By DAVID COLBERT
If you own a vehicle, I expect it has a dashboard, a seat, perhaps a back seat, and a wheel with a rim and an axle. If anything needs fixing, our community has quite a few body shops, tire shops, engine repair shops, and even oil and lube servicing shops that can serve your needs.
If your vehicle has all those things, but you drive it with reins rather than a steering wheel, you remove the engine and lead it into a stall when you get home, and your wheels connect to the axle with spokes, what then? One solution is nearby, just three miles north of Montgomery, Indiana, Raber’s Buggy Shop can fix your vehicle or even make you a new one.
Raber’s Buggy Shop was established in 1975. Before he married, owner Victor “Vic” Raber worked two years with the owner of a nearby business servicing buggies. It was, as Raber described it, a “one-horse operation” — small in scale, but not in consequence, since at the end of those two years he purchased the business and relocated it to the end of the lane at his father’s home.
When you have 13 siblings, everybody gets a chance to work. This is particularly true when your family farms. The Raber brothers and sisters all worked the farm with their parents until they were married. Vic is one of nine brothers and he has always enjoyed shop work. Farming affords ample opportunity to scratch that itch. If it can be made, it can be broken. And if you’re handy enough, it can be fixed.
If you suppose that Raber’s Buggy Shop makes and repairs buggies, you’d be correct. If you suspect that is all they do, sit back. A more descriptive name for this business, today, is Raber’s Buggy Shop, Steel Fabricators, and Well Stocked Hardware Store. Who can say what tomorrow will bring?
Working outside the family
Given his own experience, Vic is a proponent of working outside the family at least briefly. After his son Richard had worked beside him for several years, they both saw a future for Rich to assume the business. Vic suggested that being next-of-kin in a family-owned business is not nearly as fertile a proving ground as being somebody else’s employee. Rich left Raber’s Buggy Shop for a couple of years to experience fully “employee-ness.” He returned with two years of experience, a healthy sense of empathy, and now has his name on the company sign at the intersection of North 700 East and East 300 North.
If you get to that intersection, turn onto E 300 N. The first business on your right is Raber’s Buggy Shop. It has been steadily evolving for over forty years.
Initially, much of the business was hand work, including drilling. Soon hydraulic tools were added. Until the 1990s, Raber used inverters to power calculators and small equipment. Then he installed a generator to run electric power tools and the welders. Yes, welders.
Raber diversified fairly early in his business, applying his experience with keeping things running on the farm. Today, steel fabrication and farm equipment repair accounts for 75 percent of his business. Nearly all the projects are designed in-house to meet a specific need. Raber’s is a custom shop that builds hog equipment, litter levers for turkey barns, loaders to get caged turkeys onto transport trailers, and even hay elevators. They also build and fix buggies. You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?
About those buggies …
Like a vehicle in your driveway or barn, there is maintenance involved with horse-drawn vehicles. Some come back to Raber’s for a “tune-up.” Tires and wheels take the brunt of the punishment. Bearings are the next most common repair item. Otherwise, treating wood surfaces, tightening loosened bolts, and general repairs keeps a buggy or carriage in good trim.
Raber runs a business that has rarely advertised. Word-of-mouth has been sufficient; he and his crew have “been up against the bit” since starting. It’s difficult to say how much time goes into each project. When we spoke, there were four to five buggy or carriage projects in progress in that part of the business. And the customers come from many places.
As early as the 1970s, Raber shipped a product to Washington. The one with a coastline. At the other extreme, if you’ve been driven around Central Park by a coachman, that conveyance may have been a Raber-built carriage. And soon you can visit a Wisconsin restaurant where the buggy seat in their booth was personally upholstered by Victor Raber.
Challenges and rewards
Specialty projects have come along too, including a stagecoach, a horse-drawn hearse, and miniature buggies driven by children. They have provided a challenge, but the greatest challenge has been people. As with many other businesses, it can be difficult to retain good help. Also, people have increasingly expected faster delivery, and exhibited diminished patience. Well, tough. Vic is a staunch adherent to the idea that anything worth doing is worth doing well.
If people are the challenge, they are also the reward. This is a job Vic can’t imagine not doing and the most meaningful aspect of the job is positive feedback. He derives great enjoyment from working with people, and I was privileged to meet one with whom he has worked for many years.
John Benton began his career in sales just after college with Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company. Thirty-five years ago his mentor brought him to Raber’s Buggy Shop. They arrived before sunup and met Vic, who was operating from an older building further back on the property. John now works for Southern Marketing Affiliates, or SMA. They provide agricultural parts that are important to many of Victor’s customers.
John has seen the Rabers’ account blossom from $10 thousand to over $600 thousand in annual hardware purchases across the enterprise. He has seen new buildings erected and new capabilities embraced, and has witnessed Raber’s business continually evolve. That’s impressive, but it doesn’t explain a relationship of 35 years. John explained that with two words: Honesty and Respect. They are the foundation of a strong relationship and a strong business.
Vic and I also talked about computers. He’s not a harsh critic, but he’s not an avowed fan either. If you’re like me and you spend an unhealthy amount of time wanting the newest, the fastest, and the bestest when you’re frustrated by your computer, I leave you with Victor Raber’s words of wisdom, which are so applicable in all parts of our lives:
“Advancement doesn’t satisfy discontentment, it only feeds it.”
Raber’s Buggy Shop is at 7209 E 300 N, Montgomery, In 47558. You can reach them via phone at (812) 486-3789 or (812) 486-3726 and via Internet not at all.