Back in the early ’50s on a road trip, Virginia and Eldredge “El” Welton passed a trailer park in Vermont and spotted a New Moon trailer, a brand Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz made famous in their 1954 movie “The Long, Long Trailer.”
Cute, thought the Weltons, avid travelers. But too bad the surroundings aren’t nicer, El said. Instead of a dirty old trailer camp, why not make it someplace pretty? Why not someplace with trees and flowers?
They didn’t know it then, but the seed was planted for their family-run Orangeland RV Park in Orange, Calif., the Orange County Register reported. There, the citrus trees are as much an attraction as the proximity to Disneyland, and the inviting pool is one of the first things guests see after a long, hot trip.
The Weltons, married 69 years, opened Orangeland in 1972 on the site of an orange grove where Struck and Katella Avenues meet.
Upgrades that include Wi-Fi, HDTV and spaces large enough to accommodate today’s tricked-out motor homes attract modern-day travelers. The family atmosphere, the friendly staff and the fruit that can be picked right off the trees keeps generations of guests coming back.
David Lococo pulled his 29-foot long Itasca Spirit into Site 42 on a recent Thursday afternoon. He drove down from the Bay Area with his wife Pam, their three children and two dogs to attend a wedding. David Lococo had visited Orangeland from ages 7 to 16 when his family came in a camper for an annual trip to Disneyland.
“I remembered the name when my wife looked up where we needed to stay,” he says, hooking the RV’s sewer line to a drain in a grass strip beside a site that features two orange trees, a grapefruit tree and a table with umbrella.
“It looks very familiar, especially the trees in and around the spaces. They’ve taken care of it.”
Once the rig sits leveled on the blacktop, his kids – Julie, 17, Sarah, 15 and Jack, 10 – do exactly what Orangeland encourages all its guests to do. They pick fruit.
Business brought the Weltons out West.
El, a World War II veteran, was a salesman and purchaser in the electronics and aviation industry.
They moved to Orange County in December 1957, leaving behind the frost of Connecticut. It was 11 degrees the day they departed; 75 degrees when they arrived in Los Angeles. Virginia’s father and sister already lived in Southern California.
“We were stuck for life,” says Virginia, who, these days, does most of the talking for the couple.
They settled in Anaheim, then bought Val Verde mobile home park on Tustin Avenue in 1959. They lived there, as did El’s mother, Louisa Williams Hinkley Welton. When Louisa couldn’t live alone anymore, they sold Val Verde and built Orangeland in partnership with her.
El tried to incorporate as many of the native orange trees as possible into his grid for 212 trailer sites. Over the years, other citrus trees have been added: grapefruit, tangerine, lime, lemon, and the hybrid “fruit salad.”
“People come from all over the world – the Netherlands, Germany, Canada – just to pick the fruit,” General Manager Abe LaLand says. “They send us photos they took of their children picking fruit.”
But in 1971, staking their future on the eight acres that became Orangeland was a risky move, Virginia says. El had been laid off from Autonetics.
“He said I won’t build unless you go along with me,” Virginia recalls.
“The minute she said OK,” daughter Cindy Wimbish adds, “he was out the door.”
Only a few RV parks existed in Orange County at the time – Anaheim Vacation Park near Knott’s Berry Farm was the largest.
How did travelers find out about Orangeland? Some learned from flyers that advertised the park’s grand opening. The flyers were dropped off at gas stations by the Weltons’ youngest daughter, Janis, who was 15 at the time.
“She was Miss Orangeland in her little shorts,” Virginia says. “That impressed them.”
Their son Stephen, now a physician in Missouri, blew the call to colors on his trumpet at the flagpole for the grand opening.
Orangeland was in the black fairly quickly, Virginia says. Later, in the late ’70s, El helped form the California Assn. of RV Parks & Campgrounds. El was in charge of membership off and on, published the camping guide for several years and served one year as president. Virginia wrote the monthly newsletter.
“I remember we got all these boxes with records and some were absolutely beautifully maintained. Then some were an absolute mess,” says Debbie Sipe, who took over as the association’s executive director from her parents. “The neat tidy ones came from El. He used to be my idol back then. I thought oh, this guy knows how to keep records.”
Slowed by age – El turns 94 in March and Virginia 91 in April – the Weltons leave the day-to-day operation of Orangeland to LaLand, a retired computer engineering executive who started out as a monthly tenant in 2001 and became general manager in 2009. Before that, Cindy ran the park for 24 years, taking over from Janis’ two-year stint.
There are several longtime staff members, like desk clerk Rosie Hickman, who have worked and lived at Orangeland for 20 years. Rosie’s husband Ray, who died three years ago, was one of the maintenance guys.
“To me we’re one of the nicer parks,” she says. “Our employees are friendly. Our park is clean. Everybody’s friendly, honey.”
Lucille Adams, 87, has lived there the longest, more than 33 years. She and her husband moved straight to Orangeland from Detroit in a motor home. They bought the trailer she lives in now in 1985.
She loves the Bunko and the Bingo. She loves how the park is kept up. She loves the rules that keep music down after 10 p.m.
She loves how the folks at Orangeland – staff, residents and vacationers – look out for her. She always tries to greet newcomers. Visitors who have had lengthy stays in the site next to hers often give her a call or come back to see her. That’s the kind of people Orangeland attracts.
Says Lucille: “That speaks a lot for the park.”