The Carstensen family owns Kustom Koach RV Centre in Aldergrove, BC. Carl Carstensen was one of the great pioneers of the recreation vehicle industry in Canada. He started out his working life as a carpenter in construction. But the outdoor life was what interested Carl, and trailers were what fascinated him.
In 1950, when he was only 18 years old, Carl built his first trailer. Moving to B.C. from Alberta in 1955, Carl continued to make his living in construction, but also continued to build trailers in his spare time. By 1960, the hobby had become his passion, and he quit construction to build trailers and campers full time. In those days, there weren’t many big shiny dealerships, or huge manufacturing plants in Canada. In those days, RVs were constructed one rig at a time, on a custom-order basis. Carl built his in a small building behind his house in Aldergrove. He had four children and not much money. Customers paid up front for their trailers and campers, and Carl used the money to buy the supplies to build their dreams.
By 1963, the business had grown enough for Carl to purchase property on the Fraser Highway in Aldergrove. Now he could increase production and employ staff, but money was still a problem. Banks were still reluctant to finance a young man but Carl found a private investor and Kustom Koach was on its way. By 1966 the Royal Bank decided Carl was on to a good thing, and lent their support. Now the young company was producing 25 RVs a month, and Carl’s father and two brothers joined the firm.
Over the next 10 years, the business grew up. The Aldergrove manufacturing plant occupied some 35,000 square feet, and employed up to 50 people at a time. In 1973, a new 45,000 square-foot manufacturing facility was built in Medicine Hat, Alberta, that employed 75 people at peak times. This plant eventually became the main manufacturing plant producing some 700 high-quality, fully equipped trailers per year. Quite a change from the one-at-a time production just 14 years before.
As well as overseeing the manufacturing process, Carl had opened his own retail dealership on Kingsway in Burnaby in 1969. In 1980 he moved the dealership from Burnaby to its present location on the Fraser Highway in Aldergrove. The retail operation became the prime focus for him, and in 1985 he sold the Kustom Koach manufacturing end to Travelaire Canada Ltd. Travelaire has produced thousands of Kustom Koach products over the years. With Carl’s passing in October 2007, his children now carry on the family legacy. The 3 1/2-acre dealership stocks approximately 250 units, and appropriately, the tradition lives on.