The Road to Enlightenment

The Tin Can Tourists were organized at Desoto Park, Tampa, Florida, in 1919. They received the official state charter a year later. The groups stated objective was “to unite fraternally all autocampers”. Their guiding principles were clean camps, friendliness among campers, decent behavior and to secure plenty of clean, wholesome entertainment for those in camp. The group known for the soldered tin can on their radiator caps grew rapidly during the twenties and thirties. Members could be inducted fellow campers through an initiation process that taught the prospective member the secret handshake, sign, and password. After singing the official song “The More We Get Together” the trailerite was an official member of the Tin Can Tourists of the World.

1920 Tin Can Tourists in Tampa, FL “Watching the Ball Game”

1930s Tin Can Tourists at Zephyr Park

1930 TCT Convention Portage, Wisconsin

1942 22nd Annual Convention

TCT Past and Future

Summer reunions were held at various Midwest locations, with Traverse City, Michigan serving as a primary host city. The club spent winters at Desoto Park until 1924.

"Tin can tourists. 1921 or 1922." Car camping and watermelon in or around Washington, D.C.

Tin can tourists – 1921 or 1922. Car camping and watermelon in or around Washington, D.C.

Because locals grew tired of their park being over run with northerners, the park was closed a month early in March. The canners took the hint and moved the Winter Convention to Arcadia, where the community had built a municipal park especially for the Tin Can Tourists. By 1932, with membership estimates ranging from 30,000 to 100,000, city Chambers of Commerce were actively pursuing TCT to choose their community for either Homecoming, Winter Convention or Going Home meets. The Winter Convention was the best attended and was an economic boon to the host community. Sarasota had its eye on the prize and lured the Convention away from Arcadia in 1932. The vote on the Winter Convention site was hotly contested. Many Canners were loyal to Arcadia, the town that wanted them after their ejection from Tampa. A 250 strong car caravan let by Sarasota’s mayor and other public officials, helped swing the vote selecting Sarasota as the Winter Convention site for 1932. As a concession to those that favored Arcadia, it was designated as the official site for Homecoming festivities. In 1938, the mayor of Sarasota indicated that the national perception that Sarasota was a tin can tourist’s town was hurting the community and that he would not renew the Winter Convention contract. Tampa offered the canners a five-year deal to return to Tampa. It was accepted and the Winter Convention returned to specially built Municipal Park. The group faced membership declines due to combination of factors, (1) a schism with in the ranks and the formation of ATA, the Automobile Tourists Association, (2) an economic recession in 1939 that greatly diminished the number of trailer manufactures, and (3) the onset of World War II. Winter Convention photograph depict a much smaller group in 1948 at Tampa. The original groups “Swan Song” convention was held in Eustis, Florida in 1968. By the mid-80’s the club was no longer in existence in any form.

We have recently found new information stating Rallies were still held into the very early 1980’s and for a few years later there were a very small group the just met like monthly for a meal (Just about half a dozen people). So most likely a group consisting of original members still met calling thier selves Tin Can Tourists, until around the mid 1980’s.

In 1998, Forrest and Jeri Bone renewed the club as an all make and model vintage trailer and motor coach club. The renewal gathering was held at Camp Dearborn, Milford, Michigan. Twenty-one rigs attended the May Renewal Gathering. By the end of the year, fifty members were accepted as charter members of the renewed version of the Tin Can Tourists. The group has grown steadily, currently holding Annual Gatherings in Michigan, Florida, and regional rallies at various locations in the US. Recently Regional Representatives have been added to represent England, Japan and France. The new version of Tin Can Tourists is open to all. Its goal is to abide by the original group’s objectives and guiding principles as well as the promotion and preservation of vintage trailers and motor coaches through Gatherings and information exchange.

Rain swamps Tin Can Tourists at Washington, D.C. – Two men pulling on blanket, to wring out water, as others watch, near Washington Monument, Washington, D.C

Founder Forrest Bone writes:

Jeri and I are charter members of the Vintage Airstream Club and have been owners of a 64’ Airstream Safari, 64’ Bambi II, 68’ Overlander, 63’ Globetrotter, and currently own a 1949 Airstream Southwind Liner, a 1949 Spartenette Model 24, and a 1958 Spartan Royal Mansion. While members of the VAC, we developed an interest in various brands of vintage trailers and motor coaches, culminating in our purchase of the 1958 Spartan Royal Mansion. During discussions with the VAC founder, Bud Cooper, we realized that there would not be an opportunity to experience rallies that included all makes and models. It has been the practice of Airstream to allow local units and interclub to only hold one “Buddy Rally” per year that would allow other brand trailers to participate. It was also during these discussions with Bud that he made reference to the Tin Can Tourists, noting that they were the first travel club and organizationally shared a lot of similarities with the parent Airstream organization, Wally Byam Caravan Club International. I think Bud would have liked to see the Vintage Airstream Club be more inclusive, but only for the aluminum constructed trailers. Jeri and I felt that the exclusionary policy of the WBCCI was detrimental to the development of a vintage club. We felt that a group that was open to anyone, owner or not, that shared a passion for vintage trailers and motor coaches was more desirable.

After my conversations with Bud, the Tin Can Tourists became a bit of an obsession. Jeri and I visited the Florida Historical Library in Tallahassee and went through all the available documents on the club. In 1998 we decided to renew the club by having a gathering at Camp Dearborn, Milford, Michigan. Prior to the Gathering, I contacted a trademark lawyer and had him do a mark search to make sure we were not “stepping on anyone’s toes”. We wanted to make sure there wasn’t an active branch of the group still chartered and functioned. When the legal search didn’t turn up an active group, we registered the mark (Tin Can Tourists) and proceeded with the organization of the club. As a past president of the vintage club and having served the club in various capacities, I knew one thing for sure and that was that I didn’t want to get involved in a lot of bureaucratic structuring, so Jeri and I decided that we would run the club as “directors”. A couple of years ago, we asked some members to serve as regional representatives for the purpose of developing TCT activities in their geographical region and to serve as a sounding board for any ideas we or other members might put forth.

Tin Can Tourists Winter Convention, Sarasota Florida 1936 1,058 Trailers and House Cars / 2,216 attending members! Note the huge circus like tent! That area was for the New trailers on display!

Basically, TCT offers its members a chance to meet and have fun with other owners who share their interest in vintage RV’s. You don’t have to own a vintage trailer or motor coach to participate. We have a number of members including charter members, that come every year to the Annual Gathering that do not currently own a vintage rig.

During the late 1920’s the Tin Can Tourists spent Thanksgiving in Arcadia, Florida and enjoyed a sumptuous community dinner.

Tin Can Tourist Camp Postcard

The 1920s were a very exciting time in Florida. Automobiles were moving rapidly off the assembly lines, regular folks were able to afford them, and Florida was beckoning with sunshine and the promise of an easy life and good times. Gainesville’s businessmen welcomed those regular folks by providing facilities for camping in their cars-not as comfortable as today’s campers, but certainly the same idea. People would rig their cars up with folding side tents or convert trucks with sleeping arrangements in the truckbed. There was a national club, called “Tin Can Tourists,” which was organized in 1919 at DeSoto Park in Tampa; members were recognized by a tin can soldered to the radiator cap of a member’s car.

This is a 1922 membership card for the Tin Can Tourists

There is a modern Tin Can Tourist’s Vintage Trailer & Motor Coach Gathering which hopes to renew the group’s goals of providing “save and clean camping areas, wholesome entertainment, and high moral values.” One camp was located in Gainesville and another in Archer. The location of this camp is believed to be the present-day site of Alachua General Hospital (or Shands at AGH).

Tin Can Tourist Camp

Today’s travelers move on superhighways and stay in modern motels; they also have the choice of traveling in campers or recreational vehicles that offer many of the comforts of home. But in the 1920s after World War I, when many folks began moving to Florida, moving meant braving uncertain lodging. Tin Can tourism (using the car and a tent for lodging) was a common solution. One camp, aptly named “Tin Can Tourist Camp,” was located in Gainesville and another with the same name was in Archer southeast of the Maddox Foundry. The location of this camp is believed to be the present-day site of Alachua General Hospital (or Shands at AGH). Very close inspection of this photograph shows a traveling truck-home that had “Adams Autohome” painted on it while one of the canvas-top automobiles had pennants that said “Chicago” and “Sister Lakes.” William Reuben Thomas, Gainesville’s very progressive and business-minded mayor, promoted tin can tourism, hoping to lure new citizens to the area.

TCT Convention in Tampa in 1949. This picture is of the area set aside for Trailer Dealers! Besides being a typical rally get together, the TCT Rallies back in the day would have MANY trailers set up by dealers and companies showing the new models of trailers being produced! The cars in the photo were likely the vehicles used to pull all of these trailers!!!! They all have heavy duty hicthes on the back! Being that the TCT Convention would have been in the Winter, these new trailers might have been the new 1950 Models to come out.

Twenty-fifth annual Tin Can Tourists convention at Tampa Fl 1948

Tin Can Tourists playing shuffleboard at a Dade City Fl camp 1936

Tin Can Tourists in Indialantic Fl 1922

Tin Can Tourists Gainesville, Florida 1921

Tin Can Tourists’ convention hall picture

Tin Can Tourists convention dinner preparation Eustis FL 1969

Tin Can Tourists convention at Dade city

Tin Can Tourists convention 1953 Arcadia Fl

Tin Can Tourists camping park in De Land FL 1930

Tin Can Tourists’ band Sarasota, Florida 1940

Tin Can Tourists at De Soto Park in Tampa Fl 1920

Tin Can Tourists at De Soto Park in Fl 1920

Tin Can tourists at Arcadia Fl 1947

Tin Can Tourists Arcadia, Florida 1933

TCT in Arcadia Fl 1947

TCT Dixieland

TCT Arcadia Fl

Preparing Thanksgiving turkeys at Tin Can Tourists 1952 convention Melbourne FL

House car of L.N. Barlow at Tin Can Tourists convention 1929 Arcadia picture

House car named Harriet at Tin Can Tourists convention 1929 Arcadia picture

House car at Tin Can Tourists convention Arcadia picture 1929

Barbecue at a Tin Can Tourists convention

1942 Ad from Trailer Topics Magazine for the TCT summer Convention

1929 Tin Can Tourists convention Arcadia, Florida

1930s TCT Brass Plaque

1921 Ford Topics Article

1941 TCT Rally Advertisement

1922 Tin Can Tourists camp: Gainesville, Florida

Rear View Mirror – TCT Historical Tidbits


  1. Sir or Madam:
    I am currently writing a history of my home town and subdividsion. A Howard Travel Trailer of the 1930s or 1940s vinrages plays a key role in this story.
    I understand that Howard Industries of Saginaw, Michigan made these vehicles during this period. Today Howard is into Structural Steel.
    I also have come to know that Mr. Howard Hughes was into making these trailers as well.
    Is it possible you can answer the following questions?
    1. Did Howard Industies make travel trailer during the 1930s and the 1940s?
    2. When did the stop making them?
    3. Do you have list of the models they made in terms of length, 10 feets, 20 feet, 30 feet or longer? The person who owned the trailer in question would have pulled it with a 1942 Mercury Station Wagon Woody with the flat head eight.
    4. In 1930s and 1940s dollars how much would a 20 foot model cost, approximate.
    5. Do you have any photos and or specifications you could share with me?
    6. What was the roll Mr. Howard Hughes play in making Howard Travel Trailers?
    I will attribute any information you provide in both the sources and citations sections of this book.
    I am an 82 year old retired Electrical Engineer and later a retired college professor needing something to do and was asked to do this for the love of it.

    I can be reached as follows: Email drtseiler@yahoo.com
    Home address 9660 Mockingbird, Lane, Micco, Florida 32976
    Phone 772 321-1270.
    Most respectfully,

    Tom Seiler, Ph.D.

  2. 2. When did the stop making them?
    1960 is about the last mention I have ever found of the company still building trailers, but at this time period they had already moved into more of house trailers/mobile homes

    3. Do you have list of the models they made in terms of length, 10 feets, 20 feet, 30 feet or longer? The person who owned the trailer in question would have pulled it with a 1942 Mercury Station Wagon Woody with the flat head eight.
    The list of sizes and models is far too extensive to list from 1938-1960 but in the early 40’s they offered models in the range of 18′-24′

    4. In 1930s and 1940s dollars how much would a 20 foot model cost, approximate.
    In 1942 the average price of a 20’~ Howard (depending on floor plan and options) would run about $1100.00

    5. Do you have any photos and or specifications you could share with me?
    1942 JUNE.jpg1942 Ad

    6. What was the roll Mr. Howard Hughes play in making Howard Travel Trailers?
    There was absolutely no connection with Howard Huges. In the vintage trailer world there is a ton of incorrect information that tries to tie Howard Huges to several trailer companies….. Including Airstream, Spartan, Howard, Boles, Bowlus, etc…. Howard Huges had absolutely no connection to any trailer manufacturer of the 1930’s-1950’s. The Howard Trailer Company was named after the founder and president of the company, Howard J. Doss.

    Tim Heintz

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