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MRT Manufacturing is finishing contracts for General Truck Body, which burned in July.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Officials with a Forest-based manufacturing company Tuesday confirmed it has taken over the operations of General Truck Body, the Roanoke mechanic shop destroyed in a July 2012 fire that pushed several mechanics into months-long unemployment.
The former owner of General Truck Body, Tony Williams , said the deal with MRT Manufacturing was finalized about two weeks ago, at the tail end of negotiations that had started prior to the blaze.
“I had some health issues come up, and managing the company was getting to be pretty difficult,” Williams said. “Then the fire happened, and it kind of hastened things along.”
Williams described the new venture as an effort to start rebuilding a Roanoke business base. He said the deal became critical after the fire, which damaged his shop’s ability to conduct business.
“We had several large contracts that we weren’t able to fulfill, and they took over those large contracts,” Williams said. “We’re talking about some pretty big contracts. … So in taking over that, they essentially took over the company.”
General Truck Body’s former headquarters, along 10th Street Northwest near the Interstate 581 overpass, has been demolished. Williams said his old company will become a subsidiary of MRT, which plans to open a Roanoke shop in a new location. Williams said he relinquished his role as a general manager but has joined the new company to work as a sales manager.
Bob Dray Jr., a sales manager with Forestry Equipment of Virginia, also a subsidiary of MRT, said the expansion into Roanoke will include a storefront shop to provide truck parts to the general public.
Company officials Tuesday could not say how many jobs the deal would create or exactly when the new location would open for business. Williams said the new shop would be smaller than the previous one.
As for the mechanics who lost their jobs, many are still struggling to find work. Dray said several of those employees were retained to work for his company in Lynchburg after the fire.
“We tried to keep the workforce intact as best as we could,” he said. “We continued on with the contracts they had at the time.”
But the long daily commute from Roanoke kept some from applying. And for the few that did, such as Mike Lehman , their contracts did not include extra compensation for the added mileage. Lehman, one of the original General Truck Body employees, later stopped working in Lynchburg after the $80-a-week commute cost.
Lehman said most of his colleagues are still grappling with the aftermath of the fire, in which some lost expensive tools they need for their work. In some cases, those tools cost several thousand dollars.
The mechanics specialized in customizing stock pickup trucks into railroad service vehicles. They also installed cranes and flatbeds onto trucks.
Mike Seal and his son, Mike Seal Jr., both lost their jobs after the fire — a double whammy for their household income. Since then, neither has found work.
“To be honest with you, I’d take about any job I could find right now,” the elder Seal said. “I’m a carpenter by trade, but I also do mechanic work.”
The mechanics searched for a lawyer to assist them in pursuing claims for their tools, but the potential judgment wasn’t large enough to attract an attorney to take the case on contingency.
Seal and Lehman agreed they would be interested in applying for work at the new General Truck Body location.
Until then, Seal said he and others would continue their searches, staving off bills and large expenses until brighter days.
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