Boyce Allen bought a mobile home in 1959. Later that year, he started working for the company that sold it to him and has been selling mobile homes ever since.
He turned 86 on Sunday and still works four days per week for his business, Allen’s Mobile Home Sales, off Wards Road in Rustburg.
“The Lord’s been good to me. I’ve been very lucky in life,” he said in his office last week.
He was born on a farm without running water or electricity in the Tight Squeeze community in Pittsylvania County in 1933 before moving to Lynchburg at age 11.
“We had plenty to eat and no money. Back in the ’30s, we raised everything and ate better than the people who had money,” he said.
He joined the National Guard at age 15 and the U.S. Navy at 17, serving during the Korean War.
“My dad is a self-made American man,” said his son and now manager of Allen’s Mobile Home Sales, Jeff Allen. “He would always tell me that we work for the customer and ... to make the community a better place. It’s never been to us about how much money we can make. It’s about trying to help people.”
Boyce Allen was working at H.K. Porter Company, now Delta Star, as a tool and die maker, but worked part-time selling mobile homes. It wasn’t long before he became the manager.
He worked at the mobile home business until purchasing 6½ acres where Bonnie’s Lake once was located at 19 Allendale Circle, about four miles south of the Lynchburg Regional Airport.
Jeff Allen said the property wasn’t worth much at the time. People thought his father was a fool for purchasing it, but now he said the land is worth $200,000 per acre. The business has grown and he now owns 11½ acres.
He said when he opened Allen’s Mobile Home Sales in 1972, there were nearly 30 other dealers in Lynchburg; since then, he said he has seen 40 businesses come and go.
His wife, Peggy, who died four years ago, worked for Powell’s Truck & Equipment Inc. in Campbell County just down the road from where Allen’s business is now.
“She was the brains of this whole operation,” Boyce Allen said of his wife. “She actually pushed me into doing it. I did not want to do it. She was a hell of a better business person. She had the brains and I had the brawn.”
He said Allen’s is the oldest dealer in the U.S. of Fleetwoods, a longtime manufacturer of mobile homes, and the largest Fleetwood dealer in Virginia that has been continually operated by the same person.
“We plan to continue on; we have no desire to go anywhere,” Jeff Allen said. “It’s a good job. We make a decent living, we’re not rich by any means but it’s something we can control and we help people get into homes.”
About 75% of the company’s business comes from people who formerly were living in stick-built homes, a wooden house constructed entirely or largely on-site. About 95% of customers already own their own land.
He said the new manufactured homes look very different from the mobile homes found in old trailer parks.
Twenty years ago, many of the mobile homes were metal, but now all the homes sold at Allen’s have vinyl siding, fiberglass tubs, finished plasterboard walls, he said.
“If lumber materials keep going up as high as they’re going, I think, in the future, 80% of all housing will be manufactured,” he said.
The average single-wide costs about $50,000 and the double-wide costs between $80,000 and $90,000, Jeff Allen said.
Jeff Allen said he has worked for his dad’s company on and off since he was 7 years old. He’s even cleaned the toilets.
“Everything has to be earned here,” he said. “He paid me half of minimum wage because he wanted to teach me work ethic.”
Jeff Allen said he always has seen his father as an honorable man. There have been times when the company lost money just trying to make people happy.
“Everybody loves my dad. He’s a good man. He was extremely good- looking and handsome but he had that charisma, that magnetism,” he said.
Ted Younger, a resident of Rustburg, purchased a two-bedroom Fleetwood mobile home from the business in 2011.
He said he had looked into other local mobile home companies but chose Allen’s Homes for its fair prices and over-and-beyond customer service.
“I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and needed affordable housing,” he said. “It worked out really well. This has been a good home.”
He said customer service was unbeatable and whenever he needed something fixed, the business immediately called the manufacturer to get the issue resolved.
“They were good to deal with. Boyce is a good man. He comes from the greatest generation there ever was,” Younger said. “It’s a trustworthy generation and he has instilled that onto his sons and employees.”
Jeff Allen always wanted to be like his dad, but said he never could quite fill his father’s shoes by walking in his shadow.
Boyce Allen now lives in his own suite in a house on his son’s property.
“It’s not that we take care of him, we take care of each other. He’s good to us,” he said. “We get along good together. We even vacation together.”
As Boyce Allen sits in the chair in his office reflecting on the business he created, he said he still loves coming into work each week.
“I’m happy with what I built. I look back on where I come from and I thought I’d never be where I’m at, and I put a lot of hard years in.”
Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.