Tin Can Tourists Invade Florida’s Adventure Coast
Over the week of February 19-25, 2019, 200 vintage travel trailers and auto campers enjoyed a celebration of their heritage at Sertoma Youth Ranch. On Saturday, February 23, their open house entertained hundreds of visitors with their historic rigs, lively music and cheerful demeanor.
“We filled the place,” said Forrest Bone, Exalted Royal Tin Can Opener.
This fun-loving group was in Florida’s Nature Coast to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Tin Can Tourists organization. Members and guests came from around the U.S. to fraternize and celebrate one of America’s finest passions – traveling the open road.
On February 22, NatureCoaster was able to attend the History Day in Desoto Park, celebrating 100 years of this energetic, eclectic organization.
From the Diary of Bill Austin in 1919…
“I woke up one morning and decided that I was not going to stay for another frigid winter in LaSalle Michigan again. This quiet farming community near the shore of Lake Erie was my home and I sure loved it… but with December’s average temperature of 21 degrees above zero in 1917, I just was not willing to do it again.
It was early 1919, and my modern Ford Model T was calling my name. “Drive me away to a warm, sunny place, Bill.”
Therefore I, Bill Austin, decided to pack up head to Florida.
The roads were not really developed yet, but I began my journey south on a vehicle that averaged 12 mile per hour through a nation whose road system was built by individual Counties.
When I crossed the Ohio River, it was exciting. At several places along the way, I had to pull my motor automobile across a river on a barge with a rope.
I stopped at farms and parks along the way. Most farmers were hospitable, offering a meal or a drink of water. Most of the camps were dirty and could be a bit dangerous. Still I continued onward, making necessary repairs and paying exorbitant rates for gasoline at several places.
After 17 days, I got to Desoto Park in Tampa, Florida, I found a paradise of sorts – at least for this Michigan kid. It was clean and the others there were congenial, so I set my tent up and made a camp of sorts from my canvas tent over my Model T.
With the dirty camps and difficult stops along the way, I began to talk to the others at Desoto Park about a need for a group to unite auto campers with good moral values. There were 24 of us that year and we chartered the Tin Can Tourists as the name for our Association. In 1920, we received our Florida State charter.”[i]
Tin Can Tourists Today
Starting in 2012, the Winter Gathering began to be held at the Sertoma Youth Camp, 85 Myers Road in Brooksville.
“The camp is perfect,” Forrest said, “It’s beautiful there and so clean. They treat us well.”
For the 2019 Centennial Celebration, there were 200 vintage trailers on display, many with vintage tow vehicles. Membership in the club has grown to over 2,000, and the spirit of the group is still the same.
“Have fun, treat others how you would like to be treated, and be ready to sing the official theme song: “The More We Get Together” – The more we get together, the happier we’ll be. For your friends are my friends, and my friends are your friends. These are the important things,” Forrest shares.
Fast forward to Friday and the Centennial Celebration’s History Day, where NatureCoaster was privy to the story of the man who founded Tin Can Tourists in 1919 and able to gather with about a hundred and fifty members at the founding location of Desoto Park in Tampa. There were several vintage vehicles and campers, with their owners happy to discuss anything about them and general pleasantries.
We were given in-depth tours of the Model T Telescoping Apartment by Sidra and Herb Spies of Shalimar, Florida. This camper was the first motor home with slide outs, invented and patented by Gustav De Brettesville in San Francisco in 1916. It is shown on a 1920 Model T Roadster in the popular black color. This camper included a kitchen, camp stove, lantern, pantry and kitchen sink for a price tag of about $100.
Daniel Hershberger shared his 1927 Auto Kamp fold out tent trailer from Saginaw, Michigan. The Auto-Kamp company was one of the RV pioneers, beginning production in 1916. This huge canvas tent was advertised to be set up in 5 minutes.
“It is advertised to be set up in five minutes,” Daniel shared, “as long as it’s not raining or windy. It’s more like an hour and a half.”
Daniel’s display is more than the vintage trailer and vehicle. There are the first “paper plates” on a vintage fold up table, camp stove with aluminum pan and a very solid folding camp chair added to the mix, enhancing the feeling of stepping into the times of yesteryear when life was simpler.
After our history lesson and vintage camper tours at the Desoto Park, we visited the historic Columbia Restaurant for a fine meal and slide show presentation by Hunt Jones of the history of the Tin Can Tourists. Hunt said that this will be his last year doing the presentation and I can only hope that it is posted on the internet to share with the world because it was really in-depth and interesting. As soon as it is posted, I will link to it here.
The food was great! The company was better! Here is a photo of our group at the Columbia cheering the good life:
For more information on the Tin Can Tourists, please check out their website. Perhaps you want to join their organization or check out a rally before they leave the Sunshine State for summer gatherings in the north. You can sign up for their newsletter on the website and we will be sure to let you know when they come back next year to Sertoma Youth Ranch so you can check out all the rolling history that comes to Florida’s Nature Coast.
The Tin Can Tourists Centennial Celebration was supported by Florida’s Adventure Coast.
[i] Paraphrasing and interpretation of the journal of Bill Austin by author Diane Bedard, as shared with us at the 100-year Anniversary Rally of the Tin Can Tourists by Alex Alexander at Desoto Park in Tampa on Friday, February 22.