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Trail Wagons-Chinook Properties has defaulted on a $4 million bank loan, prompting a judge to remove the owner from control in mid-October and put the Washington state company into receivership, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported.
The company, which includes the recreational vehicle assembly plant and Chinook Business Park, is owned by Yakima businessman and developer Gary Lukehart.
Trail Wagons, which once employed more than 162 people, has numerous judgments against it in Yakima County Superior Court, according to the paper. The lot at its manufacturing facility, once full of cutaway van chassis, is empty and the company is “not in an operating mode,” said Michael Morales, the city’s economic and community affairs specialist.
Lukehart did not return calls from the Herald-Republic requesting comment for the Nov. 19 article. However, when contacted by RVBUSINESS.com today (Nov. 21), a representative of Trail Wagons said “the company is going through a sale and is not in receivership.” The company declined further comment.
Chinook RV, a division of Trail Wagons Inc. and a manufacturer of relatively short Class C motorhomes, got its start in 1961 as Chinook RV Camper Vans in the garage of Don Lukehart Sr.
An avid enthusiast of outdoor camping frustrated with the lack of mobile campers available on the market, Lukehart first went to work with his son, Gary, on converting a Chevrolet Corvair into a “mini camper” that wound up “revolutionizing the RV industry,” according to the company.
The natural result of that line in 1971 was the “Concourse,” featuring the first one-piece fiberglass body and carrying a lifetime guarantee.
That led to the latest Chinook products – streamlined C-bodies that foreshadowed the latest “B-Plus” motorhome trend – that were marketed as “the ultimate two-person coaches.”
The line includes a glitzy, 6-wheel-drive, West Coast-style Baja edition, an all-terrain vehicle that drew lots of media attention in recent years. The company had been doing its own paint/graphics work and built its own cabinetry at the Yakima facility.
A high-profile developer, Gary Lukehart announced big plans a year ago for Vineyard’s Gate, an open-air shopping center. So far, the land is still bare. He’s chairman of the Yakima Valley visitors and Convention Bureau and is the man behind the “Welcome to Yakima, the Palm Springs of Washington” sign on Interstate 82.
One indication that Lukehart is reorganizing his holdings was the recent sale of his Gateway Center shopping plaza for $17.5 million, according to county property transfer records.
But Trail Wagons was considered his biggest economic development success because it paid family-wage jobs and appeared to be riding the wave of the RV boom.
A former high-level manager of Trail Wagons said in recently filed court documents that he was let go last March and that the company still owes him money.
“The financial demise of Trail Wagons has been a sad and tragic thing for many employees and their families, including my family,” Paul Comisky, former vice president and general manager, wrote in September to an attorney for one of the creditors, Mohawk Carpet.
In his letter, Comisky said he used personal funds to make payroll twice last winter. Comisky declined to comment Friday.
The newspaper reported that city officials said Trail Wagons began downsizing in early 2005.
Wells Fargo Bank was the original lender to Trail Wagons-Chinook Properties, but the loan was later sold to investors. Their trustee, LaSalle Bank of Chicago, sought the receivership to protect their assets.
According to court records, Trail Wagons-Chinook quit making payments in May, defaulted in June and still owes $3.6 million in principal plus interest and penalties.
The receiver doesn’t have the authority to liquidate the business, according to the judge’s order, but it does have direct management control of the property and employees, along with bank accounts and other operations. Receivership is not bankruptcy.
Trail Wagons received a low-interest loan of $2.45 million in 2003. The money was a grant by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency to the city of Yakima, which in turn made the funds available for an expansion at Trail Wagons.
Morales said the balance on the loan is about $2.4 million. He said it will be repaid to HUD if the property is sold.