March 2011
4-H Extension Corner

Beautifully-Built Old-Time Pine Caskets Filling a Need

 

William Davis and a close view of one of the caskets he crafts at Summer Hill Box Company.

It’s said to be successful at a small business one needs "to find a need and fill it."

William Davis, 20, a home-schooler who graduated a couple of years ago, always thought he’d like to begin a small, home-based business which would give him flexible hours to continue his volunteer and mission work while providing a necessary service and a needed income.

When several people in his extended church and community family passed away during the past several months, many with no life insurance and little savings, he began to see the need for his small business.

"They needed to pay $2,000, $4,000 and up to $10,000 for caskets which was a major hardship to some of them," William explained. "And I knew I could build a quality wooden casket for much less than that."

Doug Davis and daughter, Delight, and the carousel horse they carved, which is played on regularly by Doug and Diane’s seven grandchildren.

 

So began Summer Hill Box Company in a small workshop behind his family’s rural Shelby County home.

William’s dad, Doug, is now disabled due to arthritis, but in the past Doug built the family home and the workshop, and completed numerous other projects including an entertainment and desk center, and a carousel horse carved with 17-year-old daughter, Delight.

Mom Diane, the key homeschool-ing teacher, was supportive in she knew what her son could do thanks to all the mission trips throughout the United States he went on singularly and with other family members in the past few years.

There, the younger kids began teaching Vacation Bible Schools but graduated as they grew older to helping construct churches in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, South Carolina and Kentucky; and helping to rebuild houses damaged by hurricanes along the coast of Mississippi.

So William, assisted in the planning by Doug, began mapping out what materials he’d need and how exactly he wanted the finished coffins or caskets to appear.

 

William Davis working on the inside pine/spruce-portion of a custom-made casket

The primary style is an attractive 20-inch by 82-inch pine and spruce casket with two opening lids, and with the interior completely lined with wood as well.

Attractive wooden handles on each side provide stability for those carrying their deceased loved ones and friends.

The casket can be bought completely stained and finished, or the buyer can stain it themselves to a color they desire. Beautiful pillows and blankets are provided for the interior.

William is also planning to build over-size caskets which are 24-inches wide for those with larger size loved ones.

William’s company was recently featured in a small item in the Birmingham News where reporter Stan Diel noted in his "Insider" column, "Whoever first said ‘you can’t take it with you’ clearly didn’t have to buy his own coffin."

In that column, Diel noted William is a "Shelby County entrepreneur trying to turn sticker shock into opportunity."

Many folks who’ve inquired about the caskets have decided they’ll go ahead and order them, store them at their home or farm, and then have them on hand when needed: a kind of do-it-yourself pre-need plan, William explained.

And the current prices of from $500 to $700 appear to certainly be bargains considering the hand-craftsmanship, quality materials and love going into each piece.

"I want to build something I can be proud of and that families can be proud of," William said. "Just because it’s less expensive, doesn’t mean it has to be less attractive."

     
 

Left, William Davis precisely cuts the casket handles to size. At right, Doug Davis (left) stresses safety to William as they begin working on their shop’s table saw.

 

Currently the caskets are available simply from the humble workshop in the Davis’ backyard, although there are plans to eventually have a display area elsewhere and possibly have them on display at local stores.

William’s younger sister, Delight (an old family first name), 17, also goes on mission trips, with E-3 Partners Ministries. She’s already gone to Ecuador twice and is planning a trip to Peru this summer.

 

Delight Davis plants seed bought at Mid-State Farmers Co-op in Columbiana. She funds her summer mission trips by selling tomato plants.

Just as last summer, she’s planting tomato seeds into cups of Black Kow® soil (all bought at the Mid-State Farmers Co-op in Columbiana) and will sell the plants for $2 each with all the proceeds this spring going toward her mission trip.

The family is members of Calera Baptist Church and also volunteer each December with a program through the Shelby County Baptist Association which provides happy Christmases for needier families.

William and Delight have been homeschooled all their lives, except for one week.

Diane explained she began homeschooling William because he was eager to learn, but was too young to enter regular public school.

When Delight was in about the second grade and William about three grades ahead, the children thought it would be fun to ride the "big yellow school bus" and so started to public school.

Diane explained, "Others in Delight’s class were coloring apples and still learning two plus two equals four, and she was already well into her multiplication tables. They were just too far advanced for others in their age group.

"Public schools might be o.k. for some, but one week showed us they learned best at home."

"We could go at our own pace and had time for so many other projects, learning so many additional things. And now I find I’m still learning," William laughed."

(The family also includes two grown siblings, their spouses, and Diane and Doug’s seven grandchildren.)

The Davis parents agree, noting one important aspect of homeschooling is providing children and teens with the means to learn on their own and a hunger for additional learning.

"We had built things around the house, and, when I was younger, we built soap box derby cars and things like that. Then we went on the mission trips and I learned a little more each time," William explained.

At the end of Diel’s short column, William noted he wouldn’t build something he "wouldn’t want to use myself."

"Building these caskets, starting this business, was just something God laid on my heart," William explained. "It IS a need I’m trying to fill."

William can be reached at Summer Hill Box Company at (205) 669-5517.

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.