by Larry Shank
Anyone who is interested in an unusual vintage vehicle, like a Willys CJ-3B, would probably enjoy a vintage travel trailer rally. Why? Because the people involved in these rallies are a bit unusual too. The trailers are dramatically different. Some are as simple and basic as our Jeep and Teardrop, while others are "over the top" fully restored Airstreams or even converted Greyhound buses. Yet everyone really seems to appreciate and enjoy each other's unique rig in this Trailer Tribe of like-minded folks.
We kind of fell into this group by accident about 15 years ago. Our Jeep and Teardrop have always been part of our lives so we didn't even know that there was a vintage trailer revival taking place. We suddenly discovered in 2002 that old trailers were cool, and becoming very popular. So we pulled the 1947 Kenskill Teardrop out of the garage and quickly refurbished it that year.
Then we discovered a remarkable website that could help in the restoration of our favorite vehicle, Dad's 1953 Willys CJ-3B. Of course, that was Derek Redmond's CJ3B.info. By 2006 the complete rig was back on the road again, and we began enjoying new and very different types of adventures.
(See Mom, Dad, a Jeep and a Teardrop on CJ3B.info, for the pictures and movies of our family trips in the Southwest US in the 1950s and 60s.)
At the rallies we display pictures and camping accessories along with the Jeep and Teardrop. Here you can see some of the cameras (200K JPEG) that Dad used to shoot the slides and movies:
From the 1950's, the Kodak 35 Rangefinder for slides, and the Keystone Olympic K-32 movie camera.
From the 1960's, the Voightlander Bessamatic, and the Bell and Howell Model 414 Zoomatic (the same type of 8mm movie camera used by Abraham Zapruder to shoot the famous footage of the Kennedy assassination.)
Trailer rallies are different than car shows -- they are not just a day geared to the guys and their cars. They are family oriented weekends for everyone. There are typically activities planned for kids, and those of us still young at heart: games, talent shows, retro dance parties, BBQ's, parades (for dogs, morning pajama wearers, bicycles) and occasionally a vintage-themed wedding.
Wives and daughters get more involved and have more fun when they have their trailer to decorate and show off. Many women attend the shows on their own, sometimes with a classic tow vehicle like a Cadillac or a Hudson.
There is typically a big open house on Saturday, with free access to the public, so the group can show off their trailers and share their stories. The trailers are unlocked and open for everyone to tour, plus many campsites are full of vintage camping items for sale.
Some "Trailerites" have even made their hobby into a full time business. You will find specialized parts and accessories (from custom awnings to original taillights) or you can buy vintage trailer books and subscribe to current vintage trailer magazines. Also, other vintage clubs are often included. There have been parades of classic cars and displays of vintage boats, motorcycles, VW campers and more.
The weekend is a time for us to remember good times from our Baby Boomer youth. Now as we have grown older, we look back with fondness on camping days from the past. Most participants are over 50ish, but in the last few years that has begun to change. Younger enthusiasts have also caught the bug. This has been wonderful to see -- old traditions may be carried to another generation.
Camping as we remember it: sitting by the campfire and talking and laughing with the entire family and extended family/friends. Walking throughout the campground during the day and meeting new friends and their families. Enjoying a campground that is not packed with lines of huge 5th-wheel trailers or massive motor homes with the doors closed and the AC units/generators providing the background noise. Or, sometimes even worse, rowdy groups with their stereos at full volume/full bass, loud talking (and worse) drowning out even the sound of the AC/generators of the preceding group.
The Vintage camping folks are just different... in a very good way.
We met a younger couple from the Midwest with a distinctive rig, one of the last full-size Jeep Grand Wagoneers (complete with plastic wood paneling and a V8 engine) pulling an Airstream trailer. They had just sold their home and were out traveling/exploring in the classic American tradition. They purchased the trailer completely gutted and they refinished the interior with their own design. They were having a great adventure.
Many more matching vintage tow vehicles are being used today than when we first joined these groups 15 years ago.
Trailer restorers from around the country attend with their newest projects.
Another group of younger, more eclectic, campers took special notice of our rig this year. They identified themselves as "Overlanders." I had not heard the term used to describe a "lifestyle" before. (The formal definition of the term per Wikipedia is: "self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal... it is accomplished with mechanized off-road-capable transport... often lasting for extended lengths of time.")
These folks did not have their camping rigs at this rally, but they were very intrigued by all of the vintage trailers. Their tow vehicles of choice were Jeep CJs, Willys wagons, or any off-road vehicle that was simple and easy to fix. The camping gear was a rooftop tent or an off-road teardrop or tent trailer.
We bonded immediately! We shared our 50s and 60s stories from the American Southwest and they told us about their current adventures in remote areas spanning Alaska to South America and worldwide. We are looking forward to meeting more "Overlanders" in the future.
Sometimes, a memorable old TV friend of our era attends. They love reliving "the days" too, and some are also enjoying the spirit of vintage trailer camping. For example, last year we all met Tony Dow ("Wally Cleaver" from the Leave it to Beaver TV show) who was looking for his first trailer.
So, if any of our CJ-3B friends want to add a new dimension to their love and sharing of their favorite 4WD, get in touch with some vintage trailer folks and attend a local rally. A group of classic Jeeps would be a great addition to these events. Many fondly remember some unique experience with an old CJ. The CJ-3B shares a special place in the past that this group embraces. You will be welcomed and you will feel right at home.
If you want more info on vintage trailers there are many sources to get you started. They include rally info, trailers for sale, restoration resources, etc. Here are some key ones that are easy to access on line, with links to other sites:
There are many more. There are YouTube videos that will you give the real flavor of the big Pismo Vintage Trailer Rally. It is the biggest rally in the country, with over 300 trailers, held every May at Pismo Beach CA.
Thanks to Larry Shank for his story, and for the photos taken at a couple of rallies: the Pismo Beach Rally, and Trailerfest in Central California. -- Derek Redmond
See Mom, Dad, a Jeep and a Teardrop for pictures and movies of the Shank family trips in the 1950s and 60s.
Rear Axle Breaks at Speed describes what happened to Larry on the way home from a trailer show.
Also on CJ3B.info, see Willys Event Reports.
Visit CJ3B.info on Facebook.
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