Owen Bud Richason Jr., right, and his son, Owen Buzz Richason III, stand in front of a truck they used to transport mobile homes in 1969.
ST. PETERSBURG - Every day, Dot Richason dutifully unlocks the door of the old single-wide that serves as the office of Bud & Son Mobile Homes. She rarely bothers to go inside.
"It's just a habit more or less," she says. "I don't even spend an hour a week in this office."
She has been performing this ritual since 1995, when her husband, Buzz, who was the son in Bud & Son, died. She never thought of closing the business.
"Didn't even want to," Dot said. "I still got bills to pay just like everybody else."
Business is slow, like a trickle of water that keeps a pipe from freezing. When the phone rings, it's often someone looking to sell the mobile home of a relative who just died. She'll resell them, or junk them.
"The last one I sold? It was about - let me see - April," Richason, 59, says. "I'm winding down."
But she won't let go.
In 1953, Owen E. Richason Jr., known to everyone as Bud, arrived in St. Petersburg with a pocket full of cash he had made running an inn in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
At 37 he took a job selling "trailers"; no one called them mobile homes yet. Fourth Street alone had 18 dealers and 12 parks.
In 1959, he bought a small corner lot on 46th Avenue, just west of 66th Street, and within the year he moved again, to a 2-acre site a little farther down the road, past Joe's Creek.
No one seriously considered calling the business Richason & Son. "Everyone wants to put an "rd' in it," Dot says. "It's a pain."
But the decision to include his only son, Owen E. Richason III, in the name was a generous and driven man's way of establishing a financial legacy for Buzz to build his own family.
Buzz worked for his father through high school and through four years in the Air Force. He came home for good in 1966, having met Dot in Little Rock, Ark., where he was stationed.
Profitable though the business was, Buzz was less than fulfilled. Having skipped college to join the service, he decided to get his degree. He worked all day and studied at night, graduating from the University of South Florida with honors in psychology.
By that point he had two young sons, Owen IV and Chad. He hung his diplomas on the wall of the Bud & Son office and kept right on selling.
"He was a big, strapping guy. He worked like a horse," Dot says. "Whatever Buzz did, he put his whole self into it."
He had regrets, though.
"He hated (the business)," his son Owen says. "But that never undermined his work ethic."
In 1977, Bud and Buzz decided to build a mobile home park on 20-something acres they acquired just west on 46th Avenue.
"It was one of the last parks built in Pinellas County. All double-wides. Lake Rich Village was the high point of the business," Dot says.
When Owen and Chad got old enough, their father put them to work like his father had done.
"I started dragging sod when I was 8," Owen says. "We learned to pour concrete, put in aluminum awnings, plumbing, electric, tile, carpet. By 14, I could do everything."
Buzz's intention was not to prepare them to take over the business.
"Do you want to do this for the rest of your life?" he would ask them.
"We never encouraged them to take over the business," Dot Richason says. "Mobile home sales were dropping off. There was no expansion of parks in Pinellas. We could see the writing on the wall."
The market got soft in the late '80s. But the biggest blow came when Buzz died. He was 50.
His sons don't come near the sales lot unless they're visiting their mother. Chad is an engineer at Honeywell, and Owen, after a lengthy flirtation with a law career, is happily selling cigars and writing books.
"I get paid for smoking cigars, watching TV, talking to people and pouring drinks," he says. "It's arduous work, I tell you."