Lori Thompson grew up camping. “When I was eight or nine years old we toured every summer in our family’s teardrop truck camper,” she says. “I remember the clicking of the curtain clips and the coffee-can potty. I have happy memories of good times.”
Those memories are a big reason why Thompson, of Leawood, now owns a vintage 1959 Oasis camp trailer that is just 13 feet long. She calls it Toto’s Tin Can and it is painted with brightly colored sunflowers and a dancing girl created by Lisa Gentile of Phony Faux in Parkville. Thompson takes it to vintage travel trailer events such as the one held last August at the KOA campground in Branson, Mo., where I met her.
“It’s reliving a simpler time for me,” says Thompson. “I can sit, color, read or go for a swim.”
Thompson and her husband, Vernon, have been camping as long as they have been married. In addition to her Oasis, they have a reproduction of a 1961 Shasta Airflyte that they call Flying Monkey and a contemporary 27-foot trailer named Big Sal.
Thompson belongs to a group called Sisters on the Fly (SistersOnTheFly.com). With 200 to 300 members in the Heartland and more than 6,500 worldwide, Sisters delight in being self-sufficient. They gather to enjoy socializing, shopping, fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, hunting antiques or wine tasting.
Vintage trailers are all the rage these days, and interest is exploding, spurred on in part because of TV shows such as Flipping RVs on the Great American Country channel but also because enthusiasts are enthralled with these rolling time machines that hark back to earlier days. And don’t underestimate how a tiny space appeals to our nesting instinct. Call it the coziness factor.
Tin Can Tourists (TinCanTourists.com) is a club for vintage motor coaches and trailers, and Vintage Camper Trailers is a magazine dedicated to the same.
Because most vintage trailers are quite small, owners usually create an outdoor space covered by brightly a colored awning. Some put down carpet and some decorate with signs, flowerpots, tables and period knickknacks. A string of lights create a welcoming ambiance at night.
Chris Simmons of Pleasant Hill and his wife Kristy painstakingly restored a 1949 Spartan Manor and its polished aluminum skin glistens. His two-year restoration included repairing several badly damaged exterior aluminum panels, re-skinning the doors and completely rebuilding the interior in a style that might best be described as Art Deco with a contemporary twist. Blond wood paneling covers the walls and cabinetry, all designed by Simmons who is a creative director by profession. He credits friends Jeff Wilson, Jim Huseby and Bob Schumacher for making this project come to completion.
Spartan Aircraft Trailer Coaches, made by the Spartan Aircraft Company of Tulsa from 1946 to 1961, are often called the Cadillac of camp trailers. They are desirable because their Art Deco shape, build quality and the fact that they were made in much smaller numbers than Airstream. Spartan capitalized on the aircraft technology of the time by using high-end materials such as Lexan windows and an aluminum skin that was riveted together like the monocoque structure of an airplane.
Simmons, who has been going to car shows since he was 15, explains that a vintage camper event is like a car show but more fun. “It’s like having a great car, but living in it,” he says.
Many campers are do-it-yourself folks who have restored or rebuilt the interiors of their trailers and they love to show off their handiwork. The work often reflects the personality of its owner.
In 2014, the Branson KOA had 40 campers for its vintage weekend but this year there were 70. They expect perhaps twice as many next year.