TRUCK Body Corporation in Lynchburg, Virginia, celebrated 50 years in the truck body manufacturing business during an open house in April.
Two brothers, Lawrence and Calvin Falwell, established Truck Body Corporation in 1947. Since then, the truck equipment company has prospered as have the other transportation companies owned by the Falwells.
The family owns a diverse collection of transportation-related companies. Truck Body Corporation opened for business next to Falwell Fast Freight, which operated a fleet of tractors and dry freight vans, but later closed. With their television-evangelist cousin, Jerry Falwell, Calvin and Lawrence operate a charter jet aircraft company, Falwell Aviation.
Business dealings with their well-known cousin are primarily limited to Falwell Aviation. Occasionally, Liberty University in Lynchburg has maintenance trucks equipped by Truck Body Corporation. Jerry Falwell is a founder of the university and sits on its board of directors.
The cousins' charter company owns one Cessna Citation jet aircraft and one Beech King Air prop-jet aircraft. Cousin Jerry has his own leased jet aircraft, and since Lawrence is retired, he occasionally accompanies the minister on his journeys.
The jet aircraft are not used for the truck body business. But the aviation company is an example of how involved the Falwells are in the transportation industry.
Across the highway from Truck Body Corporation is another family-owned company, Falwell Aviation Inc, which operates Falwell Airport at the same location. Calvin is the president of Falwell Aviation and is a licensed pilot.
Calvin is the president and major shareholder of the only business not related to the transporation industry - the Lynchburg Hill Cats baseball farm club, a minor-league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
With the exception of the baseball club, the brothers view each company, whether it installs truck bodies or leases jet aircraft, as a transportation-related enterprise. Calvin and Lawrence, who are both in their 70s, first became involved in transportation working in Lynchburg for the regional bus line, which was owned by their father.
As vice-president and general manager of Truck Body for 25 years, James Falwell continues the family tradition by running the business started by his father, Lawrence, and uncle, Calvin. Like his relatives, James shares a passion for aviation and holds a pilot's license.
Keeping Up With Growth
Since the company opened in 1947, it has moved twice to different locations. Truck Body has been at its present location since 1955 and has expanded three times.
The company's geographic location is one factor that has contributed to its success. Truck Body's closest local competitors are either 185 miles away in Richmond, Virginia, or 300 miles away in Baltimore, Maryland. Customers are located primarily in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Some truck bodies and equipment are occasionally sold for export to Saudi Arabia.
Truck Body is a full-line distributor and builds some of its own products. Before 1973, Truck Body built furniture vans, platform trailers, and dry freight vans.
"Over the years, our customer base grew for dry freight van bodies and dump trucks," says Bill Calhoun, a manager at Truck Body Corporation and a nephew of Lawrence Falwell.
Building Truck Bodies
Today, the company builds only van bodies and occasionally, furniture vans and refrigerated van bodies. Truck Body's 50 employees build about 200 van bodies a year in the company's 22,000-sq-ft shop. The shop has a manufacturing area for van bodies and an installation area for truck equipment.
The company builds van bodies for five fleet customers and many customers that purchase one or two truck bodies.
"We shine when it comes to building custom van bodies," Calhoun says.
Truck Body owns the dies for the aluminum extrusions used in its sheet-and-post vans. Extrusions are delivered from the mill in 44-ft lengths and cut to length. After sidewalls are built and attached to the floor frame, 1 1/4-inch laminated oak flooring is installed.
"Using laminated oak flooring is one of the best improvements we have made in our van bodies," says Lawrence Falwell.
Flooring is installed in the rear half of the shop where van bodies are finished, dump bodies are mounted, frame modifications are made, and repair work is completed. Two maintenance pits in the floor are used for mounting PTOs, pumps, and to work on hydraulic systems.
A Full-Line Distributor
Truck bodies built by other manufacturers and equipment distributed by the company includes dump bodies and hoists made by Crysteel, Galion, and Godwin; Knapheide platform and service bodies; Liftmoore cranes; tailgate lifts made by Tommy Gate and Waltco; Western snowplows and material spreaders; and Whiting roll-up doors.
About 250 guests including suppliers and customers attended the open house.
"Truck Body Corporation doesn't have customers as much as it has friends," Bill Calhoun said during the meal. "We hosted this open house for our friends. They have made it possible for this company to be in business 50 years."