Imagine touring the countryside in a vintage trailer decorated with old Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola advertising memorabilia. That’s exactly what my wife, Bonnie, and I have done with our restored 1969 Shasta Compact travel trailer, in which we showcase our collection of soda-related antiques at vintage trailer rallies across the southeastern United States.
The funny thing is that up until three years ago, neither of us had ever ventured into an antiques shop, thinking antiques were for our parents’ generation.
So what got us to browse antiques shops for old Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola items? The journey began in 2017 when we purchased a brand new, retro-style Gulf Stream travel trailer called a Vintage Cruiser. Although our Vintage Cruiser was new, its red and white interior looked like a 1950s' diner and the exterior had the aura of a vintage Woody station wagon.
Seeking out owners of similar travel trailers, I did a Google search and accidentally discovered a club called the Tin Can Tourists, an organization founded in 1919, when the Ford Model T was used by average citizens to escape northern winters to sunny Florida via the Dixie Highway. During the 1920s, travel trailers were invented and towed behind the Fords.
Today, members of the Tin Can Tourists restore old travel trailers and display them at vintage trailer rallies. For most owners, antiques play a huge part in showcasing their trailers at rallies.
After contacting the director of the Tin Can Tourists to get assurance that our new retro-style travel trailer would be welcomed at TCT events, my wife and I started browsing antiques shops to begin the fun process of decorating our travel trailer with vintage items, such as old magazine advertisements, postcards, a clock, a camera, and Woody Woodpecker memorabilia (Woody became our trailer’s mascot).
At about the same time, I discovered a magazine titled Vintage Camper Trailers, which features articles about vintage trailer rallies and the people who restore old travel trailers. Because it is a niche magazine based in California, most of the coverage is about West Coast rallies. I called the publisher, explained my background as a writer and newly minted member of the Tin Can Tourists, and then asked if he’d like me to cover East Coast rallies for him. He said yes.
And so, Bonnie and our daughter, Jennifer Ali Cook, and I towed our Vintage Cruiser to the 2017 Gathering of the Times Vintage Trailer Rally in Pine Mountain, Georgia, where I interviewed owners of trailers dating from the 1920s to the 1970s. Those interviews resulted in the first of many articles I’ve written for Vintage Camper Trailers.
Not only that, the rally opened my eyes, as well as my wife’s eyes, to the awesomeness of owning a true vintage travel trailer as opposed to a new retro-style travel trailer. In other words, we were hooked on a new hobby. Two new hobbies, actually ... vintage trailers and hunting for antiques. The search was on!
While attending a rally in 2018, we found a 1969 Shasta Compact travel trailer with a For Sale sign on it. After negotiating with the owner, we purchased the trailer. Two weeks later, the Shasta was in our driveway.
Many vintage trailer owners assign themes to their trailers, such as flowers, cats, dogs, country & western, bait & tackle, pink flamingos, the Beatles, etc. As a playful theme for our Shasta, we decided on Coke vs. Pepsi. Actually, the full theme we chose was "Cola War: A Family Divided! Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi-Cola" (my wife and daughter both drink Coke products, while I prefer Pepsi.) We immediately began searching for old soda-related items to turn our vintage travel trailer into a roaming antique advertising mini-museum.
Some of the antique advertising items we found include a Coca-Cola restaurant chalkboard (used as an outside display board at rallies to describe the year, make and model of our trailer), a full-page Pepsi-Cola magazine advertisement from 1968 (used as a framed wall hanging inside the trailer), a half-page Coca-Cola magazine advertisement from 1945 (used as a wall hanging inside the trailer), a book of matches with the Pepsi-Cola logo on one side and the Walt Disney Studios cartoon insignia for Jackson Air Base on the other side (used as a framed wall hanging inside the trailer), a bare-aluminum Coca-Cola ice chest (used as an outside storage box on the tongue of the trailer), and a Coca-Cola quilt split into two halves (used as top covers for the twin beds inside the trailer).
We named our trailer “Bubbles” as a playful reference to carbonated drinks. Bubbles has been showcased numerous times during the past couple of years. Its theme certainly puts a smile on everyone’s face. Without us even asking, about 75 percent of the people who tour our trailer insist on telling us which soda brand they prefer ... Coke or Pepsi. Coca-Cola usually wins. In either case, most people end up taking photographs of Bubbles. At one rally, we were even approached by a professional photographer who asked if she could rent our trailer for photo shoots.
Decorating Bubbles has been an interesting journey that’s led us into the world of antique advertising.
We’re always hunting for Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola items to add to our collection so we’re always browsing antiques shops. In fact, it was at an antiques shop where I read an article about the Antique Advertising Association of America, and decided to join.
This story first appeared in PastTimes and Checkerboard, Antique Advertising Association of America newsletters. For more information on AAAA, go to www.pastimes.org.