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Kalamazoo Checker Plant History - Part 2

Copyright 2015 - Checker Car Club of America

The First 20 Months (1923-1924)

The move to “Kazoo” by Checker was based on three key considerations: 1. A need for more manufacturing space; 2. A better labor market; and 3. Better transportation facilities.

Morris Markin wasted no time setting up his management team and moving operations from Chicago and Joliet, Illinois to Kalamazoo, Michigan. After purchasing the Handley and Dort plants in May of 1923, train loads of materials and equipment were already on their way to both ‘new’ plants by early June.

Top management after the move to Kalamazoo consisted of Morris Markin (President), J.S. Campbell (Treasurer), Leo Goodspeed (Head of Production and Engineering), W.L. Kronenberger and R. Gladfelter.

Of the two plants, Plant #1 (Handley) was scheduled to begin operations first. In fact, June 15th was set as the deadline for the very first chassis to come off the assembly line. The next goal was to produce 15 of them per day (i.e. 180 per month) by July 1st and 30 by late 1923. At full capacity, management estimated that they would need 500-600 workers to get the job done.

[Note: The monthly average output at Commonwealth at the Illinois plant in 1922 was roughly 110 cabs. In 1923, roughly 2,200 cabs were produced.]

Plant #1 was set to house the production, engineering, sales, service and advertising staff under the direction of W.L. Kronenberger. He was also Secretary of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company.

Plant #2 (Dort), which was already optimized as a car body assembly plant continued in that role. In addition, it was to house the executive and financial offices of the company. Robert Gladfelter, who formerly ran the Dort plant, took on the same role at Checker. Since contracts for cab bodies were already outsourced to manufacturers in Springfield, Massachusets and Indianapolis, Indiana (Millspaugh & Irish), it did not make sense to start manufacturing at Plant #2 until those units were delivered and consumed at Plant #1.

In James Hinckley’s 2003 book “Checker Cab Co.: Photo History” it is stated that the cab bodies were delivered to the second floor of Plant #1 where they were painted and trimmed before being lowered (through the floor) onto the waiting chassies below. At the time, it took nearly two weeks for the bodies to receive 12 to 15 coats of paint.

Please see Part 1 of this article for photos of Plants #1 and #2.

At the time of the move, Checker was still producing Model H cabs which were essentially the renamed Commonwealth Mogul taxis.

Minor modifications were made in 1923 resulting in the H2 cab. These were produced starting in September of that year. All of the Commonwealth and Checker cabs up to this point were powered by 4 cylinder Buda engines built in Harvey, Illinois.

A Buda engine ad from 1922

According to an article about Checker in the October 1923 issue of the National Taxicab and Motorbus Journal, the engines are “run in and given a dynamometric test [at Buda], after which they are torn down, thoroughly inspected, and given another run before they are ready for shipment. At the Checker plant… the same process is repeated before the engines are passed for assembly in a chassis.”

Note: The use of 4-cylinder engines continued all the way to 1928 for the models E, F and G when a 6 cylinder Buda engine was also introduced. Four cylinder engines were completely dropped by the end of 1928.

The article goes on to state that Plant #1 does not use any moving conveyors as would be found in most “modern” assembly plants. However, the assembly is handled on a single line within the 880 foot long building. The steps for completion include from the start of the line where “the naked frame rests on supports, ready to have the sub-chassis assembly, such as springs, and axles, bolted to it. Next an engine is dropped into position, connected to the propeller shaft and bolted in place; a set of wheels is bolted on. Moving forward a steering post is set in place, then the radiator, fenders, running board, and engine hood make their appearance. A few steps onward the body is put on and bolted and the electrical wiring connected. The complete car when ready for the road is given an final inspection that is controlled by the sales department which insures the buyer getting a cab of the type his business demands.”

Although this photo was taken decades later,

note the really long assembly building on the left

where the earliest Kazoo Checkers were built.

Before delivery, each cab is given a 25 mile road test followed by a re-inspection and necessary adjustments. The car is washed and polished before being put in a freight car.

At Plant #2, where the bodies are made, Checker prefers to use Ash since it is both lighter and stronger than Oak. Each body is assembled by two men, one on each side, who based on lots of experience normally finish the job within seconds of each other. The wood skeleton is then covered with sheet-metal followed by the installation of doors. At that point, the bodies are ready for the paint shop. Finally, the body is fitted with upholstery and hardware such as lamps and door handles.

The new Checker plants fared well in the first few years since demand from many cities and towns was high.

A photo of roughly 20 Checkers delivered in 1923 to Green Cab of Cleveland

According to an article by Rod Walton in the May issue 1984 issue of Checkerboard, “In 1924, Checker production was upped to 4,000 units for the year. The new Series “E” was introduced with a more powerful 4-cylinder Buda engine. There were two models. The landau sold for $2,440 and the limousine for $2,340. As the spring of 1925 came, production was at an unprecedented high of 75 units per week. The new Series “F” was unveiled, which sported a slanting windshield, distinctive only for this series. 1926 was spent strengthening Checker’s marketing position and sales organization so the cars remained much the same.”

In the two-page advertisement below, Morris Markin announces his goal to make Checker a major force in the US taxi market. Note the use of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Corporation name on top of the checkered band as well as the early July 15th, 1922 date of the letter.


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