Forrest and Jeri Bone can’t wait to hit the road again.
Seven years ago, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the National Road, they drove their RV from Cumberland, Md., to Vandalia, Ill.
Sunday (June 23), they will set out again, this time taking the Lincoln Highway from Hayesville, Ohio, to the Buffalo County Fairgrounds in Kearney, Neb. They will arrive June 29, the Lexington Clipper-Herald, Lexington, Neb. reported.
Leaders of an organization known as the Tin Can Tourists, they will be joined by drivers of 25 campers and recreational vehicles, many from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
Tin Can Tourists was founded in Tampa in 1919 and resuscitated by the Bones 15 years ago. The rekindled group started with 50 “members,” or vehicles, in 1998. It now has a membership of 1,500 vehicles.
“Our membership has just exploded over the last five years. We’ve got 5,000 people on our Facebook group alone,” Bone said.
His title is royal exalted tin can opener; Jeri is the royal exalted first lady. The group aims to have wholesome fun as it explores the nation’s highways and the cultures those roads created.
The Bones of Midland, Mich., spent two years planning the Lincoln Highway trip. It will start in Hayesville, not New York City, because it was too challenging to try to get 25 RVs across busy Highway 30 near Philadelphia, then through Lancaster and over the mountains.
“After my wife and I did a scouting trip in Pennsylvania two years ago, we decided to find a place to start in Ohio,” Bone said. That’s where the group will converge Friday.
Saturday night, the village of Hayesville will give them a rousing send-off with bluegrass music. “My wife got them all behind us,” Bone said. “They’re going to have a dinner and an open house for us.”
As the vehicles start west Sunday, they will travel about 150 miles a day. Stops will include Van Wert, Ohio; Elkhart, Ind.; St. Charles, Ill.; and Franklin Grove, Ill, home of the national headquarters of the Lincoln Highway Association.
“We’ll see a few murals and have a good photo opportunity there,” Bone said.
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Tim Heintz might still be looking for a wife, but in the meantime, he has given his heart — as well as his time and his cash — to Rosie the Riveted.
“That’s what I call my 1950 Spartenette trailer,” said Heintz, from Tallahassee, Fla. “It was built by the Spartan Aircraft Co. like they build airplanes, so everything was riveted.”
Heintz is one of the dozens of Tin Can Tourists who are pulling their vintage campers into Cedar Key, Fla., this weekend for their fifth annual gathering in the island city, the Gainesville Sun reported.
On Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the restored and refurbished campers built between the 1940s and the 1970s will be open for public tours at no charge. The campers are parked at the Sunset Isle RV Park on State Road 24.
Heintz, an architect by training and a self-proclaimed vintage trailer addict since his college days, said his Spartenette had been abandoned for 40 years when he took possession of it several years ago. “When it was built in 1950, it cost $4,995, or about what two houses would have cost back then,” Heintz said.
A few spots over from where Heintz set up his trailer was a gleaming 1962 Globe Trotter Airstream trailer that Hunt Jones pulls with a restored 1955 GMC pickup. Jones, from New Jersey and Bradenton, said the advantage of a trailer built of aircraft aluminum is that it will not rot like wood. But he conceded that rust can be a constant threat, especially when parked next to salt water like his trailer is this weekend. He buffs or polishes the classic trailer at least five times a year, he said, and each time it takes about a week.
So why haul an aluminum trailer to a saltwater environment like Cedar Key for a weekend every winter?
“This place is great — it’s kind of lost in the 1950s,” Hunt said. “That works for us.”
Editor’s Note: The following story was written by Staci Backauskaus and first appeared in Better RVing, a publication of Lazydays.
You may have seen the Travel Channel special highlighting vintage RV renovations, but you may not know about the Tin Can Tourists, a group of nearly 1,000 who proudly rally and caravan their vintage campers all over the U.S.
Started in 1998, there were 21 trailers and 58 people at the first gathering in Michigan. Today, they have nearly a dozen events every year, many of which are sold out with waiting lists. “People have found an interest in vintage trailers,” says Forrest Bone, founder of the group. “They’re more and more noticeable on the road.”
The idea for the organization came from Bone’s experience with his father-in-law’s vintage Airstream. “We worked with him on the restoration and from there, we were hooked,” says Bone. He then got involved with the vintage Airstream organization that existed and served as president for one year.
Bone became fascinated with the history of the first caravanners. “My wife and I like all different brands and types of trailers,” he says. “The Airstream organization limits their events to their trailers. So we got interested in establishing an organization where anyone could join – even if they have a new rig. They just need to appreciate the vintage trailers.”
The goal of the Tin Can Tourists is to show appreciation for and work toward preservation of vintage campers and trailers. “It’s been really interesting to see what types of units are still out there and have been restored,” he says. “We even have members on their third or fourth vintage trailer because they really enjoy doing the renovation and restoration.”
The group also receives requests on a regular basis from towns and organizations asking for their participation. In 2006, 25 members caravanned from Cumberland Md., to Vidalia Ill., to help celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Route 40, one of America’s historic national roads. Last month, another Tin Can Tourist group traveled Route 6 through Pennsylvania to help celebrate the RV Centennial and promote the area as a vacation destination for campers.
Many members own rare trailers like the 1927 Wieder or the Curtiss Aero Car that served both as a cab and an emergency vehicle in the ’20s and ’30s. “The Aero may be one of nine in existence in the U.S.,” says Bone. “It’s the only one still being used. The others are in private collections or museums.” Bone owns three vintage trailers right now and admits, “When we’re driving along and see something that catches our eye, even if it doesn’t have a for sale sign on it, we inquire.”
A retired school teacher and coach, he is excited about how the organization has expanded. “Growth has been so steady over the last three or four years,” he says. “And we’re starting to see more events at a regional level.” The group has regional reps in various areas and the number of local events is growing. Several have already taken place, including one in Vancouver, another in Sedona and there was even a rally in the Fingerlakes region in New York. The group also helped celebrate the RV Centennial in Florida by displaying vintage trailers at several Interstate welcome centers at the beginning of June.
Membership is open to anyone with an appreciation of vintage campers and trailers. For more information, visit www.tincantourists.com
Editor’s Note: The following story appears in the current issue of The Smithsonian.
Every Dec. 15, Kevin Ewert and Angie Kaphan celebrate a “nomadiversary,” the anniversary of wedding their lives to their wanderlust. They sit down at home, wherever they are, and decide whether to spend another year motoring in their 40-foot recreational vehicle.
Their romance with the road began six years ago, when they bought an RV to go to ”Burning Man,” the annual temporary community of alternative culture in the Nevada desert. They soon started taking weekend trips and, after trading up to a bigger RV, motored from San Jose to Denver and then up to Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Sturgis, Devil’s Tower and through Yellowstone. They loved the adventure, and Ewert, who builds web applications, was able to maintain regular work hours, just as he’d done at home in San Jose.
So they sold everything, including their home in San Jose, where they’d met, bought an even bigger RV, and hit the road full time, modern-day nomads in a high-tech covered wagon. “What we’re doing with the RV is blazing our own trail and getting out there and seeing all these places,” Ewert says. “I think it’s a very iconic American thing.”
The recreational vehicle turns 100 years old this year. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), about 8.2 million households now own RVs. They travel for 26 days and an average of 4,500 miles annually, according to a 2005 University of Michigan study. The institute estimates about 450,000 of them are full-time RVers like Ewert and Kaphan.
Drivers began making camping alterations to cars almost as soon as they were introduced. The first RV was Pierce-Arrow’s Touring Landau, which debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1910. The Landau had a back seat that folded into a bed, a chamber pot toilet and a sink that folded down from the back of the seat of the chauffeur, who was connected to his passengers via telephone. Camping trailers made by Los Angeles Trailer Works and Auto-Kamp Trailers also rolled off the assembly line beginning in 1910. Soon, dozens of manufacturers were producing what were then called auto campers, according to Al Hesselbart, the historian at the RV Museum and Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., located in a region that produces 60% of the RVs manufactured in the United States today.
As automobiles became more reliable, people traveled more and more. The rise in popularity of the national parks attracted travelers who demanded more campsites. David Woodworth — a former Baptist preacher who once owned 50 RVs built between 1914 and 1937, but sold many of them to the RV Museum — says in 1922 you could visit a campground in Denver that had 800 campsites, a nine-hole golf course, a hair salon and a movie theater.
The Tin Can Tourists, named because they heated tin cans of food on gasoline stoves by the roadside, formed the first camping club in the United States, holding their inaugural rally in Florida in 1919 and growing to 150,000 members by the mid-1930s. They had an initiation; an official song, “The More We Get Together;” and a secret handshake.
Another group of famous men, the self-styled Vagabonds — Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs —caravaned in cars for annual camping trips from 1913 to 1924, drawing national attention. Their trips were widely covered by the media and evoked a desire in others to go car camping (regular folks certainly didn’t have their means). They brought with them a custom Lincoln truck outfitted as a camp kitchen. While they slept in tents, their widely chronicled adventures helped promote car camping and the RV lifestyle.
Decades later, CBS News correspondent Charles Kuralt captured the romance of life on the road with reports that started in 1967, wearing out motorhomes by covering more than a million miles over the next 25 years in his “On the Road” series. “There’s just something about taking your home with you, stopping wherever you want to and being in the comfort of your own home, being able to cook your own meals, that has really appealed to people,” Woodworth says.
The crash of 1929 and the Depression dampened the popularity of RVs, although some people used travel trailers, which could be purchased for $500 to $1,000, as inexpensive homes. Rationing during World War II stopped production of RVs for consumer use, although some companies converted to wartime manufacturing, making units that served as mobile hospitals, prisoner transports and morgues.
After the war, the returning GIs and their young families craved inexpensive ways to vacation. The burgeoning interstate highway system offered a way to go far fast and that combination spurred a second RV boom that lasted through the 1960s.
Motorized RVs started to become popular in the late 1950s, but they were expensive luxury items that were far less popular than trailers. That changed in 1967 when Winnebago Industries Inc. began mass-producing what it advertised as “America’s first family of motorhomes,” five models from 16 to 27 feet long, which sold for as little as $5,000. By then, refrigeration was a staple of RVs, according to Hesselbart, who wrote “The Dumb Things Sold Just Like That,” a history of the RV industry.
“The evolution of the RV has pretty much followed technology,” Woodworth says. “RVs have always been as comfortable as they can be for the time period.”
As RVs became more sophisticated, Hesselbart says, they attracted a new breed of enthusiasts interested less in camping and more in destinations, like Disney World and Branson, Mo. Today, it seems that only your budget limits the comforts of an RV. Modern motor homes have convection ovens, microwaves, garbage disposals, washers and dryers, king-size beds, heated baths and showers and, of course, satellite dishes.
“RVs have changed, but the reason people RV has been constant the whole time,” Woodworth says. “You can stop right where you are and be at home.”
Ewert chose an RV that features an office. It’s a simple life, he says. Everything they own travels with them. They consume less and use fewer resources than they did living in a house, even though the gas guzzlers get only eight miles a gallon. They have a strict flip-flops and shorts dress code. They’ve fallen in love with places like Moab and discovered the joys of southern California after being northern California snobs for so long. And they don’t miss having a house somewhere to anchor them. They may not be able to afford a house in Malibu down the street from Cher’s place, but they can afford to camp there with a million-dollar view out their windows. They’ve developed a network of friends on the road and created NuRvers.com, a Web site for younger RV full-timers (Ewert is 47; Kaphan is 38).
Asked about their discussion on the next December 15, Ewert says he expects they’ll make the same choice they have made the past three years—to stay on the road. “We’re both just really happy with what we’re doing,” he says. “We’re evangelical about this lifestyle because it offers so many new and exciting things.”
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The Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA) spent three days at the three Interstate Welcome Centers coming into Florida to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the RV Industry and the 30th year of the FRVTA.
In addition to handing out free popcorn and bottled water, the Tin Can Tourists had a display of “antique” RVs on display as well. The centers are located on I-95, I-75 and I-10.
“The response from travelers was great,” said FRVTA Marketing Director Dave Kelly in a news release. “They were very surprised to see us handing out freebees and they loved touring the older RVs. They were more popular than the modern RVs we had on display.”
Tim Heintz, the Southeast regional representative of the Tin Can Tourists, had the oldest RV on display, a 1950 Spartanette trailer that he restored himself. “I found this trailer in a field, it had tress growing up beside it and I was able to buy it for $800. It has been valued at between $70,000 and $80,000. The Tin Can Tourists all have one thing in common, we love to save old RVs.”
Other vintage RVs on display included a 1967 Avion, a 1964 Airstream and a 1963 Shasta.
The Lake City Reporter ran a front-page story about the celebration and First Coast News in Jacksonville ran a two-minute story on the evening news. “We were thrilled with the media coverage,” said Kelly. “I think we accomplished what we set out to do, expose the media and public to the RV Centennial celebration. We are going to keep working with the Tin Can Tourists and already have a few of them that will be attending the Florida RV SuperShow in January.”
The Tin Can Tour will “Do 6” this June as the caravan of classic trailers travels across at least half of U.S. Route 6 in Pennsylvania with stops in several communities and campgrounds along the way, the PA Route 6 Heritage Corp. and Tourist Association has announced.
The tour is in conjunction with the centennial celebration of the RV industry, going on this year and climaxed that week with a celebration in Elkhart, Ind., on June 7.
From June 4 to June 14, a caravan of approximately 30 classic vehicles and camping trailers will visit communities and historic sites across the western half of the historic and scenic highway. The caravan plans to stop for two days in a town or at a campground and hold an “open house” for residents and visitors to see these antique and mostly restored cars, trucks and campers. They hope to create a fun and festive time for the towns. Following are highlights of the planned tour, according to a news release:
- On Friday, June 4, traveling east on Route 6 from the Ohio line, the caravan will arrive at the Brookdale Family Campground in Meadville, near mile marker 24. An Open House will be held on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m.
- On Sunday, June 6, the caravan will travel to the town of Port Allegany in McKean County, between mile marker 159 and 160, for a community event including a “Walk Around” viewing of the vintage trailers and motorcoaches, participation in a car show and a meal.
- An Open House on Monday, June 7, will take place at the nearby Allegheny River Campground, Roulette, near mile marker 170 from 3 to 7 p.m.
- On Tuesday, June 8, the caravan will travel to Galeton, near mile marker 198, where they will set up in the John J. Collins Memorial Park, right on the lake. An Open House will be held on Wednesday, June 9 from 1 to 4 p.m.
- On Thursday, June 10, the caravan moves in Mansfield, near mile marker 234 and will set up in Town Park. An Open House will be held on Friday, June 11 from 1 to 4 p.m.
- On Saturday, June 12, the caravan turns around and heads back west to Conneaut Lake Park and ends its stay in Pennsylvania.
The Tin Can Tourists is an all make and model vintage trailer and motorcoach club. Its goal is to promote and preserve vintage trailers and motor coaches through Gatherings and information exchange. For more information, contact the PA Route 6 Heritage Corp. at (814) 435-7706.
The 37th annual arrival of the Airstreamers in Sarasota, Fla., last month recalls another group of highway roamers who journeyed to Sarasota en masse from all parts of the country more than 80 years ago, albeit in conveyances that were far from shiny and certainly not aerodynamic, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
They were the Tin Can Tourists of the World, formed in Tampa after World War I in the days when road travel was still an arduous and iffy adventure, with paved streets the exception and service stations and motor courts few and far between.
The goals of the club were simple: “To unite fraternally all auto campers; to provide clean and wholesome entertainment at all campfires; to help enforce the rules governing all campgrounds.”
Their rules of behavior included displaying the emblem of the order; helping a fellow member in distress; keeping and leaving all campgrounds clean and sanitary; and putting out all fires, destroying no property and “purloining” nothing.
Initially, the federation was derided as a bunch of vagabonds. It was said their name derived from the tin-can condition of their modified cars, or the belief that most of them dined from tin cans — or both.
Their chosen emblem was a tin can perched atop their radiator.
Sarasota’s chapter of the group was organized on Jan. 7, 1921, with 22 members joining an estimated 17,000 from throughout the United States and Canada.
The group grew quickly, gathering in different locations around Sarasota throughout the 1920s, but holding their annual conventions in Tampa, Gainesville and Arcadia.
In 1931, three years into the Great Depression, a group of Sarasotans traveled to Arcadia to sell the group on the idea of making Sarasota its convention site. By that time, the Tin Canners numbered in the tens of thousands, which would add a sizeable amount of money to the coffers of any city that hosted them.
The hopeful sales team was accompanied by a motorcade of 250, the American Legion band and a fly-over by a plane with a greeting painted on the wing.
They wound through the camp and the band and a violin, string and harmonica ensemble serenaded the crowd.
Arcadia did not have a chance. Although its mayor beseeched the Canners to remain in Arcadia by pointing out that they had been welcomed there when they were given short shrift by other communities, including Sarasota, the Sarasota contingent was persuasive, and the confab chose Sarasota for 1932.
Their arrival in January was headline news for the city that had fallen on hard economic times: “SARASOTA WELCOMES TCT FOLK.”
For the locals still suspect of the group, given its Tin Can name, Royal Chief R.W. Vaughn informed them that the group was made up of respectable people from all walks of life: doctors, lawyers, manufacturers, preachers and bankers and noted that they “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for gasoline, oil, tires, new cars, motor repair and upkeep.”
The group gathered annually around Payne Park, and their community later morphed into the Sarasota Mobile Home Park. By 1938, more than 3,000 “nomads” from 45 states, Canada and two foreign countries poured into Sarasota.
Their time was spent at shuffleboard, baseball, fishing, trips to the winter quarters of the circus, dances and TCT business. The climax was a Carnival Ball and a downtown parade with marching bands, floats representing the campers’ home states and thousands of onlookers lining the way.
As the RV industry celebrates its centennial in 2010, the nation’s oldest consumer RV ”club” is not too far behind.
Tin Can Tourists, an organization whose members primarily own vintage travel trailers and motorhomes, this year marks its 91st year — although with an asterisk because those years were not consecutive. Tin Can Tourists experienced a 20-year hiatus that ended in 1998 when Michigan high school teacher and coach Forest Bone and his wife, Jeri, resurrected the organization.
”It kind of evolved,” said Bone, 66, who spends his time between Bradenton, Fla., and Milford, Mich. ”We were charter members of the Vintage Airstream Club and I was president in 1998. We had begun formulating plans to have an all-makes-and-models club, and we’d known about the Tin Can Tourists, which hadn’t been active in a number of years.
”So, we went through all the trademark searches to make sure we weren’t infringing on an existing organization and we didn’t find anything.”
For the most part, the original Tin Can Tourists were minimalists who might, for instance, have driven a Model T Ford with a tent-like extension used as the sleeping area. ”There was one that even used the running board as a headrest,” Bone said.
Today, Tin Can Tourists typically own vintage units but they don’t have to. ”That’s a misconception,” Bone said. ”Anyone can be a member, and they can take part in anything the club can do.
Still, he said, 75% of Tin Can Tourist members own vintage trailers. Shasta, Serro Scotty and Airstream brands are popular. ”There are lots of ‘canned ham’ trailers that look like Shastas that were manufactured in the ’50s,” Bone said. ”A lot of our members own those.”
The cost of membership in Tin Can Tourists is minimal — only $20 a year. And more than 800 members are led regionally by seven representatives in North America and others in the United Kingdom and Japan who provide input to the organization and run Tin Can Tourists get-togethers.
The Tin Can Tourists originated from early ”RVers” who ate their meals out of tin cans while they traveled because of the lack of refrigeration.
Their formal objective was to ”unite fraternally all autocampers” with guiding principles being ”clean camps, friendliness among campers, decent behavior and clean (and) wholesome entertainment for those in camp.”
The club was formally organized in 1919 with Charles T. Falles, known as the ”Mayor of Easy Street,” the organization’s first Royal Sargent.”
A tin can later became a sign of distress — sort of like a road flair when hung from the radiator of a car. ”If somebody passed by and was a fellow Tin Can Tourist, they would stop to help,” Bone said. ”There was a Good Samaritan aspect to it. Flat tires were a huge problem in the early travel days and there were a lot of other problems.”
The journey from Michigan where the group held its summer reunions in the 1920s to Desoto Park in Tampa, Fla., where the Tourists headquartered in the early 1920s, might take three weeks.
At its height, the number of Tin Can Tourists numbered close to 100,000 and the New York Times published a feature story about the group in August 1926 and Life magazine a pictorial in January 1939.
As the number of Tin Can Tourists dwindled into the 1960s and 1970s, the original club’s last winter reunion took place in 1978 at Eustis RV Park, Eustis, Fla., according to a trove of historic files donated to the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.
The reconstituted Tin Can Tourists’ first ”gathering” in 1998 in Milford, Mich., drew 21 units. The tourists’ 2010 Winter Convention Feb. 25-28 at Lake Manatee State Park east of Bradenton drew 50 RVs and about 120 people on a first-come first-serve basis due to site restrictions.
At the beginning of this year, the club had 834 remembers, down from just over 1,000 at the start of 2009. ”With the combination of gas prices and the economy, we took a pretty good hit on membership,” Bone said. ”But we are slowly returning.”
The Tin Can Tourists 12th Annual Gathering at Camp Dearborn in Milford, Mich., will be May 20-23, along with two other regional gatherings scheduled that same weekend in New York and New Mexico.
In addition, three other local gatherings will be staged this year in Michigan and three in Florida while regional rallies will take place in Canada, California, Washington, Arizona and New York.
John Culp, 84, who keeps a post office box in Clairmont, Fla., attended the new Tin Can Tourists first Florida ”gathering” in 2000.
Culp said he joined Tin Can Tourists after hearing that Bone had started the club again that he had heard of as a youth.
”I joined because of the people,” said Culp, who currently is a full-timer living in a 24-foot 1947 Westcraft travel trailer, a high-end all-aluminum brand favored by the Hollywood movie star crowd, that he and his parents bought new for $3,200.
”It’s pretty much the original,” Culp said of the 62-year-old trailer. ”They’ve stood the test of time. They don’t leak and they don’t deteriorate.”
Karen Campbell and her husband, Kenny, who founded the Southwest Vintage Camper Association in 2003 in Albuquerque, N.M., have been members of Tin Can Tourists since 2005. Karen Campbell currently is the organization’s Southwest Region representative and will host the 2nd Annual Tin Can Tourists Exchange Encampment May 20-23 at Rancho Sedona (Ariz.) RV Park.
”We’re a little more of a social group than traditional campers are,” said Karen Campbell, who has refurbished 29 vintage trailers since getting the vintage trailer bug in 2002, including Shastas, Boles Areos, Airstreams, Streamlines and Spartans.
”We fix them up slowly,” she said. ”It’s not really a business. It’s a joy.”
Vintage RVs appeal to women for reasons that are different than men, she said.
”From a woman’s point of view, we like them because we get to play house,” Karen Campbell offered. ”A lot of women ‘theme’ their trailers with curtains and fabrics and interior things. The thing that men enjoy about vintage trailers is that they are simpler to operate. You don’t have to worry about whether the slide is going to go out or whether the leveler will be working.”
After a long haul, Dawn M. Bastian of Goodrich, Mich., was relaxing at her campsite under a bright blue sky at Lake Manatee State Park near East Manatee, Fla., sky Thursday. But next to her wasn’t a motorhome or a fifth-wheel trailer.
She was camping out in a 13-foot, turquoise, 1966 Serro Scotty Sportsman trailer. It’s shape — like a canned ham — is not conducive to a fancy dining room or entertainment center, according to the Bradenton Herald.
But that’s not what this little dude, which cost $695 new in 1966, is all about, Bastian said.
She says her antique Scotty, which she restored, inspires a bit of happy nostalgia in everyone who sees it since it was born when Route 66 was the main drag across America and there were no cell phones.
“It’s fun to sleep in,” Bastian said with the big smile of someone who doesn’t care about Corian countertops or a hot tub in an RV.
“It’s classic,” said an admiring Tim Heintz of Panana City Beach, who was parked a few spaces down for the exact same reason, to let people experience history in his 30-foot, 1950 Spartanette made by Spartan Air Craft out of Tulsa, Okla., with its shape like a loaf of bread.
Bastian and Heintz are members of Tin Can Tourists, the vintage trailer coach, motorcoach and travel trailer club, which continues its 90th Annual Winter Convention today (Feb. 26) through Sunday at Lake Manatee State Park.
Unlike at car shows where “don’t touch” signs abound, Tin Canners like Bastian and Heintz live for people touching, feeling, sitting in and experiencing their trailers.
And that is exactly what will happen during the Tourists’ Show and Open House 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Lake Manatee, which is located at 20007 State Road 64, eight miles east of Interstate-75.
Those who come will be able to walk from coach to coach to see 50 creations from decades past, said Bradenton’s Forrest Bone, who is the “Royal Exalted Tin Can Opener,” otherwise known as director of the club.
The event is free, but the public will have to pay the state park admission of $4 per car, Bone added.
Forrest and his wife, Jeri, resurrected the club in 1998 after the membership had dwindled to just about nothing. The last rally in Florida had been in 1983.
“We had been involved with the vintage Airstream club and we felt we wanted to see an all-make and model group,” Bone said.
Right now the group has 830 members nationwide. It hosts four major rallies in Florida and three in Michigan.
Tin Can Tourists got its name because the first Americans who decided to take their houses with them on the road had no refrigeration so they ate all their food from tin cans, said Tin Canner John Culp, who is 84.
Becoming a member back in 1919, when the club was first organized at Desoto Park in Tampa, was as easy as learning a secret handshake, sign and password, said Sidra Spies, who, with her husband, Herb, own a gleaming 1963 Airstream Globetrotter that causes a stir wherever it goes.
“The strangest thing is when one motorist passed us, turned around and followed us home so they could see inside,” Herb Spies said.
Culp, who says “right here” proudly when people ask him where he is from nowadays, wiggled his rear end on the sofa in his 1947 Westcraft to indicate that it rocks like a boat.
“We are a group that doesn’t like to be anchored,” he said.
Watch today’s featured video on the Tin Can Tourists provided by the Gainesville Sun.
Watch today’s Featured Video about the Tin Can Tourists from the Gainesville Sun.
Hunter Hampton looks up at a blue sky as she sits with her three dogs on the steps outside her home.
This could be a scene from any neighborhood, except for one major difference: Hampton and her neighbors are constantly on the move, a steel caravan rolling across the country on wheels, according to the Gainvesville (Fla.) Sun.
“The house remains the same, but the neighborhood changes,” Hampton said. “That’s the best part.”
Hampton is a member of the Tin Can Tourists, a group of enthusiasts devoted to restoring and showing off vintage recreational vehicles.
On the road to Dade Battlefield National Park in Bushnell, west of Orlando, a few of them recently met for a pre-caravan gathering in Cedar Key. Two dozen members have unhitched their campers and settled in for the short stay on this Wednesday afternoon at Sunset Isle RV Park on State Road 24.
Like most Tin Can Tourists, Hampton enjoys driving cross-country to admire and compare old motorcoaches and trailers. Although she is currently living in a newer Airstream, Hampton purchased a 1949 Vagabond and said she hopes to restore it for future Tin Can Tourist events. But that doesn’t keep her from coming out and enjoying the gatherings.
Old and new members agree it is the community feel of the Tin Can Tourist club that gives it character. Their passion for vintage trailers is simply an added bonus.
“RVers in general are just a really friendly group of people, but there is something special about the ones that camp out in some of these older rigs,” said Forrest Bone, who is credited with reviving the Tin Can Tourists club.
Established in Desoto Park, in 1919, Tin Can Tourists were minimalists, known for camping on roadsides and heating tin cans of food for dinner, according to Bone. Members had a tin can design soldered on the radiator caps of their vehicles, and the group’s objective was “to unite fraternally all auto campers.”
By the late 1930s, the Tin Can Tourists club had approximately 100,000 members who gathered regularly in Michigan during the summer, but would travel to Florida during the winter, said Bone.
Club membership, however, dwindled during World War II and the economic hardships that followed. By 1982, the club had vanished.
In an attempt to bring back the passion for vintage trailers and motor coaches, Bone and his wife, Jeri, revived the club. Today there are approximately 1,000 registered members.
Most Tin Can Tourists have a permanent home and use their trailers or motorcoaches to fraternize with other like-minded enthusiasts while simultaneously touring the nation.
Hampton is one of the few who have turned their trailer into a full-time home.
“It’s a house,” Hampton said. “It just happens to be on wheels.”
Ten years ago, after losing her best friend to cancer, Hampton decided to make the most of her time. At 53, she packed up her things, bought a 1996 Airstream Classic, and hit the road. Her destination: Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Her intention was to travel for only a year. After spending most of her time out West, Hampton turned around and headed back East where she bought a house and farm outside Knoxville, Tenn. She lived in her parked trailer for two months as she remodeled her new home.
With everything finally in place, Hampton settled in. But it didn’t take long for her to realize that something was wrong – living in a house just didn’t feel like home.
“Two weeks later, I knew I had made a mistake,” Hampton said. “I was bored, I was lonesome, I was miserable. So I put the house on the market, sold it, moved back into the trailer and never looked back.”
Nine years later, Hampton’s trailer is adorned – inside and out – with souvenirs and trinkets from her travels.
On her door are tattered stickers in the shape of 48 states – a reminder of where she’s traveled. Alaska and Hawaii are the only states left on her list, although getting to the islands looks problematic.
In the meantime, Hampton has set her course to enjoy life while she can.
“There’s so much to see,” Hampton said. “You can’t see it all in one lifetime. But I’m trying.”