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Tin Can Tourists Visit Cedar Key

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By The Staff

If you missed the Tin Can Tourists visit to Cedar Key last week, you missed your chance to see some of the coolest Vintage RV’s in the country. Sunset Isle Campground was the place to be where this eclectic group of nomads were displaying their homes on wheels.  If you’ve never heard of the Tin Can Tourists, I’ll try and give a brief history of the legendary group that got started right here in our home state of Florida. Brief History The Tin Can Tourists were first organized at Desoto Park in Tampa 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 was known for the soldered tin can on their radiator caps, (usually a can of Beans which was the staple of camping food.) 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. 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 led 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 a specially built Municipal Park. The group faced membership declines due to a 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.  A Winter Convention photograph depicts a much smaller group in 1948 at the Tampa campground. The original groups “Swan Song” convention was held in Eustis, Florida in 1968, but by the mid-70’s, the club was no longer in existence in any form. 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 in 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. (Most of this info was found on the Tin Can Tourist Website wwwtincantourists.com) Tin Can Tourists at Sunset Isle Campground Talking with the group of Nomads, they all spoke very highly of Cedar Key, a place they’ve visited for a few years now.  Since most of the club members were from the Florida area, it is the perfect weekend getaway to pull the campers out of storage and show them off to interested gawkers.  Although many of the groups members traveled from around the country to kick back in our comfortable winter weather and show off their Vintage Campers. Forrest and Jeri were on hand to represent the organization and their immaculate 1955 Trotwood Cub was a joy to tour.  Decorated in a Western Theme, the tiny travel trailer oozed comfort and style. The best part about the visit to Cedar Key is the Open House.  On this day, the classic campers are open for visitors to tour through them with the owners on hand to explain the history and point out unique features. The RV’s themselves are fun to look through, but for me, the owners are usually the best part.  You have to be a unique character to restore an old camper, drive it around the country and allow complete strangers to wander through it asking millions of questions. Talking with the owners, they have great stories on the restoration process, the story behind the decorating themes and the memories that go along with owning a house on wheels. In a day in age when RV’s all look alike, usually white and very boxy looking, its refreshing to see such eye popping good looks like the polished Airstreams, the custom homemade teardrops and the retro vehicles pulling the trailers. Cedar Key is a favorite stop over for the Tin Can Tourists, so if you missed this visit, you can probably catch them on their next go around.  If you’re jonesing to see some of these Vintage Campers first hand and don’t want to wait till next year, Forrest told me they have a Spring Rally at Lake Manatee State Park on February 25th thru the 28th for their 90th Annual Winter Convention.  He said at that Rally there will be 50 members showing off their Vintage Campers.