Friday, April 23, 2010

A Piece of Steel Wool

Back in October I had sent a letter to Lopez Island to the address of someone whose last name was the same as the original owner of my trailer.  Doubted there’d be any connection, but figured it was worth the cost of a stamp to try.  I pretty well forgot about it, but a few weeks later I got a letter from the original owner.  She said her husband had died some years earlier, but that she was 92 and that she’d get some information together for me.  Exciting stuff!  A few weeks later I got a call from her son, Harold, who was in high school when the trailer was new.  He promised to get together with his mom and get back to me saying, “it may be awhile, but I’ll definitely get back to you before you get the trailer back on the road.”

And he did, emailing me about a week ago with some great info and stories about the trailer.  We exchanged a few emails that night, he’s read this blog, and we’ll stay in touch for sure.  As we get closer to Island Girl being finished, we’ll take a ferry ride out to Lopez and see if his mom approves of what I’ve done to her trailer.

Island Girl’s first owners had been tent campers who had friends who owned an Airstream and they decided they just had to have one too.  They took an empty two pound coffee can, soldered the lid back on, and cut a slot in what they now referred to as the “half buck box”.  Whenever either of them received a fifty cent piece in change, they’d save it and drop it in the box.  Most of the money for the Airstream was saved that way and in 1957 the box was heavy enough to justify a trip to the factory to purchase a brand new Bubble.  They got a deal, though, and drove home with a big, shiny, brand new Caravanner.  Harold tells me he can still remember the “new car smell” inside the new Airstream.  Their lot was small and the trailer would only fit in their garden next to their home in suburban Chicago.

Their first tow vehicle was the first new car they’d purchased, a 1951 Pontiac Catalina with a straight eight and a Hydramatic tranny.  It pulled the trailer pretty well, but Harold reported that they sometimes needed to run the heater on full blast at the top of long climbs to keep the coolant temps down.  I’ve done that a few times myself, but not in a ‘51 Pontiac.  In ‘59, they bought a new International Travelall that had a six cylinder with a three speed transmission with overdrive.  That first year that they had the trailer, 1957, they did the first of several trips from Chicago to Lopez, here in Washington’s San Juan Islands.  In ‘58, there was a trip to Nova Scotia and the New England states.  ‘59 began the towing duties for the Travelall with another trip to Lopez.  Minnesota and Michigan were the destinations in 1961 and in ‘62 they returned once again to Lopez and also to the Seattle World’s Fair.  A Florida trip was in 1963 and ‘64 saw a one way trip to Lopez with a garage being built for her there around 1970.  The trailer was used as a home on the island while a new house was built there.  From around that time period until just a few years ago, it likely never left Lopez.

Around 1999 it was sold to someone who lived on San Juan Island, but had property on Lopez, where they set up the Airstream.  They almost certainly never moved the trailer until selling it to the family I purchased it from, who moved it only the very short ferry ride between the two islands.

And the piece of steel wool?  Harold was called by his parents in the early 90’s to figure out how mice had gotten into the trailer.  He found the only likely entry around the freshwater tank drain and filled the gap with a piece of stainless steel wool.  I clearly remember removing that piece of steel wool when I dropped the bellypan.



  1. What a great story! I'm so excited for you to find out the history of your trailer. So neat! I'm sure the original owner will be so thrilled to see it again when you're finished.

  2. That is all too cool! You have provenance for your trailer now. Seems she took more than one ride on a boat. Kinda neat that the steel wool had been there all this time and now you know exactly why.

  3. Isn't it weird how one little thing, like that old piece of steel wool, makes the connection?

    The ferry to Lopez is always roundtrip, so you only pay outbound from Anacortes. I got a freebee that way when I bought her. Fares were surely a lot less in the 50's and 60's when she made those trips. It'll be between $100 and $130 when we get to take her back, still a bargain.


  4. This is a great story; highlight of my day!