SILVER STREAKS IN EL MONTE
By Wyman Kinders
September 11, 2012 • 2,381 views
Editor’s note; this is a follow-up to recent segments of the popular “Memories of El Monte” column to which our late colleague Richard Cortez contributed. This segment is also about travel trailer manufacturing in El Monte and is guest written by author Wyman Kinders in tribute to Mr. Cortez. You will be able to read the previous 4 installments of this Travel Trailer series which ran this past July in the Mid Valley News. We have recently updated our website and we will be reinstalling the series shortly.
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.
No, this isn’t about lightning strikes in El Monte, it’s about the history and memories of Silver Streak travel trailers.
Silver Streak trailers were one of the largest and most enduring brands of those made in El Monte during the 1950-1970 heyday of American recreational trailer manufacturing. The very words “Silver Streak” hinted at the post-war trend of aerodynamics in car and trailer designs. America was headed for the open road and “streamlining” was all the rage, both for reduced wind resistance and “jet-age” aesthetics in the “mid-century” era.
The Silver Streak Trailer Company was originally located at 1166 Chico Avenue and later moved to the 2100 block in what is now the City of South El Monte. The factory was sold and moved to Chino, California in 1987.
From 1946-1948, the Curtis Wright Corporation (not Curtiss-Wright aircraft) produced trailer coaches. In 1948, the company sold the design rights to Silver Streak partners Kenny Neptune, James “Pat” Patterson, and Frank Polito.
Neptune and Polito, who had previously worked for Douglas Aircraft Corporation, founded the Silver Streak Trailer Company in 1948. The first El Monte trailer was delivered in 1949. Its profile is a variation of an early Wally Byam unit, designer of the Airstream trailer, also a streamlined, “airship” style.
Distinctive with its curved ends, rivets, “Magna-Vue” windows and later a wide gold panel on the sides, the Silver Streaks were noted for their exceptionally strong frames, lightweight balanced towing and the latest interior amenities. “Dixie” and “Princess” stoves and “Marvel” refrigerators were often used. Top of the line then.
Since no detailed shop or parts manuals were ever developed by the company, Silver Streak sales literature provided with the new trailers, magazine advertising and owner photos are today’s primary sources of information. (Our thanks to www.tincantourists.com and Kyle Morrison for their input.)
Factory produced models were; Clipper 18/22 ft., Sabre 17/19 ft., Jet 19 ft., Prince 18 ft. (1969), the Continental Atlas 22 ft. and Twin Continental 27 ft. (1970), Continental Supreme 28/34 ft., and the SS210 21 ft. (1980-up). The last trailers were custom built in 1995.
Recently, Mid Valley News staff were visited by reader Mr. Ernie Ravago, once an employee at the original factory. Mr. Ravago brought in a picture of himself showing how coatings might be sprayed on a trailer. Though not in his protective clothing or a mask, the photo illustrates the hands-on personal touch these trailers received then. It has been noted that all Silver Streaks were clear coated over their original bright aluminum skins to prevent corrosion and to seal seams. Most aircraft of the day were similarly coated.
Silver Streak trailers remain popular with restorers and vacationers alike. They can still be seen towed behind old cars at vintage trailer events all across the USA. A friendly rivalry still exists between Airstream, and El Monte made trailers like Silver Streak, El Rey, Streamliner, Airlight and others, each claiming bragging rights to having the best looking and built trailer. In our opinion, they’re all great. Especially those, “Made in El Monte”.