The vintage trailer trend is becoming more accurately defined as a movement. Its contagious ability to evoke nostalgia seems to satisfy a yearning for simpler times in an accelerated world.
Spawned predominantly by women, retro campers have been the ladies’ answer to their husband’s hot rods at car shows, a fancy bed in the great outdoors on weekend getaways, an approachable fixer-upper project and even a mobile shop to peddle their wares.
No retelling of this comeback story would be complete without Sisters on the Fly (SOTF). In 1997, two sisters, Maurrie Sussman and Becky Clarke, set out on a week-long fly-fishing trip in Montana with their classic trailers. Over some wine, they hatched the idea of a women’s-only outdoor club. Today SOTF is nearly 10,000 members strong with more than 600 events a year in every state throughout the U.S. According to Sussman, most of the “sisters” own trailers they’ve renovated themselves.
In between horseback riding, hiking, kayaking and Dutch-oven cooking, the ladies tour each other’s Westwoods, Shastas, Spartans and Holiday Ramblers. When SOTF hosts a rally and invites the public to peruse their kitschy caravans, ticket sales are donated to a local women’s charity.
Crafty business owners have found ways to increase their shop space with the sentimental lines of reconditioned trailers. Denise Johnson, owner of El & Em, a vintage, home décor and DIY store in Battle Ground, Washington, added a 1965 Aladdin, 1969 Shasta and 1970 Shasta to her backyard last fall.
The 1965 camper sports its original turquoise interior and was left as intact as possible, and the 1970 Shasta is near original with some minor changes like the widening of the entrance door. Johnson did most of the work herself and loves creating mini worlds in each of the trailers, matching their interior color schemes with complementary vintage and upcycled items.
So intoxicating are these mobile elixirs that new gatherings are constantly being created. Kelly Boldy moved from California to Montana and noticed that her new home state had plenty of retro campers but no place to showcase them all. So, she began hosting annual rallies at the Hot Springs in Bozeman. Seventeen trailers made up the inaugural rally, and the next year the number doubled. Tin cans came from Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and North Dakota. Boldy added her own flair with a vintage swimsuit contest, Flamingo Bingo and a 50s Outrageous Outfits theme. Taking a tip from SOTF— of which she is a member proceeds for trailer contest ribbons went to a local center for abused women and children.
Boldy’s trailer, Madame Lovey, is a 19-foot, 1959 Shasta Luxe with a bathroom and shower. It’s fitted with new floors, a queen bed in the back and a vintage fainting couch in the front.
Back in Washington, Bev Bass-Dunning creates custom jewelry with a vintage flair under the moniker Tin Can Diva and sells her line from her 18-foot, 1961 Kenskill named Penelope. Reviving Penelope entailed taking all the cabinets off and sanding them down, removing every window to re-polish them, disassembling all the exterior J rails to strip them of paint and polish the metal, adding butyl tape and screwing everything back in, converting from propane to electric.
Dunning says, “For me, it’s cool to think I taught myself how to use a lot of tools. I think it does give everybody a sense of empowerment. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent on a ladder getting all those stupid screws out, but I don’t think I would enjoy it as much knowing someone else did most of the work.”
A distinct vein of tenacity runs through most vintage trailer owners, but there are still facets of restoration that call for a professional. Flyte Camp is a vintage travel trailer restoration company located in Bend, Oregon. Owned by husband-and-wife team Justin and Anna Scribner, Flyte Camp focuses on the 1920s to 1964.
Justin likens retro campers to classic cars of the 1930s and 40s, such as the Tucker or Duesenberg, and makes a strong case for their cultural significance.
“For a long time these pieces of history were left out in the field, and they weren’t considered important. As you dig deeper, you realize a travel trailer is a piece of Americana put by the wayside,” Justin says.
Similar to how finding a 1941 or 1942 Chevrolet sets the hearts of classic car fanatics all atwitter, coming across a Masonite camper is an exciting find for vintage buffs because it speaks to the story of the war effort and aluminum and steel being at a premium.
With places like Flyte Camp proving that old and new can make attractive bedfellows, we can continue to find trailer-friendly camping places and create memories that rival stories of old.
Curious about what life in a vintage trailer is like? Spend a few nights in one at The Vintages Trailer Resort in Dayton, Oregon, in the heart of Willamette Valley wine country. Book at the-vintages.com.
NW Vintage Trailer Rallies
>> All-American Vintage Trailer Rally: Brooks, OR; July 3-8, 2018; all-american-rally.com
>> Hootenanny Rally: Woodland, WA; July 27-29, 2018; downrivertrailers.com
>> Mt. Baker Vintage Trailer Rally: Lynden, WA; September 4-10, 2018; downrivertrailers.com