Zeigler’s Chevy turns 100

Area auto company has been family business since 1918

Courtesy photo Walter A. “W.A.” Zeigler, company founder, stands in front of Claysburg Garage in 1920. Having first opened in 1918, Zeigler Chevrolet is now preparing to celebrate 100 years in the automobile industry.

CLAYSBURG — People may not know that the founder of today’s Zeigler Chevrolet sold motorcycles before he got into the automobile business.

In 1914, Walter A. “W.A.” Zeigler sold Indian motorcycles in Springhope, where he also worked as a blacksmith.

In 1918, Zeigler started an automobile business, called Zeigler and Elder in Manns Choice, where he sold Ford products. They also sold Fordson tractors.

The business, currently owned by W.A.’s great-grandsons Ken and Keith, is celebrating 100 years in business.

Company President Bob Zeigler, W.A.’s grandson, is proud to see the family business reach the century mark.

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Current owners and founder W.A. Zeigler’s great-grandsons Keith (left) and Kenny “K.R.” Zeigler stand in front of Zeigler Chevrolet in Claysburg.

“It is a milestone that very few family-owned businesses achieve,” he said.

W.A. Zeigler moved the business to Claysburg in 1920 and it became Claysburg Garage. The business started selling Chevrolets in the mid-1920s.

His son, Ken, took over the business in 1938 and changed the name to Zeigler’s. In the meantime, W.A. had opened Zeigler Motors at 400 E. Plank Road, Altoona, selling Oldsmobiles.

Ken Zeigler passed away suddenly in 1967, and Bob, who was studying business administration at Hawthorne College in Concord, N.H., left school and came home to take over his father’s business.

“When I took over, I was 4 months and 21 years old,” he said. “I was the youngest dealer in the United States to secure a General Motors (Chevrolet) contract,” Bob Zeigler said. “I was lucky that my dad left me with a good team to help me run the business. The best education is hands-on experience.”

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec A row of trucks is seen on display at Zeigler Chevrolet in Claysburg.

Bob Zeigler moved Zeigler Chevrolet from Bedford Street to Route 220 in 1977 and survived a fire in 1991, which burned the showroom and sales department.

He said the automobile business has changed over the years.

“When I started in 1967, there were three major companies: Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler. Chevy had 55 percent of the auto market. Now, it has 18 percent of the market due to more auto manufacturers than I can name,” Bob Zeigler said. “The coming of the Internet age has made it easier for people to shop for different cars — new and used — which has helped the small dealers sell cars in a lot more areas.”

The majority of Zeigler’s business comes from local repeat customers, but as a result of the internet, cars have been sold as far away as California and Florida.

Providing good service has been the key to Zeigler’s success.

“My grandfather always stressed service to the customer and that has carried through to four generations and has kept the Zeigler family in business for 100 years. Providing top service enabled us to compete with the bigger dealers,” Bob Zeigler said.

“They were customer oriented and made it a priority to hire good employees and kept those employees. A business is only as good as its employees. As a boss (Bob) was very thoughtful. He treated his employees really great,” said Dick Lingenfelter, who retired as service manager after 44 years at Zeigler’s.

Zeigler Chevrolet has been a leader in the community for many years, said Rich Allison, a local historian.

“They have been nothing but a reputable company and great people. They have been a great asset to the community in terms of supplying cars and repairs and standing behind their products,” Allison said. “More importantly than the business aspect is the dedication to our Claysburg community. Whether there is a request for a donation of cars or money, they always support worthy causes, whether it is a Little League event, Christmas in the Park or a much larger event.”

Bob Zeigler has been dedicated to the Claysburg Education Foundation.

“He has headed up the recruiting of businesses for Pennsyl­vania EITC Tax Credits to be given to the foundation as another means of improving education in Claysburg. He took on the task as a one-man committee and has done it extremely well,” Allison said.

“Bobby Zeigler gives so much to the community, often anonymously. He often gives and says don’t put my name to it; he gives generously. He has stayed here and is an anchor as far as the local businesses,” said Nancy Musselman, who said she and her husband, Walter, have bought numerous vehicles from Zeigler’s over the years.

“They always have been givers,” said long-time customer Ed Schultz.

Zeigler Chevrolet has been a long-time member of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce, and Bob Zeigler was named Small Business Person of the Year in 2009.

“Is there a more enduring tagline in Blair County than ‘Cars Cost Less in Claysburg?’ asked chamber President/CEO Joe Hurd.

“The Zeigler family has made Claysburg a destination for a century, and they have encouraged their employees to get involved in growing and shaping the community. Anything that lasts 100 years is doing something right,” Hurd said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.