Vintage Campers, Trailers & Teardrops

A nostalgic alternative to hotels and car camping

4w ago
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For all of recorded history, people have felt the urge to get away from it all, to travel, have adventures and see the sights, but to do so, we need to sleep somewhere. We either find lodging along the way, or bring our accommodations with us.

A beautifully illustrated, new hardcover book entitled “Vintage Campers, Trailers & Teardrops,” by American automotive historian Pat Foster, takes an unapologetically nostalgic look at the vintage campers, trailers and teardrops that many people are using today to meet their leisure travel accommodation needs, instead of staying in a hotel or just parking somewhere and sleeping in their vehicles.

'​Canned ham' style of trailer on the cover

'​Canned ham' style of trailer on the cover

While I will likely explore the subject of car camping more fully another day, I can personally confirm that the last alternative — sleeping in a car, can be very uncomfortable. Resting in a vintage camper, trailer or teardrop is a much better alternative.

The introduction to the book’s first chapter, entitled “Vintage Camping,” captures the sentiment of this book: “On vacation. Unavailable. Away for the week. Gone. Are there any sweeter words in the English language? It’s a fact: everybody needs to get away from it all now and then, to clear the brain, recharge the batteries, to just feel free for a change. And for millions of people around the world, the best way to do that is to hook a camper or trailer to the back of the family vehicle and head out. To freedom and the great outdoors. To live!”

F​ord Country Squire station wagon towing an Airstream trailer

F​ord Country Squire station wagon towing an Airstream trailer

Inside Chapter Two you’ll find photos of beautiful wooden teardrop trailers, as well as vintage steel-shelled trailers that were fondly nicknamed “canned hams.”

'​Breadbox' style of trailer

'​Breadbox' style of trailer

My first close-up look at a teardrop trailer was in 2006. As I reported then in a series of columns, I was midway through what would become my most memorable and enjoyable road trip across the United States.

At first, I led a group of people on a promotional tour for a company called Zap! that was publicizing its newly federalized, used and now for sale, SMART cars. Back then these tiny cars were not for sale in America. Mine was a 2002 model – perhaps from Canada. They were a curiosity and an unfamiliar sight on American roads.

While I was with the group, we stayed in hotels booked for us by Zap! After a few days our tour was so popular with the people that we met along the way, that we had fallen behind schedule. So, in order for me to meet my objective of getting to New York in time for the press days of their annual auto show, I had to split away from our group and continue to head east, on my own.

Some nights, to make up time, I slept in my fully loaded SMART car — but it was packed full of my belongings. I could barely recline my seat, so to compensate I slid the seat way forward, lifting my legs up over the gearshift lever and placing my feet in the passenger-side footwell.

Along the way I managed to make brief stops to check out the sights and take pictures. Since I am a fan of motorsports, including NASCAR racing, I stopped to check out Bristol Motor Speedway, in Tennessee.

There, in its parking lot, I spotted a tiny teardrop trailer — hooked up to a decidedly un-tiny SUV.

S​UV towing a 'tearbox' style of trailer

S​UV towing a 'tearbox' style of trailer

I approached its owners and, with their enthusiastic cooperation, we moved their teardrop trailer, positioning it behind my SMART car for a photo op.

M​aneuvering the teardrop trailer into position behind the SMART car for a photo

M​aneuvering the teardrop trailer into position behind the SMART car for a photo

T​hey were not actually connected, since my SMART car did not have a trailer hitch.

T​hey were not actually connected, since my SMART car did not have a trailer hitch.

'T​eardrop' style of trailer

'T​eardrop' style of trailer

The interior of the teardrop trailer has enough room for the essentials

The interior of the teardrop trailer has enough room for the essentials

A​ll the comforts of home?

A​ll the comforts of home?

Chapter Three of “Vintage Campers, Trailers & Teardrops” takes a nostalgic look back at the earliest days of trailer camping, beginning with the American Indians of the Plains tribes. They sometimes dragged a triangular sort of trailer — called a travois — behind a horse, from campsite to campsite. Consisting of two long, joined poles, it held their sleeping necessities and food.

Subsequent chapters of the book examine pickup shells and slide-in campers, vintage European camping, the VW phenomenon, vintage camper life, the Airstream history and pop-up trailers.

I​conic VW camper vans

I​conic VW camper vans

“Vintage Campers, Trailers & Teardrops” is a thoroughly enjoyable read, filled with color and black & white photography.

“Vintage Campers, Trailers & Teardrops” is available from Amazon and other booksellers. For more information, visit: www.quartoknows.com/books/9780760366813/Vintage-Campers-Trailers-Teardrops.html

Copyright © 2021 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #687r1

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Comments (13)

  • A possible fifth response could be:

    “Yes, I camped several times with my parents when I was younger.” Good memories. Cheers!

      30 days ago
    • Chris,

      Point well taken. I forgot that once, when I was a kid, I travelled with my dad on vacation on a bus that had been converted into a camper. It belonged to a friend of his.

      Jan

        30 days ago
    • Nice! My dad was a bit of an RV enthusiast. When I was very young, he would rent a popup trailer for Memorial Day weekend. We would camp along with a group of friends on a wooded parcel of land that had a small lake. Later he bought a larger travel...

      Read more
        29 days ago
  • The Gilmore museum, just outside Kalamazoo, is having a Vintage Camper show the 15th of May. I hope to be there prior to starting a Route 66 adventure from Chicago to Santa Monica...

      1 month ago
    • Timothy,

      I wish that I could be there to photograph that. Lucky you.

      My big Route 66 adventures have been with the San Diego Miata Club. Be sure to stop in Oatman to see the wild burros walking in and out of the shops on the Main Street.

      Read more
        1 month ago
  • This is a wonderfully entertaining and readable article. I can see that the book will be enjoyable for occasional and serious campers, and your added narrative and photos are icing on the cake.

    I don’t know where to start with my comments. First, I can’t believe you did a road trip with a bunch of Smart cars. I’ve driven one, and they are great on streets and secondary roads, but once you get on major highways, the sensation of being overtaken by 18 wheelers is nerve racking.

    I’ve only been camping once in my entire life, and it wasn’t in a camper or trailer, but in a large portable tent. My ski buddies and I set it up at the edge of a brook at the base of Mt. Washington NH back in the 1960’s. It was on the 24th May when all the Canadians came to ski the Tuckerman Ravine.

    I was not an experienced camper and it turned out my friends weren’t either. We came ill equipped with too little gear and clothing. It was windy and rainy the entire weekend, and the brook became a stream and then a small river, right up to the edge of our tent. It was a miserable weekend including the trip up the mountain. I returned to Mt. Washington a number of times, but alway stayed in a B&B or motel.

    I like the idea of you adding your own story and photos to other material. It’s makes for good reading and adds a personal perspective. Well done.

      1 month ago
    • Thanks David,

      I wasn't sure about whether or not to add my own material and photos to a book review, but I do think that it adds to the subject matter, so I went for it.

      I have gone tenting but only in summer.

      Read more
        1 month ago
  • I haven't gotten the chance to stay in a camper or trailer, but I've gotten to see quite a few and I'd love the chance to make a NASCAR weekend out of it with one like your pictures from Bristol (though probably not with a SMART). It's not too far to Bristol, maybe something to think about soon...

      1 month ago
    • Owen,

      That would be awesome. Did you go to Bristol for the race on the dirt track? When I was there, no race was happening (obviously, from the lack of vehicles in the parking lot).

      When I covered the NASCAR and IndyCar races at Auto Club...

      Read more
        1 month ago
    • That would. I didn't get the chance to go to Bristol, and I haven't been able to get out to the track since Daytona. But definitely back soon and that would be a fun way to do it. And I am surprised that the press isn't given infield angles. There's...

      Read more
        1 month ago
  • I'm awake early, watching F-1 practice at Imola (recorded a few hours ago on my DVR). What a beautiful setting for a racetrack, and what a great place it would be to go camping.

    Jan

      30 days ago
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