Filling a need
|Arlyn G. Seiber|
|When he was 14 years old, Chet Krause’s older brother Neil made him tear down a Ford Model T engine and put it back together again. Neil Krause, who was Chet’s senior by 12 years, closely supervised his little brother’s work, including the grinding of the valves and fitting of the rings.
Today, Chet Krause, now 83 years old, looks back on that exercise as a key moment in the development of his lifelong mechanical and automotive interests. Those interests defined his service in the Army in World War II, led to the assembly of an impressive automotive collection, and helped grow a business that he founded on his dining-room table.
The business growth led to the launch of Old Cars in 1971.
Krause, the youngest of Cora and Carl Krause’s six children, was born and raised on a farm in Waupaca County in east-central Wisconsin, about six miles east of the village of Iola. Carl Krause also worked as a mason and, between the farm and his construction work, made enough to provide for his family during the tough economic times of the 1930s.“I started first grade in 1929, the same year the Great Depression hit the country. So you can see what I caused,” Chet Krause joked. “If I had known that was going to happen, I never would have gone to school.”
While Krause was growing up, days were taken up with lessons in a one-room country schoolhouse. Evenings and weekends were taken up with farm work — getting the cows for milking, plowing and planting fields with horse-drawn or hand-held tools in the spring and harvesting cash crops such as potatoes and cucumbers by hand in the late summer and fall.
“I didn’t like any of the farm work,” Krause said, “but it did teach me that a little hard work never hurt anyone.”
Like many farms of the era, the work was helped by a fleet of Model T cars and trucks in various states of running order. Carl Krause was a bit of a wheeler and dealer, and was always on the lookout for bargains at auctions.
“I remember one time Dad came home from an auction with a Model T he bought for $3.25,” Chet Krause said. “Another time he sold our best one for $25 to a family that was receiving township aid.”
The Model T cars and trucks provided family transportation and hauled cash crops from the farm fields to markets in the village. Keeping them in running order also satisfied the mechanical inclinations and aptitude of Carl Krause and sons Neil, Ben and Chet.
The Krause mechanical aptitude served the country well in World War II. All three Krause boys had mechanical-related jobs in the Army, providing maintenance on vehicles, aircraft and heavy ordnance.
For Chet Krause, basic training was supposed to last 10 weeks at Camp Wallace, Tex., but after only seven weeks, he was sent to Camp Davis, N.C., to attend mechanics school.
“Mechanics class lasted four or five weeks, and it was pleasant compared to basic training,” Krause said. “A lot of what I was taught I had already learned from Neil at an early age, so I breezed through it. At the same time, though, I was introduced to the various types of Army vehicles I would be working on.”
Krause was assigned to the headquarters battery of an anti-aircraft battalion that helped provide defenses for Luxembourg City during the Battle of Bulge. As part of the motor pool, he helped keep the battalion’s jeeps and heavier trucks running during the area’s harsh winter of 1944-1945.
The city was important, because it was the headquarters at the time for Gen. George S. Patton. Krause was driving a truck through the streets one day when he had a close encounter with the famous general’s beloved mutt, Willie.
“The ‘Old Man’ was walking Willie, and the dog ran into the road between me and the general,” Krause said. “If I had hit Willie, I suppose I would still be in Leavenworth.”
Upon discharge from the service, Krause returned to Iola and started working as a carpenter. In the 1950s, he built more than 20 houses in the area.
He also pursued another hobby interest that had its roots in his childhood — coin collecting. At a young age, Krause was given a Whitman penny board by an aunt. He went about filling the holes for each date and mint mark in the board by periodically pestering his father to go through his pocket change.
In due course, he found a match for almost all the holes in the board, including a 1931-S, one of the key dates in the series.
In the 1950s, Krause was a young adult with some disposable income in his pocket for the first time in his life. Coin collecting was in a boom period, and Krause pursued it with a passion.
“In the early 1950s, one could still find quite a few Liberty Head nickels and occasionally Indian cents in circulation,” he said. “People looked through pocket change, rolls and even bags of coins to complete their sets.”
In 1952, Krause’s coin-collecting passion led him to start a modest little newsprint publication that he dubbed Numismatic News. Krause’s concept was to create a medium in which coin collectors could purchase low-cost classified ads to buy, sell and trade with other collectors from all parts of the country.
The concept took off, and by April, 1955, Numismatic News had grown to 40 pages and boasted 4,100 paid subscribers. Much of the work for those first issues was done out of the Krause home in Iola, where the family had moved after selling the farm in 1950.
In 1957, Krause quit carpentry work and became a publisher full-time. His business venture continued to ride the coin-collecting boom into the 1960s. In the first half of 1960 alone, Numismatic News circulation increased by 10,000, to more than 29,000. In the early ’60s, Krause added other coin-collecting publications to his business and started calling his operations “Krause Publications.”
But it all came to a screeching halt in 1965. The coin-collecting boom turned to bust, and Krause Publications’ fortunes sank with it. Circulation and ad revenue, which had increased steadily and sometimes spectacularly since 1952, suddenly dropped.
Krause and his senior staff members determined that if Krause Publications could survive the coin-market bust, some changes would have to be made. The company would have to diversify and not rely on just one field to sustain it.
By 1971, better times in the coin market and the introduction of some new coin publications helped Krause Publications right its ship again. And it was time for Chet Krause and his staff to make good on their vow to diversify.
They looked at a number of hobby areas and determined the markets were pretty well sewn up by other publishers. But they thought collectible cars offered an opening.
“At the time, I wasn’t as active in the car hobby as I had been in the coin hobby,” Krause said. “But I had purchased a couple of collectible vehicles by then – a 1923 Model T roadster and a 1924 Model T truck. And, of course, I grew up with cars of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, which were collectible by that time.”
To facilitate production, the same format used by Numismatic News was chosen for Old Cars. That meant the same business, circulation and production systems could be used for both publications. Unlike many other automotive publications at the time, those systems could actually classify classified ads and list upcoming car shows by state.
In spring 1971, automotive hobbyist David Brownell was recruited from a Rhode Island advertising agency to work on development of Krause Publications’ first non-numismatic publication. The following fall, 93,000 copies of an eight-page pilot issue of Old Cars rolled off the presses.
About 25,000 of those copies were shipped to the fall Hershey show and stuffed in shopping bags. Krause stood at a busy crossroads for spectator traffic at the show and put a shopping bag with an Old Cars pilot issue in it in the hands of everybody who didn’t refuse.
“I think people were mostly interested in the shopping bag,” Krause said, “but it worked. We got Old Cars into the hands of automotive enthusiasts.”
Monthly publication started in October 1971, and ad and subscription sales took off. A year later, Krause and his staff returned to Hershey with a 104-page first-anniversary issue.
“Until we launched Old Cars, our publications had been strictly related to coins,” Krause said. “But we knew what it took to launch a successful publication — a large base of subscribers. We knew the rudiments of getting such a base.”
In the decades that followed, Krause Publications diversified into many more fields on its way to becoming the world’s largest hobby publisher. And Chet Krause’s automotive collection grew with the company.
By 2002, the collection totaled more than 60 cars and more than 40 trucks. They included a wide range of years and marques, from a 1903 Ford Model A to a 1978 Lincoln Continental Mark V. In between were a number of classic touring cars, including a 1914 Jeffery Model 96 five-passenger, a 1915 Hudson Model 40 seven-passenger phaeton, a 1920 Buick Model K-49 five-passenger, and a 1921 Kissel four-door.
“When I launched Old Cars, I made one bad mistake,” Krause said. “I thought prewar cars were what the masses collected. I even used radiator-script type in the logo.
“It was several years before we began to slant the news toward late ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.”
The civilian trucks in Krause’s collection included a 1914 Sternberg two-ton, a 1918 Kissel, an original 1918 Oneida and a 1922 Linn half-track logging truck.
Reflecting Krause’s rural upbringing, the collection also included 15 vintage tractors and almost 50 small, portable gasoline engines made in Wisconsin and used on farms in the first half of the 20th century. Among the notable pieces was a rare 1907 International-Harvestor 20-hp, friction-drive tractor, one of the longtime manufacturer’s first forays into the tractor market.
And then there was the military collection, totaling more than 50 pieces of World War II vintage. They reflected the type of equipment used by the anti-aircraft battalion in which Krause served. There were 2-1/2-ton trucks, jeeps, a scout car and two 60-inch searchlights and the portable power plants to run them.
Krause has liquidated many of his collections — both automotive and numismatic — in recent years.
“I just turned 83,” he said. “With the sheer volume of collector material I owned, it made a lot of sense for me to liquidate it rather than having someone else less knowledgeable in all the hobbies forced to do it.”
The cars, civilian trucks, tractors and gasoline engines were sold June 5, 2004, in a 176-lot sale conducted by Aumann Auctions of Nokomis, Ill. Prices realized totaled just over $2 million.
Krause, however, retained a number of vehicles: the 1903 Ford Model A, 1912 Sears Runabout, 1914 Case touring car, 1929 Packard touring car, 1939 Ford Marmon-Herrington half-ton pickup truck, 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air four-door hardtop, 1967 Lincoln Continental four-door convertible, and a 1970 Chevrolet utility truck.
“The ’03 Ford was the first car in Waupaca County,” Krause said. “The ’57 Chevy was my aunt’s car, and I acquired it when she quit driving. The ’67 Lincoln is just the neatest parade car you can get.”
The anti-aircraft equipment collection now resides in a military museum in Holland. To Krause’s satisfaction, the transaction allowed the collection to remain together and in the hands of military historians.
Krause, however, still has an active and impressive military vehicle collection, but now the focus is on jeeps — 25 of them. They include a 1941 Bantam BRC prototype, a 1941 Ford four-wheel-steer, a 1942 amphibious Ford GPA and eight other Ford and Willys jeeps from 1941 to 1955. Just for good measure, the collection also includes a 1942 Willys MB Bantam trailer.
“I was really sad to see all my military vehicles go,” Krause said. “So I thought I would assemble a collection of one of each type of jeep ever made.
“I was quite familiar with World War II jeeps from having served as an auto mechanic in the Army at that time. I once saw a picture of 11 different jeeps and thought that’s all that were made. Little did I realize I hadn’t been in touch with models made for the Korean and Vietnam wars.”
Just like filling in the holes in his Whitman penny board as a youth, Krause set out to fill in the gaps in his jeep collection. Today, the collection extends into 1960s and ’70s models. Among them is a 1974 AMC General four-wheel-steer mule.
In the late 1980s, Krause started to phase himself out of active management of Krause Publications. He was retired completely by 2002.
From their roots on a Depression-era farm in the nation’s heartland, Krause’s automotive and collecting interests served him well during a distinguished business career. Other hobbyists have been served by them, too, through the launch of Old Cars and its related products.
The car hobby has honored Krause’s contribution by presenting him with numerous awards. Among them was the inaugural Meguiar’s Award in 1995.
Could Krause still tear down a Model T engine and put it back together again?
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had a wrench in my hand,” he said, “but a Model T engine is very simple, and I’m sure I could still find my way around such an effort.”
|Arlyn G. Seiber|