History of the Kristi Company
This page is dedicated to the many men and women who built the Kristi snow vehicles. Without their help, the history of the Kristi Company would have been lost forever. Information on this page has been verified with former owners and employees of the Kristi Company. This is the real history of the Kristi Company, told by those involved with the company from the 1950s through the 1970s.
returning from World War II as a Marine fighter pilot, Colorado native
William H. "Bill" Schomers began working on a propeller-driven vehicle
capable of traveling over snow or water. The first snow plane, known as the
KRISTI, was built in
the late 1940s and featured two rear wooden skis and one front ski for
steering. A rear-mounted, air-cooled aircraft engine and propeller pushed
the vehicle. All of the snow planes had a tube chassis with a doped fabric
Schomers continued to develop his snow plane until the early
1950s, when he set aside the project to join the Korean War, earning the Air
Medal for Service with the 1st Marine Air Wing's "Flying Nightmares." After
the war, Schomers returned to the U.S. Marine Reserves, but continued
working on the snow vehicle design. Recognizing the need for a vehicle to
carry more people or equipment and to travel across deep powder snow, mud
and sand, he modified the design to allow a platform of either skis or
The first tracked Kristi was built in 1955 and was called the KRISTI Ber-Kat. Based on the tube chassis of the ski plane, the first Ber-Kat was Harley Davidson-powered, with the Harley Davidson police side-car transmission featuring three forward and one reverse gears. Later Ber-Kats used a 1200cc VW motor adapted to the Harley Davidson transmission, continuing the air-cooled, lightweight design platform. The Ber-Kats also incorporated the Kristi Ski Action, using splined extension shafts to drive the vehicle from the rear. A U.S. patent was filed on the solid bar / parallelogram tilting Ski Action in early 1954.
Schomers continued to build snow planes and Ber-Kats through early 1957, operating as a sole proprietorship. With a few employees, he was able to produce and sell four snow planes and six Ber-Kats to state, federal and private organizations across the Rocky Mountain region. Two additional snow planes were sold in 1958 and a seventh snow plane was sold to Grand Teton National Park in March of 1963. A seventh Ber-Kat was sold in late 1957.
May 21st, 1957, the Kristi Company, a Colorado corporation, was formed. It
had three officers: Bill Schomers, President; Bud Messenger, Vice President;
and Melvin "Jim" Ross, Secretary/Treasurer. The company was located in Arvada
at 5783 W. 56th Ave., and offered stock to employees and local investors. The
Kristi Company continued to fill remaining orders for the Ber-Kat and snow
plane, while the newest model, the Kristi Kat KT-2 with a base price of
$5,125, was sent into production.
evolution of the Kristi Kat was the KT-3. The Kristi design crew listened to
its customers and incorporated their feedback into the new design. Production
of the KT-3 started in 1960 with a base price of $6,295 for a full cab, and
this would prove to be the best-selling Kristi Kat.
At the same time it was producing the KT-3, the Kristi Company also introduced a hybrid Kristi Kat called the KT-2A. The KT-2A was 14" shorter than the KT-3, but still utilized the walk-in rear door. It seated four, with the rear passengers facing the rear of the vehicle. The track system was a shortened KT-2 setup with four 6" wheels/tires on each side. The KT-2A with a base price of $5,985 was only available with the 36hp VW engine.
With several Kristi models in production and development, Schomers sought a bigger facility. The current facility in Arvada, Colorado was not adequate to handle the volume of Kristi vehicle production. A 25-acre plant site was identified and purchased in Boulder County. Jefferson County Bank provided the financing and drawings for the 10,000 sq. ft. StransSteel structure were completed. Construction started in 1961 at the new site, which also included testing grounds with simulated rough terrain and hillsides up to 80% slope, as well as two ponds to test and demonstrate the Kristi vehicles.
The engineering team at the Kristi Company was busy in 1960.
With work on the KT-3 complete, the team started on a bigger, all-terrain
vehicle. But in order to make a truly all-terrain vehicle, the Kristi would
have to float.
The Kristi Company also offered a few accessories for their tracked snow vehicles. A tilt bed trailer was built in-house to carry a Kristi vehicle. Other accessories included a snow packer, luggage rack and top-mount spotlight. Visit the accessories gallery to see additional pictures of the trailers and packers.
Tragedy strikes the Kristi CompanyAugust 22, 1961 was the day that changed the face of the Kristi Company. While on his two-week active duty with the U.S. Marine reserves, Schomers was killed in a plane crash in El Toro, California. The Kristi Company had many orders on the books for Kristi snow vehicles, so work continued. Vice-President Bud Messenger took the reigns as President of the Kristi Company. Shop foreman and brother-in-law to Schomers, Nathan Ray, was elected Vice-President of the Kristi Company. Both Messenger and Ross stepped up and became full-time employees at Kristi to keep the company running efficiently. Ross took over as primary salesman for the Kristi vehicles. The KT-3 remained the top-selling Kristi in 1961 comprising 80% of the 34 units sold.
The year 1962 marked the height of Kristi vehicle sales with 39 vehicles rolling out the doors of the new facility located at 10401 West 120th Avenue in Broomfield, Colorado. With almost 90 Kristi vehicles in the field at this point, the Kristi parts and repair business added to the bottom line. The Thiokol Company, located in Logan Utah, also built similar sized snow vehicles and competed with Kristi for government contracts. Messenger started work on a new vehicle to compete for market share.
The poor snow season of 1962-1963 along with a saturation of the small snow vehicle market had a direct effect on new vehicle sales of the Kristi Kats. Kristi reacted to the slowdown by cutting personnel by 50%, down to 10 employees, and a capital loss was recorded at the Kristi Company. With only 13 vehicles produced in 1963, the Federal Aviation Administration was still the largest customer. Seasonal vehicle repairs and parts sales helped Kristi during the slowdown. Messenger started development work on a new Kristi vehicle in 1963. The U.S. Army had received several KT-4 test vehicles the previous year, and feedback gained from the Army’s Air Terminal Operations Center was the driving force behind the new vehicle development. This new vehicle, named the KT-4G, was designed with the aim to reduce costs by maximizing use of standard automotive parts. Kaiser Jeep supplied the CJ-series universal frame and body, while power was delivered by a Chevrolet 6-cylinder engine mated to a Clark four-speed transmission and steering differential. The new Chevrolet engine was water-cooled, allowing for a car-like heating system.
In order to further reduce costs and compete for government contracts against the larger American-built snow cat competitors, the KT-4G was designed without the patented Kristi Ski Action. It featured a new type of torsion bar suspension with a center leaf sprung walking beam independent of the front and rear wheels that improved ride quality. In addition, provisions for a snowplow were standard on the KT-4G. Design and fabrication of the KT-4G was completed in 1964 and tested extensively at the Broomfield facility.
Because of the focus on developing the KT-4G, 1964 was another slow year
for new vehicle sales, with only 12 new vehicles sold. One notable sale was
a KT-4 delivered to a large cattle ranch in the Texas panhandle used to feed
cattle buried by a large snowstorm.
The hydraulic motor from the Char-Lynn company had been modified by
Kristi to get additional torque needed to move the KWT. While the motor had
no problem initiating a turn on snow, it struggled in soft pack gravel. The
next larger size motor was three times larger than the existing motor and
would not fit on the KWT. The U.S. Navy was ready to purchase the KWT and
send it to Antarctica as soon as the hydraulic motor was upgraded.
With all of the attention given to the KWT, new vehicle sales in 1965 increased to 14 vehicles. The company continued to produce the KT-4, and of the final six models built in 1965, two were purchased by the Florida Bureau of Fisheries & Wildlife in a KT-4A configuration. The last KT-2A was also sold in 1965, ending production of that model.
After abandoning the KWT design in 1966, Kristi revived the Jeep chassis and body concept, using the smaller and lighter Jeep Universal chassis. This allowed the previously underpowered Char-Lynn hydraulic motor to propel the Jeep with ease on snow or dirt. The hydraulic motor was initially installed on a Jeep chassis with the KT-4G torsion bar suspension. Tests were successful, and so was born the KT-6. A trip to Kaiser Jeep in the fall of 1966 allowed Messenger to select the exact parts needed to go into production of the new KT-6. Messenger also visited the U.S. Army Mobility Command headquarters in Michigan to introduce the new KT-6.
In production form, the KT-6 would have used a Jeep V6 engine with a 4-speed transmission and complete CJ-5 body. The 4wd Jeep running gear, standard on the Jeep, also would be used to provide the KWT-like wheels and track-drive system. The Jeep power train parts specified for the KT-6 were the same parts used by Jeep to provide the Department of Defense the M-175 1 1/4 ton trucks.
The last few years in Colorado
In late 1966, Messenger put together a bid for the U.S. Air Force to build 42 vehicles using the design of the KT-6 wheeled and track system utilizing a hydraulic motor to drive the tracks. The Kristi Company was one of only two bidding companies to present acceptable vehicle designs. The other company was Thiokol, which ultimately won the contract by $170 per vehicle. With much of the focus on the KWT and KT-6 in 1966, new vehicle sales consisted of seven KT-3 and two KT-4G vehicles.
During this time, the Kristi Company continued to refurbish used Kristi vehicles. Many of the Kristi vehicles were purchased from General Services Administration (GSA) auctions, refurbished, and resold. The parts business and seasonal repairs division of Kristi continued, but left little money for research and development. The KT-6 was on the verge of going into production, but capital was needed to take the next step.
The Kristi Company had loans from the Small Business Administration and Jefferson County Bank. Messenger put together documents to extend these loans in 1967 and sought additional money to continue the KT-6 project. The additional funding was not secured and the company struggled in 1967 with only two KT-3 models sold in January of 1967.
The doors were closed for good at the Broomfield facility in early 1968. The Kristi Company sold the building and other assets to repay the SBA and Jefferson County Bank loans. The remainder of the parts and Kristi vehicles were moved to Denver Colorado. Messenger and family continued to purchase used Kristi vehicles, refurbish and resell them. Parts were still provided by Messenger up to 1971.
In the summer of 1971, Dwight Baker of Issaquah, Washington purchased some of the assets of the Kristi Company and a patent license to use the Kristi design. Fabrication jigs and fixtures, machine tools (including a mill) and extra KT-3 parts were all loaded on a trailer and hauled to Washington. Baker starting locating used KT-3 vehicles to recondition and sell. In the fall of 1971, Baker set up a small shop in Leavenworth Washington and hired a few local employees to start refurbishing the KT-3s he had located.
Baker, a chemical engineer and former Boeing employee, approached the Federal Aviation Administration with a plan to build a new Kristi vehicle using a modern power train design. The FAA awarded Baker a contract to build the prototype Kristi and advanced him capital to get the project started.
Baker recruited several Boeing engineers to help with new design of the Kristi, initially named the KT3-300A. This new Kristi was designed as a fiberglass body vehicle with doors on the front and rear, and with the patented Kristi Action suspension and track design. The power plant in the new Kristi was a mid-mounted water-cooled Ford industrial V4 engine. Power to the tracks was delivered hydrostatically, and a unique aircraft steering console was designed to control the vehicle.
Parts and materials for six vehicles were initially ordered. A fiberglass boat manufacturer built the first body, and the prototype was quickly assembled. The prototype was much too heavy, so the fiberglass body was scrapped. The boat manufacturer produced three lighter bodies and three vehicles were built.
Design and fabrication of the new Kristi, later named the KT7 with a base price of $10,980, took longer than expected. In late fall of 1973, the FAA received two KT7 prototypes to test on the Grand Mesa in Colorado. The FAA had many requirements for this new vehicle, including a minimum potential speed of 20 mph. The FAA contract was vague, and the KT7 performed as required in Leavenworth, Washington at an elevation of 1,200 feet. When the FAA tests were conducted on the Grand Mesa at an elevation of 10,000 feet, the KT7 did not perform as required.
The FAA cancelled the contract and requested the capital be returned immediately. Baker had customer deposits for two KT-7s — for a rancher in New Mexico and for San Juan County in Utah. San Juan County received their KT7 in December 1973. While on a trip back from recovering equipment for the phone company, the KT7 caught fire and burned to the ground after only a few weeks of service. No people were hurt in the fire, but the KT7 was a total loss.
rancher in New Mexico received his KT7 at a reduced rate to help the cash
flow problem at Kristi. This Kristi was used for several years on the ranch
but was eventually sold to a snowmobile club for grooming trails. The KT7
changed hands a few times before ending up in California. The current owner
has restored the KT7.