CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) — Ask anyone in Taylor County about furniture and the name McMahan will come up. It started with eight brothers in the 1940s that all got in the business together. Eugene McMahan’s father was one of those brothers.
“I knew I wanted to do this when I first started. When I first got out of college, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Eugene recalls. “It’s the kind of work you really enjoy and it’s challenging every day. It’s fun work but it’s hard work.”
Euguene followed in his father’s footsteps and is one of the few McMahans who have stayed in the business. Now his son is working for him. By the early 2000s, Campbellsville Handmade Cherry furniture was doing half-a-million dollars in business a year. That’s before the recession hit and before tragedy struck.
“The fire was Oct.15, 2010,” Patrick McMahan said. “It completely destroyed everything except for the concrete pad we’re standing on and about half of our showroom pieces, which we carried out while it was burning.”
Fire tore through the Campbellsville factory and showroom. The lumber and chemicals inside igniting it like a matchbox.
“It flattened it to the ground,” Patrick said. “[There was] nothing we could do but stand there and watch and try to save what we could.”
Eugene remembers it with tears in his eyes. “It was terrible,” he says. “I was at the doctor’s office and when I came up over the hill I could see the smoke and I knew that was it. But nobody got hurt and that was the main thing.”
No one was hurt but the business was. More than $60,000 in customers’ work had to be replaced, not to mention the equipment and inventory. Most everyone, including Eugene, thought it was the end.
That’s when Patrick stepped up. “If I didn’t do it, that’s the last McMahan. My dad turned 70-years-old this year. If I didn’t get down here and do it that was it.”
But instead it was a new beginning. The father and son team used the insurance money to buy new equipment and get started on construction right away. Within four months, they opened their new warehouse.
“Everything’s grown locally in Kentucky,” Patrick explains as he tours the factory. “All the cherry comes mostly from the Appalachian region.”
They are back up and running. Business took a hit but they are sticking to their roots, using all local materials and making everything by hand.
It would save some money for them to mass produce, but they do it because they love it. They say they will keep doing it because well, it’s in their blood.
“We’re not getting rich off this,” Patrick said. “We don’t make a lot of money but we like doing it. I take great pride in putting something in someone’s house and them saying ‘that’s beautiful.’
“That’s the reward you get,” Euguene said.
Mobile Workers Travel the Country for a Paycheck
By Becky Bratu
Camping season is long over in Campbellsville, Ky., but motorhomes and camper vans still fill its parking lots and motel rooms are booked for months.
When Amazon.com announced last month it was hiring for thousands of temporary positions at its Kentucky fulfillment centers for the holiday season, people from across the country converged upon the town of 10,000 in a rush to fill them.
“It’s like quick money for Christmas,” Rita DeMichiel of Florida, one of the temporary workers, said. “We get in, we get out.”
DeMichiel is part of a growing number of mobile job hunters who travel to Campbellsville during the holiday season with their entire families to work for $10 an hour, packing and shipping Amazon orders during 8-12 hour shifts.
“The pay is really good, it’s above minimum wage,” DeMichiel said. “They pay overtime, so financially for us it was a way to make quick money and then be on our way to the next destination.”
The camper vans filled with families, retirees or hard-up job seekers are becoming a holiday season staple in Campbellsville.
Ron McMahan, executive director of the Campbellsville-Taylor County Economic Development Authority, says these seasonal workers are adding dollars to local businesses.
“It’s like a three- to four-month convention,” McMahan said. “These people are here eating in restaurants, they need medical services, they are shopping in retail stores, they need camper repair.”
For most of the workers, hopscotching around the country for a paycheck is a lifestyle. When their work is done in Kentucky, they’ll drive their vans to the next job. Texas, Wyoming, Michigan are a few of the popular destinations for itinerant workers. Most of them hear about available jobs online or by word of mouth from other workers.
Debra and Mark Pinson traded in a three-bedroom house and a mortgage for life on the road. Their first time living in a work camp was this spring in Michigan. They now travel from job to job across the country in their RV, staying in work campgrounds rent-free.
“Well, the mortgage was $1,800 and we pay zero here,” Debra Pinson said. “There are jobs out there. You just have to go out and look for them.”
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