Vintage trailer owners converge in Estero

RV show being held in Estero


John “Canner” Culp is a little unusual.

He’s been traveling America’s roads – off and on – for 62 years in the same 1947 Wescraft trailer.

“I live in this antique full time,” says Culp, who’ll turn 84 on Wednesday.

Culp and his parents bought the 24-foot trailer when it was brand new. He was 22 at the time.

“It’s pretty much original inside. It’s got battle scars on it, but I keep it polished up pretty good,” Culp says.

He’ll share his stories and photos along with 19 other proud vehicle owners at the third annual Vintage RV show run by the Tin Can Tourists at the Koreshan State Park. That’s how Culp got his nickname. He’s a “canner” all the way.

The Tin Can Tourists club was organized at Fort De Soto Park, Tampa, in 1919.

The group’s mission was to socially unite autocampers with guiding principles of clean camps, friendliness among campers, decent behavior and to secure plenty of wholesome entertainment from those in camp.

The group known for the soldered tin can on their radiator caps grew rapidly during the 1920s and ’30s.

Tires used to blow out more frequently than today, and when drivers saw a tin can on the radiator cap, they’d be more likely to stop and help, says Tin Can Tourist president Forrest Bone.

Members had a secret handshake, sign and password.

The club was partially to clean up its negative image.

“At first the phrase ‘tin can tourists’ was disparaging because when they vacationed, they brought their own food, didn’t stay at local lodging and didn’t spend money in the community,” Bone says. “So the club started as a way to clean up their act and image.”

By 1932, membership had peaked at nearly 100,000.

Then membership dropped because of:

– a schism within the ranks and the formation of the Automobile Tourists Association.

– an economic recession in 1939 that greatly diminished the number of trailer manufactures.

– the onset of World War II.

By the mid-1970s, the club no longer existed in any form.

But in 1998, Bone and his wife, Jeri, renewed the club as an all-make-and-model vintage trailer and motor coach club.

The renewal rally drew 21 rigs at a camp in Milford, Mich.

The group has grown steadily to about 1,000 members, with annual gatherings in Michigan and Florida, and regional rallies at different spots nationwide.

There are now even representatives in England, Japan and France.

Jeri Bone has spotted a new trend.

“We are getting a large contingent who are matching up their vintage car with a vintage trailer,” she says. “That’s an emerging thing.”

Why vintage trailers?

“It’s the retro-type thing,” says Forrest Bone. “If I could afford vintage cars, I’d do that too.”

Also, it allows Bone and his wife to enjoy the hobby together, he says.

While he washes, waxes and maintains the vehicle engine and mechanical parts, she decorates and maintains the inside of the vehicle.

The Bones have four RVs.

They’ll be bringing their 1955 Trotwood, which is shaped like a Hormel canned ham.

Jeri Bone used a cowgirl theme when she decorated the interior.

At the rallies, they socialize with old and new friends, teach Tin Can Tourist history to newcomers and show off their vehicles.

“People just like showing them and talking about them and are proud of their restorations,” Bone says. “They have scrapbooks showing what it used to look like, and you’ll get comments like ‘Oh, this takes us back. I remember mom and dad taking us camping.’ ”

Culp has a lifetime of trailer stories.

The most heartfelt involves his wife.

After Culp’s parents died, he was living in his trailer as his home until he met his wife.

They bought a house and used the trailer for vacation trips.

Then 12 years ago, she got lung cancer.

The doctor allowed her to stop chemotherapy treatment long enough for a vacation trip in the trailer to the mountains.

“She loved to travel,” Culp recalls.

A month after they returned from the trip, she died.

“I was glad I made that last trip with her. She enjoyed it,” he says.

“I always say to people, if you want to do your traveling, don’t put it off. There are only so many tomorrows.”

Six weeks after she died, Culp sold his home and moved back into the trailer, taking it back and forth between Michigan and Florida.

“The Tin Canners are my family now,” he says. “I see so many of them on the road.”

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