A Waco business got a foretaste of what the world found out Sunday at Mount Carmel.

Central Rental over the years rented equipment such as backhoes and cement mixers to the Branch Davidians, an offshoot of the Seventh-day Branch Davidians based at Mount Carmel, 10 miles east of Waco.

It was pretty much a business relationship, although cult members occasionally lingered to chat, employees said.

The store’s manager, Randy, who asked that his last name not be used, said Central Rental employees were always met at the gate to Mount Carmel by Davidians.

“They knew you were there before you were ever there,” Randy said.

The tragic events Sunday shocked employees. Cult leader Vernon Howell, who believes he is Christ, and his followers shot and killed four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

About 100 agents had stormed the property trying to serve an arrest warrant on Howell for possessing illegal firearms.

Only one Central Rental employee ever entered the compound at Mount Carmel. He said he stepped into a Spartan foyer. Inside an adjacent office was a wall pasted with concert posters. On a large bulletin board, there was a weather report.

The Davidians were good customers. They always paid promptly.

Randy said the cult sometimes paid bills of more than $1,500 in cash.

Three months ago, though, when Perry Jones, the father-in-law of Howell’s legal wife, Rachel, came in to pay the cult’s bill, he had a surprise for Central Rental.

He told them that the compound was no longer called Mount Carmel. It had a new name.

Ranch Apocalypse.

“He said it wasn’t like before,” Randy said. “They were cleaning it up. They wanted to make it a nice place to live. They really wanted to change their image.”

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part Two appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

Read the accounts of April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.