Family-focused fleet

Founded in Aurora, Ind., in 1890 by Colonel John J. Backman, Aurora Casket Co. has grown into the largest privately held casket manufacturer in the United States and is still owned and run by the Backman and Barrott families. The company's original factory location is adjacent to the rail line that runs through the city of Aurora, significant because of its proximity to transportation prior to the

Founded in Aurora, Ind., in 1890 by Colonel John J. Backman, Aurora Casket Co. has grown into the largest privately held casket manufacturer in the United States and is still owned and run by the Backman and Barrott families. The company's original factory location is adjacent to the rail line that runs through the city of Aurora, significant because of its proximity to transportation prior to the age of commercial trucks.

The company's first products were octagonal wood coffins. Manufactured metal caskets were introduced in 1934, and in 1953 hardwood caskets were discontinued. Today, Aurora makes metal and wood caskets at plants in both Indiana and Tennessee.

Aurora Casket is a family company serving a family-centered profession. Transportation of the company's products to market are delivered by a private truck fleet comprised of 30 power units and 50 trailers. Driver longevity is key to the success of corporate transportation. Of the fleet's 24 company drivers, the most senior over-the-road driver has been with the company for 42 years, and the average years of service for all drivers is 19. Families make up the work force, with the company boasting two father-son pairs and numerous second-generation drivers.

John Gillenwater, CTP, transportation manager, credits Aurora's success to its employees. “They truly understand the importance of the service they deliver. A casket is an intimate and emotional product that must be handled with care and sensitivity. We place confidence in the drivers to serve our customers so they in turn can serve the families in their communities.” Today, the over-the-road drivers deliver to the company's network of service centers throughout the country and only on a limited basis directly to funeral homes.

Having been with the company himself for ten years, Gillenwater came up through the ranks. After many years serving his country in the U.S. Army, he had gained experience in logistics and understanding the importance of expedited freight. During the invasion of Kuwait, he was in the Ordnance Corps supplying the rapid deployment units. For a time he was in the aviation field as an avionics technician where he learned the importance of a good maintenance program and an appreciation for driving a semi-truck. As a maintenance technician he had to transport equipment to the deployment location, driving tractor-trailers to the site.

A recent graduate of NPTC's Certified Transportation Professional program, Gillenwater says Aurora has a culture of long-term relationships and a sense of durable belonging and both make for a great work environment. “I am able to communicate with openness and candor with all shareholders.”

Take the issue of new technology. Drivers were initially against outfitting their rigs with telematics and paperless logging. Not anymore. So, too, are the drivers embracing the switch from restrictive-designed trailers to a more general freight trailer for more capacity and versatility. “By talking about these issues openly and without fear of management taking exception to different viewpoints, our drivers have come to see the new technology as valuable and even preferred over the old ways of the past,” says Gillenwater.

It's the family-like environment that helps all work for the good of the company and customers alike.


Gary Petty is president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council. The council's web site is www.nptc.org. His column appears monthly in FLEET OWNER.

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