North Louisiana travel trailer buffs meet up in Ruston park
By NANCY BERGERON
Ruston Daily Leader
RUSTON, La. (AP) — There's nothing fancy about Debbie Click's 1952 Vagabond travel trailer. Its dull, gray exterior finish is chipped and scratched, except for the large slogan hand-painted in purple: "Laisser les bons temps Rouler."
Let the good times roll, the English translation of the Cajun French axiom, is exactly what Click and other area vintage travel trailer enthusiasts try to do at least every three months. The group spent the New Year's holiday camping at Lincoln Parish Park.
"I grew up camping," said Click, of Ruston. "My dad and I camped forever — tent, pop-up, Winnebago. I'm just a gypsy at heart."
The trailer buffs informally call themselves the Airstream Group because most of their rigs are Airstream models. To qualify as vintage, a travel trailer must be at least 25 years old.
While some of the 15 rigs at the New Year's outing featured original interior woodwork and fixtures, others had been gutted and modernized. Almost all have microwave ovens along with the traditional tiny cooktops, dormitory-size refrigerators and bench-style couches that unfold into beds.
Ruston resident Sandra Hart's 1966 Aristocrat even has what she calls a walk-in closet.
"You can walk in and out real quick," Hart said, opening a slim door to reveal a compact yet functional closet with both hanging space and floor storage.
Though Hart has kept the original aqua appliances and silver kitchenette walls, she's updated the lighting — her trailer's old bullet fixtures are now in Click's rig — and personalized the décor. A wooden plaque just inside the rig's door reads "Live Your Dream."
For group member Harold Park, of Vienna, the vintage trailer dream began in the 1970s when he bought his first rig "just to go camping with the guys."
Now, Parker and his wife, Elena, own seven vintage trailers, including a 16-foot long 1960 Airstream Pacer they salvaged from Hurricane Katrina. Harold Parker spent about a year restoring the trailer.
It's outfitted with satin curtains, paisley upholstery couch cushions and old-fashioned hardware, much of which Parker, a self-proclaimed antique connoisseur, located on his antiquing excursions.
"This is just too much fun," Parker said about the camping group, as he walked from rig to rig in a cold afternoon wind to greet fellow campers. "You meet the best people."
Parker stops at Becky and Harold Lemaire's red-and-white 1969 Northstar named "Lil Caye-nne." The Lemaire's are from Lafayette and are former neighbors of another couple in the group.
"It's just friends, companionship, a love of camping and good food," Becky Lemaire said.
Some in the group do campfire cooking while others bring items for progressive-dinner style meals. The New Year's lunch, held at one of the park's pavilions, featured the traditional fare, complete with black-eyed peas.
Many of the trailer enthusiasts say their love for camping stretches back for decades and extends into the future.
Pee Wee DeForest, of Bastrop, owned a trailer for about 40 years, but it sat unused much of that time.
"After 15-20 years of sitting in the dust, I decided to repaint it," he said.
He wants to take his 13-foot, all-fiberglass 1962 Boler down the historic Route 66 that stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica, California.
Yet he and other group members say it's the people they meet wherever they travel that makes the hobby fun. In February, the group will travel to Eunice for the town's annual Mardi Gras celebration.
"It's just a group of friends, and we keep gathering friends as we go different places," Hart said.
Camper Jan Norwood, of Ruston, said the allure is camaraderie, nostalgia and the chance to enjoy the outdoors, yet be comfortable in the simple but efficient tiny homes on wheels.
"It kind of brings you back to your childhood," she said.
Information from: Ruston Daily Leader, http://www.rustonleader.com/