s. When Charles opened the car lot in 1994, she handled the bookkeeping and other paperwork, and still does to this day at the spry age of 89.

Somewhere between banking and opening the car lot, Mary Ann decided to do more for the town they both loved. “I wanted to give something back to the community, so I decided to run for city council,” she said. And give back she did. Mary Ann served 28 years from 1990 through 2018.

In 2016, Charles was involved in a bad car accident. Blaine, who has always been involved in the family business, took on more to help during his dad’s recovery. His sister, Charlotte, isn’t directly involved in the business since she lives in Wisconsin, but she visits often.

About two years ago, Blaine took a more direct leadership role in the company. He plans to continue the legacy his father built and is grateful for the repeat business and the word-of-mouth reputation that has served them well. While Freeman Motors doesn’t keep a large inventory (10 to 20 vehicles), it helps keep things simple and personal, just the way a good trade should be.