At first glance it appeared a tornado had ravaged part of Rantoul.
But the destruction was man-made, caused by a crew that razed most of the mobile homes in the Westview Enterprises park along North Century Boulevard.
Roland Jensen, who with his wife Dorothy owns the trailer park, said the couple has been unable to sell the park and had it leveled as they prepare to retire and move back to their native Wisconsin.
Roland Jensen said the couple tried to sell it at auction last year, but a potential buyer later backed out.
"I could've sold it before for $90,000 and didn't take it," Jensen said, adding that several years before, he had a $180,000 offer.
But the housing market has dried up, and the Jensens have decided to cut their ties to the property.
A Mattoon firm — Baby Huey's Sanitation and Recycling — has been contracted to tear down the mobile homes for $400 apiece. The company will recycle most of the material. The rest will be trashed.
"All the wood will go to Arcola to the Amish, who will grind it up for horse bedding," said Fred Honaker, owner of the firm.
The insulation from the mobile homes will be baled and recycled. The metal will also be recycled, while the rest of the material will be sent to the landfill.
Dan Culkin, Rantoul village inspector, said all of the mobile homes had been vacant, except for two tenants, just before the demolition. The two tenants, rather than move their mobile homes, allowed them to be demolished and handed over title to the property because the homes were in such bad shape.
Jensen said he and his wife have owned the mobile home park since 2002 when they bought it from the estate of Robert Wheelock.
Gilbert Dailey of Rantoul, a former village of Rantoul electrical department employee, said he remembers the mobile home park opening in the early '60s.
"We ran the (electrical) services down each street and put the wires up," Dailey said.
Kathleen Finney, the Rantoul attorney who represents the Jensens, said the mobile home park opening was likely the result of the need for housing due to the boom at Chanute Air Force Base about 50 years ago.
"It used to be full and at maximum capacity," Finney said. "But after Chanute closed, the opportunities for other rental units just quadrupled or quintupled. In most recent years it's been difficult (to operate a trailer park)."
She said the Jensens have done a good job of upkeep at the mobile home park.
"They're very proud people," she said.
Jensen said at one time the park was known as Abe's Estates.
The park held 44 trailers prior to their demolition, Jensen said, adding that all but one will be torn down.
He said owning and running a mobile home park is a tough business.
"The worst thing was when the tenants would tear them up," he said, adding that many occupants failed to pay their rent and moved out.
"You go to a grocery store and steal a candy bar, they'll throw you in jail, but if you don't pay your rent, there's nothing you can do" unless the landlord wants to take the tenant to court. Often, he said, that's more trouble than it's worth.
"And the city's getting stricter (with rental regulations) all the time too.
"If I was 35 years old I'd probably have stayed here and kept it going," said Jensen, adding that the couple's health problems are part of the reason they have opted to move back to Wisconsin, where they can be closer to their doctors.
Finney said there is interest from the village of Rantoul in buying the property. She said she will meet with the village attorney to discuss the sale.
She said the property, at the least, could be a green space in the neighborhood.
"I think Rantoul has more of an interest now of giving the people in Rantoul something to be proud of in terms of the appearance of the community," Finney said. "I think a nice entrance (to the village) on Route 45 can only be beneficial."