"Nothing good happens between 2 and 4 a.m."
This sage bit of wisdom kicks off the rollicking debut novel, or what would be more accurately described as a memoir, of local author Gary Strakshus, chronicling his 45-plus years of experiences owning and managing mobile home villages, aka trailer parks, in Hot Springs.
The title, "Somebody's Gonna Lose a Trailer," is itself the punch line to the familiar joke, "What do Arkansas divorces and tornadoes have in common?", which Strakshus recaps in his chapter on weather-related incidents.
"It's very humorous, light-hearted, and in this trying time with all the other stuff going on in the world, people deserve a little break and a little laugh," Strakshus said of his book, which is illustrated by noted local artist Gary Simmons, with comical depictions of the characters highlighting each chapter.
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The genesis of Strakshus' career in mobile home park management started with his parents, Al and Marjorie Strakshus, who spent their honeymoon in Hot Springs in 1948, and "vowed to retire here," he said, "so I helped him out by coming here and looking for a little investment for him to keep himself busy."
That investment proved to be a 10-unit mobile home park on Lakeland Drive, which Strakshus was going to manage initially for his father. "I told him I would do it for a year. I can do anything for a year," he said.
Unfortunately, his father lost his job in Chicago and "lost his vestment" and ended up having to work another 10 years "so he was stuck up there and I was stuck down here, but I fell in love with Hot Springs."
Strakshus had actually graduated from college in 1977 with a degree in Recreational Administration, but "right at the end of my schooling, I discovered I absolutely did not want to go into being a park district director or a YMCA director. I didn't want to deal with the politics and sit inside all day, every day."
He also soon discovered he loved "almost every aspect of being a mobile home park owner and manager," he said.
"I love digging ditches, raking leaves, cutting grass, trimming trees, I love it all. And, more than anything, I love confrontation, which you get a lot of in this business. I love trying to figure out the solution to a problem, and after 45 years, I have gotten real good at it."
The park on Lakeland Drive eventually grew to 25 units, but since he was still expecting his father to take it over when he retired, Strakshus found another location on Amity Road which eventually became Brundage Woods Mobile Home Village.
"I was just driving around and found this property, which wasn't even for sale," he said. "I bought it from the owner. I knew there was a demand. I was getting calls for rentals every day and I knew it was going to work."
He started with 10 spaces and after filling those up, he continued to expand until now the village has 38 units with 8 acres available for future expansion.
"I paid cash for everything," Strakshus said. "I never took a loan out."
As for writing a book, he admits for "the first 25 to 30 years, I never put pen to paper. I didn't consider myself a writer. But I would be telling people stories about what happened to me in my day at the trailer park and everyone, without exception, would tell me, 'You should be writing this stuff down.'"
Another 20 years went by and "I started writing it down and the memories started coming back. I had a pile of notes and would sit in my hot tub on my back deck and just try to imagine the order of my stories," he said. "When I originally started, I thought it would be a self-help book, like mobile home park management for dummies."
However, when he told friends that, "they would say, 'No, this is your story' because I'm involved with every story in the book. I'm a big part of most of them," he said.
Strakshus said after he "got a good head start on it," he had "no idea" how to get it published, but then saw a commercial on television for Page Publishing and called them and "the girl I was talking to I loved and knew immediately I was going to stay with them."
He said he sells the books himself "out of the back of his truck," but they are also in bookstores, and online at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iTunes, and Barnes & Noble and "you can even get the eBook."
Strakshus was looking for an illustrator and "I knew a lot of artists, a lot of good ones, but the best is sitting right here," he said, referring to Simmons.
"I asked him to read the book and if he was interested to just do a picture per chapter. Holy cow! He nailed it! Everybody says the pictures make the book and I totally agree," he said.
"Doing these kinds of characters is fun and it gives me a lot of range to just kind of play with my imagination and Gary was really good at describing what was going on," Simmons said.
"We took off from there. I did a few preliminary sketches. Working through different ideas, what kind of nonsense can I come up with. They all come directly from his descriptions," he said.
The book was published in late July so it's "hot off the presses" still, Strakshus said, noting it's a "homegrown, Hot Springs deal," since he has been here since 1977 and Simmons since 1973 and all the stories are from his experiences in Hot Springs.
Asked what's kept him going in the business, Strakshus said, "My work ethic. I love staying busy. My dad will be 98 soon and he is always busy, always has a project and it rubbed off on me. If I'm not doing something, I'm not happy."
While his stories cover the hilarious shenanigans and sometimes nightmarish aspects of dealing with mobile home parks and the people who live in them, with chapter headings like "Cops," "Evictions," "Accidents," "Pests," and "Bad People," Strakshus was quick to point out the appeal of them.
"It's affordable living. It's a nice, clean, quiet, safe place to live and raise a family."