Florida’s tourism industry is no accident.
First came roads fingering into the Sunshine State. And then came Henry Ford’s “Tin Lizzies” hauling travel trailers. Motor inns, condos and lawyers would follow.
Descendants of those early travel pioneers are in Sarasota County in mid-November. The Tin Can Tourists celebrate the club’s 100-year- anniversary with a pair of stopovers in Southwest Florida, first in Arcadia on Nov. 9 at the Turner Agri-Civic Center, then heading to the Sarasota County Fairgrounds for a Nov. 15 visit.
Both stops are open to the public, which means browsing and reminiscing in vintage trailers that date to the 1940s through the ,80s. There’s a $2 fee for admission. The group is so named after its Ford Model T “Tin Lizzie” travel partner.
“It’s not like some car shows, see and not touch,” said Forrest Bone, spokesperson for the Tin Can Tourists in Florida. “You will appreciate the exterior, but see how things are decorated. Lots of history, and lots of fun.”
The standard aluminum travel trailer you picture is predated by vehicle conversions with canvas sidings and other adaptions for tent camping, not much more than the wagons on the Great Plains in previous generations. The most famous early RV wanderers were the Four Vagabonds, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs, from 1915 through the 1920s, jaunting along on summer “camping” trips in conversion Fords, gear clinking on muddy backroads.
But with America’s early highways in the 1920s, the travel spigot opened and off we went. The Tamiami Trail along Florida’s west coast and across to Miami fed travel trailers into the state. We first pitched tents, then brought our trailers to auto-commercial camps, motor courts, cabins and motels. Trailers were the first tiny homes we used to motor south when it got cold in the north.
Metal and aluminum changed recreational vehicles. Wally Byam’s Airstream Clipper in the 1930s introduced its signature bread-loaf body, polished metal that whispered along the highway. It remains the gold standard, with Airstream members and clubs worldwide. But other RV manufacturers such as Spartan, owned by the billionaire J. Paul Getty, Shasta and Argosy, whose company brochures in the 1970s assured buyers that “the Argosy offers many major features that made Airstream famous,” became popular.
From these wanderers emerged the Tin Can Tourists, the country’s oldest trailer and motorcoach club. Vintage trailers are big with today’s collectors and club members. Forrest Bone, for instance, has a 1949 Spartanette travel trailer, for which he paid $700. He put thousands into its restoration, though. He and wife Jeri, son Terry and daughter-in-law Michelle, will arrive this month in their vintage trailers.
The charm of such travel?
“For us,” Bone said, “economy was part of the appeal. But the other appeals are the wife gets to do her thing with period interiors, and the husband gets the maintenance and the mechanics. And the lasting friendships, that’s the real joy.”
Tin Can Tourists in Sarasota County should include 25 or so such vintage RVs. Modern trailers and motorcoaches will accompany the group.