Calif. Campground Hosts ‘Trailers in the Trees’

August 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The campsite already full, Debbie Lennen was busy Thursday (Aug. 2), registering the early arrivals for this weekend’s “Trailers in the Trees.” The event is one of only a few RV rallies in Northern California each year.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that “Trailers in the Trees” has been held since 2006 at Felton’s Smithwoods RV Park, drawing RV enthusiasts from around the state for a weekend of camaraderie. But during a four-hour window Saturday, they’ll also get the chance to show off, opening up their intricately restored RVs for public tours. Though the campsite is full, up to 30 vehicles can be accommodated at the site during the open house, said Lennen, one of the park’s managers.

As of late Thursday morning, owners have registered 42 vintage trailers for the event, twice the number that showed up at the rally’s first year. It’s the brainchild of Santa Cruz resident Penny Cotter and her husband, who in 2006 restored the 1962 Shasta Airflyte that they’ll bring to the show this weekend. They spent about $2,000 to restore the trailer, but kept costs down by doing the work themselves. But “some people get them professionally restored and pay $20,000 and $30,000,” Cotter said.

Smithwoods has been family owned and operated since 1920, when Charles and Frances Smith purchased 13 acres and named it Big Trees Auto Camp, according to the park’s website. Through the years, subsequent generations have taken the reins, and it’s now operated by the original founders’ granddaughter and her great-grandsons.

Because Smithwoods is relatively small, the number of participants has held steady in recent years at about 40 trailers. But at the next Northern California RV rally, held in Petaluma in early October, organizers hope to double that number.

Cotter also operates a website that’s geared toward vintage RV enthusiasts and aims to “promote and preserve vintage trailers and motor coaches through gatherings and information exchange.” To view a list of upcoming rallies, go to

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Vintage RV Rally Provides a Trip Back in Time

August 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Dozens of vintage travel trailer owners bonded through shared childhood memories Saturday (Aug. 6), oohing and aahing over dozens of restored relics during the fifth annual “Trailers in the Trees” rally at Smithwoods RV Park in Felton, Calif.

Slipping through a brief window in time, they relived the memories created during family camping trips, when the trailers lacked the luxurious bells and whistles featured in today’s monstrous recreational vehicles, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.

One had 1940s- and 1950s-era figurines sitting on the small shelves inside, while another even had a small cat door cut through the front door. Yet another had a wall hanging titled “Recipes for Keeping a Husband,” and a bathroom with nylon stockings hanging over a shower rod.

“That was so classic,” laughed Jim Kohl, visiting with his wife from Pleasanton. “It was right out of that time period.”

Napa resident Dan Cutright said he and his wife, Susan, spent about two years restoring their 1954 aluminum Traveleze, which he likened to “a rustic cabin on wheels.”

The Coasters’ 1958 hit, “Yakety Yak” drifted out of a small speaker inside a fully restored, 1954 Jewel travel trailer, its pink, color-coordinated interior featuring everything from drapes and a bread box in the tiny kitchenette to a pink lamp and tissue holder in the small bedroom. A stream of late-afternoon sun shone through one of the windows, the light gleaming off a strand of pearls coiled inside a dish next to the bed.

Thomas Birdsall, who traveled to the rally from Danville with his son, purchased the trailer in 2009, and said he got his inspiration for the interior design from two pink china dishes he inherited from his grandmother. His 12-year-old son, Alan, helped with some of the restoration and decorating work, but asked whether all the pink bothered him, he shrugged and said, “I’m used to it by now.”

In the late afternoon, Steven Katkowsky took a group to view his museum in Ben Lomond, which has dozens of vintage cars and trailers, as well as fishing and camping gear. Few of the items are actually for sale, he said, but it provided another chance for the event’s participants to relive a simpler time in American history.

Santa Cruz resident Penny Cotter came up with the idea for “Trailer in the Trees” after noticing there were few such “RV rallies” in Northern California, and wanted to provide an opportunity for people who love vintage trailers to gather for a weekend of camping and solidarity. Sitting on a picnic table outside of the 1962 Shasta Airflyte she and her husband restored was a scrapbook featuring before and after pictures of the restoration project, which they completed in 2006 incorporating items owned by her grandmother.

This was Kathy Lebs’s third year participating in the event, which involved traveling from Santa Rosa with her 17-foot-long, 1962 “perfectly imperfect” Road Runner. Paneled in birch, with a small Formica kitchen table and a pull-out Gaucho bed in the bedroom, she sees her trailer’s small flaws as adding the character that the “modern monsters” lack.

Most of the restoration work was cosmetic, but she’s been working for the last two years on another trailer that she calls “Chiclet” – a reference to both its shape and the female version of a “man cave.”

She fondly recalled memories created as a child while camping with her parents and grandparents, saying that although she only purchased the Road Runner several years ago, “it’s the same smell, the same feel. It’s like a song, you close your eyes and you’re right there again.”

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Vintage RV Builder Eyeing Michigan Location

October 26, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A company in the early stages with plans to make vintage-style RVs has located in Benton Harbor, Mich.

Paradise Coast RVs owner Ted Simpson told WSJM Radio, Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, that he’s going for a niche market, making travel trailers that will look just like the ones some of us might remember from the 1940s and ’50s, but with the safety and comfort features of today.

His company has a facility on Water Street in Benton Harbor, although there are no immediate plans to hire many workers. Simpson says that he picked this area for several reasons: Click here to listen to a short interview with Simpson.

Simpson hopes to hire plenty of employees, as soon as the business takes off. He’s received some interest from dealers, and will start working on a prototype next month.

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Antique RV Show in Detroit Depicts Early RVing

June 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Daniel Hershberger of Plymouth, Mich., found an antique camping kitchenette at a swap meet and spent the next 18 years building an entire collection of gear and vehicles to go with it, according to the Observer & Eccentric, Detroit.

“It bolts onto the side of a running board. I bought it from the grandson of the original purchaser. I knew I had something,” he said.

“For the next 10 years I kept thinking ‘I’ve got to do something with this.’ That was the start of it. For 18 years I’ve been buying one thing at a time. I tell people I’m a consumer from 1920.”

Hershberger loves to look through old Field and Stream magazines and find motor camping items featured in the advertisements. He enjoys identifying and hunting for his acquisitions, buying them and sharing them with the public through lectures, exhibits and vintage camping vehicle gatherings. His collection includes a camping bathtub made of rubberized canvass on a folding frame, a folding gramophone and Coleman gasoline stove.

“If it’s packed in box in my garage, it’s not doing any good for anyone. The purpose is to get the stuff on the road and to talk to people.”

He’ll do just that on Sunday (June 20) at the annual Eyes On Design Automotive Design Show at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich. The automotive display benefits the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology and will include a first-time exhibit of antique motor camping vehicles and equipment within the car show.

Hershberger is co-chairing the “Life on the Road” exhibit, which traces the history and evolution of recreational vehicles in America. It will include his own 1927 Auto-Kamp fold-out tent trailer and 1920s camping artifacts that he has collected for nearly two decades.

“When cars became affordable, people hit the road. There was no infrastructure, so they had to camp along the way and cook their own meals. By 1920 motor camping was in full bloom. Millions of people were on the road.”

Life on the Road’s 20 displays show vehicles and camp gear from the 1920s-1960s. Some are vintage trailers and tow vehicles, some are travel trailers and some are self-contained. Hershberger’s will be the oldest on display.

Motor camping enthusiasts of the 1920s could travel on a budget, staying in a $7 lean-to tent that attached to their car or splurge on a trailer. The deluxe Auto-Kamp was one of the more luxurious units at $345. Made by a Saginaw-based company, the trailer featured two metal spring beds with wool felted mattresses, an electric light fixture and two pull out storage drawers — one for dry goods and the other a galvanized ice box.

“It’s comfortable,” said Hershberger, who camps in the unit on the road or at vintage vehicle shows. “It’s like sleeping on steel spring beds off the ground. Your head is by a screen window. It’s water proof. It’s cozy.”

Hershberger said his trailer is one of five remaining Auto-Kamp fold-out tent units in the world.

“I was looking for a trailer and when it became available, it was the chance of a lifetime to get it,” he said.

Hershberger, who works for the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan, taught classes in “roadside history” and graphic communication at College for Creative Studies for several years. His interest in the auto segued into auto advertising, then led him to study about early gas stations, roadside restaurants, lodging and finally, motor camping.

Other vehicles in the Life on the Road show range from a 1936 Curtiss Aerocar, — the first fifth-wheel travel trailer — to a 1968 VW Westfalia camper to a bus-sized 1978 Newell coach, and everything in between.

Visitors can browse the exhibit on their own or take a guided tour at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. or 3 p.m.

“You can go to a million car shows, but we’re trying to create an experience for folks. This will be new and different.”

Click here to read about a 1917 camping trip in an Auto-Kamp camper.

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