WAVERLY, W.Va. - There are hundreds of cemeteries in Washington County, but most of the people laid to rest in them over the last 25 to 30 years have been interred in a vault made at one place.
Carr Concrete in Waverly, W.Va., has the Wilbert vault franchise for the region and produces approximately 1,800 vaults a year, working with more than 1,300 cemeteries from Caldwell to Spencer, W.Va., said James Binegar, operations manager for the company.
"If somebody is passed away and it's your family member and you want it to be the best product you can get, that's what we try to provide," he said.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Carr Concrete operations manager James Binegar displays some of the models of burial vaults the company produces Thursday at its Waverly, W.Va., facility.
Concrete vaults were actually how the company got its start, when Steve and Rodney Carr purchased the local Wilbert franchise more than 30 years ago, said Steve Offenberger, with the company.
Vaults are required by most cemeteries nowadays, said John Hadley, funeral director with Hadley Funeral Home in Marietta, but that wasn't always the case. Previously, caskets were buried in pine boxes that didn't hold up well when additional weight was placed on them after they had soaked up moisture from the ground.
"They used to tell you never walk on a grave," Hadley said. "As a kid, you thought that was out of respect."
By the numbers
1,800 - number of vaults Carr Concrete makes in a year.
1,350 - number of cemeteries Carr deals with.
2 inches - minimum thickness for most burial vaults.
1,800 pounds - weight of the smallest vault Carr produces.
3,000 pounds - weight of the largest vault Carr produces.
34, 92, 36 - dimensions, in inches, of the largest Carr vault.
Source: Carr Concrete.
But actually, if someone walked on ground where a person had been interred, "the body weight could make the wooden lid on what was called a rough box break and the dirt fall down around it," Hadley said. "You could break your leg."
The vaults - generally made of concrete though steel is used for areas of high terrain where concrete can't be easily transported - provide sturdier support, especially with many cemeteries now mowed by tractors, Hadley said.
The vaults Carr makes weigh anywhere from 1,800 to 3,000 pounds depending on the type chosen, Binegar said. They are at least 2 inches thick, but can be lined with additional materials to make them sturdier or waterproof. The largest vault Carr offers is 34 inches tall, 92 inches long and 36 inches wide.
They can be personalized in various ways, with nameplates and decorative touches like a cameo rose or military emblems for veterans.
Making the vaults isn't the only thing Carr has to do with many funerals.
"We do the tent setting and set the chairs and everything," Binegar said. "We do everything but dig the grave."
That usually happens the day before the funeral, and a Carr employee places the vault in the grave the day of, prior to the service. Because a truck could not reach many of the actual grave sites, the vaults are transported on a self-propelled Logan trailer.
A Carr employee often serves as the funeral director's contact at the cemetery that day, notifying them of any potential problems with the site, guiding the hearse and placing the casket on the lowering device.
Binegar said in many ways making burial vaults is similar to other Carr projects - there are standards they have to follow. But being on-site for a funeral is another matter.
"It took a long time to get used to," Binegar said. "But it's a service that has to be done, and the people we have here care how they do their work."
The Carr plant employs 80 people, two of whom are dedicated to vault and burial work. Other employees rotate that duty, depending on how many funerals are going on in a day.
Hadley said another vault franchise had a site in Marietta more than 20 years ago. Today, the closest one is the Hupp Stiverson Co., another Wilbert dealer, located in Zanesville. They cover Columbus and do some work in Beverly, having had an agreement with a funeral home there before Carr was in operation.