Friday, June 16, 2017

We could never afford an Airstream - The history of Pop-up Campers.

The History of Pop-up Campers.

I did a lot of camping in my youth. Mostly with the Boy Scouts.

This is like the first tents we used.

Canvas, heavy, prone to leaks, especially if you touched the sides when it was raining. And the waterproofing didn't smell all that great either and had to be reapplied every so often.

Very, let me emphasis very, very hot in the summer.

Four poles pegged together to form the inside horizontal frame which would then be tied to the sides to form the umbrella square of the roof.
Then a center pool supported the roof and formed the peak.
As can be seen in the photo, poles could be used to support the front door flap to make a some what dry entryway. Or for a little shade.
There was no way you were going to use these tents for backpacking. Car camping was their sole purpose. But boy did they look like real camper tents.

Eventually the poles would be made out of aluminum and moved to the outside. The canvas was maybe a little lighter, but otherwise maintained all the other characteristics of the above 'umberlla' tent.

Note the wooden toggle on the tent ropes.

There were even a few with 'extra' room.

The adults would eventually get something a little bigger so they could sleep on cots and be better rested for a pack (troop) of boys.

My first nylon tent looked somewhat like this.
It was made by Wenzel Tent and Canvas company, then headquartered in St. Louis.
(I will dig up a picture of it later.)
But was bright orange.
Front pole on the outside, back pole on the inside.
Lite weight and not very waterproof.
I used it a lot ( I think I still have it ).
Oh yea, and very small.
I did a lot of winter camping in it.
Heat from my body would form condensation on the inside so when I woke in the morning a thin layer of ice would have formed on the inside, and if I brushed against it getting out I would have a small snow shower inside the tent.
Did I mention it was very small?
Last time I used it was about 1994 in Yosemite. Two of us had to fit in it.

But that's not why we are here today.

We are preparing for a trip to Glacier next week, so I have started exploring our tent options for a tent big enough for one large male, a small female and a child.
And while checking out tents on line I came across the above linked site.

So the story of canvas continues.

In the late 60's (for those of you not old enough to remember the 60's, they came right before the 70's) my dad wanted a pop-up camper. I don't remember why. Maybe to make it easier on him and mom. We were getting to big to fit everything into the station wagon (remember those?)?
So that's where the above linked site comes in.
Like, to me, most old things hold a certain romance, just ask my family.
And seeing old photos of things like Coleman stoves (remember when I wrote about all my Coleman stoves?), tents and pop-ups are great fun for me.

This linked site goes through a pretty inclusive history of campers.

I love this picture.

From the 30's or 40's and although probably a lot heavier than campers are now, the style hasn't changed all that much from some modern pop-up campers.

Well, while at the site I thought I would see if I could find the one dad got for his family.

So there it was, The Bethany Chief.

A fiberglass roof.
Two pop-out wings that could (if you were smaller than me) sleep four, with the option of lowering the table to sleep another two.
So six altogether. The add says 6-8, but I don't know where the other two would have gone.
The table seemed pretty large. The bench seats on the sides held gear. And our other gear could be stored on the floor and under the table when travelling.

The tenting over the pop-outs were rubber coated nylon.
And just about very vertical surface opened for screened ventilation.

I think dad got it around 1968 or so. I remember we had it when we went to Colorado in 69 and my then 16 year old brother driving it on those mountain roads.

Most of them was this same pink color.

It was a very durable camper. We survived some big storms in Montauk on a few fishing trips.
There was nothing fancy about it; no stove, no frig., no AC and no lights.
But we used it a lot.
It only took a few minutes to put up; snaps and zippers. Even had a big dining fly for shade and rain protection when getting in and out.

And this is just how the inside looked. ( I still have a couple of the sleeping pads out at the cabin ).

My brother, not the most creative one in the family, even named one of his dogs Chief because when he brought the dog home, standing in the back yard he couldn't come up with anything else and spotted 'Chief' on the back of the camper.
The camper lasted longer than the dog.

Well it's back to checking out our tent options now, I just had to pause and go down memory lane for a little while.

Thanks for stopping by.

Found a few.

Here is dad in his backyard 1972 with his camper.
 Here is the camper all set up on a fishing trip.
Here is the dog named after the camper.


  1. Fabulous! I remember canvas tents - happy days... But I always wanted a tent with an upstairs :-) Good luck with the search!

    1. A tent with an upstairs, that would be awesome!