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An ode to the virtues of the old single-wide
By David Feela
Maybe it’s like a soap-opera romance, this ongoing affection of mine for the old-style single-wide mobile homes, more commonly known as trailers.
To me their appeal is strongest when I’m driving a gravel county road and like an alien spacecraft I see one attached to a few open acres, or I’m turning into the shaded niches of a well-worn trailer park and it’s there like a time machine made of corrugated tin and glass. Maybe it’s been repainted, not the bland manufacturer’s color from 30 years ago, but a fresh swath of purple, or yellow, or turquoise and pink!
These trailers – at least the ones that haven’t fallen into ruin – should be preserved, designated as historic local treasures, of no lesser magnitude than those infamous bridges from that other county in the Midwest. Their survival offers us a touchstone to a time when a family’s housing ambitions may have been scaled back to, say, reality. No median sales price hovering around $207,000. No floor space with enough square footage to hold a line dance for a football team. Mobile homes are proof that people could actually live with less, and did. Many are still living that way, which is why I always slow down to admire these domestic time capsules. The vintage trailer is a covered bridge of sorts, spanning two banks: One side rooted with working people who could at one time own their own homes and on the other side the current real-estate market where a lifetime of slowly diminishing mortgage debt is the glimmer at the end of tunnel.
I know some people consider yesterday’s trailers trash when compared to today’s modular, custom, set-on-aslab, instant triple-wide castles, or the investment potential of an estate with a massively imposing entrance gate. Maybe so, but I’d rather spend my days renovating the past than making payments on someone else’s future.
I’ll admit that much of the styling, especially during the ’60s and ’70s, was a little too boxy for me, but it’s tough to argue with a classic trailer advertising slogan, “Home is where you park it.” For me, the idea of being self-contained has never lost its appeal. I’ve been parked since 1986 in a 1972 double-wide. I don’t know if it was new when it arrived on the property. It has no wheels, but when I have to climb into the crawl space beneath the mobile home I can see where they’d have been mounted. What a strange thought, that a home could roll in like a tumbleweed and then roll out.
Housing needs are basic for all people, but available housing has taken a nasty turn toward anything but basic. In Pagosa Springs, for example, 15 homeowners in the Riverview Trailer Park have been evicted to make way for a 39-unit condominium development, some units starting at a lofty $250,000. The same practice is happening all across the West, an economic boom in real estate that sends trailer homeowners scurrying for cover, and I am sure, for our own protection, before the real-estate bubble pops we’ll all be wearing condos, the only safe housing available.
Where’s a romantically inclined professional photographer when you need one? Maybe a lanky Clint Eastwood type, someone with an eye to show us the implicit beauty in an antiquated hallway without wheels. And even if the trailers look a little shabby by current standards, they embody a fiscal fantasy we’re in danger of forgetting. Yes, they stand for autonomy, but only as long as they’re allowed to stand.
David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.