Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine|July 2020
“Back then, it was all Model T’s and canvas,” Forrest says. Over the next few decades, the group grew rapidly. “By 1935, they claimed 100,000 members,” he says. The Tin Can Tourists stayed intact until the group experienced a 20-year hiatus from the late ‘70s until 1998, when Forrest and his wife, Jerri, revived the organization with a trip to Camp Dearborn in Milford, Michigan.
Just like the original group in the ‘20s and ‘30s, it’s still tradition to meet every summer in Traverse City. At last year’s centennial celebration on June 22, we went behind the scenes at Interlochen State Park to see the inner workings of the club (and more than one vintage camper). Coincidentally, 2019 was also the centennial of Michigan State Parks, so there were plenty of locals and curious travelers staying at the park who had the opportunity to experience what the Tourists are all about.
Like most of Northern Michigan, the woods of the park are thick with the tangy scent of pine. Kids run around in swimsuits, and there’s a sign down by the lake warning swimmers to “towel off completely,” lest they fall victim to the scourge that is swimmer’s itch. (If you know, you know.) The site rests just south of Traverse City between Green Lake and Duck Lake, directly across the road from Interlochen Center for the Arts.
As I walk down toward the lake and through the woods, a band of vintage campers comes into view. I expect to see a few fixed-up aluminum Airstreams akin to those flooding my Instagram feed. But, no. The owners of each vehicle fastidiously painted and decorated their trusty steeds: turquoise, red, blue, yellow and white. Some are wood. Some metal. Some come attached to vintage cars like a huge, blue Studebaker. These vehicles are nothing like the fixer-uppers I’d been seeing; they are in a different class entirely—pieces of American cultural and manufacturing history.
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