Wednesday, March 1, 2017

(7) PREPARATIONS - The Tent Trailer

Our home for the summer of 2017

For shelter, we'll be towing behind the Ranchero a 1967 Montgomery Ward tent trailer. We are well acquainted with this little tent trailer. Linda and I purchased it in May 1977 from a family that lived next door to my college fraternity in Missoula, Montana. I learned later that the family acquired the tent trailer from my college swim coach, Fred Stetson. Fred bought it new from the Ward's catalog. I came across a copy of the 1967 Ward's catalog showing the tent trailer selling for less than $500.

1967 Montgomery Ward Spring and Summer Catalog
Linda and I purchased it for the princely sum of $175 in 1977. Even at that price we made installment payments and didn't take possession of the trailer until the price was paid in full. The canvas on the trailer was already well worn when we bought it. In the years following 1977 we would patch the canvas and nurse it along.  As I recall it drank nearly 2 gallons of canvas preservative. Inside, looking up at the top of the tent one would see a patchwork of mismatched canvas.

After our wedding, we went camping with the trailer at Sunset Beach State Park near Santa Cruz, California. It was one of many camping trips in the tent trailer. We continued to use it even after our 3 children were born.
Hayden Lake, Idaho 1978
Honeymoon near Santa Cruz, Ca.

Craters of the Moon, Idaho 1992
3 Jolly Fishermen, Warm Lake, Idaho

Linda and I slept on one side of the tent trailer. Before the children, the other side of the tent trailer was for storage for luggage and camping gear. As the kids came along they slept on the other side. Even when we had 3 we just laid them crosswise on the bed. It was cozy to say the least. By 1992 we were outgrowing the tent trailer. In addition to not having enough room for the whole family, there was no place to cook and eat during rainstorms. In 1993 I gave it to my brother, Kurt, and we bought a larger Coleman tent trailer.
Grand Teton N.P. 1992

When I began planning this trip I didn't envision camping our way to New York City. I thought I would stay in motels. When I finally voiced my plan to drive across country when I retired "I was a little surprised to hear Linda say: "That sounds like fun, let's do it together." Then she added : "But I don't like  sleeping in motels. I want to sleep in my own bed each night."

This came as a shock to me. When she said this we had been married around 35 years. I never knew that my wife did not like staying in motels. Linda then got to her point: "Let's  get a cute 1950's trailer  to tow behind the Ranchero."  She even showed me pictures of suitable candidates she found on the internet. Linda added: "I think its called 'Glamping'". Linda sounded positively enthusiastic, but I thought of the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz movie: "The Long Long Trailer".

So began the negotiations. As much as I like traveling I do not like towing large trailers. I didn't want a house trailer behind us obstructing vision and functioning as a giant "air dam". I didn't want to worry about what to do with it in cities and I didn't want to worry about backing up and turning around when we found ourselves in a tight spot. Most of all I didn't want to reduce fuel mileage on a car that was already a bit of a gas pig.

When I voiced these concerns Linda suggested another tent trailer. But the truth about most modern tent trailers is that they weigh nearly as much as a small house trailer. I was looking for something cheap and easy and that would provide us merely basic shelter. I'm also not convinced that all of the conveniences in larger more modern trailers are truly conveniences. They are often as not unnecessary complications which slow setting up or breaking camp.  I talked about our original tent trailer, the one we bought when we got married. Linda agreed to look at some. As we began to look at the tent trailers we recalled the trips in our first tent trailer. Nostalgia gripped both of us.

Unfortunately, there are very few of the simple old tent trailers left on the road. The one or two that we looked at that still had a serviceable tent were not convenient. The owners told us that we would really need to remove the tent from the trailer each morning before getting on the road. This was not my idea of convenience.

We longed for our old tent trailer. I asked my brother what happened to the old tent trailer that I had given him? He told me that he still had it and, without missing a beat, asked if I wanted it back? I said probably, but inasmuch as this was 20 years after I had given it to him I said that we would need to look at the tent trailer first.

In the 20 years that Kurt had the tent trailer he took amazingly good care of it. It was stored in his barn, and although dirty and dusty the canvas was still serviceable and even the many patches that Linda and I had sewn onto the tent were still in place and holding up well. I decided the trailer could be restored.

So began the tent trailer restoration.

Ready for Restoration, 2016
Although the canvas was serviceable we decided to replace it. We selected a lighter colored canvas as we remembered the trailer being dark inside. The new canvas is a big improvement, although with inflation it cost 7 or 8 times what we originally paid for the trailer. While the trailer was getting new canvas I also had a new road cover installed. The new road cover is meant to be more waterproof and secure than the one that originally came with the trailer.

New Tent (top)
stripping off the old paint (bottom)
After I received the trailer back from the upholstery shop my part of the job began. I removed the tent and frame from the trailer and began to inspect the parts. The first thing I noticed was that the rollers which support the beds had deteriorated and in some cases disintegrated. No problem I thought, but I was wrong. No one makes bed rollers for a 1967 Montgomery Ward Vacationeer tent trailer. Fortunately Workland machine shop in Boise was able to make new rollers from Teflon stock. The new rollers are better than the originals and finally a restoration cost that did not cost more than we paid for the entire trailer!

I then stripped the paint off of the body of the tent trailer after photographing all of the striping and decals on the trailer. My plan was to replicate the original striping. This proved to be just plain nuts. New decals cost me more than we paid for the tent trailer in 1977. They look great, and they are replicas of the original but I think I would be better off going to the auto parts store and purchasing some generic striping. One thing that is not original on the restored trailer is the color. Originally it was a brown color which Montgomery Ward described as "Chestnut". We decided that the trailer should be painted red with a white road cover to match the Ranchero.
As costly as this restoration was, I have to say that the two make a beautiful pair.... I wonder how many nights in a motel we could get for the same amount of money?

Ready for the road


  1. Really loved this entry. Looks beautiful. Hated the other color, this is a nice change. I liked all the photos from your past....

  2. I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to undertand. Unlike additional blogs I have read which are really not tht good. I also found your posts very interesting. In fact after reading, I had to go show it to my friend and he ejoyed it as well!
    kil ├žadir

  3. Thank you, glad you enjoyed it. We will be going back on the Road again this summer to finish the Yellowstone Trail from Yellowstone N.P. to Puget sound.