CHICKASHA — Once known as the horse trailer capital of the world, Chickasha — following previously high interest rates and a slumping economy — boasts only three aluminum trailer manufacturers, versus some 25 in the late 1980s.
Michael Terry, president of Cimarron Trailers, proudly counts himself among the survivors.
“It's not the golden years any more,” said Terry, who opened his operation in early 2000.
His business immediately took off, Terry said. But between September and December 2008, Cimarron lost 65 percent of its business, he said. “Everybody just quit buying.”
These days, Cimarron, which employs 92, makes some 600 custom trailers annually, 60 percent of which are horse trailers; 30 percent, stock. Some trailers retail for as much as $150,000 to $175,000, Terry said.
Ninety percent of his trailers are sold out of state, including to buyers in Australia and Canada.
From his 65,000-square-foot facility on 17 acres east of Chickasha, Terry, 57, talked with The Oklahoman on Tuesday about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots?
A: I grew up right here in Chickasha. My mother, 82, was a special needs teacher; she earned her master's from OU. My father, now deceased, worked in the oil field and owned a liquor store. There were six of us kids, three boys and three girls. I'm in the middle. We were raised Catholic, but I'm now a member of the First Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church.
Q: What were the highlights of your school days? Were you a good student?
A: I was a mediocre student until I got into vo-tech my senior year and became an A student. I studied building construction. I've always liked making things. I grew up working on my (paternal) grandfather's cattle and wheat farm — welding, doing carpentry, fixing fences and dealing with animals. I learned to drive a tractor when I was 8. I went on to be an Eagle Scout and loved the outdoors big time. I had a great scout leader. We were floating the Illinois River before there were ever canoe rentals there.
Q: And college?
A: I graduated high school on a Tuesday and left home on a Thursday. A friend and I moved to Tulsa, where we had an opportunity to build apartments. Lynn and I, who were high school sweethearts, married the September following graduation and moved to Okmulgee were I studied drafting and engineering for three years at OSU Tech. Lynn worked as a secretary at the school. The deal was I'd go to school first and then she would. After I earned my certificate, we moved to Norman, where she earned an accounting degree from OU.
Q: What was your first professional job?
A: I worked as a drafter in Dolese Bros.' engineering department. Lynn and I would go to lunch everyday together and they hired her for the maintenance shop. They weren't supposed to hire spouses, but they thought she was cute.
Q: You've had a long career in the trailer manufacturing business. Give us a quick overview.
A: I started as a drafter with Haynes Manufacturing Co. Inc. in Chickasha, where I worked eight years. The owner died and the production manager and I had plans to buy the company, but he left. Over the next few years, I taught the ropes to a financial guy, who ultimately squeezed me out. (After losing that job) I didn't know what was going to happen. I knew I had a family to feed; my daughter was 3 at the time. That's when I joined Hart Trailers of Chickasha, where I worked 15 years. I started in drafting and engineering, moved to sales, and was general manager when I left.
Q: What led you to start your own business?
A: Opportunity. I wasn't necessarily planning it, but God shoved me into it and things fell into place. We started on Feb. 2, 2000, as partners to a couple who owned Cimarron Trailers in Madill. But Lynn and I bought them out in the summer of 2003. We had no idea how we were going to get the financing. Our first bank backed out as we got nearer closing. The second bank gave us a USDA guaranteed loan, which we paid off over eight years. Tony Hackney, our production manager and a former co-worker at Hart, has been with us from the start. Today, his dad and son work for us.
Q: You've built some custom trailers for some unique “clients,” including several college mascots. Tell us about those.
A: Yes. We've built one for Bevo, the longhorn steer of the University of Texas, USC's white horse, Traveler, and Colorado State's Cam the Ram. In fact, we're building a trailer now for the live horse ridden by Texas Tech's “The Masked Rider.” We've even built one for an elephant.