Vehicles

Turtle Top Grounded In Bolts And Buses

Posted on September 12, 2014 by Tom Halligan - Also by this author

The Turtle Top legacy began in 1962 when a liftable top was made to haul lightning protection material and tools to the job site that IPC sold to its lightning protection distributors. Dick and Bob Cripe decided to put canvas on it and go camping. Other campers saw this and wanted to buy, so IPC started building them for the recreational market. 
The Turtle Top legacy began in 1962 when a liftable top was made to haul lightning protection material and tools to the job site that IPC sold to its lightning protection distributors. Dick and Bob Cripe decided to put canvas on it and go camping. Other campers saw this and wanted to buy, so IPC started building them for the recreational market. 

Throughout its 51-year history, Turtle Top has been a lightning rod for success in the transportation industry — with a literal twist. The roots of the company go back to 1934 when Henry H. Cripe and sons, Earnest C. Cripe and Forrest G. Cripe, founded Independent Protection Co., a successful manufacturer and installer of lightning protection systems.
The old saying that necessity is the mother of invention was certainly true for Cripe, as he later developed protective “liftable” canvass covers for his truck beds that protected equipment while at job sites. Figuring that his invention would be the perfect vehicle for camping, well, when other outdoor folks noticed the functional protective top, Cripe saw a new business opportunity.

In 1962, the first Turtle Top and Travel Gear Conversion liftable roof for cargo vans was developed, and because it won universal praise, the company recognized the potential for its use in passenger vans in the growing leisure and recreational market. The Turtle Top division was launched.

J. Timm Bledsoe, who directs sales and marketing, says Turtle Top sells buses ranging from 15 passengers-and-under to 50 passengers.
 
J. Timm Bledsoe, who directs sales and marketing, says Turtle Top sells buses ranging from 15 passengers-and-under to 50 passengers.
 

Of course, everyone in the transportation industry knows that uncontrollable events can put the brakes on a growing business — none more damaging for Turtle Top than the 1979 Iranian revolution, which caused oil prices to jump and fearful long lines at service stations. Some states initiated odd-even (per license plate number) gas rationing days which stoked more panic.

The recreational conversion vehicle and motor home market tanked, but the company’s spirit of innovation and drive quickly switched gears targeting new transportation markets, such as providing conversion vehicles for the medical, education, emergency responders, corporate campus, and chauffeured transportation markets.

From 1962-64, Turtle Top started developing different camping scenarios with liftable tops with canvas for sleeping areas and standing areas. The Ford Econoline shown in the picture was build from 1961 to 1967.
From 1962-64, Turtle Top started developing different camping scenarios with liftable tops with canvas for sleeping areas and standing areas. The Ford Econoline shown in the picture was build from 1961 to 1967.

Today, some 51 years later, the fourth and fifth generation Cripe family leads Turtle Top as one of the most seasoned and trusted conversion manufacturers of small to mid-sized buses and specialty vehicles.

Because the company crafts customized vehicles for multiple transportation markets, its strength is to develop and share cutting-edge technologies across all of its segments, creating state-of-the-art vehicles and economies of scale.

The company responded to an increasing number of operators adding buses to their fleets to grow weddings and touring services, plus group and corporate outings. J. Timm Bledsoe, Turtle Top director of sales and marketing, said the company is selling more mid-sized buses, from the 15-passenger-and-under range, all the way to 25-, 35- and 50-seat buses.

“This is our sweet spot for the limousine industry,” he says. “We’re seeing demand for bigger and bigger vehicles with lots of amenities.” With four different vehicle platforms and different floor plans to work with, Turtle Top can customize a vehicle to meet the demands and specs for any use. “The company started out using Ford and Chevrolet chassis and then we added International and Freightliner — which is a serious bus engine and transmission that will last a long time,” Bledsoe added.

Turtle Top was one of the originators of the van camper and van conversion craze of the 1960s.
Turtle Top was one of the originators of the van camper and van conversion craze of the 1960s.

Among manufacturing changes over the years, Bledsoe emphasizes the amount of new technologies being built into the vehicles. “The content we’re putting inside the vehicles continues to grow — from audio, video, and entertainment systems to electronics that monitor engine performance, suspension systems, door openings, and sophisticated lighting.”

Bledsoe notes that the increased electrical demand must be supported by sophisticated wiring and multiple batteries to handle the array of electronic-based components and ancillary devices. “For example, we use a sophisticated wiring harness and several batteries to support it all.”

Of course, more creature comforts have been added, especially for the luxury and limousine vehicles Turtle Top produces. “We install more comfortable reclining luxury seats with foot rests,” Bledsoe says. “With TVs and stereo systems, overhead racks and lighting have become more important, so we can equip a vehicle with various mood lighting options.

“Our executive limousine interiors are like a classy lounge,” Bledsoe says. “Side wall and headliners are made out of cloth and vinyl — not plastic — that make for a quieter interior, free of pesky creaks. We install flat-screen TVs that can be wall mounted or even tucked away in hidden compartments, plus a walnut wet bar with plenty of shelving for drinks. Fiber optic lighting rounds out some of the options we can provide operators.”

Bledsoe advised operators when shopping for a bus that it’s critical to know what’s between the outer skin and inner walls. “Our mindset is to use safe and long-lasting materials. For example, we only use fully integrated steel cage construction on all our buses, and we pay attention to building a solid foundation and use steel flooring that helps distribute weight to the edges to prevent the floor from sagging. We build a cage and floor with better stability that will protect passengers.”
By specializing in crafted custom buses that meet operators’ specs, Turtle Top relies on using in-house machinery, technologies and painting. “More and more we do in-house custom work than any other company. We’re not a cookie-cutter operation,” Bledsoe says.

The Cripe family on an outing with their innovative “liftable” top converted vans.
The Cripe family on an outing with their innovative “liftable” top converted vans.

Committed to Green
Turtle Top is an environmentally aware company, both in the “green” stewardship of its facilities and the vehicles it produces. The company works with experts to ensure it not only meets, but exceeds state and federal mandates for water, energy and soil conversation. In fact, the company employs a full-time compliance specialist who is responsible for reporting to regulatory agencies and enforcing the growth of green initiatives with staff and management.

The company also recycles all of its waste and is eliminating all wood products from its manufacturing. “We’re using metal for exterior walls, skirts, and our sub-floors are composite materials which water can’t penetrate, and we are moving to water-based paints that are better for the environment and last the lifetime of the vehicle.”

An example of a green initiative is the installation of solar panels on its New Paris, Ind., bus production facility that feed the local electrical grid that will save hundreds of megawatts of power, and also save 1,200 pounds of pollutants from entering the environment. Further, the company is developing and producing alternative-energy vehicles, such as hybrids, and vehicles that run on propane, natural gas and hydrogen.

For example, the company recently built a fleet of 42 bio-diesel ultra-capacitor hybrid fixed route buses for a customer in St. Louis, Mo. The specialty buses use about 25% less fossil fuel and will save thousands of tons of harmful pollutants over seven years.

One innovative energy saving technology saves fuel during stop-and-go driving. When stopped, the system charges the capacitors, which then release electricity during acceleration, giving the engine a boost that decreases the amount of fuel used.

TOP TO BOTTOM:
1. The F650 XLT Flagship seats up to 50 passengers.
2. The Ford F550 Odyssey XL can be configured to seat 14 to 25 passengers.
3. The Van Terra is available in a Ford or Chevrolet and is the most popular 15-passenger alternative providing a wide wheel base for road stability and the strongest roll cage in the market.
 
TOP TO BOTTOM:
1. The F650 XLT Flagship seats up to 50 passengers.
2. The Ford F550 Odyssey XL can be configured to seat 14 to 25 passengers.
3. The Van Terra is available in a Ford or Chevrolet and is the most popular 15-passenger alternative providing a wide wheel base for road stability and the strongest roll cage in the market.
 

Luxury and Limo Bus Lines
Executive Limo Coach: Provides the most contemporary, luxury transportation for all corporate, social and airport services. With a fully integrated steel cage construction and a wide range of high-end features, these vehicles retain safety and comfort. The Executive Limo features a beverage console, an entertainment center, optional storage compartments, and more. An array of customized floor plans are available.

Features
• High quality Ford E450, Ford F550, and F650 chassis
• Aerodynamic automotive styling
• Clear view 42-in. vista bronze windows
• Luxurious limo suspension seating
• Limo interior with fiber optics
• Beverage console with rock and champagne glass racks
• Dual TV audio video stereo package
• Overhead luggage
• Steel roll cage with full perimeter steel floor
• Body and air conditioning warranty second to none

Custom Luxury Coach: Designed with comfort and ease in mind, these one-of-a-kind units are designed for corporate excursions, as well as family or private outings. With a fully integrated steel cage construction and a wide range of high-end features, safety and style are top priorities. Choose from fiber optic interior lighting, high-end audio/video, a variety of bar tops, carpet runners, and drink tables. Surround seating can be arranged with optional storage, coordinated seating with tables for a diner-type feel, or maintain the comfortable forward-facing ride with plenty of legroom.

Features:
• Aerodynamic automotive styling
• Distinctive luxurious seating
• Harmonious interior lighting
• Dual TV audio video stereo
• Various luggage options
• Steel roll cage with full perimeter steel floor
• Body and air conditioning warranty second to none

FASTFACTS
Turtle Top
Founded: 1963
Location: New Paris, Ind.
Owners: Cripe family
Vehicle types/models: Small- to mid-sized buses and specialty vehicles seating 15-50 passengers built on Ford,
Chevrolet, Freightliner, and International chassis.
Employees: 268
Annual revenues: N/A (privately held company)
Key executives: Rob Cripe, corporate EVP and GM; Phil Tom, EVP; Matt Sausaman, engineering dir.; Tom Craig, CFO; Timm Bledsoe, sales and mktng. dir.
Web site: www.turtletop.com
Dealer Locator: www.turtletop.com/locator
Contact: (800) 296-2105; (574) 831-4340

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