Living Democracy

Dorsey Trailer remains key to Elba economy after more than century

Elba is a town with a rich history built by locals who have lived their whole life in the city and businesses that help the community thrive.  A key part of the economy is Dorsey Trailer, a company with roots in the community that date back to the turn of the 20th Century.

Dorsey Trailer began in 1911 when brothers Claude and Henry Dorsey opened a repair shop for small machinery. The shop quickly grew. When the automobile replaced the horse and buggy, they became the town’s main car repair source.

Dorsey also expanded into their own automobile dealerships, logging industries, and manufactured a successful stump puller.

After the Great Depression, Dorsey continued to play a large role in Elba by shifting to trailer manufacturing, which came to define the business for years to come. During World War II, their expansion allowed them to work with the military for their trailer needs.

After the war, Dorsey went into full-scale production of trailers that continued for years. However, in 2000, due to a variety of economic factors, Dorsey went bankrupt and was forced to close. The following years saw the company reopened, closed and reopened again after Pitts Enterprise took over in 2007.

Today, the company still holds a strong relationship with the town that I was able to see on a recent tour guided by Bradley Bane, company vice president and employee for more than ten years.

My first impression was the sheer amount of machinery that made the whole plant function. Our first stop on the tour was by a high-tech machine used to cut gaps in the outside of the bed that allowed for cross beams to be placed through to reinforce each trailer.

The employee operating this machine kept a close eye on the progress of the cuts and made sure to keep the bed moving. Bane explained the high-tech machine cost around half a million dollars.

Bane seemed unfazed by the dollar amount and with good reason. Machines of that caliber were all around us, making up each section of the long assembly line.

In the manufacturing world of Dorsey, this type of machinery, and the cost associated with it, is just a simple reality of the industry. As you make your way through the plant, you can see giant cranes above some stations and complex machines designed to ensure each trailer is designed perfectly to the left and right.

Bane explained that the work requires extreme attention to detail at each station. “That’s one of the toughest parts about the whole process.  Being off by one inch on the first station throws off the whole operation,” he said.

Following the assembly line operation to the end of the plant, you can see trailers gradually come together, one piece at a time.

Near the end of assembly process, you can see the customization of each trailer, which includes decals, painting, and other touches to make each trailer a perfect match for the buyer.

Despite tough times in the past, Bane said the plant is thriving today. “We’re lucky to be doing well enough now that we mainly just rely on specific orders from companies,” he said.

“We’ve got a reliable network of buyers, and that keeps us running with orders specific to them,” Bane added.

At the end of the line, the finished product, a trailer perfectly equipped to meet the demands of the customer, stands ready to go. Bane said Dorsey has the means to develop a trailer for any situation whether that is fitting it with necessary parts to meet regulations in California or customizing it to handle a load of chickens instead of oil.

Bane noted that the workforce, nearly 400 strong now, consists of people from around the area.  The Dorsey plant, just like the city of Elba, has withstood the test of time, coming back from hard times to move on to a bright future.

Last Updated: June 24, 2019