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Growing up camping in our 1932 trailer

Any of you grow up camping? I believe that living for a time with nature instills a love of the woods and streams and the outdoor world in a way that’s different from anything else.  My hubby did not camp growing up and still doesn’t care to, and although he appreciates and enjoys the outdoors, too, I believe it’s different for him than what it does for my soul.

My experience was slightly unusual, in that we camped in a 1932 vintage trailer that is now rare.  Called a Gilkie, they were designed by Warren Gilkison and built in Terra Haute, Indiana from 1927 to, I believe, 1947, and among the first pop-up campers built.  My mother grew up camping in one her uncle owned, and she remembered campers coming from all around the campground to watch it go up, as many had never seen anything other than tent camping before.  People often came to look at ours, too – it’s not very pretty, to be honest – many people asked if it was an old Army vehicle because it’s painted a forest green.  But it was common for people to question what it was, and what car the spoke wheels came from.  🙂

I recently brought it to my home after I sold my late parents’ house where it was stored. It hasn’t been camped in since 1988, when my parents took a summer-long trip out west spanning thousands of miles.  Here are two photos from then – one taken in Northern California among the redwoods, and one in Utah.

gilkiecaliforniagilkie-utah

Opening it up a few weeks ago was better than opening any Christmas gift 🙂  It was like looking inside a treasured time capsule – I had no idea what I’d find, and what memories it would bring. I found our old kerosene lantern, and I can still vividly remember how it smelled when it lit the camper at night. The worn, enameled bowls we’d washed our faces in, which made me smile. I wish I’d taken photos of them, as they’re kind of inaccessible right now!  It also made me really happy to see that it’s still in great condition – I was a little worried that after so many years unopened in my parents’ garage that mice or something might have gotten inside. But the Navy blankets from WWII were still on the beds, as were the old quilts, the metal boxes that came with the trailer for food storage, and the wooden boxes my dad had built to hold canned goods and such.  Here are a couple of photos of it folded.  It’s surprisingly compact, and larger inside than you’d think!

gilkiefolded-2

gilkiefolded

And photos of it with the side double beds slid open, and the top raised, with my son at the front door, and me on the other side where the spare tire is. We weren’t terribly meticulous when we put it up, so the canvas isn’t pulled as tightly as it should be.

gilkiegeofrontdoorgilkiemeback

Lastly, here’s my son sitting inside on one of the beds (this shows less than half of the inside). All my kids had seen it folded from the outside, and weren’t too impressed, for obvious reasons. Opened, they felt differently, and my youngest said, “This is a pretty genius design!”  Needless to say, that made me smile too. 🙂  As I plopped myself onto one of the double beds and stared at the ceiling, I remembered the sound of the rain on the canvas, the feel of the breeze on my face through the screens, the scent of that kerosene and the outdoors and the canvas, which smelled exactly as I remembered.

gilkiegeoinside

So, here’s the tough part. Obviously, I love this trailer. I’d love to keep it in the family, have my children use it for another generation. Realistically, though, I can’t imagine that happening. My 22 year old son ‘wants’ it, but who knows where he’ll be or what he’ll be doing in the future? Will he want to deal with the fact that it has a unique hitch?  Get it the new tires it needs? Will he have a place to store it? Right now, it’s tucked into the back of our garage behind a small car, but it can’t stay there forever.

So, I’m thinking I need to give it a new home, either to a camping retailer showroom where camping enthusiasts can enjoy seeing something from the olden days (I have one interested) or a private owner who would love it and use it (my parents’ old neighbors want it). Will I regret it if I sell it? Maybe. And then there’s the question of what price to put on it – there isn’t one for sale in the U.S. right now that I can find. It’s a niche market, but someone may want to pay a lot more for it than the neighbor is offering. In fact, I saw a 2011 blog on a Model T enthusiast website where someone had paid $1000 for one that was in literal tatters and all bent up, and were planning to restore it.

SO. Any advice for me?  And were/are you a camper, or not?

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17 thoughts on “Growing up camping in our 1932 trailer”

    1. That’s interesting, Nancy! We camped most weekends during the summer, with extended trips to Michigan fairly often, as my dad loved to fish there. Do you have any idea what happened to your camper?

      1. No, I have no idea. Maybe it was traded in for another trailer. It was just too big and heavy for my parents to continue using.

  1. Robin,
    Memories from childhood make it hard to get rid of anything. We camped but in tents. Even floated down rivers for a week with nothing more than what would go in a canoe. I say hold on to it for your son if he wants it for at least a little while. He might surprise you and use it often.
    Thanks for sharing with us. Great fun to see and hear about the camper.

    1. Wow, Susan, floating downriver camping with whatever you could fit into your canoe sounds like a true adventure! Thanks for your advice – will consider it carefully! xoxo

  2. Hi Robin

    WOW that is awesome we never camped when I was growing up my parents didn’t drive we went everywhere by rain and bus 🙂 Although my Aunty and Uncle had a caravan and camped a lot and we did go with them once and it was fun. You have a real treasure there so many memories and a hard decision to be made not sure what I would do I hope all works out for you

    Have Fun
    Helen

    1. Thanks, Helen! Where did you grow up that you had a train handy for travel? I so wish the bygone leaders here had focused on train travel more than building a gazillion highways.

      1. I grew up in the suburbs of Sydney and we have a pretty good rail system throughout the state and interstate as well actually I am catching a train down to Melbourne in Feb next year for #ARRC2017 it is an eleven hour trip we at going during the day but you can get a night train with sleepers as well 🙂

        Have Fun
        Helen

  3. I would save it for my son (and/or others). It has more value to your family than you would ever get for it. Yes, it takes up valuable space, but time doesn’t stand still, and kids grow up. MY kids love my family’s old stuff. They may not use them often, but when new people come around, all of a sudden out the stuff comes and they are used again with glee. You can’t put a price on that, but I think you will miss it more often than not if you sell it/give it away. Obviously, it is YOUR decision. Good luck!

    1. Laney, you’re saying exactly what I fear. That I’ll decide to sell it, then in a few years horribly regret it. And it’s not something that can be replaced. And yet my husband points out that keeping it unused in a garage for another ten or twenty years isn’t the best thing for it, either. But I believe I should give it a little more time before I make the final decision – thanks so much for your thoughts. 🙂

  4. It is fair to say I am not a camper…..I didn’t grow up in a camping family and had I not been a girl guide I probaby never would have camped at all, Robin!
    I diasagree that you have a different relationship with the outdoors if you’re a camper. I love going out into the wildnerness and totally get that whole oneness with nature. I just want a comfortable bed, a flushing toilet and a running shower that I dont have to walk to in the middle of the night 🙂

    1. HA! You’re probably right, Amy – having creature comforts doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the outdoors just as much – maybe more! And that’s how my husband feels – I always joke that he’s like the princess and the pea – he just can’t sleep on the ground, even with all kinds of pads beneath him! 🙂 But the camper does have double beds and I think the mattresses are comfy – they’re filled with cotton or something – not like a normal mattress. Which means there are probably lots of people who would greatly worry about what lies inside those 85 year old beds! 😀

    2. Amy, I’m with you! Camping is not my thing. I attract mosquitoes, bees and any other biting insect. Give me a soft mattress, sheets, an indoor bath and room service! I camped once when I was 17..our high school toook the whole senior class camping in northern Wisconsin in September (there were only about 20 people including chaperones) We had fun walking around the lake, singing our head off (Jackson 5 songs were really popular then) roasted marshmallows and ate campfire food. Once the sun went down it was too freaking cold to make anyone happy, and 8 girls in a 2 person tent huddled for warmth was not fun. We all froze and got sick.

  5. Hi Robin! What an awesome camper! I too think you should let your son have it. Keep it in the family, even if it doesn’t get used like it was, it will surely be loved! I grew up camping as well and remember camping in tent trailers when I was little. Though I’m glad for the experience, I HATE camping now. Which does give me a pang that my kids didn’t get the same experience I did… Like Amy, I want the creature comforts when I travel and going to the bathroom outside isn’t one of them! 😀

    1. Hi, Robyn! Yes, I do think creature comforts become more important as we get older – my two older kids camp very rustically and think nothing of it. Although I grew up camping in the trailer, we did always at least go to campgrounds with pit toilets. When my family hiked up Yosemite with a guide in 2011 and spent the night in tents, I admit to being unexcited about being handed a shovel and pointed toward scrub to go the bathroom! 😀

      Thanks for your advice – if we keep it, it just may end up in Colorado! I’ll call you so you can experience camping again, okay? 😉

  6. LOVE to camp and we have instilled that joy in the kids 😉 Great photos and what happy memories and I bet there are some family stories in there about the time when …. Fiona x

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