Members are inducted into the Hall of Fame by the club director at the Spring Rally. They are club members who have made significant contributions to the Vintage Trailer and Motor Coach community. If you would like to nominate a TCT member for the Hall of Fame – send a note to Forrest Bone
Current Hall of Fame Members include:
Bud and Bettye Cooper
While we attended the Lincoln Highway Conference, we received a call from Ken Faber, TCT member.
The message informed us that Bud Cooper, founder of the Vintage Airstream Club and TCT member, and Hall of Fame inductee had passed away.
Bud is the person that first spoke to me about the Tin Can Tourists. Bud was devoted to the Vintage Airstream Club and TCT.
Rutherford Cooper “Bud”
COOPER – Rutherford “Bud” Cooper, age 84, of Grand Rapids, passed away Wednesday, 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.
I’m very sorry to hear of Bud’s passing. Years ago when I started Vintage Trailer Supply, Bud was very encouraging and generous with his time and knowledge. He lent me parts to use for early reproductions and he encouraged others to do the same. I haven’t seen Bud in a few years, but I will miss him now more than ever. Let me know if I can help in any way to memorialize his contributions to the vintage trailer hobby.
Steve Hingtgen Vintage Trailer Supply
Norm and Marion Helmkay
Ken and Lana Hindley
We live in a small village named Union, located in Ontario, Canada. We are the parents of two daughters, Dawne and Deanna and the grandparents of two boys and a girl, Greg, Kailee and Connor. We own and operate an automotive restoration shop – Hindley’s Garage – and have been in business for over 50 years.
We are the proud owners of a 1936 Curtiss Aerocar travel trailer and it’s tow vehicle – a custom built 1938 International D15. We enjoy hearing from anyone with similar interests or any others who own or have knowledge of the CURTISS-AEROCAR 5th wheel travel trailer.
We are active members of the Tin Can Tourists vintage trailer group and enjoy our time spent at rallies and touring with fellow club members. In June of 2006, we participated in a vintage caravan tour to celebrate the 200 Year Anniversary of the Historic National Road – Route 40. Along with other Tin Can Tourist members, we travelled Route 40 beginning in Maryland and ending in Illinois, stopping at selected cities for photo opportunities, open houses, and presentations.
This most unusual looking fifth-wheel travel trailer unit was first seen motoring around Southern Ontario in the late 1930’s. It was originally owned by a Chatham, Ontario industrialist named William M. Gray, a Canadian whose father, Robert Gray, had pioneered the production of the Gray-Dort automobile in Chatham some years earlier. Wm. Gray worked in the family automobile business, but in 1924, after the company had experienced some unexpected setbacks, the production of the Gray-Dort automobile ceased.
Wm. Gray then organized a new business in Chatham called Colonial Traders, specializing in the manufacture and distribution of auto parts. It was through his company in 1936 that Mr. Gray imported this unique travel trailer, manufactured by the Aero-Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. “The Big Land Yacht” as Wm. Gray liked to call it, was originally intended as a pleasure vehicle for his family and was pulled by a ’36 Plymouth coupe.
It soon became evident that if full enjoyment of this motor home was to be realized, a more powerful tow vehicle was required. To this end Mr. Gray decided to have a unique tow vehicle built to his specifications. The International Harvester truck plant in Chatham provided a 1938 custom D-Line shorted wheel base cab and chassis with dual rear wheels. Power to the 2 speed rear axle was obtained from a Green Diamond 213 cubic inch flat head six cylinder engine coupled to a four speed transmission.
The body of the tow vehicle was custom built in Brantford, Ontario by Brantford Coach and consisted of molded sheet steel panels fastened to the hardwood framing members. The tow vehicle was a self contained traveling unit even without the trailer. It would seat seven persons and had bedding compartments and a swing-out sink unit. The windows had pull-down blinds and the six foot long rear seat would slide forward to provide a double berth.
As well, special compartments were built into the body to house the heavy duty batteries and the separate delco power plant which provided interior lighting for the trailer. This unit also had a six volt dash radio, electric windshield wipers, hot water interior heater, chemical and oil flares, intercom phone for driver-to-coach, an air compressor and a vacuum gauge and a hydraulic control of vacuum line to trailer brakes.
At the rear deck, a wooden roll-down covering revealed the coupling well for the trailer hitch which utilized a “Glenn Curtis Aero Coupler” consisting of an aeroplane tire and wheel mounted horizontally.
The overall coupled length of the vehicles was 35 feet, while the trailer alone was 22 feet. The entire length of trailer was reinforced with aeroplane type, steel strut cross bracing between the upright wooden framing member. The complete body was covered with tightly stretched fabric.
THE TRAVEL TRAILER:
This travel trailer was built in Michigan by the Aerocar Company of Detroit. These trailers were manufactured commercially at several locations in the U.S.A. at facilities that were licensed by the Aerocar Corporation.
This style of travel trailer was invented in about 1927 by Glenn Curtiss, a leading American aircraft designer. By using airplane principals he felt that he could build a trailer that was lightweight, but strong enough to travel over country roads.
The trailers’ long streamlined bodies had a framework made of vertical oak struts and horizontal longerons that were connected by diagonally crossed nickel steel airplane truss wires. These wires had turnbuckles that were used to “tune” them to maximum tension thus giving rigidity to the structure. Because of this design, the trailers had no actual chassis.
The wheels on the trailers were placed at the extreme rear end and the front had a long, curved V-shaped prow with a hitch that rested in the rear deck of a coupe or roadster. The hitch utilized a “Glenn Curtiss Aero Coupler”, which consisted of an airplane tire and wheel mounted horizontally. (see photo above) This arrangement was an effective cushion against road shock.
The trailers were covered on the outside with fabric which was stretched tightly over tempered Masonite panels. All Curtiss Aerocar trailers were custom made, one at a time according to the customer’s specific requirements.
When new, the coach came with a propane range, buddy heating stove, ice box and sink with a 30 gallon, pressurized water supply. It had a chemical toilet, front and rear port lockers, quarter ceiling lockers and upper and lower double berths at the front with a sleeper curtain. At the rear was a double berth with night side locker and compartment door with a full length plate glass mirror, as well as a hang up clothes closet.
The trailer came equipped with dual wiring systems. It was fitted with 110V outlets for cooking, and auxiliary or mobile six volt lighting. Other standard accessories were inside and outside night lights. The fully operational windows were equipped with roll-up screens and privacy blinds. Two skylights were provided to ensure adequate ventilation.
During the span of time in which Mr. Gray used this vehicle, he was continually adding to or upgrading many of the features found in this avant-garde mobile home. At one point in time he actually had the complete unit shipped overseas in order that he might tour Britain in his “Great Land Yacht”.
Shortly after World War II ended, Wm. Gray sold his business, Colonial Traders and decided to retire. The city of Chatham persuaded him to postpone his retirement and take on the role of Industrial Commissioner. It was while serving in this position that Mr. Gray used his trailer extensively to treat many U.S. industrialists to exciting camping holidays. Wm. Gray was instrumental in engineering the growth of Chatham’s industrial base to more than twice its original size, However, in 1958, due to failing health, Mr. Gray decided to sell his prized possession.
It passed through the hands of at least two owners during the ensuing years until 1981. At this time, Mr. Morris Shaw of St. Thomas, Ontario became the next owner of the unique old relic. He rescued it from a dilapidated barn that had partially collapsed on it. Both the truck and trailer were in deplorable condition, so the monumental task of restoration has handed over to Ken Hindley of Union, Ontario.
The tow vehicle was to be tackled first, and so, after many months of painstaking reconstruction, the old International was once again a sight to behold. The body sheeting had been carefully removed, the wooden framework almost totally reconstructed and the body panels once again refitted. Many body parts and fittings that were either broken or missing had to be fabricated from scratch.
With restoration completed on the truck, but work not yet begun on the trailer, Morris Shaw decided that, due to other interests, both units were once again up for sale. After having personally worked so many long and tedious hours on the restoration of the truck, Ken Hindley and his wife Lana decided that they would become the present owners of this very unique part of Canadian automotive history.
Work was commenced in 1992 on the rebuild of the trailer unit to restore it to its original splendor. However, to make the unit more functional by today’s standards, some interior items have been replaced by more modern day fixtures.
This unique exhibit is always a crowd pleaser when it makes appearances on the show circuit.
In the late 1930’s, a model such as the 1938 Curtiss Aerocar travel trailer would sell for about $5,000.00.
Bill and Wilma Svic
John “Canner” Culp
John (“Jack”, “Canner”) W. Culp died peacefully in his sleep Monday, October 14, 2013 in Clermont, FL. He was a young 87. He was preceded in death by his wife, Marguerite and his son, Denis. Jack is survived by two grandchildren, Jonathan and Jessica Culp, and 1st cousin, Sarah Anne Whipple Paton. He was born and raised in Medina, OH, the only child of John and Helen Whipple Culp. He attended school in Medina, and especially loved playing the sousaphone in the Medina HS band. World War I had broken out, so soon after graduation, Jack was drafted, picked the Navy, and was stationed on the island of Samar in the Philippines. (His first cousin, Sarah Anne Whipple Paton, was stationed on the nearby island of Leyte, and Jack paid her several surprise visits. These stories of hometown cousins hooking up in faraway war time places were reported in the Medina Gazette back in 1945.) Jack arrived in the Philippines Islands “not knowing a battleship from a cruiser.” He would often tell the story that when the enemy heard he was there, they ended the war in just three months. After the war, Jack returned to Medina and took up plumbing working in his father’s business and eventually taking on the business as his own. Jack was a tall man, well over 6 feet tall, so he joined the Skyscrapers Club in Cleveland (members had to be 6 ft. or more) and here he met his wife to be, Marguerite. When the two married, Jack adopted Marguerite’s son, Denis.
Jack’s passion lay in travelling, and it seemed he was born to this lifestyle. His parents loved to trailer, adopting the lifestyle of working in Ohio resorts in the summer and wintering in Florida. Jack and Marguerite continued travelling in the 1947 Westcraft trailer, that Jack had inherited from his mother. Marguerite added her designer’s touch to the interior. During this time, he and his wife set up the “Culp Country Cupboard” in Chippewa Lake and were “snow birds” in winter. Eventually, they moved to Venice, Florida after retirement but continued to spend their summers around Medina and Chippewa Lake.
John recalls his fondest trailer memories as the Route 40, Historic Road Caravan, and a five-month, cross-country trip he made with his mother in 1951 in the Westcraft. The trip took them through California on old Route 66, through New Mexico, Texas, New Orleans, Florida, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, and back to Ohio.
Jack was a proud, long time member of the Tin Can Tourists of the World, & was inducted into their Hall of Fame. He donated his 1947 Westcraft to the RV Museum & Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana. Jack referred to himself as a man of the road with the motto of always trying to live by the Golden Rule. He led an exceptional life—was a great story-teller, never met a stranger, was loyal to family and friends, & his warm grin & easy nature will be greatly missed by family & all those who called him friend.
Rest in Peace 10/14/2013
From Forrest Bone – TCT Club President
Tin Can Tourists has lost a true trailerite and TCT Hall of Fame member. Canner Culp peacefully passed away on Monday, October 14th. John had been in declining health since last spring and spent his last days at a rehabilitation center in Clermont Florida.
Jeri and I first met John at the 2000 Florida RV SuperShow. He rolled in to the TCT winter reunion in his 1982 Lincoln towing his beloved 1947 Westcraft. John notified me immediately that the gathering of the Tin Can Tourists should not be referred to as a “winter reunion” but the Winter Convention as had been the case since the 1920’s. The winter of 2000 marked the beginning of a ten year span in which John journeyed to Ohio to be able to attend both the Annual Gathering and Fall Gathering at Camp Dearborn – Milford Michigan. The Fall Gathering marked his return to Florida and attendance at all TCT events held during the winter.
In the movie The Long, Long Trailer a man asks Desi Arnaz, “Are you a Trailerite?” meaning do you live and travel in a trailer. John was one of the last of the true trailerites. He lived and traveled in his Westcraft seeing America as the spirit moved him. He was once asked where he was going after the Annual Gathering. His reply was that as he exited the campground his turn would be determined by the traffic. If it was open to the right, he would travel west, if clear to the left, he would head east.
John got the spirit in Ohio from his parents, who first took him camping when he was nine months old, in 1926. In the 30’s the Culp’ took to the road in a homemade trailer built by a local carpenter. In 1942 they moved up to an American Coach, later trading it in for his beloved ’47 Westcraft. His Westcraft is prominently displayed at the RV Museum and Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana, fulfilling John’s wishes. One of John’s travel advice gems was that you have to be able to take the time to get to know people. “Once they realize you’re not a regular tourist – rushing through town, and perhaps through life, they’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
We were extremely fortunate to have known John and will think of him often as we travel and attend TCT events.
note from Paige Bridges
John Culp was one of the truest – most humble – people it’s been my pleasure to meet. I feel so very fortunate that I was able to meet with and camp alongside John at Cedar Key, for my first-ever TCT gathering. He was so inviting and welcoming to a newbie like me. I loved the time I got to spend with him. He let me in to see his home, and I will never forget the experience.
One of the reasons I included John’s Westcraft in the painting I was commissioned to do for you all … It sits in the background, alongside your old Spartanette, proudly displaying the American flag.
Doreen Bailey-Bergman Today we lost a Legend and the Oldest Original TCT member. John “Canner” Culp. May he rest in Trailer Heaven. we will miss you John and all your trailer stories and adventures. Have a Libation in John’s memory tonight to honor him. — at Camp Dearborn. Today we lost a Legend and the Oldest Original TCT member today. John “Canner” Culp. May he rest in Trailer Heaven. we will miss you John and all your trailer stories and adventures.
Norman Westerman – a great person will be missed
Cindee Teegardin Ladge – My respects to you and your life. Rest in peace.
Sharon Cuyler – Love you John ….
Teresa Taylor Barnes – RIP John…
Terry Evans – A travelin man. .lived in his moms trailer lol…libations all around…we need a limerick to go with the libation
Elena Falcon – Much Love to John and his family…..No doubt he is “trailering on” in Heaven…..
Gary Sally Lodholm – We will miss his calls.
Terry Bone – His trailer will remain at the RV/MH museum for all to see. I really like John – always a story to share and smile. He pulled me into his trailer one rally and reminded me of the responsibility I had to this club and how important it was to him and my parents. That is the kind of man he was. Not just thinking about today but thinking about the future generations of TCTers. My dad would offer him the honor of opening the TCT rallies because of his status in the club. I’ll be having a libation in his honor tonight.
Terry Bone – I think this TCT used poem from back in the day is appropriate for the libation today: The little lamp of friendship, We light along the way. Go shining on far down the years and brighten everyday. “Tis love that keeps them shining And sympathy and trust.” God help us that no lamp go out Because we let it rust.
Craig Leach – I’ll miss you John, I will raise a tall libation to a bigger than life man!! AHH, the stories there’ll be in heaven! Peace be with you my friend.
Kim McCool – Cheers John!!
Baron Teri Saint-Starlite – RIP John…“Riding along with trailer, Happy as can be, no rent to pay, no landlords, NO SIREE. On I go with trailer, a heavenly campground now to find, Sorry I have to leave you all behind” Slightly reworded quote from the “Tin Can Tourists Movie” (1937) Here’s to you..clink clink
Marilyn Brandfass – Buon Viaggio John
Gary Lamoree – Happy Trails Buddy! I was always cherish and remember sitting in your coach and chatting in Clermont!
Donna Mahoney Frederick – I had the privilege of setting next to John at Sonnys BBQ at a rally after Ceder Key. A very interesting and a remember kind of guy. God Bless you John and since you are there now, take my son camping.
Alexander Kensington – This is a very sad day. RIP Joh Canner Culp. Thanks you for the wonderful tales and jackpots. And thanks for being the connection to a glorious past and fabulous future. I lift a toast of pickle juice to you. I shall remember your advise and never let my hitch get rusty–
Mark Speiser – God speed Canner Culp. Cheers.
Tim Heintz – John will be greatly missed. He would always tell me, we were both the old time traveling TCT bachelors One of his (and mine as well) favorite poems about traveling the Bachelor life in an old trailer. (from the 1930’s)
Rick Myer – Bro John always called me “the Reverend”. It was our little secret. Rest and enjoy, George has been waiting.
Karen Wilsen Leonetti – John was a legend, truly. Happy trails ahead for him! Karen & Danny
Lynn Paton – Every time you view the sun setting, my cousin Jack will be there with you! Toast him with me. Here’s to you Jack!
Ann Carefoot Gingrich – Have a few things to lift a libation for tonight. I will add John.
MySpyder Web – RIP John, my sympathies to those that loved him
Carrie Drake – Met him in Florida, loved listening to his stories.
Lily Bettina Zaga – aw?! RIP…..
Jennifer Dempsey – He sounds like a fine man. Thank you for your sharing your memories and tributes for those of us who did not have the pleasure of knowing him.
Sally Patton – sorry for the loss to his family, friends and TCT community.
Evelyn Bruce Filiault – We will all miss John. Loved listening to his stories.
Alan Wickham – I had the pleasure of meeting John about 20 years ago. Very nice man. RIP
Terry Bone – John finding the TCT was as much of a benefit to him as it was to us. He found a group late in life that he could really engaged with and was a benefit to the quality of his life. In turn, he made such a wonderful impact to everyone he met. Truly a mutually beneficial relationship.
Slim Redbud – What a nice man!
Barbara Heizman – Lucky you who knew him.I’m sure there’s a special place for him in Heaven,and it involves a few wheels,too!
Joyce Paton -This gentle giant of a man with the big friendly grin and homespun way of telling a tale will be a huge part of my memories forever. I believe I learned something about independence and living life as I see best from him. I will miss you cousin Jack.
Terry Fleming – Our thoughts and prayers are with your family and friends, Rest In Peace.
Albert Bailitz – Had the pleasure listening and chatting at a couple rallies in Milford, thanks John. Special thanks to Forrest, Jerri, Terry and Michelle for keeping it going. I try to talk to as many folks as possible at rallies, everyone has stories to tell helps keep the group closer. So here’s to John, all the friends I met and all the friends I have yet to meet CHEERS! !!!
Candy Heintz – It was a dark day yesterday in the Heintz household. Love you John, the ‘young’ TCT bachelor misses you already.
Don Boehme – I was very sad to hear about John passing. He was one of a kind. When I talk about John, it’s always with a smile. He sure made my life richer for knowing him. He will be missed.
John and Carol Dinning = We were so sorry to hear of John’s passing. We enjoyed listening to his stores, about his upbringing in Ohio, his days in the Navy, his family, and his days on the road travelling from place to place in the country. Sitting around the campfire with John was like sitting with family. He would talk about travelling, hard times and good times of growing up. You very seldom ever heard the same story twice. He had a great deep laugh that will be missed by a lot of people. Forrest’s picture of John on the TCT commentary was and always will be in our mind John “Canner” Culp. We will miss you John. Rest in Peace.
Interview with John
I don’t recall having any specific ambition as a child. Actually, my childhood was interrupted by WW II, so my ambition became to survive the draft and service without getting myself killed!!
In early 1944, I was drafted, but was fortunate to be able to pick the navy and after much training, many transfers and delays, I arrived in the Philippines Islands not knowing a battleship from a cruiser. The war ended three months after my arrival.
My parents had started buying up summer cottages at a resort in Ohio and I got the idea that seasonal works would allow wintering in Florida. For the rest of 1945 and early ’46, while waiting discharge, I mulled over the plan for seasonal work. My parents had already bought a 1942 American trailer and were wintering in Dunedin, Florida, so after discharge, I worked at the resort during the summers and snow birded in the winter.
That’s how I became trailer trash.
My fondest trailer related memory us without a doubt the Route 40, Historic Road Caravan. Prior to that it would have been a five month 1951 trip I made with my mother in my 1947 Westcraft (still own and use). The trip extended to California on old Route 66 and back through New Mexico, Texas, New Orleans, Florida, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania and on in to Ohio.
My proudest moment is being inducted in to the TCT Hall of Fame. A close second would be that motorcade through Indianapolis during the Historic National Road Caravan.
The biggest challenge I face is being able to hook it up and keeping the ’47 Westcraft on the road.
My perfect day is a sunny day that gets me on the road by nine and off by three, making 200 miles or less and capping the day off with a good libation.
John’s answer to what was his first adult job, was that he wasn’t sure he had achieved adulthood yet and at 81 he was still “career disturbed” and looking.
John’s favorite trailer related book is Galloping Bungalows by David Thornburg.
John has gained inspiration from reading Thornburg’s story of early canners; attend the TCT convention in 1947 and being accepted as a member in 2000 to the renewed version of TCT. The group has become an extended family. He stated he really enjoys welcoming new members and seeing their enthusiasm.
When asked what the best tow vehicle, he owned, was, he replied that it was a 1951 Chevy Suburban, four speed ordered special from the factory for $1925.
John has been a great resource for the TCT . We cherish his friendship and wish him many more 200 mile days.
Eighty-two-year-old John “Canner” Culp long ago christened the 25-year-old van he uses to haul his vintage mobile home around the country “Darling Clementine.”
Interestingly enough, he never did quite get around to naming the 1947 Westcraft that his “Darling Clementine” has faithfully pulled behind her for so many years – an aluminum-sided, time-weathered vehicle he purchased new 60 years ago – for $3,200.
No, Culp never did get around to naming that old rig of his. But ever since his beloved wife passed away 10 years ago, that hasn’t been much of a problem.
These days, much as it was when he first married his departed sweetheart a half-century ago, he simply calls it “home.”
“We lived in it for a few months when we were first married in 1957, but that didn’t last too long,” Culp fondly remembered as he sat on a plastic green lawn chair outside his aged rig at the Vintage RV Show at Koreshan State Park in Estero on Saturday. “She said she wanted to live in a house – needed to live in a house – so that’s what I got her.
“But when I lost her, I decided to move back in.”
Culp, a retired plumber originally from Medina, Ohio, first came to Florida in 1970. He said he never did make enough money to move back to the Buckeye State, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Even if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t give it up,” Culp said. “When I first bought it back in 1947, I actually paid a premium of $1,000 to get the aluminum siding. The old-timers told me I was wasting my money – said the rivets would probably pop out while I was driving down the road.
“Well, here I am 60 years later and still going strong.”
If you think you’ve been inconvenienced by the seemingly never-ending construction on Florida roadways, maybe you should try spending a full two months of the year on the road like Culp does.
“I’ll never understand it,” said a clearly bemused Culp, who splits the remaining 10 months of the year between Florida, Ohio and Michigan when he’s not on the road. “During World War II, an airfield could be shot all to hell and the Seabees would get in there and build a new one in about a week … So why the heck can’t they fix the roads in Florida in under a year?”
Sadly, the venerated patriarch of Florida RV road-warriors is unsure how much longer he will be able to keep on keeping on.
“The biggest problem is that my income remains static while at the same time the fuel prices just keep going up,” he said. “I’m going to keep going as long as I feel good, as long as I can hook my rig up and as long as I have enough money to be out on the road, but who knows how long that will be?’’
Culp’s only son passed away in 1999. Coupled with the loss of his wife in 1997, one might think that would make him a lonely man.
Not even close, he said.
“The ‘tin-canners’ are my family now,” Culp said, referring to the nickname given to traveling mobile-home enthusiasts. “Them, and the people that I meet on the road – they’re my family.’’
Family. Such a vital part of the “tin-canner” experience.
Jeff Gedral’s 1978 GMC Eleganza has been an integral part of his own family for the past 16 years.
“It started out as a father-son thing for me and my dad, and now it’s a father-son thing for me and my own son,” the Fort Myers resident said as his mop-topped 13-year-old, Jefferson, hovered nearby. “It’s just a great way to spend quality time together.”
Koreshan State Park Manager Bob Baker, a 30-year parks veteran who lives on the grounds with his wife, Betsy, hopes the Vintage RV Show, which is celebrating its first year in Estero, will grow in popularity in future years.
“Our goal is to have it become a nationally advertised event within the next 10 years,” Baker said.
About 1,000 people attended Saturday’s Vintage RV Show.
“For the first year, I’m pretty happy with that number,” Baker said.
Pictures of John from Doug Keister:
Video of John’s trailer at the RV/MH Museum
Emmett and Joyce Dale
Trailerites You Should Know – Emmett Dale
The following is Emmett’s personal history and involvement in the RV industry. Emmett and his wife, Joyce, have attended winter events in Florida the last few years. It wasn’t until last year at Cedar Key that I became aware of Emmett’s long association with the industry and had an opportunity to scratch the surface of his store of knowledge relating to the companies he was associated with:
- From 1959 to 1960 Engineer at Airstream Inc. Jackson Center, Ohio
- 1961-1964 Plant Manager Airstream Inc. Jackson Center, Ohio
- 1965 Airstream underwent management change
- 1965-1966 Engineer Cortez Division, Clark Equipment, Battle Creek, Michigan
- 1966-1967 Plant Manager, Cortez Division, Clark Equipment, Evergreen, Alabama
- 1967 Clark Equipment sold Cortez Division
- 1967-68 Resident Manager, Southern Coach Division, Flxible Bus Corporation
- 1969-1973 President of Mobilux Inc. – the RV division of Flexible Bus Corporation
- 1973 Mobilux closed
Through our communications, Emmett indicated that his experience was happy, professionally satisfying and brought him in contact with many outstanding, intelligent people. I am sure those that worked with Emmett were fortunate to have made his acquaintance, also.
Years ago, Bud Cooper, let me have a copy of significant dates and events associated with Airstream that he had compiled. I believe he didn’t want the material disclosed because it was the initial outline for an unpublished book he wrote, I believe entitled Airstream, the Timeless Adventure. I asked Emmett to share some of his stories relating to his time with Airstream and he provided me with some interesting tidbits. I have included a couple here that may be of interest to Airstream members.
In 1952, Andy Charles and Wally Byam drove an old panel delivery truck towing a flat bed trailer to Jackson Center, Ohio with all the materials to build the first Ohio built Airstream. The truck was dubbed “the Yellow Peril”.
In 1955, Henschen Industrial developed and built the first Niedheart Torsion Axles and Henschen provided all chassis for the Ohio Airstream Plant.
Doc Holman (posthumous)
Dr. Holman & 1935 Airstream Torpedo
Was posthumously inducted into the TCT Hall of Fame at the Tin Can Tourists 11th Annual Gathering
When asked if he had ever traveled with Wally Byam on one of his caravans, Dr. Holman replied, “Hell no, he drove too slow.”
Jeri and I had the honor of visiting with Dr. Holman at Airstream Internationals and at his residence in Florida. He indicated at an International in Boise that the trailer was to go to his grandson. If anyone knows how we can contact the grandson, please pass along the information.
Dr. Holman’s 1935 Airstream Torpedo is a remnant of history. It is the oldest existing Airstream trailer. The Airstream Trailer Company officially recognized it as such in 1984.
Wally Byam founded the Airstream Trailer Company in the 1930’s. He sold plans, kits and partially completed trailers. If you purchased a partially completed trailer, it was still just a shell. You had to install (or hire an electrician to install) the wiring and electrical fixtures necessary for safe and legal operation. You had to install (or hire a plumber and gasman to install) the plumbing and plumbing fixtures or gas lines and fixtures necessary for safe and legal operation. You needed to choose springs, axles, hubs, brakes, wheels and tires, etc., to even begin to roll down the road. Other requirements included mattresses for the beds, a seamstress for curtains, and much, much more. Unlike today, when you may drive into a dealership, buy an RV product, hook it to your vehicle, and drive it off the lot fully functional, owning a trailer or RV product in the 1930’s presented many post-purchase challenges.
Dr. Holman read an ad in Popular Mechanics in 1935, promoting the Airstream 1935 Torpedo by Wally Byam. He wrote the company for literature and subsequently purchased a set of plans for five dollars. Imagine the Great Depression in the 1930’s, in which a medical student wanted to travel and needed rest and relaxation from his profession and could not afford to meet his goals. It was decided that a travel trailer (a “gypsy” life to critics of the times) was the economical way to go. He and his wife, Thelma Mathews Herndon Holman, built the shell of the trailer in three weeks between medical school and internship. To complete the trailer required 2-1/2 years of work. Travel began in the middle of 1937.
The trailer is 17′ overall with a 14′ body. It sleeps four adults with one double bed in the rear and two single bunks that may be mounted along the sides. It has hot and cold running water, a sink, a two-burner gas stove, a shower, a toilet, a space heater, a vent fan, an icebox (home built – not available commercially in the 1930’s) and an air conditioner that was added in the 1960’s. It weighs 3,150 pounds, unloaded. It is of wooden monoque construction of 1939’s airplane design (there is no frame – the body is the frame). The tongue is bolted to wooden stringers under the front floorboards. The semi-elliptical springs that support the wheels and axle are bolted to steel plates in the wheel wells and under the floorboards in the central area of the trailer. The trailer has three belly tanks: 1) 20-gallon fresh water 2) 7-gallon sewage, and 3) 20-gallon gray water (sink and shower water). The original skin of the trailer was Masonite, but due to road damage from flying rocks from early gravel roads, the trailer was skinned with aluminum in the 1960’s for protection.
Remember that this trailer was constructed in the 1930’s Great Depression, and new parts were not affordable. Junkyards were scoured for matching used parts. The original filler cap for the fresh water tank was the gas tank cap of an Essex automobile. The original running lights on the forward brow of the trailer are 1935 Harley-Davidson front fender running lights (note: white, not amber color). The original tail lamps were 1929 Ford Model A tail lamps. Red lenses are running lamps and amber lenses are turning signals and stop lights. One pair of lens has been replaced with dual red rather than the original red-amber combination to meet modern standards. The pump to pressurize the water system was a 1924 Cadillac gasoline tank pressure pump mounted under the galley. (Note: Electrical fuel pumps were unknown in 1924, and pressurization of the fuel tank was necessary manually from the dashboard following a fill-up at the local gas station.)
The trailer has been in the Holman family for 64 years and has traveled over 400,000 miles. Dr. Holman “disappeared” with his family for at least one month every summer. The trailer has visited each of the 48 states of the continental USA, seven provinces of Canada, and Mexico. It has been in California five times and to the East Coast extremes of Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island in New Brunswick, Canada, and crossed the Bay of Fundy on the famous “Bluenose”(the “Famous” Bluenose, isn’t a ferry,it is an undefeated ,wooden sailing ship.) Ferry from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Dr. Holman and his wife were in Mexico City, Mexico, in 1939 when he purchased a newspaper and read that Hitler had invaded Poland. The trailer has been used on hundreds of weekend hunting and fishing trips. The exact undocumented mileage is unknown, as Thelma Holman logged only major trips.
Wally Byam also started the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI). Dr. Holman was affiliated with this club as early as 1947. Wally Byam at one time had a 1935 Airstreams Torpedo, but sold it. Dr. Holman and his wife, Thelma, attended the 1947 Rally of the WBCCI in Tampa, Florida. When Wally saw the 1935 Torpedo, he offered Dr. Holman the amount of $50,000 to replace his loss to purchase the trailer. Wally soon found to his dismay that “he did not have enough money.” This was the first of several encounters with Wally Byam. Remnants of the 1947 WBCCI decal may be seen on the door window.
In 1992 Dr. Holman retired after 57 years from the practice of medicine. He wished to spend his retirement traveling the roads of the North American continent with his wife Thelma, as he had in earlier years. Unfortunately, Thelma suffered a stroke, dying after several years in a nursing home. Dr. Holman has suffered multiple medical problems, including congestive heart failure, four-vessel coronary artery bypass grafting, a pacemaker for a trial fibrillation and an automatic defibrillator for intermittent ventricular fibrillation. His doctors grounded him from driving and he became depressed, having outlived his wife and friends and having nothing to do. The trailer had not been used in several years, and many features failed to function as designed.
His sons Norman, Jr., and Harry Herndon Holman, a Delta pilot and Navy veteran, hatched a plan in 1996. It was decided that Dr. Holman and his Torpedo would attend – at a minimum – the annual WBCCI International. Dr. Holman and his trailer have since attended international rallies in Rapid City, South Dakota in 1996, Huntsville, Alabama in 1997, Boise, Idaho in 1998, and in Dayton, Ohio in 1999. The trailer almost did not return from the 1996 Rapid City rally due to failing seals and brakes. Parts were absolutely unobtainable. A process of restoration and refurbishment went underway in 1996. After 2-1/2 years of hard work, the “old trailer” was re-plumbed for water, re-plumbed for gas, re-electrified and re-machined for modern brakes, hubs, drums, wheels, etc. Also, old brass work was polished and lacquered and the skin polished. Old rusty nickel and chrome-plated screws were replaced with stainless steel. Curtains and upholstery were replaced.
In 1935, no trailers or RVs had running water, except for that which was poured out of a bucket. The Airstream 1935 Torpedo had a water tank that could be partially filled with water and then pressurized by air from the local gas station or a hand pump mounted in the trailer. Unfortunately, air pressure may have leaked to zero by the next morning, and thousands of strokes would have been required via a hand pump in the trailer to re-pressurize the system. Dr. Holman decided that “water on demand” – especially if he was in the wilderness and poured a bucket of water into the trailer tank from a springhead – was desirable. He devised a system with a 12-volt marine bilge pump and a pressure-operated cutoff switch.
Dr. Holman purchased a 30′ Airstream in 1957 and later in 1960 traded it for a 27′ Airstream. He drove to the factory in Jackson Center, Ohio, to take possession of his 1960 Airstream. He stayed there for two days, removing the factory installed air pressured system and replacing it with his pressure-switch controlled marine bilge water pump system that he had designed. The chief engineer of Airstream questioned the activity and Dr. Holman explained it to him. The next year, the Airstream Trailer Company subsequently produced that system, while all other manufacturers on the market adopted the identical system. This innovation led the industry by 23 years. Dr. Holman still becomes disgruntled when he remembers that he failed to patent a system that became an industry-wide standard. Dr. Holman had his system in operation in 1938. It took less than six months to decide that he did not want to spend a considerable portion of his vacation working a hand pump for running water when he could flip an electrical switch and have instant running water. Airstream and its competitors henceforth saw this advantage.
Dexter brakes were adopted in the restoration. This company provides multiple lug patterns on brake drums such that one may match the wheels on the tow vehicle and trailer. The wheels on both the original tow vehicle, a 1931 Model A Ford Coupe and the 1935 Torpedo were Model B wheels. Currently, the 1935 Torpedo has 15“ 5 on 5 wheels that are interchangeable with the tow vehicle, which is a 1995 Chevy conversion van. For the first time in approximately 61 years, the concept of “lighter is better” has returned and only one spare tire is carried for both the tow vehicle and trailer.
Some originality has been lost, but the benefit is a trailer that continues to roll and may be serviced easily and relatively inexpensively. Most visitors to the trailer have difficulty imagining that such a futuristic unit was designed in the 1930s.
Dr. Holman was not only a successful physician, but also a successful pioneer, inventor, and leader in the recreational vehicle industry. He lived to be in his 90’s and attributes his success in medicine and long life to his ability to escape stress in life with his trailer…
The 1935 Airstream Torpedo is now coming up for auction Jan 2016 through www.HeintzDesigns.com
Terry and Michelle Bone
My wife’s name is Michelle and my daughter is Paige. I help my dad with the TCT club by developing and managing the TCT website. Michelle and Paige help out at all the rallies. We have been members since the renewal and getting more and more active with the club every year.
Here is Michelle and Paige at a Vintage Truck show:
The entire family:
1957 Avion Regal R26
We are the proud owners of a piece of Avion history.
1957 Avion Regal 26ft. Bought from the Cayo family that started the Avion company. The Cayo’s consider this trailer to be the 4th trailer they made. It had materials and construction techniques only found in prototypes. It came into the shop for service and the Cayo family purchased it. Chuck related that a hunter brought it in for a window fix. Chuck was on the look-out for an early model to restore for a family treasure and purchased it. We purchased it from them and completed the exterior restoration.
- Inside Width at Floor 7 Feet
- Overall Length 26′
- Body Length NA
- Overall Height 8’“9”
- Inside Height 6’8“
- Overall Weight 3300 LBS.
- Hitch Weight NA LBS.
Our trailer is serial number #904 The trailer is production #904. The model is R26. According to information on Dr. G’s site the 26R production began after model 900. This should make it a coach built around 1957. It had a list price of $4,250 and weighs 3300 pounds.
The trailer is featured in Bob Muncy’s book “Silver Avions and Cayos” https://tincantourists.com/?tag=bob-muncy
Our trailer being restored: http://silveravion.com/restorations/57_R26_index.htm
In the winter of 2010-2011, we made the monthly trip out to the property where we store the Avion. It is under a covered shelter in the middle of farm land. To our disbelief we discovered that it was damaged with large scratches and dents all around the trailer and our first thought was why would someone vandalize the trailer like this. We were heartbroken.
We called the police and went out later in the week to meet them for a police report. The snow had melted and there was now evidence of cow piles nearby the trailer. Also, the bushes planted behind the trailer were eaten almost to the ground. The police officer visited the neighbors and asked if they saw anyone around the trailer. One of the neighbors said they saw the farmers cows congregating around the trailer. The neighbor and the farmer are relatives. The farmer was asked to come over and take a look. He didn’t think his cows could do the damage but the police officer believes it was due to the cows.
Progressive insurance is covering the damage and P&S Trailer Service is putting new skin on the damaged panels. Some of the surface scratches was to the clearcoat only and that is being removed and then reapplied after the panels are replaced.
Artist Leah Giberson painted a couple pictures of our 1957 Avion R26