From lightning rods to high-end shuttle buses, the Cripe family’s efforts have grown in Goshen and New Paris, Ind., over the decades, with this year marking the 50th anniversary of the launch of Turtle Top.
As reported by the Elkhart Truth, now known as a specialty bus manufacturer that serves customers like airports, health care, correctional facilities and limousine services, it started in a very different place, said Rob Cripe, a member of the fourth generation of the family.
Ernest Cripe, the founder of the company, had a heart condition and had to use an electric cart to be out in the shop as his company, Independent Protection Company, made lightning-protection equipment, Rob Cripe said.
Ernie Cripe liked to spend time in Florida, so “he developed a pop-up-type top” for vehicles that allowed his cart in there. “Bob and Dick kind of took that idea and started putting that top on pickup trucks,” Cripe said.
The company started offering the top to its installation contractors as a way to help handle more equipment. When Ernie died, his family decided to branch out. Since the top resembled a turtle shell, the Turtle Top name was born in 1962.
They started out converting Dodge vans into motorhomes, said Phil Tom, also a member of the family’s fourth generation.
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Several Elkhart County, Ind., RV manufacturers and suppliers are donating their time, materials and funding to help transform a four-year-old, 84-passenger school bus into an innovative mobile science center.
The “Science-2-GO Bus” is the brainchild of ETHOS (Encouraging Technology and Hands On Science), an affiliate of Elkhart Community Schools.
“Imagine a state-of-the-art science training center that is easily available to Elkhart County students and teachers that gives them the opportunity to explore science in new ways and look at their world through the eyes of a scientist,” said Dana Knapp, a master science teacher with ECS.
That’s what a handful of local firms are creating this winter. The bus is being outfitted with computers, solar panels and other features that will help bring science closer to students and teachers in Elkhart County schools.
The total cost for this community initiative is well over $250,000, sponsors estimate.
Participants include A and R Machine, ASA Electronics, Bayer Corp., Cleer Vision Windows, Dicor Corp., the Elkhart Country Community Foundation, Forest River Inc., Home Energy, Interlink Computers, Jayco Inc., Performance Graphics, Show Hauler Trucks, Summit Fiberglass, Turtle Top and Wiley Metal.
The idea began to evolve more than a year ago and sprouted when the Bayer Foundation came forward with a $64,000 grant. “Several local companies came on board right away, then the economy went down,” explained Patsy Boehler, executive director of ETHOS.
The project was put on hold for nine months, then was revived over the winter.
Boehler contacted the office of northern Indiana Congressman Joe Donnelly, who pointed her in the direction of Dicor Corp. in Elkhart. Dicor staff warmed to the idea and drafted some preliminary designs.
She then contacted the Elkhart Community Foundation and was put in contact with Forest River, which joined the effort and identified some local suppliers who could help on the project.
“It was just amazing how many companies said they could donate things,” Boehler said.
The project got off the drawing board this winter, and the bus is making the rounds to area firms, each modifying the bus using its special skills. The first step was to remove the seats and raise the ceiling by 14 inches.
Thanks to the donations from the local firms, only $19,000 of the original grant has been spent so far. The balance of the grant will help furnish the lab. Boehler anticipates the bus will be completed in March or April.
Phil Tom of Turtle Top, Doug Rhude representing A & R Machine and Dennis Boehler are co-chairmen for the project.