Carter Brothers: ‘We will be back – again’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Features Editor

Carter Brothers has survived tragedy before.

When a tornado completely destroyed the plant in March 1989, Woodrow Carter vowed he would build it back, not so much for him and his family but for his employees – the people in his community of Hamilton Crossroads who depended on it for their livelihood. He was as good as his word.

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Over the next 10 years, Carter Brothers grew into one of the nation’s leading manufacturer of go-carts. But, just as the employees were getting ready to enjoy a holiday lunch together Tuesday before closing for the holiday, tragedy struck again.

"Some of the women came running down the hall yelling there was a fire in the plant," said Jim Caldwell, vice president of operations. "Within 30 minutes, the whole manufacturing plant was engulfed in flames."

The employees stood outside watching as their future was going up in smoke.

"Most of them were in shock," Caldwell said.

June Carter Arn, who, along with her husband Stuart, owns and operates the plant, was at home, also getting ready for the company holiday luncheon when the phone call came.

"I just rushed up here as fast as I could," she said. "I don’t know what I was thinking, but I know I wasn’t thinking it would be this bad."

Arn said the fire was more devastating to her than the tornado.

"With the tornado, everything was gone in a matter of minutes," she said. "With the fire, I had to stand and watch for so long. It was very hard for me to see everything going up in smoke and there was nothing I could do about it."

As hard as it was for Arn and her family, she said the saddest part was that it was Christmastime.

"I couldn’t help but think about our employees," she said. "Christmas is supposed to be a happy time and now there is this uncertainty for them. A little while ago, we were planning to celebrate the holidays together. Now … this is just really bad – so bad."

Arn looked into the smoke-filled building with the same positive attitude that her dad viewed the company when it was destroyed by an act of nature.

"When the tornado destroyed the plant, our employees were right in here with us and we came back," Arn said. "With their help, we rebuilt and, with their help, we can do it again."

Arn’s son, Jonathan was even more positive.

"We were planning an expansion and now a new plant will also be part of that expansion," he said. "Carter Brothers will be back."

June Arn said the rebuilding effort in ’89 took about four months.

"It’s too early to tell but I would think we would be looking at about the same time frame," she said. "We’ll be back as soon as possible."

Caldwell said the office will remain open and employees may come by on Thursday to pick up their payroll and vacation checks. Any questions or concerns may also be directed to the office.

Arn expressed appreciation to the many who responded to the emergency at Carter Brothers and offered encouragement to the employees by simply saying, "We will try our best to do what we can as soon as we can."