A History of Car Camping

A History of Car Camping

Today, every car show seems to have a vintage camping section filled with old-time recreational vehicles. Enthusiasts call many of them “tin can” trailers or “canned hams,” and they are popping up at events across the country. You can also find vintage trailers in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., the Wisconsin Automotive Museum in Hartford, Wis., the Volo Auto Museum in Volo, Ill., the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in Elkhart, Ind., the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pa., the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum in Amarillo, Texas and probably many more historical repositories.

A History of Car Camping

Car camping really started about 1917, when World War I “Doughboys” returned from the battlefields of Europe. The labor market became saturated, but due the mobility afforded by the new-fangled automobile, job-seeking families would travel from city to city in search of work. They often lived in shacks built of scrap wood and cardboard, which sprung up around major industrial cities. They ate meals served up straight from tin cans.

A History of Car Camping

People called these encampments “Tin Can Cities.” Eventually, as industry moved back into full production and economic stability increased, these shantytowns began to disappear. Yet the good times experienced on the roads of America lingered in the memories, and motor touring and camping out became popular leisure time activities. Camping cars, travel trailers and motorhomes evolved out of this movement.

A History of Car Camping

Many early travel trailers were made of wood. Few of these survive today. But by the mid-1930s, travel trailers constructed of metal began to show up more and more. These were more durable than wooden trailers and lasted much longer. Today, many of them are being restored by car enthusiasts and hot rodders.

A History of Car Camping

Finding a trailer with that very cool 1940s, 1950s or 1960s look wasn’t all that easy, until a company called Riverside RVs (www.riversidervs.net) decided to start producing a line of brand new travel trailers designed to look like past classics. Riverside Retro models were a hit at the 50th annual National RV Show in Louisville, Ken.

A History of Car Camping

The Riverside Retro trailers look like those you saw on the highways as a kid in the ‘40s through ‘70s, but they include modern features that make them easier and safer to pull to a show. On the outside, the Riverside Retro rigs feature two-tone paint schemes, chrome hubcaps and “gangster” whitewall tires. On the inside you’ll find “checkered flag” floor tiles, vintage looking seats and color-coordinated upholstery.

A History of Car Camping

The offerings start with the Lightweight Travel Trailer, which has sleek lines and curves, colors that come straight from bygone eras and fantastic up-to-date features. The company’s Lightweight Toy Hauler offers the classic look of the Retro line with extra room inside for gear. It also features a rear gate that lowers into a convenient loading ramp. This design makes it easy to load up the toys and head out for your next camping trip.

The Retro Fifth Wheel trailer combines a vintage look with a spacious and well-planned layout. Classic color schemes and the items campers want are all built into this exciting model, making it smart to camp in style and comfort with the Retro Fifth Wheel.

A History of Car Camping

Riverside RV can be contacted through a reply page on the company’s website. You can also visit the map on the Website to find Riverside Retro dealers located from 0 to 500 miles from your home.

Another company making retro-inspired trailers is the Happier Camper Company, founded by ex-disc jockey Derek Michael May, who is popularly known as the “Camper King.” He manufactures a tiny 72-square-foot fiberglass trailer with an old-fashioned look that can be customized to the buyer’s tastes.

A History of Car Camping

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About John Gunnell 134 Articles
John “Gunner” Gunnell has been writing about cars since ‘72. As a kid in Staten Island, N.Y., he played with a tin Marx “Service Garage” loaded with toy vehicles, his favorite being a Hubley hot rod. In 2010, he opened Gunner’s Great Garage, in Manawa, Wis., a shop that helps enthusiasts restore cars. To no one’s surprise, he decorated 3G’s with tin gas stations and car toys. Gunner started writing for two car club magazines. In 1978, publisher Chet Krause hired him at Old Cars Weekly, where he worked from 1978-2008. Hot rodding legend LeRoi “Tex” Smith was his boss for a while. Gunner had no formal journalism training, but working at a weekly quickly taught him the trade. Over three decades, he’s met famous collectors, penned thousands of articles and written over 85 books. He lives in Iola, Wis., with his nine old cars, three trucks and seven motorcycles.

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