Over 300 former Carriage employees attended Saturday's reunion

Over 300 former Carriage employees attended Saturday’s reunion

Some 300 people gathered Saturday (Aug. 29) in the Community Building at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen, Ind., for a relatively unusual event in the business world – a first-ever luncheon reunion for former employees of iconic towable builder Carriage Inc. that collapsed in the wake of the Great Recession.

Once a stable higher-end RV manufacturer known for its Carriage, Cameo, Cabo, Carri-Lite and Royals International travel trailers and fifth-wheels – as well as van conversions and Class C motorhomes back in the day – Carriage closed its Millersburg, Ind., doors in October of 2011, furloughing some 180 employees in the process.

“It was a really great turnout – over 300 people,” said Ed Kinney, a retired executive who started and ended his RV industry career at Carriage, last serving as vice president of sales and marketing. “A lot of memories were shared, and it was just a really wonderful afternoon. It was like a great big family reunion.”

Kinney, a Milford, Ind., resident, remembers Carriage for its bright reputation as a company that had “quality second to none and that really took care of not only their employees but their customers and their dealers.”

And although co-founder Clarence Yoder wasn’t involved at the end of Carriage’s run, having sold his interest to an investment group in 1999 led by Glenn Cushman, Yoder and his wife, Ideana, were on hand Saturday for what turned out to be an upbeat affair as several individuals – including the Yoders – stepped up to the podium for some heartfelt comments.

Carriage founder Clarence Yoder

Carriage co-founder Clarence Yoder

“We had a luncheon and various people got up and just talked about their experience working for the Yoders at Carriage and all the things that it meant to them,” said Kinney. “And Clarence stepped up as well and told about how it all started – and how he built the first Carriage unit.”

“The real consensus was that people had a lot of gratitude,” said Kinney. “There were many people who had worked there over 30 years. People expressed gratitude to Clarence and Ideana for giving them jobs, gratitude for the ethics of the company – because Carriage was very ethical in how it did things. And it was really a day of gratitude for the Yoders, for everything they gave everybody. You know, the Yoders put everybody else first.”

Carriage was founded in the fall of 1968 by Yoder, John Kurtz, Ray Stutsman and Wilber Witmer with a travel trailer targeting retired and semiretired travelers who spent more than casual weekends in their units, according to a company history. The fledgling company built its first prototype in November of 1968 in a pole building north of Millersburg, the same building in which Clarence Yoder had been building truck campers while keeping his day job.

What quickly developed was a Carriage-brand production unit and a manufacturing concern that at one point employed as many as 275 people in a sprawling 19-building, 55-acre Millersburg complex

Rights to the Carriage brands, along with relevant intellectual property, were acquired three years ago by Thor Industries Inc.’s CrossRoads RV subsidiary, which currently markets recreational vehicles under the Carriage nameplate.