What’s the difference between a vintage ‘Trailer’, Vintage ‘House Trailer’, Vintage ‘Mobile home’, and vintage ‘Trailer Coach’? Historically they were all pretty much the SAME THING at that time period…. simply put…. TRAILERS. Even the trailer industry saw no difference back then, I have seen trailers as short as 16′ called mobile homes/house trailers and trailers as long as 40′ called travel trailers by their own manufactures in the 50’s and 60’s. If was a different time back then…. ALL trailers were built for road travel, yes some were fitted out more for weekend camping (the smaller rigs) and others were more livable for what we would call today ‘Full Timers’ (Seasonal retirees, those that moved with work, migrant workers, attending university with family in tow, or even the luxury market of those that could afford to travel extensively and move to a new location every month or so). Doesn’t mean back then or even today that these usages were interchangeable between the type of rigs, but just remember vintage trailers were just that…TRAILERS.
Holding tanks also had nothing to do with the different terms, no trailer pre-1957~ had any kind of waste holding tanks (Black or Grey) as standard equipment, and most from 1957-1960’s still were not equipped including the smaller Shastas, Scotty, Airstream trailers, etc… It was actually legal back then to dump such waste in a hole under the trailer that you dug by hand and covered once you left the park.
In 1956 federal restrictions were placed on the size of commercial vehicles (Semis) but House Trailers were no considered commercial just yet. Many states in the 50’s and 60’s tried to restrict such large private house trailers/mobile homes over a certain size (Length and/or width) from their roads, but that did not stop the trailer industry as many companies built expanding trailers that pulled at a certain width (8′) and then once on location the entire trailer would almost double in width (15′) (SEE THE 1958 BUDGER EXPANDO AD BELOW states 8’ for easy travel, and 15’ wide for living!) A few brands even built trailers that extended in length to combat those states with length laws and of course many brands built two story trailers in the 50’s to gain more square footage than was allowed with certain state restraints on trailer sizes. (SEE THE 1955 VENTOURA ADS BELOW OF A REAL HOME THAT TRAVEL TOO)
By the mid/late 1960’s the trailer industry had finally started to build what we now consider manufactured homes (still called mobile homes at that time) and they started to lose their running lights, trailer brakes, suspensions systems turned into just straight axles for one time moving, etc… and were nowhere near as ‘mobile’. There were still a few brands fighting the mobility of Mobile Homes at this time like the early 60’s Frontier Mobile Home (SEE BELOW 1961 FRONTIER TRAILER) which built a 10′ wide (still legal in almost all states at that time, some just required an easily acquired and usually free permit at state lines) but allowed you to fold out two portions of the side giving you a 14’x14′ living room, but it did make for an unusual floor plan! This Frontier trailer is 10′ wide, and 55′ long! also came in a 51′ length.
You may ask what type of vehicles pulled these massive looking trailers; it was in fact usually the family car! While these rigs look huge, they were quite light for their size and they had to be as the big family cars were the most powerful pullers of that time period and every family preferred a car when it came to ease of every day driving and enough room for the entire family. The big cars had the engine power and the trailers all had electric brakes as well so pulling and stopping was never a big issue plus highway speed limits for pulling trailers was only 45 MPH and people back then would just pull over when it rained and waited for the weather to pass. Car suspensions were another issue, but there were helper springs for cars, and the biggest help when it came to the largest trailers was a device known as a Slimp Wheel Dolly (see photos attached) and if you are a fan of the movie ‘The Long Long Trailer’ you will remember they used one in the movie as well. Slimp Wheel was an actual name brand for a Dolly but it became the generic term for the countless of brands and styles of Dollies that were on the market from the 1930’s-1950’s. The smaller wheels attached to the front hitch and took the weight off the rear of the car allowing it to just pull the weight and not carry the weight on the cars suspension. With the creation of the Interstate system here in the USA the smaller wheels would not hold up to the speed increases so the Dollies faded out and the new style ‘Weight Distribution hitches’ were invented and still used today.
My Family also has a very long history of pulling such large trailers (as ‘full timers’) from the 1940’s-1970’s and you can see photos of their travels with these trailers here: (I still own the Pink and White 1958 Skyline 8’x45′ that my grandparents purchased brand new in late 1957!)
Vintage Trailer & Mobile Home Historian