Outdoor Connection

Tin Can Tourists of the World

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Rows of trailers at Tin Can Tourists 1949 convention in Tampa Florida
Tin Can Tourists 1949 Convention*

When you ask people what they know about Tin Can Tourists, you´ll likely get a befuddled look. ´Tin Can Tourists´? What´s that all about? The answer, will surprise you, and might even impress you. The Tin Can Tourist club is the largest club of vintage trailer and motor coach owners and enthusiasts. This club has thousands of members spread across the U.S. with active members in Canada, Japan, and United Kingdom. However, there is more to Tin Can Tourists than just vintage trailers and their fans.

Almost a century ago, in 1919, a group of travelers got together to organize what grew to be the largest fraternity of autocampers. It was at Desoto Park in Tampa, Florida that the fraternity "Tin Can Tourists" (TCT) was formed. Like most groups, they had a secret handshake, sign and password. They sang together their official song, "The More We Get Together" and identified themselves by a tin can soldered to their radiator caps.

The TCT were an example of people's great penchant for traveling - and traveling in packs. If one were a member of the TCT, it meant that they would live out of their vehicle for long periods of time, a few days, a few weeks or even a few months. Members of TCT fostered genuine friendship amongst themselves - bonded through long fireside chats, dances and games. They attracted a lot of members and the fraternity continued to grow rapidly over the years. What kept the TCT together, aside from their passion for traveling, was their collective goal of setting an acceptable set of camping guidelines such as proper camping behavior, camp cleanliness and providing wholesome entertainment for all campers.

As fraternities typically have initiation processes, so did the TCT. People believed that to be a Tin Can Tourist, one had to live in Model Ts or Tin Lizzies and to live off canned food for almost their entire camping trip, but it´s not completely true. The applying member must meet all the qualifications of TCT: at least 12 years of age, of good moral character and must be living in a car, trailer or tent around the campgrounds at the time of their application. Only after they sing the official song do they officially become a Tin Can Tourist.

Not everybody nodded their heads in agreement to the lifestyle of the TCT, especially having a big group of vagabonds from different places living on their turf. In fact, TCT were eventually driven out of DeSoto Park and were forced to set camp elsewhere. In true vagabond fashion, other people´s disapproval didn´t deter them from growing in size and moving along. When the group´s membership ballooned to more than 100,000 in 1938, they adopted the name "Tin Can Tourists of the World" to symbolize the group´s breadth. What boosted the growth of the Tin Can Tourists was the influx of modernized motor homes and other types of automobile from various car manufacturers.

The Tin Can Tourists of the World shared many years of adventures, travels and friendship until it dissolved in the 1970s. Had it actually been the end of the Tin Can Tourists of the World? Not entirely, for in 1998, Forrest and Jeri Bone, after sifting through the records at the Florida Historical Library, decided to reignite the world´s largest group of vintage autocampers.

How are the Tin Can Tourists of today different from the Tin Can Tourists of the World in the yesteryears? The members no longer camp out for long periods although they do have annual conventions in Michigan and Florida, which were both significant to the original TCT's history. They also still initiate new members at their rallies by teaching them the handshake, password, sign and song of the TCT. Today's Tin Can Tourists are a group of vintage trailer and motor coach owners and enthusiasts, pushing for the preservation of these unique vehicles.

To be a member of Tin Can Tourists, visit the group's official website.

* Photo courtesy of TinCanTourists.com

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