2011 marks Arlington R.V. Supercenter's 63rd year in business. The company was founded in 1948 by Shirley Moran. Shirley's parents, Earl and Hattie Blinkhorn, hauled a trailer to Florida each winter for an extended vacation. In late 1947, they felt that they were ready for a new trailer and Shirley decided to help them shop for one. Shirley's interest in trailers grew as the shopping process continued.
Shirley had graduated from Brown University (then called Pembroke College) in 1946 with a degree in mathematics and married a Brown classmate, John S. (Jack) Moran in June of 1947. Jack's degree was in chemistry, and upon graduation he took a position as chemist for U.S. Rubber in Providence, R.I. Shirley worked as a civil engineer, laying out roads, septic systems, and house lots in the Governor Francis Farms development in Warwick, RI.
While shopping for her parent's trailer, Shirley announce that, soon, she would be a parent herself. Shirley told her boss about the pregnancy, expecting to remain on the job as an engineer until the baby came. Instead, her boss told her that he didn't allow pregnant women on his job site and she was sent home. Ambitious young Shirley was suddenly left with a lot of free time.
Shirley's search for a trailer ended in Indiana, where she had found a manufacturer willing to sell her two trailers-- one for her parents and another for resale. Shirley arranged to pickup the trailers on the weekends. She and Jack would drive to Indiana, pickup a trailer, and make a beeline back to Rhode Island so Jack could report to work at U.S. Rubber Monday morning.
This process would repeat itself many times over the years. Shirley sold the trailers and Jack prepared and delivered them on weeknights. Weekends were reserved for trips to Indiana.
On June 22, 1948, Jack and Shirley's first child, Stephen, was born. Not long afterward, the family moved from a tenement house to a trailer located on a lot on Cranston Street in the Arlington section of Cranston, R.I. One trailer was "home." All of the trailers, including "home," were for sale.
In 1950, Jack resigned from U.S. Rubber to become a full-time trailer dealer. He immediately began setting milestones in the business, bringing the first trailer with a shower and toilet to Rhode Island in 1951. In 1953, he displayed a special motorhome-like trailer and tow vehicle that cost $75,000 (in 1953 dollars} and had a built-in pool. He designed and had built a 50' trailer for his family (huge by 1950's standards), a move that proved there was a market for large "mobile homes" in New England.
The business was named Arlington Trailer Coach Sales, after the section of Cranston where the firm was first located. The family grew with the birth of Linda in 1951 and Sandra in 1954. Jack and Shirley expanded the business by opening a branch mobile home sales lot in Groton, Connecticut in 1957.
They also began manufacturing and renting utility trailers in the late 1950s. These trailers were rented through a network of substations strung throughout southern New England. In the early 1960s, Shirley and Jack Moran and Shirley's parents, Earl and Hattie Blinkhorn, developed a 150-site mobile home park; Arlington Acres Mobile Home Park, in Stonington, Connecticut was the finest mobile home park in New England at the time.
In 1962, Jack was the first to bring folding trailers to Rhode Island. As mobile home sites became more scarce, the business became increasingly focused on "recreational vehicles." Folding trailer and small travel trailer rentals were very popular. Soon, the recreational vehicle rental fleet grew to 60 units.
Steve Moran, after having lived in a trailer lot for much of his life, began working summers at the family business when he was just 14. His initial job entailed a lot of washing and cleaning, but he quickly learned the mechanics of the trailers they rented and sold. By the time he was a junior in high school, he was given the responsibility of managing the fleet of 60 rental trailers. Virtually the whole fleet would be returned each Friday and Saturday and go back out the same day. Folding trailer lift systems were notably fragile back then. Steve pulled his first of many "all nighters" while still in high school, fixing a broken lift system on a rental scheduled to go out the next morning.
In 1966, the first discount warehouse for recreational vehicles was opened by the Moran family in the Apponaug Mill complex in Warwick, R.I. This 3/4 acre indoor showroom was the talk of the industry until it burned flat to the ground in a spectacular fire that took 32 other businesses as well as Arlington's Discount Warehouse. The fire that occurred on that fateful night in September of 1969 remains the largest ever to hit the City of Warwick.
Shortly after the fire, construction began at the present Route 2 location in Warwick. The facility had three service bays, a parts store, and a covered vehicle display area. The business flourished in the early 1970s as the R. V. industry experienced a huge growth spurt..
1973 was an extraordinary year, as two young people who would have a lot to do with shaping the future of Arlington Trailer joined the company as full-time employees. Steve Moran, now a graduate of Brown University, came on board as a business manager. Ken Cogswell arrived as a service mechanic after having served as a marine in Vietnam. Cogswell too had grown up in the RV world, working for his family's truck camper manufacturing business (Kenson Campers),
Steve Moran immediately saw inadequacies in the expanding business and set out to correct them. He convinced his parents to construct an addition to the facility that took the service facility from three bays to nine bays, doubled the floor space of the parts store, doubled the outside display space, created a customer storage area, and built new offices for the sales department.
Ken Cogswell was quickly promoted to rental manager and then to service manager. Under Cogswell's guidance, the department grew from one with just travel trailer capability to one that has full automotive and body work capabilities as well. There are few problems a customer can have with any type of recreational vehicle that the team that Cogswell has assembled cannot handle in house.
The Cogswell era fostered a commitment to service excellence that continues today. Arlington's service department has won the Circle of Excellence Award from Winnebago Industries for 14 consecutive years and the Fleetwood Circle of Excellence award for 11 consecutive years. Both of these awards are based on customer satisfaction.
Steve Moran was promoted to general manager in 1976. Sisters Sandi (Moran) O'Leary and current Arlington president Linda (Moran) Tarro joined the company in 1976 and 1985 respectively, making Arlington the epitome of a "family" business. The whole family worked at Arlington during the mid-1980s. Steve took care of all the buying and selling of campers; Jack took care of the finances and was the company's industry representative; Shirley handled the warranty, billing, and office functions; Sandi was the bookkeeper, and Linda worked in the parts department.
The company thrived. During the 1980s Arlington was a consistent "Top Twenty" performer for Winnebago Industries and a consistent "Top Ten" performer for Prowler travel trailers.
In 1986, Shirley died after a five-year battle with cancer. She had worked full time until just three weeks before her death. As she battled the disease, husband Jack had continually offered to take her traveling in a recreational vehicle or by plane. She preferred, however, to stay at her desk and work. Work was her therapy. It gave her a sense of accomplishment long after it was financially meaningful for her to continue on the job while battling the disease.
In 1989, the company acquired additional land and expanded again. A larger customer storage area, a public dump station, an overnight camping area, more offices, more display area, and a night key depository were added. The facility was completely remodeled and the company renamed Arlington R. V. Supercenter, Inc. The name change reflected the fact that the company's services had expanded and that, by the late 1980s, motorized units accounted for 80 percent of sales. It wasn't just about trailers anymore. Arlington was truly a "super" R. V. resource center.
In 1990, Jack was returning from a Coleman dealer meeting in Pennsylvania when he was tragically killed in a freak automobile accident. An oncoming truck blew a tire, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle, cross the center line of the road, and collide with Jack's car. He died at the scene of the accident.
After Jack's death, Steve Moran became the company's president, Linda Tarro became the vice president and Sandi O'Leary became treasurer. One industry observer correctly predicted the continued success of the company in spite of the passing of the founders because, as he put it, "the proper ethics were deeply ingrained in the new officers." He said he was referring specifically to the "work ethic" and the "sense of fair play" that have characterized the Moran family over the last 56 years.
The 1990s brought steady sales increases with the exception of the years of the credit union crisis in Rhode Island. The addition of products built by the Newmar Corporation proved especially popular.
In 2003, Arlington acquired yet another adjacent property, adding two acres and a 10,000 square foot building to the existing 16,400 square feet of indoor work space. The building was renovated and became the Pre-Delivery Inspection (P.D.I.) department. Tony Ellinwood was selected to manage the facility.
On the evening of July 2, 2005, after working the day at Arlington and enjoying a good meal and a mid-season Red Sox victory, Steve Moran went to bed and never woke up. His sudden passing left the Arlington family, and the whole of the RV industry, deeply saddened.
Over his decades as general manger and president, Steve served on the dealer advisory boards of the nation's leading manufacturers including Winnebago Industries, Georgie Boy Manufacturing, Cobra Industries, and Newmar Corporation. He was one of the founding fathers of the Recreational Vehicle Rental Association, serving on its original board of directors. At Arlington, he was known to be a hands-on boss not afraid to pitch in when things got busy by emptying holding tanks, filling propane and ferrying trailers around the lot atop his beloved tractor.
In characteristic style, the Arlington family has responded to Steve's death by stepping up and working hard to keep the business strong. Sisters Linda and Sandi now head the company and Steve's son Jay works in the sales department under the tutelage of sales manager Mark Donilon.
In spite of the company's continuing growth and recent loss, the atmosphere at Arlington remains "homey." Arlington is a company that's big enough to serve its customers well, but still small enough to know them all by name. While the products and times have changed, Arlington RV remains committed today to the same principles of honesty and hard work displayed during Jack and Shirley's Indiana road trips all those years ago. Over the coming years, Arlington will further expand its service and selection, providing customers with the very best products and service the RV industry has to offer.
Proud of the past and excited for the future, Arlington RV and the Moran family look forward to continuing success in the generations to come.