Three generations, a family history of business at Western Trailer


Last updated 2/21/2019 at 11:11am

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Family photos, awards and ornaments are displayed on a wall in a back room at Western Trailer and Marine Sales in Havre Wednesday.

Long-standing business Western Trailer and Marine Sales LLC is on its third generation of family members involved with the business.

"We are a family business," Clyde Thomas Jr. said.

Brandy Kurtz, daughter of Thomas, said that she has no particular favorite memory of working with her father and brother, Clyde "Duke" Thomas III, because, to her, they were all good. Every day, she said, she gets to see them and work together.

Thomas said his mother's family homesteaded in the Bear Paw Mountains and his father's family homesteaded at Fresno, farming and ranching. He said his father, Clyde Thomas Sr., started his first business in 1928 - a news stand in the parking lot of the Atrium Mall, then Buttrey's Department Store.

In 1929, he said, his father started the Shanty Bar, then, after being drafted into the U.S. Air Force during World War II and returning, his father built the Shanty Hotel, now the Budget Inn.

Thomas Sr. also started Clyde's Drive In and Out, which was located where Hi-Line Dodge is now. Thomsas said this was one of the first drive-in restaurants in town.

He said his father sold the Shanty in 1961 and started Western Realty and RV Sales at Second Street and Fourth Avenue.

In 1986, Thomas said, the business moved to its present location.

He added that his father died in 1989, leaving him the business and "big shoes to fill."

A community and family business

His father was well-known in the community, Thomas said, and after he died he had to step up and take care of things. He said that since he was a little kid it was instilled in him what he was going to do rest of his life.

Thomas added that his father was truly a visionary in Havre.

"He was always one to think of new ideas to bring to Havre," Thomas said.

In the 58 years his father was in business, he said, he always looked at different business opportunities.

He said his parents lived at the businesses, and one of the things he admired about his father was his work ethic.

"Always try to find something better," Thomas said. "That was his goal, was his business, more so that than anything."

Kurtz said she was 7 years old when her grandfather died, but she remembers he was big into giving back to his community.

"No matter what, you always gave back to the community," she said.

Her grandfather was a major supporter of 4-H, she added, and their family still are supporters of the organization and were presented a plaque commending them for more than 50 years of service to 4-H.

Kurtz added that their family is involved with many other organizations, as well.

Thomas is on the college rodeo board as its president and is also the president of the Bear Paw Bowmen Club, she said, adding that she and her father are both members at the Havre Elks Lodge.

Thomas said he sold his first RV when he was 12 years old. He said his father most likely already worked the deal out ahead of time, but to him it was one of the most exciting moments as a kid.

Kurtz said she sold her first RV when she was 15 and her brother did when he was 10.

"It's kind of like being on the farm and ranch," Thomas said. "You have your chores to do, you have your things to do, but then you get to meet people."

He added that his kids would come after school, like he did when he was a kid, growing up in the business.

It was important that they learned how to work with customers, Thomas said.

He added that they get many returning customers and the reason why is because of the customer service they can provide.

"Customer service is the big thing that we stress," he said.

"If you can't take care of the customer, then you can't take care of the product, therefore you can't take care of what you need to take care of and you won't succeed here," Kurtz said.

Thomas added that they treat customers like family and treat them with respect. He and his family are always looking to see what they can do to better serve their customers, Thomas said.

"We want to know if we aren't doing something right," he said.

The future

Kurtz said she wanted to work at Western Trailer since she was a child.

"I wanted to do this since I was little. It's been instilled in me," Kurtz said.

She said she had other options over the years, but knew this was what she wanted to do. She added that once her father retires, she and her brother will hopefully take over the business.

Kurtz said she loves the fact that she gets to work with her family. They butt heads on occasion, she added, but "I wouldn't have it any other way."

The family has worked to keep the business current.

Thomas said something in the industry that has changed over the years is the quality and amenities for trailers. The industry has gone from having "plain Jane's" to having anything that people can think of, the technology has improved so much, he said.

Kurtz said that people can't find "plain Jane" trailers any more.

She added that another change is to their website. If websites are not smart-phone capable, people will not visit them as much, she said, so everything had to be modernized so it could work.

One of the reasons big box stores such as Sears and Hergerger's closed, she said, is because everyone is shopping online. But local businesses are still around and still need community support. If someone walks through the door and Western Trailer doesn't have what they are looking for, she said, she can order the prodcut and have exactly what they are looking for in two days. People forget that, she said.

Local businesses also sponsor the community, are part of the community, she said, and that is only possible if the community supports them.

"Shop local, support small businesses and support your community," she said.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Clyde Thomas Jr. and Brandy Kurtz talk about business Wednesday in their office at Western Trailer and Marine Sales in Havre.


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