After nearly 53 years, Blue Ridge Truss closes

BASYE — After nearly 53 years in business, a local manufacturer of trusses shuttered its doors Tuesday.

Founded in 1962 by Willard Fansler, the Blue Ridge Truss and Supply Company built wooden roof and floor trusses and wall panels for commercial and residential structures, serving the Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland with truss needs.

Vondrea Fansler said the company, which employs approximately 50 people, is closing due to a decreased demand in the market and a lack of leadership.

“Back in the early years, we were shipping out about 20 million trusses a year, but it has slowly declined,” she said. “Willard passed away 12 years in January and there was no one to really replace him … this is something I never thought I’d have to do and believe me, I’m not really a replacement.”

She added, “With the business down and with my health, we didn’t really have anyone to put in here.”

Fansler said her husband started the company “just to see if he could do it.” A former school teacher at Hudson’s Crossroads, a U.S. Marshal who hunted down moonshiners and a federal probation officer, Willard Fansler was also a tinker and pioneer, Vondrea Fansler said.

“He was one of the first people to start making trusses around here,” she said. “He was quite a remarkable person … he made a lot of his own machinery and I used to go with him to sales. He’d buy up steel and he’d come home and make the machinery for the plant.”

Vondrea Fansler added, “Even though he worked for the government, he always worked at something else … Willard was a very intelligent man and he never required much sleep so he could work all the time, he couldn’t sit still and he was real good with engines … he could make anything.”

Brenda Dinges, an administrator at the company, would have been with the company for 35 years in July. She said during the company’s heyday, in the 1980s and 1990s, it employed 150 people and cleared $1 million a month in profit during the building season, which went from late March to the beginning of November.

Dinges said the last few years have been really hard at Blue Ridge Truss.

“The housing industry, the last seven or eight years, has been brutal,” she said. “This year, the business just didn’t come to us … there was a lot of competition and it just didn’t come to us.”

She said with other truss companies in Winchester and Harrisonburg, Blue Ridge Truss just got passed over, somewhat due to its distance from Interstate 81.

“We had a tax auditor come over here one time and he said he came down the mountain and was surprised to see a huge truss plant back in here,” she said.

Fansler said location and size was also an issue with staying competitive in the area.

“We’re way back in here,” she said. “We’re not large enough to buy in large quantities like larger companies do … we’re just a small, family owned company.”

Dinges said, “It’s sad to say these goodbyes” especially to the long-term employees on the production line.

“Some of the employees on that line have been here 25, 30 years and they’re older, but not old enough to draw Social Security and Medicare, but a little too much age to compete with younger workers,” she said.

Dinges added, “These workers are dedicated to the company and have been out there during the hottest days and the coldest days, working at that line … we hope we can do anything, such as being an excellent reference or finding a buyer for the company who might put another plant here, to help them.”

Blue Ridge Truss and Supply is located at 1099 Orkney Grade in Basye. For the next month, the company will be closing down the facility and checking inventory. Dinges noted that the 20 acres of land the company sits on is “actively” for sale.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com