Have you driven down Rosedale Highway lately, noticed the big Carriage Masters building with the grand entrance next to Ashley Furniture, and wondered what they did there? Well, they are the largest independently-owned paint and body shop in Bakersfield and one of the largest in the nation. From the time you enter their front door, you know this is a quality shop. Their office and waiting area are reminiscent of a European marketplace with all of the faux painting and decorator touches. It feels more like a spa than a collision repair shop, and that was the goal. Every attempt has been made to make the female customer feel as comfortable in this repair process as any man would in a body shop. Owner/operator Red Harden could have only dreamed of this kind of success considering his meager upbringing. After running away from an orphanage in Oklahoma as a youngster, Red caught rides with truck drivers traveling up and down the east coast doing odd jobs along the way to survive. In 1960, at age 12, Red made his way to California and landed in L.A. As fate would have it, he bumped into a man who owned a custom car shop in Burbank that just happened to be in the process of firing someone. “I asked for a job: the chance to sweep his floors at night. I even told him that if he didn’t like my work he didn’t have to pay me. I think an honest day’s work says a lot about you,” Red explained. Red got the job, but it wasn’t all about brooms. He was given hands-on instruction in building and customizing cars. By the time he was 15, the boss was ready to see what this teenager could really do. He was given a stall and paid $250 per job. He completed job after job for about a year. It was fast-paced work but Red’s work ethic helped him excel. Returning to work one morning, his boss had pushed Red’s tool chest down the alley into a small store front, and explained that he had paid one month’s rent in advance. Red was on his own! For the next 10 years, he worked on Hollywood studio cars for movies and television, and customized cars for the stars. He had the privilege of creating the Coffin Car (for The Munsters), Kit (for Knight Rider), and the Dodge Charger (for The Dukes of Hazard), to name a few, as well as doing custom work for over 100 celebrities and athletes. Tiring of the frantic pace of studio work and the demands of celebrity clients, Red relocated to Bakersfield where he continued his custom work for over 20 years on 19th Street. In the mid-1990s, he began doing high-end collision repairs for personal friends and discovered there was a huge demand for quality collision repair. In 1997, Red and his wife, Elecia, purchased the old O.B. Nuzum tire building on California Avenue and began accepting all make and model collision repairs.
Between then and now, the business has grown from a small shop with a single employee to a 40,000 square foot repair facility, with state-of-the-art equipment and 30 employees. Understanding their business philosophy, it’s not surprising that success has found the Hardens. As Red explained, “We are all about serving our customers and providing them with an honest repair. With all the paperwork surrounding collisions and insurance, we strive to make the process as simple as possible. Our experience combined with our attention to customer service sets us apart.” Elecia went on to say, “We don’t just want a happy customer, we want a loyal one.” Red said it best: “Be honest, be fair, and treat each customer as we like to be treated.” It’s a motto that’s worked for this family-owned business for many years.