1936 Bowlus Provenance

Andrew Smith provided a detailed provenance of his 1936 Bowlus and the story is fascinating:

1936 Bowlus

I wanted to take a little time and do a brief write up to share the history of my 1936 Bowlus travel trailer. For those not familiar with Bowlus travel trailers, they were the first all-aluminum riveted production-made travel trailers and were the inspiration for the Airstream Clipper, the first aluminum Airstream.

Hawley Bowlus, who built The Spirit of St. Louis for Lindbergh, built 80 of these trailers at his family farm in San Fernando, California between 1935 and 1936. Of those 80 built, 6 of them are known as “Mid-Kitchen” models for having an open layout instead of the two standard bulkheads that divided the cabin.

My Bowlus is one of those 6. I purchased it about fourteen years ago based upon photographs the seller had given me. I knew it was in rough shape, but given the rarity of the brand and the even more rare open layout, I pulled the trigger and had it delivered to me. Upon my initial in-person inspection, I discovered faded writing on the side of the trailer that while almost completely obliterated by time and weather, was still legible. It read “You’ve Heard Him on Radio/ Seen Him in Pictures/ Now Meet Him in Person/The Old Ranger/ Death Valley Mack.” Upon an inspection of the rear, in still very faded (but legible) letters was written: “Owned by Samson McDonald.”

Through research I learned that Death Valley Mack was a whip artist and the original host of the radio program “Death Valley Days” which later became a popular TV show with different people portraying the character of the Old Ranger, including Ronald Reagan. Over the years, I’ve learned that Death Valley Mack toured the USA during the 1940s doing shows and making outrageous claims to anyone who would listen that he had been given Buffalo Bill’s saddle bag and been spanked as a child by Annie Oakley.

I also discovered through an article in Billboard magazine that in 1948 he was sued by two women for selling them a restaurant he did not own. And also that he lost the case and was ordered to give them back $700. Over the last ten years, I’ve been able to find many newspaper articles about him and a copy of one of his show posters. Just last week I was able to find an actual photograph of him during an appearance in 1945.

I also now have reason to believe he may have have been a part of Orson Wells’ 1943 “Mercury Wonder Show” although I am still doing research to confirm it was the same Death Valley Mack. It has been an interesting past-time over the years to seek out more information on this character and former owner of my trailer. The holy grail would be a photo of him next to the Bowlus, so please keep your eyes out for me


  1. How much fun- it’s like a treasure hunt! Have fun with the trailer; she’ll be a beauty.

  2. Death Valley Mack was a good friend of my grandmother when she lived in Hollywood.

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