TCT Hall of Fame – Bud & Bettye Cooper

Did you know the TCT has a Hall of Fame? About one to two people are inducted every year for their contributions to the Vintage Trailer Hobby and/or the club. We wanted to capture information about who is in the TCT HOF. Here was the very first inductees – Bud & Bettye Cooper

How were they involved in the Vintage Travel Trailer Hobby?

They founded the Vintage Airstream Club (VAC) in 1993 by jumping through all the necessary approval hoops with the WBCCI (Wally Byam Caravan Club Intl) who was the governing body. After forming the Vintage Airstream Club, Bud became a founding member of the Tin Can Tourists while attending the renewal gathering in 1998 at Camp Dearborn in Milford Michigan. Bud and Bettye were deeply involved in everything Airstream but were able to devote as much time as they could with the Tin Can Tourists club.

How did they influence or impact the TCT?

I had a conversation with Bud while attending VAC events about a group that formed in 1919 and was then defunct. He really was the spark that led us to renew the club as an all make and model club. This was significantly different from the model that the VAC was operating under. They were specific to a manufacturer and I wanted the club to be open to all. Bud was in favor of this direction and offered guidance. I feel that he hoped that this would lead to the VAC opening up its membership beyond Airstream and included all riveted aluminum trailers (Avion, Curtis Wright, Etc.)

What made them special and why were they included in the TCT Hall of Fame?

We established the Hall of Fame because we knew that many of the people involved in the club also contributed significantly to the vintage trailer hobby and we felt they may never qualify for the RVMH Museum Hall of Fame in Elkhart Indiana. We thought about trying to get them inducted in the RVMH Hall of Fame but it seemed to have a bias towards the commercial aspect of the trailer industry. The reason they were chosen to be included in the TCT Hall of Fame was that if it wasn’t for them, the Tin Can Tourists would not have been renewed.

What was their impact on the vintage trailer hobby?

They really had an immeasurable impact on the hobby. Bud drove a huge increase in membership to the VAC and that put a spark in WBCCI to focus on membership. Their goal in 1998 was to reach 10,000. Jeri & I worked as the host of the International in Dayton Ohio and led 80 vintage Airstreams in the parade. This was all influenced by Bud & Bettye.

How did they influence the TCT?

Bud was the first to mention the name and provided a brief history to us. He knew they were started in Ybor City, which is part of Tampa Bay Florida. This conversation and the name “Tin Can Tourists” stuck in our minds and Bud eventually helped in the formation of the club.

What particular personal trait did they bring to the hobby?

Bud was so well respected within the community, that when Bud spoke everyone listened. He started the educational elements of rallies that the Tin Can Tourists carried forward. Every event that the TCT hosted had an educational element and Bud started that within the VAC. He was the source of knowledge about Wally Byam, the history of Airstream and the early RV industry from the late 1940s and through the 60s.

If you could talk to them now, what would you like to tell them?

We would say thank you, thank you, thank you for all the contributions to the hobby. His establishment of the VAC was no small feat because of the challenges with the WBCCI. I’d thank him for giving us the details that led to the renewal of the Tin Can Tourists.

Where are they now?

Sadly, they both passed away. Bud (2009) preceded Bettye and the last few years of Bud’s life were spent battling dementia which was a very sad fate with a man that had such a breadth of knowledge and a keen intellect. Another sad tale was that a  book that he wrote on Wally Byam and Airstream was about to be published and he even received marketing material to bring to the International rally but for some reason, the whole project was cancelled by the publisher. His son ended up with the transcripts. We asked for excerpts to publish them in the Tin Can Tourists newsletters and his son didn’t agree to that. The information that Bud wan’t to share has been unfortunately hidden away.

Bud’s Obituary:

Rutherford Cooper “Bud”COOPER –

Rutherford “Bud” Cooper, age 84, of Grand Rapids, passed awayWednesday, June 17, 2009. Surviving are his beloved wife of 64 years,Bettye; daughter, D’Anne Smith and son, Richard Cooper. He will be greatly missed by his grandchildren, David Smith, Jeannine Kieleszewski, Michelle Krypel, Emily Cooper and Hannah Cooper. Bud was a mechanical engineer, world traveler, archeologist, photographer, musician, founder of the International Vintage Airstream Club, author, and lecturer. There will be a memorial service at Genesis United Methodist Church, 1601 Galbraith St., Cascade Twp. at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 20th. Memorial contributions may be made to the church.
Published in Grand Rapids Press on 6/19/2009

1 comment

  1. I’ve long thought that Bud and Bettye should be inducted into the RV HOF. They are such a big part of getting our vintage trailer movement going.

    His son told me that Bud started with vintage when pursuing his vacation interests in archeology and geology in Mexico. He would fix up a used trailer to take so as not to beat up their newer one. Then he would fix them up more and then started polishing them. Pretty soon the restored vintage trailer became a focal point. This attracted like minded folk which gave birth to VAC, then the TCT and the entire movement. Thank you Bud and Bettye!

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