This historical information has been collected on the Spartan Prototype 1945-1 by George Shebley to date September 2008.
In June 1945 with the war still going on with Japan, J. Paul Getty President of Spartan Aircraft was in California involved in a paternity suit and other personal business, Getty talked with the Directors at Spartan to find something to do with Spartan after the war. Many documented ideas were discussed, including a local commuter airline, household appliances and automobiles. Getty’s recommendations received a cool reception.
While Getty was in California, Capt. Max Balfour, who was primarily head of the Spartan School was in charge of Spartan Aircraft. Both these enterprises were located in Tulsa Oklahoma.
Capt. Balfour got wind of these confidential discussions and pursued an idea of his own. He went to visit a trailer manufacturer in Detroit. Which trailer manufacturer in Detroit is unknown for sure, but Covered Wagon’s facilities were located there. Prior to the war Covered Wagon was one of the larger trailer manufacturers in the U.S., so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume it was this manufacturer.
Capt. Balfour so excited by this visit to Detroit that Balfour moved ahead quickly on drawing up a design and simultaneously building a “Mobile Home” prototype. Planning to make several lengths and models of this trailer. Don Eigler was the primary designer. I feel that G. R. Schultes was involved with this original design work as well, as the furniture he was hired to design for the trailer reflected the general design of the prototype or visa versa. Though I doubt any of this furniture which was patented was produced. These furniture patents are on file in the U.S. Patent Office.
When Getty returned from California he inspected the “Experimental Trailer”. Quoting Blafour; “When Getty saw the drawings and beginnings of the prototype he said ‘That’s a good concept, but you have completely missed the element of fenestration.’ And that’s where big front windows were born on all house trailers”.
Never truly finished, I believe that the prototype was then “buttoned up” and set aside. I am convinced that only one of these trailers were built. The exact date for this is unknown, probably mid year 1945.
Charles Gober, a Spartan employee is credited with coming up with the name for the original prototype, “The Silver Queen” and was awarded a $50 War Bond. Perhaps another indication that the prototype was built prior to V.J. Day in August?
G.R. Schultes was then commissioned to design the later style Manor, which was then mass produced. (This same design was built in several lengths until 1953). He patented this design and assigned the rights to Spartan.
In the U.S. as the war ended attention was turned to the lack of housing for the returning vets and their families. David Mizarhi gained national attention by camping out in a park with his family in Los Angles. A Spartan executive Blair McPhail on business to Los Angeles gave up his swank hotel suite to house this family on November 5,1945. McPhail’s act of generosity made national news. (McPhail who was possibly involved with the Tucker automobile scandal, but I have not been able to find out the details).
Because of this publicity I believe that J. Paul Getty saw this as an excellent opportunity for both publicity and a chance to get rid of the prototype (and possibly gain a tax advantage). Getty had done other previous public relation endeavors at Spartan during the war. The newspapers touted that Getty was dispatching at $12,000.00 the most expensive trailer built, to the homeless Mizarhi family at Spartan’s expense. Along the way from Tulsa to Los Angeles the Silver Queen would stop at American Legion Posts, stocking the trailer with food, household items and toys for the kids.
By the time the trailer arrived in Los Angles on November 11, 1945, the Mirzahi’s had found other housing and Mizarhi was quoted as saying “We don’t need it, give some other fellow in the same fix a chance”. The American Legion Post in Los Angeles was quickly enlisted to find another homeless Vet and his family to receive the trailer. They came up with Francis Wood and his wife and two children. J. Paul Getty personally handed over the keys to the Wood family.
Sometime prior to 1954 the trailer was sold. The trailer was last registered in 1954. About this time I believe it had a slight remodel to the galley area with propane tanks being added for the new stove.
When it was traded or sold to Travelon Trailer Sales is not exactly known. They had several dealerships in the Central Valley area of California. It did sit on one of their lots for many many years, displayed as “The First Spartan Trailer Built”.
About the turn of the millennium it was spotted by a mobile home installer/ repair man. He purchased or traded for the trailer which had been sitting on a dealership back lot for several years. He then put it in a storage area in the mobile home park where he lived in Sacramento.
Over the following years it was vandalized and weather damaged. About 2005 the owner was killed in an accident setting up a new mobile home.
His son played with the notion of selling it during the following years, contacting the RV Museum in Elkhart as to value and finally contacted David Pumphrey of Spartantrailers.com with an interest in possibly selling it. The trailer was purchased by George Shebley in April of 2007.