He Was a Carpenter Who Was a Blacksmith Who Built Buses

November 14, 1877

Ralph H. Carpenter, who launched and led one of the largest manufacturers of school bus bodies in the United States, was born in southern Indiana. As a teenager, Carpenter set up his own blacksmith shop in the city of Mitchell in the Hoosier State. A significant part of Carpenter’s job as a blacksmith involved constructing and repairing horse-drawn wagons.

By 1919, Carpenter had expanded the transportation-oriented facet of his business considerably by establishing the Ralph H. Carpenter Body Company. Another milestone for Carpenter took place in 1922, when he moved his company’s operations to a larger factory in Mitchell; it was there that he commenced building utility bodies for motor trucks.

Around that same time, the consolidation of the two educational systems in the vicinity of Mitchell initiated what became the hallmark of Carpenter’s life and career: the construction of bodies for vehicles that could readily transport numerous local students to school. Starting with 17 school buses that it originally built, the Carpenter Body Company grew dramatically and became one of the region’s major employers. (The company’s many employees included future astronaut and Mitchell resident Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, who briefly worked there before attending Purdue University.)

The one-time blacksmith shop, which was reorganized again as Carpenter Body Works in 1937, also earned a place alongside such entities as the Blue Bird Body Company and Wayne Works as one of the giants of U.S. school bus manufacturers during the 20th century. By the mid-1940s, Carpenter Body Works ranked sixth in that industry nationwide when it came to total production.

Carpenter died in 1963 at the age of 86. Two decades later, his namesake company presented a 1939 Dodge 36-passenger school bus outfitted with a Carpenter body to the Smithsonian Institution. The vehicle, which had been restored by two former Carpenter Body Works employees, transported grade school students in Martinsburg, Indiana, from 1940 to 1946.

For more information aboutmRalph H. Carpenter and his contributions to the school bus industry, please check out http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/c/carpenter/carpenter.htm​.

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