Words by Terrell Manasco | Image by Blakeney Crouse
Even at a distance, he was an impressive figure. Tall, raven-haired, dressed in stark white shirt and tie, eyes masked behind dark sunglasses, face weathered by time and the sun, he could often be seen early in the morning or during the day, walking among the rows of shiny machines, the Alabama sun glinting off their metal and glass surfaces.
Say the name “Ernest Crump” and words come to mind like “legend” and “icon”. Over a half century’s worth of grains of sand has passed through the hourglass, and car dealerships have come and gone in Jasper, yet over sixty years after the first automobile drove off its lot, Ernest Crump Motors is still in business.
Ernest Lacy Crump was born February 25, 1926, in Townley, Alabama, one of twelve children of a farmer and timber cruiser.
Drafted into the service during World War II, Mr. Crump was home on furlough when he bought a 1936 Ford for $200. Before returning to his unit, he sold the Ford and made a $120 profit, considerably more than his paltry government wage of $19 per month. He knew then that he wanted to go into the car business.
In March 1948 the Ernest Crump Motor Company first opened its doors, and immediately factory fresh automobiles began driving off the lot with new owners behind the wheel, with chests thrust out like proud peacocks, grinning from ear to ear.
His son Mark, who has worked for him since the 1970s, says his father always emphasized honesty and integrity. “His word was always his bond,” Mark says earnestly, leaning back in his office inside the dealership. “He stood behind his vehicles. He always said to treat a man right and be honest with him, and when he gets ready for another vehicle, he’ll remember you.”
His mustache widens a bit as Mark illustrates his point by relating a recent event. “We’ve been blessed with some wonderful repeat customers. Some are 3rd and 4th generation families who’ve been trading here a long time. A few days ago one guy drove in from Huntsville. He got here about 4 that afternoon. At 5:05 he drove off the lot in a new vehicle.”
Why would someone drive that distance to buy a car?
“We’re in the relationship business,” Mark answers. “Dad loved meeting people. He was a people person.” A sly grin creeps across Mark’s face and he adds, “It used to drive me crazy. We’d be on vacation, maybe three states away in a restaurant or something and he’d be going table to table, shaking hands.”
Mr. Crump worked long hours at his business, but Mark admits there was one thing he loved to do that could pull him away. “He loved Smith Lake. The only time he left the lot early was to get to the lake early. He’d get up every morning, swim for about 45 minutes, shower and eat breakfast, then go to work. Then he’d leave work early and go to the lake, swim for an hour or so, get a shower and do it all over again. He had no patience to fish, he couldn’t sit still to hunt and golf was out of the question. But he loved the lake.”
He was a member of the Lions Club and other organization for many years and had also received a 50-year pin as a Mason. In 1992 the Alabama Independent Automobile Dealers Association awarded him Quality Dealer of the Year. He served as a deacon at the First Baptist Church of Jasper for several years.
One incident that nearly crippled him displayed not only his fortitude, but his sense of humor. “Back around 63-64, Daddy got snake bit by a copperhead, twice on the ankle,” Mark remembers. “When he was admitted to the hospital across the street, he made them put him in a corner room with a window so he could keep an eye on the car lot. He was laying in the bed in the hospital, still selling cars over the phone,” Mark laughs.
On the day Ernest Crump passed away, a wreath of flowers was placed just inside the glass door of the business. The November sky that day seemed grayer than usual. The Alabama sun seemed much dimmer. The lot on which his tall, raven-haired frame walked hundreds, perhaps thousands of times for 67 years, was quiet and still. The birds in the nearby trees didn’t sing that day. The air didn’t stir, the wind was harsh and a bit colder. Time seemed to have stopped completely, out of respect.
Ernest Crump was 89 years old when he passed away. He was one of the last remaining members of a rare breed of hard-working, bootstrap-pulling, tough-as-nails gentlemen who not only believed, taught, and emphasized honesty, integrity, and treating folks right, but actually lived it. He will be greatly missed.
May his tribe increase. 78