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Cozy retro traveling in a 'Tin Can'

SPRING LAKE

Forrest and Jeri Bone are used to the curious onlookers wherever they go. That's because most people who flag them down to chat haven't seen a travel trailer like the one they own in a long time, if at all.

In these days of 40-foot luxury motor homes, the Bones' tiny 16-foot gray and blue 1955 Trotwood travel trailer may look sorely out of date to some. Inside, there's no jet tub, no flat-screen TV, no microwave.

But it's a cozy, comfortable home away from home for the Bradenton couple. With its warm birch wood interior and original Davis combination stove and refrigerator, the fully restored camper is a symbol of functional and uncomplicated on-the-road living.

"There's not an ounce of plastic or laminate in it," Forrest Bone said. "You may be lacking a few conveniences, but you learn to get around that. And it's a heck of a lot of fun to camp in."

For Bone and the 60 or so other retro camping enthusiasts who are gathering at the Sertoma Youth Ranch for this weekend's 92nd Winter Convention of the Tin Can Tourists, nothing beats the camaraderie of owning a vintage camping rig.

"We enjoy being around each other," said Bone, 68, who is director of the club. "It's kind of like antique cars. There's a mutual appreciation of owning something that's truly unique."

While not nearly as lavish as modern RVs, vintage campers possess an endearing low-tech quality that appeals to people like Hunt Jones of Bradenton, who owns a gleaming 1962 Globe Trotter Airstream trailer that he and his wife, Sue, pull with around the country in a restored 1955 GMC pickup.

Although the trailer was in relatively good condition when he bought it for $1,000, Jones said it had been sitting unused for years. He spent months getting it into road-ready shape.

"It's a labor of love, that's for sure," he said. "But it's fun to be pulling a bit of history around the country. That's pretty much the way it is for just about everybody I've met in the club."

Bone agrees. Which is why he and his wife decided in 1998 to resurrect the Tin Can Tourists, a recreational camping organization that was first organized in 1919 in Tampa.

Although the origin of the term "tin can" in the name remains unclear, some think it hints at the early club members' reliance on canned goods for food.

Bone, who has researched the club's history, said many of the early campers were hand-built by their owners on a Model T chassis. But by the 1930s, an industry began springing up, with dozens of companies manufacturing travel trailers. The club's membership — widely identified by the soldered tin cans mounted on their radiator caps — eventually swelled to more than 100,000, with regional chapters all over the country.

For more than a decade, the group wintered exclusively at Desoto Park in south Tampa before heading back to the Midwest, where summer events were held. But the tourists eventually wore out their welcome with Tampa locals, who took a dim view of their itinerant lifestyle.

In 1932, the group landed in Sarasota, where it remained for more than three decades.

Despite the growing popularity of recreational vehicle camping, the club began dying out during the 1970s.

"I just think the original members got too old to travel, and they didn't really think about bringing in new blood," Bone said.

By relaunching the Tin Can Tourists as a vintage-friendly camping club, Bone quickly found an interested audience. With more than 1,000 active members and nine regional groups, there are now regular gatherings all over the United States and Canada.

Bone said he sees interest in vintage camping continuing to increase as the cost of modern RVs skyrockets.

"I know of baby boomers out there who are itching to find a cheaper alternative to the big rigs," Bone said. "If you're on a budget and don't mind doing a little fixing on your own, it's a great way to travel. And the best thing is that you'll meet a lot of friendly people while you're doing it."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@tampabay.com.

.If you go

Open house

The public is invited to attend an open house of the Tin Can Tourists from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, 85 Myers Road, south of Spring Lake, off Spring Lake Highway and Church Road. Admission is $3 per vehicle. For information about the Tin Can Tourists, visit the club's website at tincantourists.com.

Cozy retro traveling in a 'Tin Can' 02/23/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 5:18pm]
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