Trailer Homes to You
the trade they are known as “manufactured
housing,” although their residents prefer the term
“mobile homes.” You may remember that on the TV
show “The Rockford Files,” James Garner’s
character lived in one with his dad. As of 2000, Virginia
more than 185,000 single, double, triple-wide or larger units on private property and
in parks throughout the state – 6.4 percent of the
total housing in the Commonwealth.
They are so
popular in some rural areas that Patrick
author Martin Clark, a circuit court judge, titled
his 2000 comic legal thriller The
Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living. “I have a
rooster, a pickup truck, a fly rod and a lawn
said in an interview for the paperback publication of his novel.
It touched a nationwide chord and became a New
York Times Notable Book.
they’re called the term “trailer” lost its appeal in the 1950s many people have a few misconceptions about mobile homes. First of
all, they don’t actually move. Or, they usually
move only once, from factory to site. These days,
with their pitched roof add-ons and new siding, many
cannot be distinguished from on-site homes. And
depending on what an owner is willing to pay -- in
2002, the average price in the Old Dominion ranged
from $28,000 for a single to $54,000 for a double
wide – mobile homes can be equipped with such
amenities as hardwood floors, porcelain sinks and
in a number of communities, mobile homes are losing
their underclass aura. On the West Coast, mobile
home parks are becoming the residence of choice for
the upwardly mobile who want a beach view at a
reasonable price. Your lot neighbors in southern
include actresses Minnie Driver or Sally Field.
there’s a mobile home park that’s a gated
community, and a few years ago, Arkansas
Mike Huckabee moved into a mobile home while the
governor’s mansion underwent a $12 million
the residents of Shawsville, Va.,
not view themselves as the Commonwealth glitterati,
47 percent of them live in mobile homes, according
to a 2002 article in the Roanoke
Times. Mobile home parks boomed in the 1960s and
1970s in the area, partially because nearby Roanoke
County’s zoning rules were much more restrictive than
feds even got involved in building mobile home parks
flooded in 1972. An 82-year resident, who was one of the
first to move into one of these federal parks,
praises her community. “Everybody tries to be
neighbors and get along. No fussing, no fighting,”
she said in the Times
affordable housing advocates have urged
jurisdictions to consider mobile home parks as
alternative housing for professionals such as
teachers, fire and police personnel who can’t
afford housing in the areas in which they work.
Still, it can be a hard sell to those who aren’t
clued in to the new zeitgeist.
checkered history of mobile homes began in the
1920s, when the availability of paved roads
triggered wanderlust among Americans. A Minnesotan
named Arthur Sherman is credited with inventing the
first affordable, mass-produced trailer home 1929,
which he called the “Covered Wagon,” according
to a 1998 Smithsonian
article “House Trailers.” It cost $395. By 1936
the major manufacturer of travel-trailers.
Virginian, seamstress Mary Elliott Wing of Roanoke, also may have been an early adapter of the mobile home.
According to one source, she was inspired by the
dimensions of Noah’s ark to build the first true
modern mobile home.
enjoyed their heyday in the ’40s, when they housed
shipbuilders, factory workers, and the thousands of
returning GIs during the post-war housing crisis.
But by the 1950s, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover
called them “dens of vice and corruption.” Part
of the bad rap came from shoddy construction and
unethical salespeople. It would be another
quarter-century before the industry was regulated;
the National Manufactured Housing Construction and
Safety Act was passed in 1976, and in Virginia, the Manufactured Housing Board now regulates the
nine-member board is responsible for licensing
mobile home dealers, brokers, manufacturers and
with their new respectability, there is one drawback
to living in a mobile home. The National Weather
Service reports that while only 10 percent of
Americans live in trailer parks, half of those
killed by tornadoes are mobile home residents. Newer
models, however, feature wood framing, fire walls,
stabilizing plates and steel tie-downs for greater
their construction, mobile homes seem to have found
a niche in modern culture.
“They are attitude as much as
architecture,” wrote authors Chiori Santiago and
Maggie Steber in Smithsonian’s “House Trailers.” You can witness them on TV’s
“Trailer Park Boys,” a Canadian cult
mockumentary broadcast Sunday nights on BBC America;
you can also share haunted mobile home stories at www.trailerghost.com,
a site developed by a seven-year trailer resident.
No Virginian has posted a ghostly trailer tale yet,
so here’s your opportunity!
All Shook Up: Earthquakes in the Old Dominion
May 10, 2004