Vicksburg Old Car Fest returns June 10

By Skip Knowles

Once again, the streets of Vicksburg will become a trip down memory lane as the village welcomes thousands of visitors and more than 1,000 old cars.

It is always interesting to hear the stories people tell about memories they have of cars in their lives. Many times, they see a car like they took on their honeymoon, or the first car they remember as a kid and perhaps their first car. Cars are a part of the American dream and opened travel to the masses.

The Vicksburg Community Association has hosted the festival from the very first year. It came about when people such as Sue Moore, Mike Wunderlin, Dick Masse, Knowles, and others came together to help the Village which was struggling. The goal was to host an event that would bring people to discover us. Community activities and volunteerism were down, and the town needed a reason to give it a little spit and polish.

Historic vintage vehicles like the Model T, brass era cars, hot rods and special-interest cars will once again find their way to Vicksburg. Friday night will host the cruise in a low-key event to just bring car guys together to put their hoods up and talk cars and share stories. Hundreds of cars are expected to show up Friday as a warmup for the car festival on Saturday.

We are pleased to announce that Larry Garden, a frequent visitor to the car festival, will be bringing a special guest car. It is a 1929 Pierce Arrow, Club Brougham Sedan. It was shown at the Amelia Island Concourse this past March where it won Class Award in the American Classic category. Dutchboys Hot Rods will also have a display of some of their recent projects along with displays from our sponsors.

Our message to the community is that the Old Car Festival is meant to be a very special day of fun in the Village. From the very first year the message has always been to have a place where people interested in cars can gather and celebrate their hobby and share it with our community. The festival is about life in a small town and the beauty of that.

The outside activities will be much the same as in years past. We welcome back the antique campers to the Historic Village as well as the antique gas and engine show and many special displays at the Historic Village buildings. Downtown you can visit “Northern Lights,” a special display of Breweriana along with the return of the NABA Beer Advertising and Collectible swap meet in the big tent adjoining the entertainment tent.

The Mill at Vicksburg is once again sponsoring our live entertainment tent with the Vicksburg High School Jazz Band performing from 10 a.m. to noon and then the return of “Guitar Up” playing old hits from 1-3 p.m. Come visit the Clark Park Arts and Craft Show, the Library Book Sale and don’t forget the Pancake Breakfast at the Fire Station.

If you would like to help direct cars, please call Skip at 269-720-4144.

The birth of the Krum auto empire in Schoolcraft

3 Generations in front of wrecker: Charles (CW), Noel, and Ken.

By Steve Waldron, Schoolcraft Historical Society

With Vicksburg’s Old Car Festival coming this month, we thought it would be fun to look back at a local automotive business’ early days.

The Krum family “transportation’” enterprises began in 1888 in Schoolcraft as the “Krum’s Livery & Feed Stable”. This was founded by William B. Krum and his son, Allen, on the corner of Eliza and Grand Street (US 131). In 1890, another son, C.W., who was a shipping clerk for the Michigan Buggy Company of Kalamazoo, purchased the business from his father and brother. He subsequently expanded it to haul freight and mail from the local depot, as well as deliver ice and the Schoolcraft Express within the area.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the principal North-South highway, running from Indiana to Grand Rapids, ran through the village of Schoolcraft. So, it was only logical that as motor cars became more prevalent on this busy route, some enterprising person would take note of this burgeoning opportunity. The Krums recognized this and soon used their livery barn as a location for motorists whose “horseless carriages” needed service. As this business grew, they installed the first local gas pump in 1908. At that time, the gasoline, which only came in one grade and varied in octane, was delivered to the pump’s storage by a horse-drawn tanker wagon operated by the local Standard Oil agent… up until that point, that tanker’s only use had been to deliver kerosene locally for use in local farm lamps.

In 1911, C.W.’s eldest son, Doty, entered the business with his father and the firm was then known as C.W. Krum & Son. Upon Doty’s death in 1918, he was replaced in the family firm by his younger brother, Noel.

In 1917, the C.W. Krum & Son began selling Fords in Schoolcraft as an associate dealer of the Ford agency in Vicksburg. However, that same year, they changed their product line from Ford to Chevrolet and became an associate dealer for the Brophy Chevrolet dealer in Kalamazoo. In 1920, they became their own stand-alone Chevrolet “direct dealer” agency. By 1925, they also established the first full-service station in Schoolcraft.

Something that probably few people today know is that in 1930 the Krums also became a sales and service dealer for the Oliver Farm Equipment line of products for the local farming community as well. Also, the Krums had the foresight to address the developing need for dealing with the disposal of older, worn-out autos who have served their purpose or those which had been wrecked and were not repairable. So, in 1936 they established one of the first local salvage yards. And, let’s be honest, since the dawn of the motoring public, there have always been deer, trees, and other vehicles to collide with, so, the Krums also established a formal body shop that same year to repair vehicles which had suffered any of these fates.

Just like today, Chevys back then had to find their way from the factory to a dealership. Today, new vehicles are usually shipped by boat, train, or semitrailer to a dealership. Well, in the “olden days”, prior to WWII, Krum Chevrolet had to send people to go to the Chevy factory in Flint to pick up and drive their new car inventory to Schoolcraft themselves. In those days, when it was still a thrill for a young person to drive a new car. Young men would volunteer to drive the new cars from Flint to the Schoolcraft dealership. They would take the Grand Trunk railway to Flint one day, stay the night there, and then the next day they would pick up a designated car at the factory and drive it the 135 miles back to Schoolcraft. It would take a full day to make that drive back as the roads were generally in poor condition… no interstate highways back then! Also, those new cars needed to be driven at lower speeds for not just safety reasons, but in those days, you had to “break in” a new vehicle by driving it slower for the first 100 miles or so.

During the second World War, like all dealerships, they faced the same inventory challenges; the scarcity of new car inventory as Detroit began switching to production of war equipment in 1942 which lasted until 1945. Additionally, they faced the challenges of servicing existing vehicles and keeping them on the road throughout the war years as gas, tires, and auto parts were rationed throughout the war.

For the first 60 years, the original family enterprises were led by C.W. Krum and his sons, Doty Krum, who died in 1918, then Noel Krum. 1948 saw Noel purchasing another Chevrolet franchise in Decatur and relocating his family there to run this new venture.

Noel’s son (C.W.’s grandson), Ken, after returning from the War in 1945, finished his studies at Kalamazoo College. He then spent the next few years pursuing his personal passion of coaching football and basketball as well as teaching physical education, part time, while still working at his grandfather’s Schoolcraft dealership. In 1950, Ken decided to devote all his professional time to the family business as his responsibilities there grew. It was during this time that Ken’s grandfather, C.W., was spending more time and attention upon his duties as township supervisor and as a member of the Kalamazoo County Board of Supervisors. This was the beginning of a time which saw a shift of responsibilities at the family enterprise and the dawning of a new era as the “reins” were being passed from one generation to another.

We appreciate the Krum family taking the time to share this information as it sheds light not only on the development of their family business but also illustrates the concurrent development of our local business history. The Krum family has provided active participants in the local community throughout the past 100 years and remain so today through the efforts of successive generations.

We look forward to continuing this story with a review of the recent 50+ years of their business in a future issue.

Yesterday’s cars needed gas, too

Melvin Meyer at the pumps in front of G&S Pontiac Sales and Service on the southwest corner Kalamazoo Avenue and East Prairie, 1960. The building was razed 1993 for the Village Marketplace.

By Margaret Snyder, Vicksburg Historical Society

Vicksburg followed the same path as the nation in the development of gas and service stations. The first stop along the way was the invention of the internal combustion engine and the realization that it could be used to propel some sort of four-wheeled vehicle, freeing travelers forever more from the slow-paced, often balky, and always labor-intensive horse. The next stop, of course, was…for gas!

Vicksburg’s Carson Durkee built what is believed by some to have been the first automobile successfully operated in Kalamazoo County, starting work on it in 1899 and taking his first demonstration drive in 1903. Durkee’s car could travel seven miles an hour and required a gallon of gas every 25 miles. So where did he go to fill ‘er up? We don’t know. However, we do know that during the early 1900s the motor car was regarded as an expensive novelty, of interest only to doctors, lawyers, and others in “elite” society. The volume of sales of a dependable, affordable automobile was still decades away, and no one dreamed gasoline would ever become a sought-after commodity.

At the beginning of the 1900s, America’s major oil companies concentrated on the production of kerosene for the nation’s lamps and cook stoves. However, one barrel of crude oil yielded 40% gasoline, and only three percent kerosene. With little or no market for gasoline, oil companies were forced to consider gas a waste product in the production of highly profitable kerosene. Therefore, it’s interesting that the development of the internal combustion engine and its application to the automobile was just what the oil companies needed to pump up profits.

Wherever Mr. Durkee got his gasoline, he didn’t just pull up to a pump at a convenience store, put the nozzle in automatic mode, then go in for a cup of cappuccino and a bag of chips. The very first gas stations were simply bulk depots merchandizing the liquid to the infrequent automobilist in cans or other bulk containers. Gas was stored in steel drums perched atop timber supports or perhaps on a cement base. It was dispensed by gravity from a valve-controlled spout into a measuring can, and then poured by hand via a funnel, with a leather chamois cloth inside to trap foreign particles, into the car’s tank. Cars had no fuel gauges, so sight and sound determined when the tank was full. The Pennsylvania Oil Refining Company opened a wholesale branch in Vicksburg selling bulk gasoline and oil products around 1912, providing early car dealerships and gas stations with a convenient source of supply. This easy access to wholesale gasoline, coupled with the ever-increasing number of cars on the streets of town, set off an explosion, so to speak, of retail gas outlets.

The business of selling gas was uncomplicated by today’s standards. Any business could contract with a supplier, bury a tank, install a curbside pump, and dispense gasoline along with hardware or groceries. A 1925 Sanborn Fire Map shows a buried tank in front of 108 South Main, where curbside gas service was once available along with the other goods sold by retailer John Long. Blacksmiths often got in on the action too, making the switch from buggy and wagon repair to automobile service and repair. The 1925 Sanborn Fire Map also shows a buried tank on the east side of South Main Street by the United Methodist Church, near the location of Billy Godshalk’s blacksmith shop. But by the 1920s many towns found themselves over-pumped as every businessman was trying to get in on the action. Local governments soon began licensing gas pumps and encouraging their relocation away from the main flow of traffic.

As soon as the local grocer couldn’t sell it, those interested in the gasoline business set up separate locations on a suitable lot, complete with a small building to shelter a pump attendant. It wasn’t long before it occurred to somebody that since cars had to stop for fuel, why not take advantage of a captive audience to merchandise other auto-related items, such as tires and oils. And since the pump attendant was paid to hang around anyway, he might just as well learn how to fix the darn things and generate a little more money for the owner. One of the very first stand-alone gas stations was built by Walter Eldred on the southeast corner of West Prairie and Boulevard Street in 1912. In 1964, the structure was demolished to make room for an expansion of Krum-Hallam Chevrolet, now the location of Roxy’s and Rim and Rail.

When the Village of Vicksburg re-did East Prairie Street in 1992, a tank was uncovered in the roadbed in front of 123 East Prairie which can be traced back to the days of one of Vicksburg’s first car dealerships. Frank and Ray Tobey began selling Fords in 1913. In 1916 they built a brick showroom and garage on the north side of East Prairie, added the Oakland motor car to their product line-up, and installed a 550-gallon tank to provide curbside gasoline sales.

We still don’t know where Carson Durkee obtained gasoline in 1903 for the first trial run of his newly completed automobile. But we do know as soon as there were automobiles to burn up gas there were businessmen ready to supply it. Once again supply and demand determined the strength of an ever-growing market for gasoline for the ever-growing number of automobiles traveling Vicksburg’s streets during the early decades of the 1900s.