Southern Sojourn

A visit to the U.S. South and South West in wintertime. Links to all pages:

Mobile Homes

Below is a section on Prefabs (Modular Homes).

Fitzgerald, Georgia

Steinbeck was intrigued by mobile homes. He thought they showed a new way of living for America, reflecting the attitude that if you don't like a given place, you should be able to pick up and leave.

"Sometimes their owners stay for years in one place, plant gardens, build little walls on cinder blocks, put out awnings and garden furniture. It is a whole way of life that is new to me. .. It seemed to me a revolution in living and on rapid increase. Why did a family choose to live in a home? Well, it was comfortable, compact, easy to clean, easy to heat."

Steinbeck wonders about rootlessness and asks an Italian-Irish couple living in a mobile home. They answer that they don't mind being rootless: "Whos got permanence? Factory closes down, you move on. Good times and things opening up, you move where its better. You got roots you sit and starve. You take the pioneers in the history books. They were movers. Take up land, sell it, move on .. How many kids in America stay in the place where they were born, if they can get out?"

Make no mistake: it is generally assumed that John Steinbeck invented most of his travel dialogues in the "Travels with Charley" book, which makes it fiction, not non-fiction.

Five cars, two motorbikes and a trampoline. Taylor, Mississippi.

Ten years after John Steinbeck, Joan Didion saw a different reality. She went to the hairdresser in Guin, Alabama. The newly married hairdresser lived in a trailer with her husband. "Trailers got hot, we all agreed. They cool down at night, Debby suggested." Didion concludes her visit in Guin this way: "It seemed a good and hopeful place to live, and yet the pretty girls, if they stayed around Guin, would end up in the laundromat in Winfield, or in a trailer with the air-conditioning on all night."

Four cars, a trampoline and a swing stand. Taylor, Mississippi.

Sixty years later, it is clear that the residents of mobile homes and prefabs are stuck in low-income neighbourhoods. Most mobile homes never leave the trailer park where they were once located. It is cheap housing, low quality and low durability. The residents do not choose to live in mobile homes or prefabs because they want to, but because they cannot afford anything else. If you want to meet them, go to the nearest laundromat.

The U.S. is the world's richest country, but large parts of the American working class have a much lower quality of housing than what can be found anywhere in Europe. There is nothing in Europe that compares to American trailer parks, Gypsy settlements in Slovakia excepted.

Mobile home near Des Arc, Arkansas. Mobile homes lose value as quickly as a car does.

Mobile home in Terlingua, Texas.

A mobile home only needs a connection to water and electricity. Des Arc, Arkansas.

RV park in Terlingua, Texas. You cannot see whether the guests are visiting tourists or permanent residents (RV = Recreational Vehicle).

To the left an area with prefabs, to the right an RV park, probably with permanent residents. Dothan, Georgia.

Mobile home in Lambert, Mississippi.

RV workshop outside Corsicana, Texas. Some of the mobile homes have towing hooks, others are for swivel stools. All are equipped with air conditioning.

If you want to meet people living in mobile homes, go to a laundromat. Road 180, New Mexico.

A large part of the American population lives in prefabs ("pre-fabricated homes" or modular homes). Prefabs are narrow houses built on a steel frame in a factory. The width is 12-16 feet (3.7-4.9 meters). The frame is equipped with wheels so that the prefab can towed to the destination. Prefabs are made of flimsy materials and are not made to last.

Prefabs in Fitzgerald, Georgia. The yellow house to the left is a double-wide (towed in two parts).

Prefabs near Corsicana, Texas.

Older prefab. The cover has been removed so you get a look under the house. Miami, Texas.

Prefabs are not solid and at some point they collapse. Kayenta, Arizona.

Burnt prefab. Kayenta, Arizona.

New prefab on sale. Note the four wheels under the house. They will be removed when the house is to be assembled. Tyler, Texas.

Double-wide prefab on sale. Tyler, Texas. Note the steel frames.

Prefab factory outside Tyler, Texas. In the foreground a base for a new house with lines for water, electricity and drainage.

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