Jimmy Crain, a pioneer South Carolina RV dealer and campground owner, is a man of many careers and few regrets.
In the 1940s just after World War II, when ”Jimmy Crain and the Lazy River Boys” were playing country music in south Georgia, the quartet sometimes performed with a fiddler whose stage name was Pee Wee King, according to The Greenville (S.C.) News.
“Now he’s in the (Country Music) Hall of Fame,” Crain says of the late famous fiddler, “and I’m in Greenville.”
What might sound like a complaint is actually a bit of humor from Crain, a witty and plain-spoken man whose success didn’t end with his days as a guitarist and fiddler. If he were the complaining type, he might lament that early deaths have taken too many loved ones: By the time he was 10, both parents had died from tuberculosis; he’s since grieved the loss of a wife, sister and daughter.
As he nears his 90th birthday, Crain can’t think of a better place to be than his native Greenville County. And he’s equally happy with a long list of careers.
Crain, who grew up in a village near the Greer Mill, has spent most of his life in the Taylors area – nearly 60 years of it as owner/operator of the Rainbow Trailer Court.
Somehow, it never kept him from brushing elbows with the rich and famous. The office at the campground is filled with photos and other mementos of a storied career that once put Crain on a first-name basis with the late Sen. Strom Thurmond and the late Gov. Robert McNair. Crain also has been the recipient of a return phone call from President George Bush, even though he often disagreed with Bush’s decisions.
Just a few feet from those photos is a small replica of the campers that Crain once built. He had become a cabinetmaker and housing contractor after he returned home from his second tour of military duty, and he changed careers once again in 1950, becoming a pioneer in the recreational vehicle business.
From his 20-acre, 100-site campground just a few hundred feet away from Highway 29, Crain used carpentry skills he had learned from his grandfather to build 26 campers in 1950. He sold them all, but soon discovered that it was more profitable to buy the campers from a company in Elkhart, Ind., and simply be an RV dealer.
By 1969, Crain was president of the South Carolina RV Dealers Association. And in July of that year, while much of the country was focused on a moon launch, Crain was coordinating what at the time was one of the largest gatherings of RV enthusiasts in the country.
For 10 days, he camped at Rocks Pond, near Eutawville. He has newspaper pages saying the event lured 20,000 RVs (an estimated 50,000 people, including Thurmond and McNair) for a national convention.
Forty years later, he’s still a fixture at the Taylors’ campground, which is usually near capacity. Son Jimmy Jr. continues to work as the jack-of-all-trades handyman at the park, a role played for many years by Crain himself.
Crain bought the property in 1947, when he traded a house in Greer and $25,000 for the acreage. He and his family lived on the property until 1985 and nearly sold the land in the same year to Wal-Mart.
After an unexpected visit from a Wal-Mart representative, Crain figured his campground days were over.
“I called my wife and said, ‘What is a Wal-Mart?” Crain recalls. “At the time, I had never heard of them.”
Wal-Mart eventually built just a few miles south on Wade Hampton Boulevard. That preserved the Rainbow Trailer Court.
Crain, who continues to spend a lot of time on the property, never seemed to mind missing the sale.
“I’ve always enjoyed it here. You get to meet a lot of good people,” says Crain. “Camping people are friendly. And there’s always something going on.”