Nights in shining armor: Shiny trailers from the '40s, '50s and '60s rolling back into popularity

Aug 27 2012 - 7:04am

Images

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Orbie Mungall's 1947 Boles Aero sits in his yard in Willard.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Orbie Mungall stands outside his 24-foot 1965 Barth travel trailer at his home in Willard.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
An icebox was part of the original equipment in the '47 Boles Aero.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Orbie Mungall’s shiny 22-foot 1952 Silverstreak Clipper travel trailer — complete with pink flamingos — sits in the yard of his Willard home.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Orbie Mungall's 1947 Boles Aero sits in his yard in Willard.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Orbie Mungall stands outside his 24-foot 1965 Barth travel trailer at his home in Willard.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
An icebox was part of the original equipment in the '47 Boles Aero.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Orbie Mungall’s shiny 22-foot 1952 Silverstreak Clipper travel trailer — complete with pink flamingos — sits in the yard of his Willard home.

WILLARD -- Spend a few miles of road time following this vintage travel trailer and you'll soon see why it's nicknamed "The Shiny Hiney."

The glare off that silver aluminum exterior is nearly blinding. "It's like traveling behind a mirror," explains Orbie Mungall, the fellow who spent untold hours polishing the 1947 Boles Aero to its glowing state.

"The Spud" is another moniker Mungall uses for his old-style round-shaped trailer, or even more fittingly, "The Canned Ham."

Whatever they're called, classic trailers from the 1940s, '50s and '60s are rolling back into popularity.

"They're more artsy than your new trailers now ... they have a character, a style," says Mungall, a Willard resident who has restored more than half a dozen of these vintage boxes on wheels.

Finding one of these old beauties before it's sent off to the junkyard makes Mungall one happy camper. He likes nothing better than to clean the trailers out, shine them up and get them back on the road again.

"No telling how many camping stories have been told in all these trailers -- probably 2 or 3 tons worth," Mungall says in his soft South Carolina drawl as he shows off his collection.

And the trailers themselves tell their own stories, in the stickers plastered on the windows of places they've been, or in the small mementos left inside, like a 1957 Lagoon amusement park ticket, a turquoise dish rack, or some hand-carved coat hooks made of tree branches collected at campsites.

"That's getting personal, and I'll keep that," Mungall says.

Out of this world

Mungall has seven trailers on his one-acre home site, ranging from another 1947 Boles Aero now being restored inside his new workshop, to a 1952 homemade trailer created from a kit by a family living just up the street.

"Once you get the fever, it grows on you," Mungall says of his shiny metal finds. "A lot of people collect frogs, or flamingos, or baseballs ... I don't know."

A retired seismographer or "doodlebugger," Mungall picked up his first vintage trailer, the 12-foot Boles Aero, in 1995, north of Logan. His second purchase was a 1952 Silver Streak Clipper, a missile-shaped trailer he found for sale alongside a road in Nebraska.

"It looks like something out of 'Buck Rogers,' " Mungall says, standing outside the 22-foot trailer nicknamed "The Wedge." "The front and back are identical, it just has that alien look."

Eye-catching, too, are the pink flamingos -- a "trailer trash symbol" -- surrounding the Clipper or peering out from one of its windows.

The Silver Streak is a relative of the well-known Airstream: "It's very aerodynamic; all these guys (who created them) were aircraft engineers so they thought aerodynamics," Mungall says.

He adds, "These things are rare -- I was glad to get it."

Across the yard sits a 1965 Barth, a 24-foot long trailer that Mungall says was "top of the line" in its day, even equipped with a full porcelain bathtub.

"That thing is like an Abraham tank, or a Sherman tank -- it is heavy duty," says Mungall, who once spent a summer living in the spacious trailer while working as a campground security guard.

Etched in wood

Inside the 1947 Boles Aero, Mungall points out such vintage touches as the birch wood cab-

inetry and the old-fashioned-looking white icebox. Nearly everything in this beauty is original, save the carpet, upholstery and blinds.

Open a closet door and you'll see the signature of the trailer's designer, Don Boles, etched in the wood. Mungall met Boles, who has since passed away, at a trailer rally in Nevada. Boles, Mungall says, "nearly dropped to his knees" when he saw the authenticity of the restored trailer.

Boles' wife even gave Mungall the trailer's original production sheets, which are really just handwritten notes.

"That's gold to me -- (Boles) made the Travel Trailer Hall of Fame," Mungall says.

The Boles Aeros are noted for their all-aluminum frames, with no wood to rot away as the trailers age.

Carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills are needed to tackle a fix-up job on these old trailers, Mungall says. Some of the techniques are learned by trial and error, like exactly which type of polish to use to get the exterior to shine like a mirror.

Aircraft-grade polish turns out to be the thing that gives the best results, but Mungall says, "I've spent maybe 300 hours learning the wrong way."

Yes, the restoration is a slow process, but Mungall quips, "I'm a Southerner, I've got patience -- I can sit and listen to my beard grow."

Take a peek

Mungall says he works a little every day on his restoration projects, but it's all entertainment -- never drudgery.

"When it goes from relaxing to aggravating, I cut if off," says the Willard transplant, who helped promote a 2012 bill in Utah creating a special registration and license plate for antique trailers.

The price tag on Mungall's trailer purchases runs from $600 to $1,500. Although he has kept his restored pieces, some models might sell for as much as $13,500 in the United States, or up to $37,000 in Europe.

"The Europeans have a fetish about Western cowboys, mountain man relics and now, vintage trailers," he says.

Anywhere he takes his vintage collectibles -- be it a campground or a stop at the grocery store -- Mungall says the trailers attract curious onlookers.

He jokingly tells folks, "It's $1 for the full tour and 50 cents for a peek."

Seeing these vintage trailers often triggers fond memories. Folks frequently tell Mungall they remember camping in one themselves, or that someone in their family once owned one.

"It just brings back a piece of your childhood or a piece of your history," he says.

Although he isn't actively looking for more trailers to work on, Mungall says, "They come to my attention -- they just show up."

Camp, sweet camp

Mungall and his wife, Mary Jane, camp in their vintage trailers with what some might see as an old-style approach. They like to stick to the back roads -- "You can't see (the world) at 80 miles per hour," Mungall says -- and they set up camp to play cards, read books or "talk to each other, by golly."

In contrast, many folks nowadays don't seem to camp to get away from home, Mungall says. "They camp to see how much home they can take with them," with their generators and portable DVD players and the like.

Why, if someone were to give Mungall the key to a brand-new monster motor home, he says he'd take it out and put the thing up for sale.

"These new ones serve a purpose -- but not my purpose," he says.

As he travels, Mungall says he enjoys meeting people and seeing their reactions to his rolling pieces of nostalgia.

"If that gets them back to camping or something, all the better," he says, "Get them away from the push buttons and videos."

And if those folks were to acquire a "Canned Ham" or "Shiny Hiney" of their own, that would be fine by Mungall, too.

After all, he says, as he walks through his trailer collection, "These are keepers."

 

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MEMORIES

Nostalgia is tops on the list of reasons folks are attracted to vintage trailers.

"When they were kids, they went camping in something real similar to that, so it brings back those memories for those people," says Karen Campbell, a regional representative for the national Tin Can Tourists trailer organization.

The old-time trailers are also economical to purchase, at perhaps half the price of new trailers, as well as easy to haul and use, the representative for Utah and the Southwest says in a phone interview from Albuquerque, N.M.

And don't forget the decorating. From kitschy pink flamingos to leopard spots to Route 66 memorabilia, folks love to make their trailers look different from everybody else's, Campbell says.

A vintage trailer is not a white box -- "It's full of color, it's full of life, it's full of excitement," says Campbell, whose own trailer is themed in a Reddy Kilowatt cartoon character motif.

Tin Can Tourists has about 1,000 members who enjoy gathering and camping at rallies across the United States. Although Campbell hasn't staged a Utah rally yet, she says her goal is to do one in each of the nine states she represents.

The organization takes its name from an early 1900s' Florida custom of folks putting tin cans on their car radiators to identify themselves to one another as campers. The term and the Tin Can Tourists organization were revived in the late 1990s, Campbell says.

Vintage or not, some of the old trailers do have a few modern updates. Campbell's own 1957 Mobile Scout has such creature comforts as an air conditioner, water heater, microwave and, of course, a portable potty.

Her other trailer -- "you can't have just one," she says -- is a 1958 Jewel that's decorated with flowers of that era and serves as a guest house at her Albuquerque residence.

That might be another reason folks like old trailers, Campbell says: "Maybe it's cheaper than adding on another room."

 

SHOW OFF YOUR OWN PRIDE AND JOY

 If you have a vintage trailer of your own, maybe it's time to take it on a road trip -- to Willard.

Orbie Mungall is hosting a rally of vintage trailer aficionados on Saturday in a parking lot adjacent to the annual Willard Round-Up Car Show.

"I think they're out there," Mungall says of Utah's vintage trailers. The collector and restorer adds, "It would not surprise me for an extremely rare trailer to be pulled out of a garage somewhere."

The purpose of the Saturday gathering is to get a head count of trailer owners interested in staging a full-scale show in 2013. Mungall has already lined up a site for the event, at Willard Bay State Park. Such vintage trailer rallies are popular across the country, he says, including in Colorado, Washington, California and Arizona.

A trailer is considered vintage if it's 30 years old or older, Mungall says. Any size, shape or condition of trailer is welcome Saturday, he says, or if a trailer isn't ready to travel yet, folks can just stop by and tell him about it.

The rally runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the church parking lot next to the car show at Willard City Park, west of U.S. 89 between North Center and South Center streets. Admission is free.

Mundall will have his 1947 12-foot Boles Aero and 1952 22-foot Silver Streak Clipper on display.

The Willard Round-Up Car Show takes place during the same hours and features about 150 cars from the 1920s through the 1990s.

For information on the vintage trailer rally, call 435-723-6775. To find out more about the car show, call 801-458-0493.

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