MANATEE — If Forrest Bone walked into an old barn and discovered a Covered Wagon travel trailer from the 1930s, it would be like finding the Holy Grail, something akin to a car enthusiast stumbling upon a Duesenberg or gull-wing Mercedes-Benz in a junkyard.
The Covered Wagons were among the highest-selling travel trailers made during the Great Depression. As many as 1,000 a month were produced in Mount Clemens, Mich., before the company went bankrupt in 1939. But with their flimsy Masonite siding, few survived.
While no Covered Wagons are expected at the 89th Annual Winter Convention of the Tin Can Tourists from Thursday through March 1 at Lake Manatee State Park, there will be about 50 other rare travel trailers on display.
Bone and his wife, Jeri, will bring their gleaming 1957 Avion trailer, which resembles the famous Airstream, to the Tin Can Gathering. Avion went out of business in the early 1970s, falling victim to the fuel shortage caused by the OPEC oil embargo.
The public is invited to a Tin Can open house 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday to revisit a page from the nation’s colorful open road and camping history.
Manatee County was once home to many travel parks, and the Tin Can trailers, which today are so rare, were once commonplace here.
A couple in Tampa plans to bring a small vintage trailer to the Tin Can rally, a variety referred to as “canned hams” for their cramped space.
Another colorful named variety is the “tear drop,” one that’s too low to stand up in and which has a pop-up hatch for cooking.
“The people who have these are very devoted to preservation and promotion,” said Forrest Bone.
The oldest trailer expected to be on display is a 1947 Westcraft model, which has been the full-time home of John Culp for the past 12 years.
“I’m looking forward to them,” said Mary Moraski, a volunteer at Lake Manatee State Park. Admission to the park will be $4 per car.
What makes the trailers prized is their rarity.
“A lot of the trailers were neglected for a little bit, fell into some disrepair. They go through a restoration process,” Forrest Bone said.
His Avion, with its aircraft-type, riveted construction, has a coating to keep it shiny.
“We are going to make every effort to keep the Tin Can Tourist Winter Convention in the Bradenton-Sarasota area. The connection between TCT and the Bay area is very strong. Conventions were held in Tampa from 1919-1924 with a return in 1939-through the ’40s. The convention was held in Sarasota from 1932 to 1938,” Forrest Bone said.
The Tin Can Tourists were organized in 1919 at DeSoto Park in Tampa with an objective “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 the campers.
For additional information about the Tin Can Tourists or membership inquiries, visit www.tincan tourists.com or call Forrest or Jeri Bone at (941) 748-1483.
For more information about Lake Manatee State Park, call (941) 741-3028.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be reached at (941) 708-7916.