Lloyd Ollie (Olie) Croft

Lloyd Ollie Croft

Lloyd Ollie (Olie) Croft was born February 9, 1913 in the prairie town of Fairfield, Nebraska. He was the first child of Oscar Cameron and Ethel Mohler Croft who were part of a large wheat farming family in Clay County Nebraska. In fact, Oscar was the eldest child of William and Alice Croft who had a family of thirteen children, all living in the area at the time their son Lloyd was born. Family lore says the family formed a kind of commune, all assisting in various capacities on the farm.

Note: Lloyd’s middle name was spelled “Olie” on his birth certificate, but family members always spelled it “Ollie.” I found no other documents with his middle name spelled out.

William and sons on Nebraska farm, 1914
William and sons on Nebraska farm, 1914

On the 1920 United States Federal Census Oscar, Ethel and Lloyd are living in Hastings, Adams County, Nebraska. It is interesting to note that Oscar is no longer farming, but is recorded as an automobile salesman. Later in that same year on November 15, the Crofts had another son, Keith Lyle.

Lloyd and Keith Croft
Lloyd and Keith Croft

During the latter part of the 1920’s into the mid 1930’s, William and Alice’s large family began to disperse with each family group moving in a different direction. Some traveled northwest, others east, some to the southwest, and a few to Kansas. It is surmised that the reason for the dispersion was the combination of the terrible drought and the historical United States depression. We know that Nebraska was one of the states that felt the brunt of the Dust Bowl that occurred in the early 1930’s, so it is entirely possible the Crofts were feeling the early effects of it in their area. If that was the case, we can understand their need to seek “greener pastures.”

On the Adam County (Nebraska) Historical County website there is an article entitled the “Dust Bowl Years” by Dorothy Creigh and it gives us some insight into the prevailing catastrophic conditions. Here is an excerpt:

 It was darkness at noon-impenetrable clouds of red, or yellow, or brown gritty dust swirling across the countryside, carrying with it topsoil, seed, and the hope of the Great Plains farmers. It was inescapable heat in mid-summer; it was parching drought, furnace-like winds. It was the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. Whereas the Great Depression of the early 1930’s affected almost all Americans in one way or another, the Dust Bowl years that followed were the affliction of the Great Plains, a phenomenon peculiar to that geographic area. That the people were able to survive the twin calamities of the Depression, then the Dust Bowl, is a measure of their vigor, tenacity, and strength.

OSCAR CROFT FAMILY MOVES TO TEXAS

Like other family members, O.C. and Ethel decided “to pull up stakes” in Nebraska and move to San Antonio, Texas in 1929. Lloyd was 16 years old. We do not know what drew his parents to this part of the country, but it was probably the promise of better employment opportunities and living conditions. Oscar, Ethel, Lloyd, and Keith are recorded on the 1930 United States Federal Census and resided at 1625 Broadway. This residence must have been a rooming house because five other individuals are recorded at this same address. Ownership of the house is not indicated. The census also gives the information that Oscar’s occupation is District Representative in the automobile industry.

Upon arrival to San Antonio, Lloyd enrolled in Thomas Jefferson High School. His high school transcript shows that he had average scores in math and mechanical drawing and below average in English and physical education. His best subject was music and he participated in both the Glee Club and Orchestra. Knowing that later in his life he found great success as a businessman building and renting of utility trailers, this seems a bit ironic. However, we do know that as an adult he enjoyed music and had a beautiful singing voice. He also loved ballroom dancing and acting in a local theatre group, so his talents did not go to waste! Lloyd was in the first graduating class at Thomas Jefferson High School, June 1, 1932.

While in high school Lloyd met a very lovely girl named Gertrude Koenning. They began dating, and as the saying goes, “the rest is history.” During the next few years, the relationship grew more serious. A year after Gertrude (Gertie) graduated from Jefferson High School, they married. The ceremony took place on February 9, 1934, at the Austin Street Methodist Church in Seguin, Texas, with the Reverend L.J. Rode officiating.

Lloyd and Gertrude "Gertie" Croft
Lloyd and Gertrude “Gertie” Croft

Later in life both Lloyd and Gertie shared stories about their early married life, and according to them, those were difficult economic times for them. Gertie’s brother, Mel Koenning, was a photographer with the San Antonio Light (newspaper) and helped Lloyd get a paper route. For several years he delivered newspapers to residential customers and Gertie worked as a clerk at Woolworth’s.

One year after they married Lloyd and Gertie had their first child, Lloyd Koenning Croft, born February 12, 1935. They used the nickname, “L.K.” One time Lloyd told L.K. that his birth was their first wedding anniversary gift.

CROFT TRAILER COMPANY IS FOUNDED

In 1937 Lloyd embarked on a new venture, and though he did not know it at the time, his life and fortune were about to change. With his parents, O.C. and Ethel Croft, they founded the Croft Trailer Company at 1423 North Flores Street in San Antonio. His daughter, Cynthia Croft Wood, tells how the story unfolded in this personal account.

 Croft Trailer got its start because of Dad. He was delivering papers at the time, and someone on his route knew that he was a good auto mechanic and asked if he would make a trailer for him. Dad went to a junk yard, got a car axle for almost nothing, and figured out how to put sides on and a make-shift hitch. Instead of selling the trailer to the man, Dad rented it. It seems the guy was moving, as so many did during the depression, and after he moved, he brought the trailer back. Someone else wanted to rent it immediately. Pop (O.C. Croft) funded the purchase of more axles and lumber. The Crofts had scattered to the four winds–Kansas City, West Coast, New York–and Dad got them to accept a trailer coming to their area and then returning it with a rental.

Croft Nationwide Trailer Company, 1958

Initially the company manufactured trailers and hitches. During World War II, it was considered an essential business supporting agriculture, particularly the cotton and cattle industries. Later they developed a trailer rental business and became a part of the Nationwide Trailer rental chain. Lloyd served as president of the Nationwide for several years. His uncle and aunt, George and Lena Croft, lived in Kansas City, Missouri and founded a branch Croft Trailer Company there, too. The company was quite successful and the San Antonio branch continued in business for over 70 years. In its 70th year L.K. Croft submitted an article to the San Antonio Express News and it was published on July 10, 2007.

Happy 70th anniversary to Croft Truck Equipment and Accessories

The company began in 1937 when Lloyd O. Croft and his parents, O.C. and Ethel Croft, founded the Croft Trailer Company at 1423 N. Flores Street.

It originally focused on making trailers and hitches. Later as the trailer rental portion of the business grew, it became part of the Nationwide Trailer rental chain.

The part of the business specializing in custom truck accessories also grew.

In 1972, a cousin, Mary Ann Balzer, and her husband, Harvey Balzer, purchased the company. The rental portion of the business stopped a decade later as the company moved into selling trailer hitches and truck accessories In 1991 the Balzer children, Mike and Sandra, became president and vice president of the company.

Now at 1503 N. Brazos, the company has 135 employees, with a distribution center in Houston.

 Note: At this time, the Croft Truck and Equipment Accessories is no longer in business.

LLOYD CROFT’S FAMILY LIFE

Just as the San Antonio business developed and expanded, Lloyd and Gertie’s family life also blossomed and changed. To their delight Lloyd and Gertie’s became parents again when their daughter Cynthia Elaine was born on October 17, 1940.

Lloyd and Gertrude with son, L.K., and baby daughter, Cynthia
Lloyd and Gertrude with son, L.K., and baby daughter, Cynthia

During the next years much of Lloyd’s time and energies were consumed by his business while Gertie tended to their home and the needs and interests of L.K. and Cynthia. Normally as children grow and mature, there is an increased involvement in school, church, and community activities, and that was certainly true for the Crofts. Both Lloyd and Gertie did their part in assuring that L.K. and Cynthia lived a full life in a healthy and wholesome home environment.

Lloyd was so proud of his children, L.K. and Cynthia. Even though he worked long hours seven days a week, he would always make time for them. When they were teenagers he enjoyed meeting their friends and attending various school or community activities in which they were involved. L.K. shared that as he matured he looked a great deal like his dad. Lloyd teased and said he welcomed the opportunity to introduce L.K. as his younger brother!

In her autobiography Lucy Ann Nance Croft wrote about her father-in-law, Lloyd Ollie Croft.

Father impacted my life in many ways. But it was his sense of humor that I loved the most. Perhaps his showmanship revealed itself in his humor, or maybe it was his way of showing affection. He loved to tell jokes, some silly, some a little off-color. He could be quite a tease, too. Telling family stories was one of his talents, and some were hilarious and quite embellished, I’m sure. We wish now that we had recorded some of those old family tales.

His children and grandchildren were his pride and joy. He loved to brag about their accomplishments. He always introduced L.K. as “my son, Dr. L.K. Croft.” When we visited their home, we knew that at some point he would take our children to visit his friends so that he could show off his grandchildren. This also became a forum for his storytelling. He had great pride in his family, and I adored this about him.

A responsibility that Father took quite seriously was caring for his mother. Even though she was a very independent woman and lived alone until her death at the age of ninety-seven, he called or saw her almost every day. He was so thoughtful where she was concerned and made sure her home was secure and her car in good repair. He did not hover, primarily because she would not put up with it, but he was there for her when she needed him. His devotion to his mother impressed me greatly.

I have such fond memories of Father and the part he played in all of our lives. His great smile, teasing manner, eagerness to help, and practical, down-to-earth way of dealing with things all made a lasting impression on me. He could be a lovable clown or a rock of strength, depending on the situation. (Croft, 100-101)

 Lloyd and Trudy Croft
Lloyd and Trudy Croft

Life for Lloyd was extremely good, but as with most people, it was not without troubles and grief. Following his retirement from his business in 1972, his health began to fail and he tried unsuccessfully to deal with his alcoholism. In addition, Gertie had a recurrence of mental illness that had plagued her in the 1950’s. Undoubtedly, the greatest sadness he had ever experienced occurred on January 5, 1977 when his beloved Gertie took her life.

Following Gertie’s death Lloyd grieved, but with the help of family and friends he adjusted to his life situation fairly well. His friends stayed in close touch and included him in regular social gatherings. It was at one of these occasions that he renewed a friendship with a former acquaintance, Helen Cochral. Following a brief courtship they married April 17, 1978 in Richardson, Texas in the presence of his children and grandchildren.

Lloyd and Helen Croft, Christmas 1977
Lloyd and Helen Croft, Christmas 1977

Helen brought a great deal of joy and comfort into Lloyd’s final years. She was totally embraced by his mother, children and grandchildren and they grew to love her dearly. She had no children, but Lloyd’s family became 100% hers. Her large family of siblings, nephews, and nieces adored him, too. Even though he had many good days, Lloyd’s health issues continued to worsen over the next years. Helen lovingly cared for him to the last days of his life. He died of congestive heart failure on January 5, 1987 in San Antonio, Texas. He was buried in the mausoleum at Mission Burial Park North next to his dear wife, Gertie.

Sources

Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census, [database online] Provo UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database online] Provo UT, USA:

Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

Ancestry.com. Texas Marriage Collection, 1814-1909 and 1966-2002 [database online]

Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.

Creigh, Dorothy, “Dust Bowl Years,” Adam County (Nebraska) Historical Society.

Croft, Lucy Ann Nance, Looking Back: Reflections On My Life, 2007.

Guadalupe County, marriage record, Guadalupe County Clerk’s Office, Sequin, Texas.

Lloyd Ollie Croft birth certificate no. 2940, State of Nebraska, Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of Census, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Lloyd O. Croft obituary, Express News, San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 6, 1987.

Lloyd O. Croft student transcript, Jefferson High School, San Antonio Independent School District.

Lloyd O. Croft, death certificate no. 00190, Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin, Texas.

Tijerina, Edmund, “Around Town,” San Antonio Express News, San Antonio, Texas, July 10, 2007.

Wood, Cynthia Croft, “Personal Recollections of Croft Family, clebleuwood@gmail.com

Written by Lucy Ann Nance Croft, 2011

Lloyd Ollie Croft Pedigree Chart (click link) scan0002

Lloyd Ollie Croft Family Group Sheet (click link) lloyd-o-croft-fgs-document