Little Red Truck Story

Little Red Truck Story

The history of Allensville Planing Mill was written from the perspective of the 1951 Ford pick-up that came with the purchase of the mill in April of 1959. The pick-up was brought out of storage, reconditioned and restored to its original red in the latter 1990’s.

No passerby would have ever suspected all the anxiety building up in the engine of the little 1951 pickup parked outside the Allensville Planing Mill that cheery spring day, but underneath that red hood, his radiator was getting steamy. It was de’ja’vu for the little Ford…strangely reminiscent of a day some 43 years earlier when his combustion system was just as worked up. On that long ago day, a little bird had perched on his wiper blade and chirped the latest tid-bit of information from the valley grapevine –“Foster J. Wray was selling his planing mill to some young carpenter named Karl Westover.” It wasn’t that Little Red had been that worried about the mill. This Karl fellow was a reputable guy and a good carpenter who worked for J. M. Young and Sons. It was just…. Well, he hadn’t known what would happen to him! Surely he wouldn’t be junked. It was 1959 – he might be 8 years old, but he had lots of good rubber left on his tires. With spring here, why, he was ready to rev up his engine and roar!

On that day, Little Red’s thoughts had been interrupted by the sounds of a door closing and gravel crunching. Around the corner of the wooden 28’ x 100’ building came Foster Wray and Karl, laughing and talking like they hadn’t a care in the world. “That was generous of you to hold the first mortgage, Mr. Wray. I’m sure I’ll have it for you in five years.” “Well – she’s all yours, Karl, even this little fella right here.” Foster Wray had smacked his hand on Red’s hood hard enough to rattle the FORD letters on his grill. Red had strained his headlights to see the paper Karl held in his hand. There it was, in black and white: the property, the building (including a 14’ square office/store combination) and a 1951 Ford pickup, sold to Karl J. Westover, April 1, 1959. A new future was right around the corner. Red had known just by the way Karl walked that they were going to go places. His carburetor had burned with excitement.

They had gone places, too: hauling lumber to repair a truck bed, moving freshly-planed boards and delivering a newly-built kitchen cabinet among other small jobs that first year. He had revved his engine just a half-notch when the conversation in his cab mentioned a payroll of $6,101 and net sales of $27,773. The following year, Red had traveled to job sites of a new home and a number of remodeling projects. By 1962, the business was ready to expand, and Red watched the two-story addition of offices and store go together board by board. The next year, Karl bought the first vehicle in Red’s fleet. Red was glad for the company and the help– and maybe just a bit jealous of its Caribbean blue color. New jobs and projects had begun to come to APM. Red had found himself making trips back and forth from the store to another building just up the road (now it is a restaurant). Back in 1964, it housed a modern jig table that was used to build wooden roof trusses to a span of 40’. Flat metal plates, secured with hand-hammered nails, had held the trusses together.

Now, as Little Red sat in the parking lot, he gazed out his rear view mirror at the stacks of trusses waiting to be delivered and at the assembly plant, resting quietly at last after a week of constant noise and bustle. The first phase of construction on the plant was completed during the winter of 1972. The hand-held hammer was replaced by a system of tooth plates and rollers. It was even hard for Red’s V-8 to comprehend the increase in production over the years: 41,000 trusses built in1984; 58,000 in 1989 and in the year 2000, approximately 80,000 trusses were produced. The dealer network that had been developed to sell trusses now covered central and eastern PA, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia. Sometimes Little Red wished he could carry and deliver the trusses. He knew his payload was no less important, it was just that he missed those busy days of deliveries.

When jobs had continued to come in during those early years, Red had been proud of the quality work he carried in his truck bed, especially when he was painted like the rest of the fleet in Caribbean blue. He had been excited to listen to conversations of future expansion and the possibility of joining True Value Hardware. That had become a reality in 1967 when APM became a True Value member with Cotter and Co. That year, sales had reached $525,232. By 1969, sales had hit the one million mark and Allensville Planing Mill became Allensville Planing Mill, Inc. Little Red remembered with a smile the unsolicited advice someone had given Karl: “You’d better keep working at Young’s and open the mill only nights and Saturdays, or you’ll never make it.” His owner had been wise to ignore that bit of well-intentioned wisdom, yes siree. “I thought he could, I thought he could,” mused the little red truck.

Though he couldn’t see it from his vantage point, Red could picture the first post frame building that had been introduced to APM in the early 70’s. Karl had returned from a builder’s show, ready to implement a new idea. Crews had begun putting up agricultural use buildings at first, but over the years, the post/frame construction expanded to include free stall buildings, implement sheds, horse barns and even industrial buildings, retail stores and municipal buildings, bringing the total number of post-frame buildings to 500.

APM constructed its first commercial building in 1972; the same year, the company built its first church in nearby Huntingdon. Since then, over 15 new churches have been erected and 50 remodeled. More than 150 homes have been built and hundreds of remodeling projects completed. Memories of newly constructed office buildings, mini-malls, restaurants, medical centers, and banks flooded Red’s fuel system.

He sighed and a drop of washer fluid trickled down the left side of his windshield, as he looked across the street at the complex of red barns that housed the construction offices. Had so many years really gone by since he’d carried supplies to build those storage sheds? The first of those popular buildings had been constructed in 1974. Two years later, eight of those barns were connected to form the construction offices. In between those years, a new cabinet shop was built to accommodate finish millwork and cabinetry and the Allensville store was remodeled. Seventeen years and over 100 newly built kitchens later, sales are still strong. “I thought we could, I thought we could”, whispered Red to himself.

The little truck’s gaze moved beyond the construction offices to the planing mill. It had moved to that location in 1972. “Things sure have changed from the days of just planing lumber”, he reflected thoughtfully. “I could haul that lumber; but now they need the big wheelers to deliver their calf condos (over 500 of them) and all those portable ag buildings and sheds. Never mind the trailer floors they re-build. Oh well”.

Little Red let his headlights move across the line-up of parked APM vehicles. Nine stately rigs, with cranes for setting trusses, stood proudly against the backdrop of newly plowed fields. Some had already hitched up to the 25 trailers that were at their disposal. Red remembered with fondness the first rig that was purchased in 1970 to haul trusses and buildings. He and Red had bonded immediately. The newcomer was also red. Next to the rigs were seven straight trucks and four small delivery trucks. Behind them were the vans, sunshine sparkling across their Caribbean blue bodies, and the cars – 27 altogether. Distributed among the four home centers were 40 forklifts and tow motors. Red flipped his odometer for a quick calculation. Grand total: 112 vehicles, and he was a proud part of the fleet.

When Red turned his attention next to the mechanic’s shop, a dreamy smile spread across his grill. “How many tune-ups and oil changes have I had down there?” Red wondered. He stole a glance out his side mirror to make sure his latest coat of wax still gleamed in the sunlight. “And how many wonderful rubdowns?” Suddenly Little Red was hit with a wave of emotion so strong it would have stalled his engine had it been running. Never would he forget the roller coaster of joy and despair he had felt some 23 years ago. It was 1979. The retail store in Allensville had recently been expanded to 8,000 square feet and everyone was getting ready for the 20th anniversary celebration. Red thought he would blow a gasket from anticipating his role in the festivities. “After all”, he reasoned, “I’ve been with APM from day one. Surely I’ll lead a parade or chauffeur some big whigs or at least get my picture in the paper.” Little Red was so excited he nearly over inflated his tires. That’s why he could hardly believe that he had correctly heard the instructions to park him away in some remote berth. “Obviously”, thought Red, “my filters need to be changed.” But when he was driven to a corner of the parking garage and given a pat, he knew the verdict had not changed – he was being forced into early retirement (and 401K was still seven years down the road), sentenced to solitary confinement, shelved, discarded and forgotten.

Red shuddered a terrible shudder clear down to his shocks as he remembered those years. If it hadn’t been for the sparrow that took up residence on his rear fender or the pigeon that perched on his mirror to drop the latest gossip (and other things), he would have rusted away. Thanks to his feathered friends, he kept current on the activities of APM– and there were many. A second retail store opened in Lewistown in 1980. The former Busy Beaver became Allensville Planing Mill – Lewistown. That was 22 years ago. During that time, the store was remodeled three or four times to include a kitchen and bath display area, lawn and garden section, a “Just Ask Rental” department (1998) and about 8,000 square feet of selling area. This store was flooded out in the winter of 1984; the same year the drafting and design department started doing construction design work, and management offices, along with the truss department, moved to the second floor of the Allensville store.

In the fall of 1985, panel fabrication equipment was installed at the truss plant. With in the first year of its installation, this equipment increased production to match the previous five-year total. Little Red chuckled to himself. “Now computer design helps

APM build large townhouse and condominium projects. To think those forty-one miles of panels were produced in 2001…”

He could chuckle now, but during those years of isolation, it had seemed even a smile was hard to come by. As he watched a lone pigeon fly past the APM sign, he remembered a particular day in the mid-80. The sound of flapping wings and a swirl of dust had roused Red from a nap. Time for the daily feathered news flash. He remembered how his valves had throbbed when he heard that sales had hit the 10 million mark. Departments were growing and the Operating Committee that had formed in1983 was now, 2 years later, becoming the department heads. APM had even hired a new accountant. “I thought we could, I thought we could”, sighed Little Red. “At least I hope it’s still ‘we’. I hope I’m still considered part of the team. Am I among the 150 employees?” That question re-echoed across his chassis each time more news reached his windows: employees were having in-service meetings two and three days long; management was going on a week-end retreat.

1989, the year of APM’s 30th anniversary, saw the purchase of a third retail store in New Enterprise, Bedford County. The store carries a selected line of lumber, building materials and hardware with about 4,000 square feet of selling area. That year, total sales for the company hit the 15 million mark.

Then, early one morning, Red’s sleep was disturbed again by the loud and insistent pecking of the pigeon’s beak against his windshield. With a groan of annoyance, he opened half a headlight. “Whadda ya want?” Red slurred. “Red, Red, ya gotta listen ta this – you’ll never believe it!” the animated bird squawked. “I heard ‘em talkin’ in the shop. The boss wants you to have a new paint job – back to your original red – they want ya on display for the big 30th celebration – put ya right out front– deck ya out with a big banner and everything!” In an instant, both of Red’s headlights snapped open. He was going back on the job – he was part of the team! “I knew we could!” Red bellowed in a voice so loud it sent the pigeon tumbling beak over feathers.

After that day, Little Red had kept his windshield dusted, ready for his next opportunity to serve. His tires swelled with pride and excitement when, in 1990, he learned of the Five-Year Strategic Plan developed by the division heads with the purpose of keeping APM growing as an organization. Little Red’s mind played back the goals he had heard: add another home center, have sales exceed $22 million….quality product, honesty, integrity, customer satisfaction, dedication…These words stirred his spark plugs. He had heard the same spoken in conversations in his own front seat. “I know we can, I know we can,” Red sighed confidently. And, by 1995, the goals of the Strategic Plan had been met.

First came the addition of the fourth Home Center, located in Huntingdon. That was 1991. Then the purchase of the old school house and garment factory adjacent to APM’s grounds in Allensville. In 1994, sales hit the 20 million mark and by 1995, total sales were over 22 million. Despite a roof collapse at the Huntingdon store that winter, the new home center proved a valuable addition to APM. A 6,000-square-foot expansion to the store in 1996, along with the grand opening of the first “Just Ask Rental” department, helped the store thrive. For awhile, Red wondered if the rental department might be the perfect opportunity to offer his services, but when in 1998 “Just Ask Rental” was added to the Lewistown store after a 3,500- square foot expansion project the previous year, and

Red still hadn’t been offered a job, he gave up on the idea.

Much to his delight, the very next fall found Little Red back in the parking lot of APM, gleaming red with a fresh coat of wax, surrounded by colorful mums and a banner announcing the celebration of 40 years of dedication. It had made his fan belt quiver.

Those were the memories that flooded his fuel pump and got his combustion system all worked up. Here he was, back in the parking lot again, decked out with flowers and banners for anniversary celebration number 43 – but this celebration was different than the others. It also celebrated the 43 years of his owner’s leadership. Forty-three years of drive, determination and dedication to God and His principles, family and the APM team. Little Red’s wiper blade swished off the tears that came as he acknowledged the sad fact that Karl’s wife would not be at this celebration. Her death in January 2001 was an irreplaceable loss for the entire company. Red was sure no one could fully understand all that Hazel had done.

He thought back fondly over the years of company picnics, Christmas parties and past celebrations. Hazel was always so much a part of them all. She was sorely missed. In many ways this 43rd anniversary was a celebration of both Karl and Hazel.

Little Red knew that Karl had decided in the fall of 2001 that perhaps it was time for him to step out of the direct leadership of APM and move into an advisory role. He and the Leadership Team began to review past values and mission statements and develop a new strategic plan with new vision statements and goals. After 43 years, APM’s values and mission remain the same as they were when Little Red delivered his first load of lumber: “honest, quality-oriented, customer-focused, results-based team.”

Red remembered those beginning years and the many dedicated employees who worked hard to enable Allensville Planing Mill to acquire more land, construct additional buildings, expand inventory and, in general, broaden its horizons. “The employees were, and will be the reason for APM’s continued success,” Red thought to himself. “It is their commitment and skill, their hard work and dedication to caring for the needs of the customer that will allow this organization to continue its expansion into the new millennium.”

Accordingly, there was only the slightest indication of surprise that his shocks needed to absorb when, in January of 2002, Red heard the news that APM had purchased a 45,000-square foot roof truss and wall panel production facility in Martinsburg, WV. What really sparked his plugs was the anticipation of making the 210-mile round trip himself. Surely he could do it. This 53-year-old Ford had never felt better. How he would love to be on the road again! Many miles and hours were being logged by those dedicated employees committed to getting this new facility up and running. How Red longed to be a part!

“Transition” seemed to be the word the little truck kept hearing again and again; “transition” and “team.” Well, if everyone was going to speak in “t’s,” couldn’t he be included? After all, “truck” started with a “t.” “How’s this sound?” Red asked his pigeon pal one afternoon, “Team truck transitions to transport?” “Not bad”, replied his feathered friend. “Try sticking ‘Tru-Serve’ and ‘terrific’ in there someplace.”

So, while Red burned his oil thinking of alliterated newsletter headlines, APM continued its transitioning. Internally, the company shifted its leadership from Karl to the Leadership Team, under the direction of Rob Morris. Externally, new construction offices were built adjacent to rental. The Red Barn offices were removed as well as the storage trailers along the fence next to Omega Bank. A beautiful new kitchen and bath display area was completed in the Lewistown store. Then, later that year, the schoolhouse was remodeled to include operations offices to house the dispatch and the inventory and purchasing departments.

Finally, in June of 2004, with Red’s oil gauge threatening to swing to empty, the little Ford got his chance. One warm, sunny Saturday morning found him on the road again, and while he wasn’t wheeling his way to the busy plant in Martinsburg, he was cruising to Lewistown to host APM’s 45th anniversary celebration. He proudly parked out front in a prominent spot next to the store entrance. He was glad to be a part of that celebration. Red could see that APM was just trucking along despite the Wal-Marts and Lowes springing up everywhere.

Little Red became excited for the 50th anniversary celebration to begin as he rolled into the year 2009. He thought of all the fun and excitement all the celebrations were back for the 20th, 30th, 35th, 40th, 43rd, and 45th. He was looking forward to seeing all the customers, friends, and employees who made it all possible to reach this special occasion. He was in the mood for a big party.

Yet Red was concerned because the economy made a drastic change. It made him sad to hear of the closing of APM’s West Virginia plant and New Enterprise store in order to react to the recession that has hit the housing industry in the fall of 2008. He has seen these kinds of recessions before and knows that they are very difficult changes for everyone. Red wants to go on with the celebration in spite of the down swing in the building market because it isn’t about quitting but working to the best of your ability to make the most of a situation.

He heard the rumble through APM that there is another new computer system to soon be used. Red isn’t so sure about all those things because he doesn’t understand computers. He doesn’t have one of those new fangled things in his engine. Change is a part of what has happened over and over the past 50 years. He doesn’t want to fight change but learn to deal with those changes so he never becomes an antique in his thinking. He doesn’t want to be just a truck of the past because that is always looking back rather than looking forward.

Red heard one of the employees say, “The future belongs to those who don’t give up”, A great sigh of contentment breathed from Red’s radiator as he whispered, I think I can, I thought we could, I know we will.”