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Despite Lack Of Luxury, Vintage Trailers Make A Comeback


The motor club AAA says more than 30 million Americans are hitting the road this summer. Some are traveling in luxury. Think RVs decked out with Wi-Fi and satellite TV. And then there are the ardent fans of the vintage camper trailers of the '50s and '60s. Scott Shafer of member station KQED caught up with a couple of them.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Every man dreams of high adventure in faraway places, of strange lands with curious customs...

SCOTT SHAFER, BYLINE: That's a 1950's-era promotional ad from Airstream, the company that made those classic, shiny metal trailers.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: With an Airstream at your command, you can head for anywhere in the world to fish, to swim, to play...

SHAFER: By today's standards, they were short on comfort, but don't tell that to serious collectors.

RACHEL HARP: My name is Rachel Harp. I'm from Lincoln, Calif., and I've been working on and restoring trailers for 41 years.

SHAFER: Harp and her husband own a vintage camper restoration company north of Sacramento. He spends his days sanding, cutting and refurbishing parts for inside these fixer-uppers, and she keeps her eye out for their next project.

HARP: I wish I could tell you I looked for something that was in really good shape and had - needed no work, but to be honest with you, when I look at it, if it's cute, I probably get it.

SHAFER: In other words, in this world, there's no such thing as trailer trash. We're standing in a lot surrounded by - what else? - cute vintage camper trailers. Harp calls it an addiction, this hobby she has of buying and restoring trailers.

HARP: Some of them I want because they're little. Some of them I want because they're rare. Some of them I want because they're big. But lately, it's been because they had a toilet and a shower, you know, so.

SHAFER: More practical.

HARP: More practical.

SHAFER: If Harp is the queen of camper trailers, you might call Paul Lacitinola the king. He publishes a vintage trailer magazine. Lacitinola is a big fan of the canned ham style of camper, with their curved metal roofs and pop-out back windows. He says the best part of it all is the hunt.

PAUL LACITINOLA: The goal of the restoration is to make it usable, to get these things back on the road, to take them out, to show off. You know, each year, we try to have something new and different that we're show-and-telling, and you know, that's how we end up with 18 of them (laughter). So...

SHAFER: And that showing-and-telling thing - that happens at meet ups which can attract hundreds of vintage trailers and their fans. Rachel Harp says it's like a circus.

HARP: We have potluck. We have ice cream. We have root beer floats. I mean, it's the whole shebang. All those things that you wanted to do when you were a kid, we get to do now.

SHAFER: Harp takes me inside one of the metal campers, and the first thing you notice - it's hot.

And of course it's 90 degrees out right now, but...

HARP: If want to use these during the summer, you better be prepared to either be hot or prepared for air.

SHAFER: That's why she upgrades these campers to include air-conditioning. But everything else inside seems original or close to it.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The beautiful contemporary kitchen is complete with range oven and refrigerator freezer. No matter where you are, you will eat like a gourmet...

SHAFER: Also single beds, drapes and fixtures right out of an early Mad Men episode. Tiny bathrooms and showers - I mean, like, broom closet tiny. So who owns these vintage campers? Rachel Harp says it's not who you might think.

HARP: I would say that this industry is more geared by women than any other industry I've ever seen. But it doesn't surprise me because these are rolling little dollhouses, and they want to fix them up, and they want to go do their thing and have their happy hour and have fun.

SHAFER: Nowadays, people pay hundreds of dollars just to spend a couple nights in a vintage trailer listed on Airbnb. Back in the day, you could buy a brand-new camper trailer for a few hundred dollars to let your neighbors know you'd made it into the middle class. For NPR News, I'm Scott Shafer in Lincoln, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Shafer