Tag Archives: Camp Dearborn

Kitsch-O-Rama !

1 Jun

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 It’s time for our annual trek out to Camp Dearborn for the Tin Can Tourists Annual Gathering. Tin Can Tourists is America’s oldest trailer and Motor Coach Club; they are truly “Rolling History”. This year 180 vintage auto campers registered for the event, trailers range from 8 to 30 feet and cover the decades from the 1930’s to the 80’s–in a word, it’s awesome! Camp Dearborn is owned by the city of Dearborn, but, it’s actually located about 35 miles away in Milford; no, it doesn’t make sense to me either. Established in 1948, the camp is spread out over 626 acres of rolling hills, ponds, lakes and access to the Huron River. They offer tents, rustic or resort cabins for rent. I am completely useless as a vintage trailer expert, still I hope you will enjoy my narrative and Kris’s photos.

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Walking up the hill from the parking area it’s like we’ve gone back in time. On the campground tents and cabins look straight out of 1948, to the left vintage trailers are parked as far as the eye can see. We come up on a cute little 1965 Serro Scotty, polished aluminum, all decked out with an awning over the patio and accessorized in red. Next is a turquoise and yellow Aljoa, inside a string of flamingo lights hangs above a vintage tablecloth and antique dishes. Restorations can be factory exact from the wood to the light fixtures; many people decorate with pieces from the year the trailer was built, I imagine the hunt for the items is as much fun as displaying them. Picnic baskets, barware, thermos bottles, lanterns, potato chip tins, bedspreads and curtains represent bygone eras. I like this one, placemats of the Hawaiian islands, Florida drinking glasses, a pineapple bowl, bamboo lights and a ukulele. Check out the Shasta, lots of turquoise inside and out, hula girls and Hawaiian salt and pepper shakers.

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Holly, Shasta, Avion, Trotwood, the list goes on; some people name their trailers: Ruby, Rosie and Pete are all here. I’m fascinated with the interiors; fabulous light fixtures and sconces, one has atomic-patterned curtains, another is totally decked out in 1970’s style in harvest gold, avocado and orange. There are smiley faces, big-flowered fabrics, mushrooms, a lava lamp–even the toaster is cool! I love all the accessories; a pink RCA Victor clock radio, vintage magazines, a Rodeo themed trailer. Decor is clever, personal to the owner. The one that knocks my socks off has a stunning wood interior, a built-in dresser in the bedroom holds an old-fashioned mirror-tray complete with girly things like perfume bottles and jars. The sitting area looks straight out of a magazine; antique TV complete with antenna, record player, phone, fan and loads of trinkets and do-dads. Check out the covered wagon lamp, it has its own team of horses–sweet! Have you ever played the card game “Touring” by Parker Bros.? Me neither.

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Some trailers are sleek and modernized with LED lighting and all the latest conveniences, then there’s the semi-truck-turned-camper, it has a flat-screen fireplace, tool box counter and locker, very clever. How about those tow vehicles? A Mercury station wagon, an old Ford rat-rod, a 1953 Chevrolet Apache, more pick-ups by Chevy, GMC, International, a Plymouth Savoy. The prize for the most unusual tow vehicle goes to the Silver Streak convertible with the awesome plaid interior, love it. Campers are gracious hosts, we are welcomed into each trailer, some offer snacks, candy or a cold beverage, all are happy to strike up a conversation. I get a kick out of the different lights strung from awnings; palm trees, mini trailers, Edison bulbs. I see a trailer bird house, a Royal Crown (RC) cooler, a fantastic picnic set, lots of vintage bicycles, did I mention the Great Danes? Patios are set up like Tiki bars or just bars. On the way back to the car we check out the trailer on a trailer, it’s super Art Deco inside and out, looks like a big job ahead to restore it; maybe we’ll see it all done next year.

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Steeped in nostalgia Kris points the car toward Chin’s Chop Suey in Livonia. We have just enough time to eat before we have to be at Masonic Temple for Detroit Roller Derby. Marvin Chin opened Chin’s Chop Suey on this very spot in 1955. In those days Tiki and Polynesian themed restaurants were all the rage. Marvin went all out; bamboo matting, thatch, jade tiles, Tiki’s, masks, a rock wall and a bamboo divider. Chin’s served the typical Chinese-American cuisine of the day; Egg Foo Young, Chop Suey, Almond Boneless Chicken, Pepper Steak and Moo Shu Pork. 12 years later Marvin opened the legendary Chin Tiki in Detroit, sadly we never got to see it but people still talk about it. Chin Tiki closed in 1980, in 2002 the boards were pried off the doors when Hollywood came to town to film 8 Mile. I heard stories that the place was perfectly preserved inside and the family was considering re-opening the place. That never happened, the building has now been demolished.

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Chin’s is still owned and operated by the family, looking around I’ll bet not a thing has changed inside, seriously. Hanging blowfish, seashell lamps, long banquette seating, that room divider– it’s amazing, a little Tiki haven. On the other side a cool bamboo bar resides in the back corner with large Tiki statues clustered together around and behind it like it’s their own private section. I’m told some of the decorative pieces were brought here from Chin Tiki when it closed. We order a light dinner of Kung Pao Tofu and a couple of spring rolls. First we’re served cups of Won Ton soup, the egg roll and spring rolls arrive simultaneously, each is delicious. The main dish arrives in an oval, covered stainless steel dish, the rice in the standard round pedestal style, exactly the way I remember Chinese food being served when I was a kid. Keep in mind this is not gourmet, organic or farm-to-table, it’s good old-fashioned Chinese-American food with water chestnuts, pea pods, bamboo shoots, sliced carrots and green peppers in brown sauce; nothing fancy or exotic. There’s something to be said for that you know?

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Side note: Cocktails are served in Tiki Mugs from Chin Tiki, they’re available for purchase for 15 bucks. I highly recommend the Chin Tiki Scorpion, our server even let me pick the Tiki mug. It’s not very often you feel like you’ve gone back in time, from the trailers and vehicles to the decor and food at Chin’s, today we felt like time travelers and it was a blast!

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MILFORD: Gettin’ Campy

10 Jun

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It’s no secret that Kris and I are into all things vintage; although this event is definitely a little out of the ordinary, I believe most people would find it fun.  About a year ago Kris was out Milford way and stopped in at Camp Dearborn to check out the gathering of the Tin Can Tourists, when he got home he was so excited I wondered how he squeezed in a breath between sentences. This is one of the largest events of its kind and not the sort of thing you see everyday. It was so awesome he has been looking forward to the 2012 event ever since! Camp Dearborn, owned and operated by the city of Dearborn is actually located about 35 miles away in Milford. Celebrating its 60th anniversary it consists of 626 acres of rolling hills, lakes for fishing and swimming, a miniature golf course and lots of activities for campers, making it an ideal location for the annual Tin Can Tourists summer gathering. What is a Tin Can Tourist you ask? They are an all make and model vintage trailer and motor coach club. Members get together to share their love of these vintage RV’s, they share their knowledge and experience in the restoration and preservation of these amazing homes on wheels.

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Kris had told me so much about them I couldn’t wait to get  there and see for myself.  We arrived just as the open house began, yes, open house as in: the door is open come on in! We walked up the hill from the parking area and there they were, like we had gone back in time or wandered onto a Hollywood movie sound-stage; rows as long as I could see of trailers. From travel trailers to pick up cabs, Airstreams and Avions to Shasta and Winnebago’s, I wanted to see each and every one. Not only are the campers vintage, but many of the tow vehicles are too. Outside, owners have set up their “camp”; awnings extend from trailers outward creating a shaded area. People go all out; white picket fences with flower pots, picnic tables set with old-style dishes and linens, lawn chairs with side tables, even a Tiki Bar complete with grass roof! Miniature lights in fun shapes and colors are strung from awnings; it must be absolutely charming at night. Owners are friendly and welcoming, encouraging folks to have a look around. I have seen pictures of old trailers, and been inside new ones, but I just wasn’t prepared for how darling these little homes away from home would be. It’s like being a little girl playing in a doll house; miniature stoves and fridges, tables that fold down and beds that pop up. Tiny little bathrooms with little-bitty sinks, diminutive rooms, but all the comforts of home. Restored to original with honey colored wood, era correct curtains and upholstery, vintage accessories such as radios, dishes and fans, the interiors are over the top! From the Cuban look of the 40’s to Art Deco, 1950’s turquoise or the orange and avocado of the 60’s and 70’s we liked them all. Some folks gut the place and start from scratch making it uniquely their own, those were cool too! One couple created their own Starlight Lounge, now I know where everyone goes after dark.

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I really knew nothing about travel trailers before we came, one thing I learned is that Michigan had to be the RV manufacturing capital of the US, I counted over 75 manufacturers in the state! Here are some you may recognize: Avion, Aladdin, Hiawatha, Travco and Vagabond. As a matter of fact, Ray Frank who is credited with coining the phrase “motor home” built his Frank Motor Homes in Brown City. Built on a bare Dodge truck chassis they were later known as Dodge Frank Motor Homes, eventually Frank sold his company to Travco who continued to build them here. Airstreams are extremely popular; we saw a 1955 Wally Byam Holiday model that was absolutely amazing. Up and down the rows, in and out of Bee Lines, Coachmans and Serro Scotty Sportsmans, each one a reflection of the people who spend their days and nights inside. It was interesting to see the evolution of these tin can wonders. The original Tin Can Tourists Club was organized in 1919, I can only imagine what camping must have been like in those days…..by the 1980’s the club was no longer in existence. Then in 1998 the club was renewed as an all make and model club, you don’t even have to own a trailer to be a member. Their first event was held right here at Camp Dearborn. It is easy to see the appeal of this lifestyle; people getting together in beautiful places to share a common interest, make new friends and have a good time.

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More Cool Campers HERE

When we exited the last trailer we were famished so we drove into downtown Milford for some lunch. Luckily we saw a new place called Le Rendez Vous and decided to give it a try. Two steps in the door and I knew I would love this place! There are two sections, the dining room and the bakery; the bakery is filled with delectable items like scones, muffins and cookies. On the counter are loaves of freshly baked bread with samples of each to try. After about 3 chunks of the chocolate bread (yes, deep dark chocolate) I just asked for a loaf to go. We were seated at a table and given menus to look over. The owner is from France, she trained there as a pastry chef so the place is a combination French bakery and Crepe Cafe, what more could you ask for? We placed our order and sipped on fresh squeezed lemonade and listened to French music as we waited for the meal to arrive; one of the bonuses of crepes is they can be made quickly. In no time our plates arrived; a savory crepe filled with egg, ham, cheese and spinach was absolutely delicious. The crepe itself was lightly browned and tender, inside, the cheese was melted and clung to the rest of the fillings. We like to have one savory and one sweet and split them, it makes a wonderful combination! The sweet one was out of this world, the same tender crepe filled with a warm nutella filling, smothered in fresh strawberries, whipped cream and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, YUM!! What a great find.

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