AMERICA HITS THE ROAD Part One. An industry takes off.
July 4, 2012 • 2,781 views
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Editor’s note; this is Part One of four segments of the popular “Memories of El Monte” column to which our late colleague Richard Cortez contributed. They are about travel trailer manufacturing in El Monte and are guest written by author Wyman Kinders in tribute to Mr. Cortez.
Mr. Kinders owns a 1954 Empire 12 footer. Proudly, “Made in El Monte”.
Readers are encouraged to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with their recollections of those days.
World War Two and the Korean Conflict were rapidly becoming memories themselves when El Monte joined southern California’s boom years of travel trailer manufacturing. America’s interstate highway system was nearing completion, trips to the countryside were fast becoming popular getaways and the all American V-8 engine was able to propel larger and larger cars, including the ubiquitous station wagon. A new 1954 Chevrolet was $1,499. A gallon of “Ethyl” gas, 28 cents…
Along with that increased power came towing capabilities which allowed travel trailers to be larger and more fully equipped, thus accommodating whole families for weekends and entire vacations. The years 1950-1970 were to mark the industry’s heyday and filled both the need for family recreation and later, in the 1960’s for affordable housing in purpose built communities. Trends which have continued to the present, though not with the intensity or variety of units seen in those days.
Timing being everything, Southern California was primed with skilled workers and plentiful supplies of the woods, steel and aluminum needed for trailer manufacturing. In those two decades, there were some one thousand makers of travel trailers across the USA and Canada, with Southern California, the upper mid-west and Florida being hubs of activity.
In El Monte, there were no less than twenty manufacturers, none of which survive today, though some examples of the trailers made there are still seen and in use.
Made in El Monte were; Airlight, Aljoa/Aljo, Angelus, Benroy, CalCraft, Cardinal, Corvette, Crown, Curtis Wright, CustomCraft, Dalton, DeVille, El Rey, Empire, Happy Home, Ideal, Mercury, Radco, Robin Hood, Sierra Madre, Silver Streak, Streamline, and Terry.
All had originally manufactured travel trailers with some expanding their lines to “Park Models” or what we would now call “Mobile Homes”. Most of the makers were centered along Garvey Boulevard and Chico Avenue, now in the City of South El Monte.