Two famous hearse and carriage manufacturers, the Rock Falls Manufacturing Company and the Eureka Manufacturing Company - the subject of this biography - can trace their roots to a single individual, Thomas A. Galt.
Thomas Alexander Galt was born in East Earl Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, on January 13, 1828 to William and Mary Ann (Thomas) Galt.
Galt was educated at a roadside country school located near the family’s farm, and following the sudden death of his father in 1842, Galt left home to become a clerk in Concord, Pennsylvania, after which he was employed as a salesman in Strasburg, Pennsylvania between 1845 and 1847. In 1848 he spent a year in Philadelphia with a wholesale dry goods establishment, then returned to Strasburg and purchased the business of his old employer.
After six years in the enterprise, he decided to relocate to Sterling, Illinois where he became a partner with David M. Crawford in a hardware store, organized in 1855 as Galt & Crawford. After two years he bought out Crawford’s share in the firm and brought in his brother, John M. Galt, renaming the firm, Thomas A. Galt & Brother est. 1857. Soon afterwards, Galt started to produce farm implements on a small scale, and in 1862 he decided to concentrate on manufacturing farm equipment and disposed of the hardware store.
In 1863 he became associated with George S. Tracy (sometimes listed as Tracey), the owner of a successful Sterling planing mill, as Galt & Tracy in order to manufacture farm machinery on a much larger scale.
The firm’s Keystone Corn Planter was well received, but tragedy struck in the spring of 1867 when a fire destroyed their factory causing a $30,000 loss. Although the firm continued the operations in a temporary facility, they elected to relocate their new factory in the neighboring town of Rock Falls, on land purchased from Rock Falls founder A.P. Smith. At the time water-powered machinery was in its infancy, and the new plant was an early adopter of the new technology.
Galt & Tracy was reorganized in 1870 as the Keystone Manufacturing Company, with a capital stock of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars and officers as follows; Thomas A. Galt, president and treasurer; George S. Tracy, vice president; and J.B. Patterson, secretary. Later that year the same group formed the Sterling Manufacturing Company in order to compete in the expanding field of sashes, doors and other millwork.
By 1881 Keystone’s Combined Corn Husker & Fodder Shredder, Hay Loader and “Victor” brand Disc Harrow were the firm’s best-selling products and to provide better service to their customers in the west, they established a satellite office and wareroom in Council Bluffs, Iowa at 1501-1507 South Main St.
Keystone participated in the 1893 World's Columbia Exposition in Chicago, Illinois where they exhibited the following products; hay loader, corn planter, disc seeder, disc harrow, power corn sheller, corn drill and corn husker.
Although Keystone was Rock Falls’ largest employer, with over 400 hands, by 1903 they had been forced into bankruptcy and taken over by a group of investors headed by Eugene K. Butler and his nephew, Henry B. Utley, Keystone’s manager. Two years later, the National Harvester Company of Chicago purchased the former Keystone works for $340,000 in stock. Utley would eventually become vice president of the International Harvester Company as it would later be known.
Another influential Whiteside county resident, Augustus P. Smith was born February 2, 1831 in Cobleskill, New York and in 1848 moved to New York City to seek his fortune, relocating first to Cherry Valley and finally to Gloversville, New York in 1852 where he found employment in the region’s booming leather glove business. He married Elvira J. Champlin in 1855 and the newlyweds relocated to Sterling, Illinois a year later.
In 1849 the Sterling Hydraulic Company was organized to study the feasibility of producing water power and improving the navigation of the aptly-named Rock River. Work on the resulting 1000’x 15’ dam commenced in 1854 and the $7,000 project was completed in September, 1856. The availability water power prompted Augustus Smith to envision the manufacturing-based community of Rock Falls.
Initially accessible only by boat, the north and south banks had been joined in 1857 by a wooden bridge that had been destroyed by a flood. In 1863 the Sterling Bridge Company constructed a $30,000 toll bridge upstream of Sterling at the east end of Picnic Island.
It wasn’t until 1878 that the community-financed First Avenue free bridge was built joining Rock Falls and Sterling at their respective city centers.
In 1867 Smith made arrangements with the Sterling Hydraulic Company’s president, W.A. Sanborn, to provide his new settlement with water power via a raceway from the Rock River dam.
By January of 1868 Smith had acquired options on 65 acres for the development from Sanborn and others and registered the project at the county clerk’s office. Smith christened the new town Rock Falls and on March 15, 1868, the new community’s post office began operation.
As previously mentioned, the firm of Galt & Tracy had been destroyed by fire in the spring of 1867, and as they were eager to rebuild, they became the first industrial residents of Rock Falls. In 1869 A.P. Smith had established a small glove manufacturing enterprise of his own on East Third Street just off First Avenue. In 1870 Galt & Tracy was reorganized as the Keystone Manufacturing Company.
In the fall of 1869 Galt, Smith and James A. Patterson organized an entirely separate firm, the Rock Falls Manufacturing Company, in order to manufacture “cotton, woolen and flax goods, agricultural and mechanical implements, and any other thing.” The firm was incorporated with a capital stock of $50,000 and plans begun for construction of a new factory to be built on the south shore of the Rock River in Rock Falls.
A third Galt-controlled firm, entirely separate from the previous two, was organized at about the same time and is the subject of this corporate biography.Smith and Galt would later join forces once again in the organization of the Chicago & Rock River Railroad with A.P. Smith, vice president and both Smith and Galt as directors (Galt was erroneously listed as S.A. Galt).
The rest of the Rock Falls story can be accessed by visiting the Rock Falls page by clicking here. The Eureka story continues below.
Eureka Mfg. Co. was originally founded in 1871 to manufacture school furniture. The original shareholders were John M. Galt, M.A. Bunn, George S. Tracy and Thomas A. Galt and was capitalized with $50,000. Soon Eureka added office, hotel and church furniture to their successful line of school furniture, and was incorporated in 1887, with Thomas M. Galt as president, M.A. Bunn, vice president; J.G. Crawford, secretary and Alexander McCloy, treasurer. N.S. Ketchum succeeded Galt as president the following year.
General sales agencies were established in Stockton, Calif.; St. Louis, Mo.; St. Paul, Minn., and employment hovered between 50 and 60 employees with N.A. Bunn in charge of the plant; Alexander McCloy, wood shop foreman; C. Allen, iron shop foreman and C.S. Hare in control of the foundry.
Aside from their main line of institutional furniture Eureka also ventured into other areas. Late 1880s products included butter churns, washing machines and small farm machinery such as stalk cutters, sulky cultivators and farm trucks and wagons.
Hunter H. Wood, joined Eureka in 1891 and along with Thomas Stewart purchased a large amount of stock from Thomas G. Galt, the firm's major shareholder. They successfully bid on a 1890s US Government contract to build hundreds of rural mail delivery wagons. Buggies, surreys and concord wagons soon followed and by 1900 the company was listed as one of the five largest carriage builders in the United States, turning out over 5,000 vehicles per year.
In 1905, Stewart sold his stock to B. A. Forester and in 1906 William T. Galt and Wood bought the remaining stock from Thomas A. Galt, one of the original shareholders.
Eureka's 76 page 1908 catalog included buggies, bike wagons, driving wagons, surreys, hearses, ambulances, road carts, breaking carts, buckboards and spring wagons and was printed in both English and Spanish as they were shipping large numbers of vehicles to the Argentine Republic, Mexico and Cuba. The wood in coaches bound for South America and Puerto Rico had to be chemically treated with creosote to protect the body from termites.
Hunter H. Wood became the sole owner of Eureka in 1912 when he purchased the remaining stock held by William T. Galt and B.A. Forester. Wood continued as president until he was named chairman of the board in 1945.
With a large investment in woodworking equipment and a number of highly skilled woodworkers and craftsmen, Eureka commenced the manufacture of wood-bodied professional cars in 1917. They had been motorizing older horse-drawn coaches since 1910, and when the motorized market started expanding in the mid-Teens, they jumped on the bandwagon.
From day one, the Eureka products were targeted to the cost-conscious funeral directors who wanted a motorized coach at a horse-drawn price. Their initial offerings were placed on a purpose-built 36hp six-cylinder chassis supplied by their Moline, Illinois neighbor, Velie.
Eureka's first major innovation in funeral car design came in the early 1920s, when the company pioneered the limousine-style funeral car, a style that would change the look of the funeral car forever. By this time Eureka had abandoned the Velie chassis in favor of more popular medium-priced heavy-duty chassis such as Cadillac and Dodge.
The 1924 Eureka lineup featured a very attractive burial coach built in the limousine style with a fabric-covered
top with an extra long landau bar and pull-down shades in place of the antiquated curtains used by other firms.
Another popular landau-styled leather-roofed coach featured a small vertical opera window that was fitted under the front of a
smaller landau bar.
In their 1926 Catalog, Eureka expounded upon the benefits of their newly patented three-way casket tables and showed a number of stylish leather back landau coaches mounted on medium to high-priced chassis such as Chandler, Cunningham, Lincoln and Stearns-Knight. Their new three-way funeral coaches could be loaded from either side of the vehicle as well as from the rear. The driver's and right-front passenger's seat slid forward underneath the dashboard giving the table-mounted casket sufficient room rotate into the coach.
1927 Eureka advertising favored Buick Master-Six chassis upon which their beautiful landau and limousine-style coaches were mounted. Non-landau bodies were fitted with a very wide (48") rear compartment window made of either solid or leaded glass that was surrounded by a frosted glass border. Eureka also won a lucrative contract to supply the Kissel Motor Car Company with a new line of professional car bodies starting in 1927.
Eureka's 3-way casket table that extended out 36" from either side of the vehicle and allowed easy loading and unloading of the casket. Previous side-loading coaches had small rollers inlaid into the floor that allowed bearers to slide the casket around. An integral latch secured the casket in seconds eliminating the risk of mishaps that could occur during inclement weather or on hilly streets. You could also load the 3-way table from the rear, if the coaches were equipped with a back door.
Starting in 1928 the Town Car style of funeral coach and invalid car made a comeback. Eureka built a striking white town car invalid coach with a padded black leather landau top on a 1928 Packard chassis. They also made their patented three-way table standard across the line and introduced a new series that eliminated the rear entrance. Eureka continued to mount their bodies on any chassis requested by the customer and were more than happy to use a previously-enjoyed chassis if the customer so desired.
A dispute arose in 1929 when William H. Heise's 3-way casket table's patent was approved by the Patent Office. Heise's application predated Myers' (Eureka's) application and lawyers determined that the Meyers patent infringed upon Heises'. Consequently Eureka made an agreement with Heise to license his patent although Henney claimed exclusive rights to it. A barrage of negative advertisements placed by Henney appeared in 1929 funeral magazines claimed that Eureka and others (S&S, Meteor, Silver Knightstown) were equipping their 3-way side-loading coaches with bootleg casket tables. Even though Eureka eventually got an injunction placed against Henney, it lost some customers, the major one being Kissel, whose distributor, National Casket Co. was afraid of any litigation.
In the late 1920s Eureka mounted bodies on Buick, Cadillac, Dodge, Lincoln, Packard, Pierce-Arrow and even on Moon's low-slung Windsor White Prince.
Eureka's town cars remained popular through 1931 as did side-loading funeral coaches equipped with their patented 3-way casket table. Fashionable wide white-wall tires were available this year as well as chrome-plated wire wheels and spare-tire covers. One impressive example was a 1931 Imperial hearse on a Cadillac V16 chassis that featured a new sloping windshield that became standard the following year.
1932-1933 Eureka coaches featured sloping windshields and could be mounted on any chassis the customer desired. One outstanding coach called the Art Model featured elaborately carved-panel sides surrounded by a streamlined beaver-backed body mounted on a Cadillac chassis. Although the columns and carved drapery inserts looked like intricate wooden carvings, the were actually stamped steel or aluminum panels. A.J. Miller introduced a similar-looking coach in 1934 that was clearly influenced by this earlier Eureka product. The Eureka catalog featured bodies mounted on Cadillac, Lincoln, Pierce-Arrow and Packard chassis.
By 1935 all Eureka coaches featured beaver-tailed fastback styling that accentuated their low roofs and correspondingly tall beltlines. The attractive streamlined carved-panel Air-Flow model that was pioneered by Eureka not only looked good but remained popular with funeral directors. Due to their excessively tall waistline, other Eureka coaches looked awkward, even when mounted on the era's best chassis which included Cadillac, Pierce-Arrow, and REO.
Starting in 1935 General Motors started offering a 160" extended-wheelbase professional car chassis that was available from their Buick, Cadillac, LaSalle and Oldsmobile divisions. Consequently by 1936, all Eureka coaches were built on either the new Buick, Cadillac or LaSalle commercial chassis. The Air-Flow art-carved hearse was available as either a dedicated rear-loader or as a side-servicing 3-way combination coach. All other Eureka coaches were called Chieftains and were also available in 3-way or rear-loading versions. Side-servicing coaches featured a moveable driver and passenger seat that could slide forward when the side doors were used. Dedicated rear-loading hearses and ambulances had a permanent division between the driver and the rear compartment.
1936 saw the introduction of a new budget-priced companion line to Eureka, called Pawnee. Sales of the Chevrolet-chassised Pawnees were dismal and the line was quickly eliminated.
At the 1936 National Funeral Director's Convention, Eureka introduced their streamlined flower car. Built on a Cadillac chassis, it featured a collapsible convertible top, and could be used as a first call car or to transport altars, chairs and other necessities to the home of the deceased or to the gravesite.
For 1937 Eureka unveiled a new series of Chieftan coaches that featured an all-steel turret-top manufactured for them by GM's Fisher Body Division. The new turret-topped coaches were noticeably higher than their predecessors but were still built on a wooden framework, a feature that Eureka used until 1957.
Like other contemporary coach-builders, Eureka built a series of airport limousines that were built using stretched sedans and included a large integral luggage rack on the roof.
By 1939 Eureka's flower car was offered with a permanent roof that looked as if it was taken straight off of one of GM's 1939 business coupes. LaSalle coaches remained popular with the industry, and Eureka's catalog contained a wide variety of LaSalle and Cadillac V8-powered coaches. A series of budget-priced coaches were introduced this year that were built on stretched Chevrolet sedan-delivery light truck chassis.
Quite unfairly, LaSalle had acquired the reputation of being a "cheap" Cadillac and was eliminated by GM just as Cadillac released their new Bill Mitchell-designed models in 1941. The new Cadillac was decidedly forward-looking, side-mounted spares had been eliminated and the new Hydra-Matic automatic transmission was available for the first time having been pioneered by Oldsmobile in the previous year. The prow-nosed look seen in the Thirties was gone, replaced by massive front-end highlighted by the now-famous eggcrate grille. Headlamps were now mounted in, rather than on top of, the front fenders. Equipped with a Cord-like coffin-nose hood the new Cadillacs were noticeably different from their predecessors and set the standard for American luxury during the 1940s.
Eureka-Cadillac Chieftan ambulances were available with roof-mounted pod-lights and a large selection of warning devices and emergency equipment. An attractive landau model was available with a choice of body-color painted or synthetic leather-covered roofs and featured the same sculpted rear-wheel spats found on other 1941 Cadillacs.
Eureka's flower cars were re-designed to match the new GM chassis and were built using a 5-window business coupe roof with filled-in rear quarter windows mounted on top of a standard Eureka coach body that had been built without a roof. The rear doors were left intact and could be used to load chairs or other graveside necessities. Access to the casket compartment was through the tailgate which had built-in casket rollers that matched those on the compartment floor. The height of the exposed stainless steel flower deck was hydraulically adjustable so that different-sized floral tributes could be accommodated and a tonneau was included to cover the bed when not in use. 1941-42 Eureka flower cars were similar in appearance to contemporary Flxible units but were 5 1/2" shorter in height.
Eureka manufactured a limited number of their Chevrolet-based "Victory" combination coaches and ambulances in 1943 under the US Government's wartime rationing order M-100. Permission to purchase the units had to be granted by the US Government and was only granted for civil-defense and war-related activities. Eureka had started producing airport limousines using stretched Chevrolet sedans in 1939 and found a waiting customer for their long eight-door 15-passenger coaches when WWII began. A few of the buses were shipped overseas for use in the Allies African campaign to defeat the great German General, Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox." Eureka also manufactured huge 100-passenger "bus-trailers" that could be towed by truck-tractors in re-tooled portions of the Eureka factory.
War contractors needed to furnish transportation to the thousands of war workers that now lived adjacent to their plants and Eureka's airport limousines fit the bill. A limited number of the Chevrolet ambulances were delivered to the US government for use by the allies during the war and Eureka manufactured a few small tank parts for General Motors.
The only major change to Eureka coaches produced after the war was their price. Due to widespread shortages of materials and a corresponding demand for new coaches it was a sellers market. A typical 1946 Eureka-Cadillac Landau with electric casket table was advertised at $6,465, a full $2,000 more than the identical coach cost in 1941. Actual prices could go even higher as most post-war vehicles were sold subject to price at the time of delivery.
An all-new Eureka body appeared in 1947 that included attractive forward-sloping C-pillars and rear quarter-windows. All post-war Eureka's were mounted on Cadillac chassis and included rear fender skirts plus optional automatic transmission and air-conditioning. Ambulances could be ordered with built-in roof-top warning lights, a choice of sirens plus a full complement of emergency medical equipment. 1948 Eureka coaches looked exactly the same as the previous years' models and still featured the Eureka-badged rear wheel spats first seen in 1941.
Cadillac's new Series 86 commercial chassis became available at the beginning of 1949, one year after the introduction of their famous P-38 Lightning-influenced rear fenders on their passenger cars.
In 1950, Eureka made two special white hearses for the First Lady of Argentina, Eva Peron. They were specially prepared for their ocean voyage so that salt spray wouldn't damage their beautiful finish. The Peron hearses were used during parades, and it's assumed that one of them carried Argentina's First Lady to her final resting place in 1951.
Although most of Eureka's competition had turned to modern all-steel bodies during the late 1930s, Eureka's elderly owner, Hunter H. Wood (with Eureka since 1891), refused to invest in the expensive stamping equipment needed for the all-metal body, publicly claiming that Eureka's composite body was superior to the "tin cans" offered by his competitors.
Prior to 1954, Eureka bought 100,000 feet of ash and poplar per year for use in its composite body's wood framing. The wood was kiln-dried on-site and stored with the maple needed for the vehicle's cabinetry.
In 1953, with his health steadily declining, Wood decided to sell the firm to two outside investors. Wilbur S. Myers, Eureka's chief designer and a long-time employee, was also interested in buying the firm and organized a group of local investors who didn't want the firm taken over by outside interests.
The Myers group had the support of Eureka's employees who petitioned Cadillac on Myers' behalf, warning them about the takeover by outside interests. They convinced GM that the only acceptable solution was a transfer of ownership to the Myers group and Cadillac soon convinced Wood that the Myers' takeover was the only way to go.
Under the leadership of Wilbur and Leland Myers, Wilbur's son and Vice-President of the firm, the transition to all-metal bodies was complete by 1957. Leland handled the business and manufacturing portion of the firm while his dad concentrated on design.
The 1957 Eureka professional cars were truly "all new", as their advertising claimed. Eureka had finally abandoned the wood-framed body it had used since the ‘teens and proudly introduced the company's first all-steel bodies. Cadillac’s Series 57-86 commercial chassis was completely new as well and featured a new "X"-frame design instead of the old box/perimeter frame.
The last total redesign for the Eureka line came with the introduction of the 1963 models. The graceful curves were abandoned, and the cars were designed with a much more crisp and angular line.
The 1963 models sold well and their styling was carried over to the 1964 models. When the 1965 models were being designed, company officials decided it didn't have the facilities to follow many of the new styling trends.
Over the years, Eureka had developed a number of innovative creations for the industry and was faced with a growing list of competitors, making the struggle for their market share increasingly difficult from year to year.
In 1964, faced with a hard decision, the Eureka Mfg. Co. closed its doors. The building which housed Eureka most of its life was old and inadequate and needed to be replaced. There also was doubt whether the market would support two high-quality, high-priced funeral car lines. It was decided the expense to remodel was too much to continue, so the 1964 model was the last to roll off the line.
The last hearse produced by Eureka is currently owned by Doug Kilberg, a grandson of Wilbur S. Myers, Eureka's final owner and president. During Eureka's 93 years they had been an innovator in both style and quality, giving the funeral industry the first limousine-style coach, the first three-way coach and the first dedicated flower car.
All was not lost, however.
In 1977 Mel Stein of AHA Mfg. Co. Ltd. - a Canadian limousine manufacturer - hired a Canadian automotive journalist named Thomas A. McPherson, to take over AHA's sales and marketing. In addition to being an author - McPherson wrote the bible of the professional car hobby: American Funeral Cars & Ambulances Since 1900 - he was also a graduate of Humber College's mortuary management program and had once run a small funeral home.
McPherson had little trouble convincing Stein to start producing funeral cars as their were four prototype Lincoln extended wheelbase funeral coaches present at AHA's April, 1978 Toronto unveiling. The four models were The Landau, Viceroy, Westminster and Verona and all featured a 157-inch (30" stretch) wheelbase, a full-length raised roof, a side-hinged rear loading door, a rear-loading casket table and a rear air pump to keep the coach level during use. McPherson also introduced the one-piece fiberglass roof and rear quarter panel assembly to the funeral coach industry where it remains the industry's standard method of body construction.
Due to Cadillac's new downsized coaches, the initial sales of the big Lincolns were brisk and production was moved to a new plant at 230 Eddystone Ave. in Downsview, a northwest Toronto suburb in early 1979.
AHA had already had some success with their Buick stretch limousines and decided to create a budget-priced line of Buick funeral coaches. McPherson had a brainstorm and obtained the rights to the Eureka trade name from the family of Wilbur S. Meyers, Eureka's last owner. The Eureka trade name was well recognized by funeral directors so when McPherson's "Eureka Buick" coaches were introduced in 1980, AHA soon had a waiting list for the attractive coaches which were built on a stretched (to 160") Electra chassis.
AHA's owner, Mel Stein, was a limousine man and had grown weary of the funeral car project, so McPherson approached Howard G. Carter, a wealthy Vancouver car dealer for help with financing the purchase of AHA's funeral car division, which was now called Eureka Coach. In addition to his chain of GM and Chrysler dealerships, Carter also owned Howard Distributors of Burnaby, a Vancouver suburb, which was western Canada's largest professional car dealer at that time.
Carter provided the financing but agreed to give McPherson control of new company, which the two formally purchased on November, 1, 1980. As Eureka Coach Co.'s President and Chief Executive Officer, McPherson contacted his many friends in the industry and soon had a large and well-organized group of dealers north and south of the US-Canadian border.
McPherson introduced Eureka's Cadillac "Concours" series commercial glass hearse in 1981. The Lincoln line was eventually phased out and at that fall's National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) Convention in Boston, he introduced a matching Cadillac flower car.
In 1982 Eureka introduced a budget-priced line of Buick and Oldsmobile coaches as well as a limousine-style coach, a once-popular style that had been absent from the industry for almost a decade. They also offered Buick, Olds and Cadillac chassised 4- and 6-door limousines that could built to match Eureka's varied line of hearses and introduced a 50" stretched Cadillac executive limousine called the "Senator" in 1984 that put them in direct competition with their former owner, Mel Stein.
Eureka was the hit of the 1984 NFDA Convention where they exhibited an all-white open-front Cadillac Town Car hearse which paid homage to a Lincoln Town Car Hearse which the original Eureka Company had built 60 years previous. Originally planned only as a showcar, Eureka eventually built over a dozen examples.
With demand at an all-time high, Eureka was sorely in need of a larger facility, so in late 1984 a new 100,000 sq. ft. plant was built at 99 Adesso Drive in Concord, Ontario - a half-mile from the intersection of the 400 & 407 King's Highways and only two miles north of the old Downsview plant which was also built near the 400. The $5.5 million factory opened in March of 1985 with a grand opening at which Eureka's new Chieftan line of Pontiac rear-wheel-drive hearses and limousines were introduced.
In 1985 Superior/S&S replaced all of their rear-wheel-drive Cadillac hearses with coaches built on Cadillac's new front-wheel-drive chassis. These new "small" coaches were not well received and the following year rear-wheel-drive coaches re-appeared in Superior/S&S catalogs. With this knowledge, McPherson introduced Eureka's all-new 1986 FWD coaches at the fall 1985 NFDA convention, but emphasized that they were not meant to replace the firm's popular RWD models. The "New Generation" lineup consisted of an entire range of front-wheel-drive Buick, Cadillac and Oldsmobile hearse and limousines.
The following year, McPherson introduced a flower car companion to the "New Generation" coaches at the NFDA fall gathering.
In 1987 Eureka introduced a line of Chevrolet Caprice-based hearses and limousines to replace their rear-wheel-drive Pontiac Parisiennes which had been discontinued by GM.
The US-Canadian exchange rate was a major factor in the success and eventual failure of Eureka. When the firm was founded, the rate was at .8113 - an American dollar was worth $1.23 in Canadian dollars.
The US-Canadian exchange rate refers to the ratio of US prices to Canadian prices expressed in either US or Canadian dollars.) The rate hit it's lowest point in 1986 when it was at .7196 meaning a US dollar was worth $1.38 Canadian. The purchasing power of the American dollar was not quite as high as the exchange rate suggests, however Canadian products - such as Eureka's coaches - were priced substantially lower than their American-built competition.
As a Canadian firm selling 80% of their products to US customers, that favorable rate gave Eureka an economic advantage over their American competitors that eventually made them the largest North American producer of professional cars, producing over 600 coaches during the mid-to-late 1980s.
However, the fluctuating rate later contributed to the firms' downfall. The price of Eureka's coaches rose gradually from their lowest point in 1985-86, when the exchange rate was between .7321 (1985), and .7196 (1986). to their highest point in 1988-89 when the exchange rate was between .8108 (1988) and .8445 (1989). Eureka's sales suffered and it was forced into receivership when the rate hit .8445, a fact that the firm's board of directors overlooked.
The board (aka Carter family interests) held McPherson responsible for Eureka's red ink - a 1.8 million C$ loss in 1988 - and in May of 1988 he was escorted from the plant, never to return. Howard G. Carter died in late July and McPherson subsequently filed a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit against the firm.
In hindsight getting rid of McPherson was the worst move the firm could have made as he had many friends in the industry and was widely respected by his dealers and customers alike. Once the news got out, orders suddenly dried up and the firm's products were effectively black-listed south of the border.
The board of directors appointed Eureka's plant manager F. G. "Skip" Williams, a former General Motors executive, as President and introduced a new McPherson-designed front-wheel-drive Cadillac coach, the Eureka HGC Signature, at that fall's 1988 NFDA convention. However, the conferees were not impressed by the firm's dog and pony show and three months later, in February 1989, Eureka's employees were given their pink slips. Court-appointed receivers took over the plant the following week, and it now houses the Ontario Government Pharmaceutical and Medical Supply Service.
However, the proud Eureka name would soon re-emerge for the third time.
The Heritage Coach Co. of Skippack, Pennsylvania, a division of Lankford Buick Pontiac GMC Inc. of Norristown, PA, purchased the Eureka tooling and trade name from the firm's receivers. Within the year Mark Lankford and Bob Williams had established a new firm called CCE Inc. to manufacture Eureka-badged funeral coaches and limousines in a new plant in Norwalk, Ohio. In 1993 the firm, now known as Eureka Coach, CCE Inc., purchased another classic funeral coach producer - Miller-Meteor - from Collins Industries of Hutchinson, Kansas.
Located at 600 Industrial Parkway in Norwalk, Ohio, CCE Inc. was a union (UAW) shop that employed from 80 to 120 employees and enjoyed a QVM ‘‘Qualified Vehicle Modifier’’ rating from Ford Motor Company as well as Cadillac's ‘‘Master Coach Builder’’ certification.
In 1999, CCE Inc. sold the combined Eureka and
Miller-Meteor operation and trade-names to the nation's largest producer of funeral vehicles - Accubuilt Inc.
who moved it to their new (in 1995) 175,000-square-foot facility in Lima,
Today, 220 skilled Accubuilt employees manufacture $45.90 Million Dollars worth of quality vans and professional vehicles for five distinct brand names: Vartanian, Eureka Coach, Miller-Meteor, S&S (Sayers & Scovill) and Superior.
With a team of quality builders, designers and engineers, Eureka continues its rich heritage of product innovations and customer satisfaction with "contemporary style." Eureka Coach builds its vehicles on the foundation of quality and craftsmanship and is recognized for its trend-setting designs and dignity it provides its customers. This is evident in the styles of yesteryear as well as those of today.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com with special thanks to Thomas A. McPherson