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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.

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