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Bear Lake Vintage Trailerfest 2020 or Bust

Bear Lake Vintage Trailerfest 2020 or Bust
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The 2020 Vintage Trailerfest will take place in Manawa, Wis. on June 5-6. This third annual event is expected to bring over 75 classic camping trailers and campers, plus hundreds of spectators, to Bear Lake Campground Resort in Manawa. The June 5 schedule will also include the DJ Reggie Sock Hop. Rock-A-Billy Kid will perform on June 6.

“We had over 60 vintage trailers signed up for our first Vintage Trailerfest in 2018,” said Bear Lake Campground’s Emily Conroy. “It was great to have such an immediate response, especially with it being our first year. We didn't know what to expect and to fill the campground was amazing.” In 2019, the show grew even larger and all indications are that the trend will continue this year.

Friday is mainly for setup and to give the vintage camping enthusiasts time to meet and relax, until the evening sock hop starts to pick up the pace. The big day is Saturday. Starting at 10 am, the gates to Bear Lake open to everyone who wants to walk through and see the vintage trailers. Typical entrants range from boxy Volkswagen buses to shiny Airstreams. Other trailers attending include Yellowstone, Shasta, Nomad, Comet, Pathfinder, Trailblazer, Layton, Serro Scotty Sportsman, Forester and Westwind models.

Many of the trailers coming to the new event sported stickers from the Symco Hotrod & Kustom Weekender, a traditional hot rod show in August that includes vintage trailers. Symco is two miles north of downtown Manawa. John Spence, the Symco organizer, brought a camper to Bear Lake to promote his show.

A couple known as Dave and Weasie brought their 1958 Friendship trailer that they call the Sh... Sh… Sugar Shack. It’s a pretty rare example of these “canned ham” type trailers made in Friendship, Wis. The Hovlands had their 1959 Layton “open for inspection,” according to the nearby sign. Another family - the Smiths - also invited people to peek inside their 1967 Trailblazer, which was made in Spencer, Wis. Inside, the orange curtains matched with the blue and orange upholstered seats.

Participants in the Trailerfest were encouraged to dress up in period clothing matching the era of their trailer or camper. Prizes were given to the best vintage-themed sites. Many were decorated with plastic pink flamingos, authentic 1950s basket-weave tins, vintage TV sets with rabbit ears and classic Coca-Cola coolers.

Trailers were never produced in numbers as large as the cars and trucks that pulled them. The owner of one small Airstream trailer made in 1963 pointed out that it was called a “Bambi,” but stressed that the name did not come from the cartoon character. His research told him the Bambi model was produced from 1961-1963 and only 1,100 were made. Today, Airstream has introduced a similar new trailer model.

Many of the trailers that came to Bear Lake had vintage station wagons or pickups nearby. Parked next to a trailer owned by Danelle Hanna Schure, an artist from Ripon, Wis., was an early postwar GMC pickup that she had decorated with her “pinup girl art” on the doors. Schure’s Rush Lake Studio also does pinstriping and custom artwork.

Some owners with vintage vehicles explained that their antique cars and trucks were not as good at pulling a vintage trailer as a modern vehicle is - so they displayed the trailer near the vintage vehicle, but towed it with something newer.

The trailer owners who come to the Vintage Trailerfest are very friendly and proud of their homes on wheels. They enjoy showing off their interior décor with a wide array of seating arrangements, sleeping accommodations and kitchenettes. At many campsites there is family fun with kids playing and dogs barking. Many owners grill out. One tongue-in-cheek chalkboard sign read: “Weekend forecast, drinking with a chance of camping.”

Most trailers at the past shows underwent some degree of restoration and a few had been rebuilt from the ground up. One couple from Oshkosh said they had been bidding online for a 1958 trailer and hoped to buy it for $300, but in most cases, prices are higher than that. One trailer buff said that a complete frame-up restoration can cost in excess of $25,000. Steve Prouty of Vintage Camper Restoration LLC in Cazenovia, Wis., said the demand level for his restored trailers is growing stronger every year.

Jim and Tammy Roth of Helenville, Wis., posted their 1950s “canned ham” trailer rebuilding project on YouTube! But even more exciting was the wooden canned ham that their Roth Trailer Mfg. Co. is producing. It’s a full-sized trailer made of wood. The picture of it on their business card shows it being towed by a 1949 Dodge pickup truck.

The theme of the first two Vintage Trailerfests was, “Let’s socialize, shop and appreciate the campers of the past.” The show met all three goals. Trailer buffs can socialize at the show and sock hop, shop in the swap meet (which offers many trailer collectibles) and ogle all the old homes-on-wheels. And the 2020 event promises to be the biggest and best one yet.