Below the Line

The Secret World of Travel Trailers

By CJ LotzFebruary 24, 2016

You’ve likely heard of the Airstream, that sleek riveted-aluminum capsule on wheels that stirs up nostalgic thoughts of sun-soaked beach trips. But what about an Avion or Silver Streak? The world of travel trailers is as wide as the open road.

A renovated Airstream trailer. (Photographs courtesy of Tin Can Tourists)

This weekend, collectors and wanderlusters alike will have the chance to see inside restored and renovated vintage RVs, motor coaches, and trailers at the Tin Can Tourists 97th Annual Winter Convention in Brooksville, Florida. For registered guests, events last from February 25 through 28, and the club invites the public to visit Sertoma Youth Ranch on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for an open “house.”

From left: The entrance to a Tin Can Tourist camp in Gainesville, Florida, in the 1920s; a Tampa gathering in 1949.

Since 1919, fans and owners of old-school trailers have gathered at sites across the Sunshine State to celebrate these metal mobiles. “Tin Cans” count as any RV, trailer, motor coach, or camper that is at least twenty years old.

From left: A brightly painted trailer; a Chinook Mobilodge parked at a Tin Can convention.

Among this year’s ninety-three registered vehicles, director Forrest Bone expects to see a few rarities such as Twinkie-like Spartan trailers from the 1950s, humpbacked Shasta trailers from the 1960s, and even a renovated train caboose. Bone and his wife, Jeri, will arrive from Bradenton, Florida, in a 1949 Spartanette, but his favorite vehicle is a 1948 Western Flyer motor home that had a previous life as a Grateful Dead groupie van, complete with red shag carpet. The new owners have since restored—and likely aired out—the craft and now travel the continent in it.

A decked-out party space surrounds a Shasta trailer from the 1950s.


The trailers’ interiors are a testament to their times—think bright green vinyl booths, fold-out Formica tables, wood-paneling galore, chenille bedspreads, retro rounded ice boxes, and even turntables.

At the convention, the public can step inside renovated trailers, which are full of period charm.

Bone says when visitors see the trailers, they’re often struck by memories of their own travels. “I remember a lady coming in once who asked if she could just sit inside for a little bit,” Bone says. “She had a trailer just like it when she traveled with her husband. We’ve had people who say they remember family vacations in the fifties and sixties and they’ll tell stories of when their mom and dad packed them up and took them west to see the Grand Canyon. There is some real nostalgia attached to these things.”