Not long after coming to terms with the fact that we couldn't afford to buy a home in the Bay Area, and struggling with the decision about whether to move elsewhere, my wife and I settled on a third option: We decided to buy an old camping trailer.
The Baedeker family, with their 1958 Shasta trailer, at the Silver Fork Campground in the El Dorado National Forest.
Photo: Courtesy of Rob Baedeker
A trailer, we reasoned, would be our unique foray into "home" ownership. It would also provide us with an economical way to explore places to live outside of the Bay Area while paying for campgrounds instead of hotel rooms. When we weren't camping, we planned to use the trailer as an office and a guestroom on the side of our house. And maybe, sometime in the future, we could even spend a few months on the road in the camper, exploring the country with our young daughter.
Unbeknownst to us, we were part of a trend. A report presented at the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association conference in June found RV ownership in the U.S. at an all-time high with 8.5 percent of U.S. households owning RVs. By comparison, that figure was 6.8 percent in 1993. (The fastest growth in the most recent study was in travel trailers, versus motor homes and other types of RVs).
But in our journey to purchase and restore a relic-on-wheels from the mid-20th century, we entered another world of nostalgia and old-fashioned craftsmanship. We also, I've found out, joined up with a long American tradition of camper life, one that began flourishing with the automobile boom of the 1920s, and which embodies some deeply held American ideals, from the freedom of the road, to self-sufficiency, to the paradoxical use of technology to get back to nature.