Home » This Glorious Polished Aluminum Vintage Camper Is A Time Capsule Of How Camping Was Like In The 1950s

This Glorious Polished Aluminum Vintage Camper Is A Time Capsule Of How Camping Was Like In The 1950s

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If you’re an RV owner today, you’re used to hauling around a camper that’s more or less a luxury hotel room sitting on some axles. Some of today’s campers are better equipped than a house! If you’re looking for a perfect camper to time warp you back to the 1950s, look no further than this 1955 Mobile Lodge house trailer. This camper was a literal museum piece and an example of what a lightweight aluminum-walled camper looked like nearly 70 years ago. Now, you can own it, and the price seems pretty reasonable!

This trailer comes to us from the Volo Auto Museum. Located in Volo, Illinois, the Volo Auto Museum offers a slew of different experiences in one. The museum is home to a collection of movie vehicles, artifacts from the military, farming equipment, and so much more. This is a place where you could look at a Back to the Future DeLorean one minute, and then check out an educational room about the Titanic five minutes later. Part of what makes Volo interesting is the fact that the museum is mixed with a classic car dealership and an antique mall, so there’s regularly something new to see.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Like me, Volo also has a fascination for rare vintage campers. Among all of the sweet V8s and muscle cars you’ll find plenty of historic campers you’ve never heard of or seen before.

1955 Mobile Lodge Camper (3)

Sometimes, Volo sells a camper or a few from its collection, and they present an opportunity to own a pristine piece of history. That’s what you’re getting with this Mobile Lodge.

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What Is This Thing?

Looking at this camper sent me down a rabbit hole. This style of trailer is commonly called a “canned ham.” Just looking at it will explain why. These trailers are compact, lightweight, and are great for little weekend getaways with the family. You’ll often find them with catching designs including vivid paint or bright metalwork. Inside, these campers will often be decked out in classy wood from top-to-bottom. If my U-Haul CT13 were to ever have a mate, I think a canned ham would be a fitting camper to have around.

1955 Mobile Lodge Camper (1)

Usually, canned ham campers feature rounded-off walls and roofs. Again, these trailers have the classic shape of, well, ham in a can. Sometimes, you’ll also see these trailers called tin cans, and depending on shape, they’ll sometimes also be called a teardrop. By now, you’re probably seeing my problem with the Mobile Lodge. Its design isn’t nearly as round as other campers of the era. There are enough corners in the overall profile that you could even call it an octagon. What’s going on here?

Volo says it picked up this camper in 2017 from the camper’s original owner. According to the original title, this camper is a 1955 Mobile Lodge house trailer. The title says the owner bought the camper that year and financed it through the Pikes Peak Bank Of Commerce in Colorado. Other data included on the title is a vehicle weight of 2,900 pounds. The camper is just 14 feet long, and trailers of this era weighed closer to 1,600 pounds, so that is likely loaded weight.

1955 Mobile Lodge Camper (7)

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I found the original listing for the camper, and it would appear that Volo added some fins to the trailer after the sale. Inside, Volo placed a flyer that suggests this camper was made by Shasta. I don’t think it’s actually a Shasta. I’ll explain.

Shasta was founded in 1941 when Robert Gray started building house trailers for the United States military. His California-built trailers provided the military with temporary housing that moved with the Armed Forces. After World War II, Shasta began selling house trailers to the public under the brand name Cozy Cruiser. These trailers ranged from lightweight 14-foot models to 35-footers that could stay put for longer periods. As Shasta says today, Gray never expected his trailers to be so popular that they would play a role in getting Americans camping. Shasta says Gray also likely never expected his campers to be enjoyed for decades. The company built so many campers and the brand has so many fans that if you search “vintage camper” on Facebook Marketplace, I bet you’ll find more than one for sale right now.

Here’s a 1955 Shasta 1500, for comparison:

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Offerup Seller

A good thing about Shastas being so common is the fact that there’s a lot of information about them out there. According to the Tin Can Tourists vintage camper club, the brand name Shasta started appearing on trailers in 1952. Those tailfin wings, a design trait that Shasta would become famous for, would appear in 1958. So, if this Mobile Lodge were a Shasta, it would technically be more correct without the wings.

According to the club, Shastas built in the mid-1950s featured rounded bodies, no rear bumper, and three separate windows across the front. These Shastas also had wooden screen doors and birch wood interiors. Also notable is the fact that Shasta never ran a model called the Mobile Lodge. While it’s possible this camper could be some sort of rare special that’s been lost to time, it has none of the known design elements of a Shasta. Instead, I think what we’re looking at here is a one-off camper or perhaps a camper from a long-dead brand.

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1955 Mobile Lodge Camper (8)

Sadly, after so much digging, the only example of a “Mobile Lodge” I could find is just this trailer. Not even the Wayback Machine bore any fruit.

This Sole Mobile Lodge

1955 Mobile Lodge Camper (2)

Still, this camper is totally sweet and thanks to a restoration done right before Volo picked it up, you could take this camping right away.

Starting with the exterior, you’re looking at a body of polished aluminum. Volo says the roof was replaced during the restoration. Also new are the trailer’s locks and door hardware. The restoration included adding a step under the door, repacking the single axle’s bearings, and replacing the safety chains under the tongue. Apparently, those black marks you see are residue from the polishing job.

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1955 Mobile Lodge Camper

 

Inside is a tiny cozy portable home. Volo says the trailer has new 110-volt wiring complete with new outlets. That means no fiddling around with a vintage electrical system! Originally, this trailer’s interior was finished in maple wood. The maple panels, cabinets, and trim were all replaced during the restoration. Also new is the trailer’s maple laminate flooring, the interior’s upholstery, and stainless backsplash. The vintage metal-trimmed counter is original.

Volo says a lot of detail went into restoring the trailer to have period-correct equipment. That means you’re getting an ice box, not a refrigerator. Even the two-burner Meynell stove appears to be from the right period.

1955 Mobile Lodge Camper (4)

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1955 Mobile Lodge Camper (5)

Volo doesn’t say anything about holding tanks, but there is a water and electric hookup on the side of the trailer. You also get a new Thetford cassette toilet, which is hidden away in a closet. Since this trailer was on display in the museum, Volo added a few pieces to make the Mobile Lodge look a little more lived in. There’s a suitcase on the bed in the back and some kitchen pieces staged on the countertop. I’ve gotten to see how Volo sets up its trailers for display and the museum does a good job of making these campers feel inviting.

In terms of the Lodge bit of this camper, the dinette collapses into a bed and there’s a new bed in back. So, you won’t be sleeping in decades of someone else’s sweat. Also good is the headroom. There’s 6.1 feet of height in there, which isn’t great for tall people, but will fit quite a lot of folks.

1955 Mobile Lodge Camper (6)

1955 Mobile Lodge Camper (11)

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The Volo Auto Museum says you can get all of this for the price of $17,998. If you’re interested, you can pick up the trailer from Volo in Volo, Illinois. While not the cheapest camper out there, the trailer appears to be listed for more or less the going rate for a restored canned ham trailer. Certainly, it’s substantially cheaper than some of the new campers I’ve written about, lately! I’d say it looks better than most new campers, too.

If you happen to know anything about this Mobile Lodge or who built it, I’d love to know! Send me an email at mercedes@theautopian.com.

(Images: Volo Auto Museum, unless otherwise noted.)

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John McMillin
John McMillin
3 months ago

The color and style are fetching, but the lack of window area would send me running. Those side windows look like gun slits. I have more than a touch of claustrophobia!

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
3 months ago

Pretty disappointed that a museum stuck the fins on for no good reason. Not a good look for them (the museum).

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
3 months ago

Sorry, but not impressed. Asking top dollar and then do a crap job of polishing it up and trying to pass it off as a Shasta since that is a in demand brand. Lets see a picture of that title from the original purchaser, which should have the mfg listed on it, that I’m pretty sure would be where they got the Mobile Lodge from.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
3 months ago

The overall design resembles the Mickey Mouse themed Shasta a neighbor had for sale. There’s a possibility Mobile Lodge was an ancestor of Chinook Mobilodge before they adopted fiberglass.

Steve's House of Cars
Steve's House of Cars
3 months ago

I’ve been seeing a lot of Volo vehicles on my Facebook Marketplace feed these days. They must either be reducing inventory or just figured out Facebook marketing.

Their camper displays have always been fun to check out, the old one from the 30s(?, been a while…) with the open flame heater and wood everything is gorgeous. It’s a great opportunity to see the evolution of camping, I bring many of our out of state friends to tour that place when I can.

Data
Data
3 months ago

I envision Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Donald Duck going camping in this; it was the first thing that popped into my head when I saw it.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago

The salt&pepper set, syrup dispenser, and clock took me straight back to my great-grandmother’s kitchen which I last saw in the 70s. Would love to see underneath, but I’m betting this will last longer than anything new you can buy for that money now. You’d need something like a ‘52 Pontiac Chieftain to pull it, though

Gubbin
Gubbin
3 months ago

When I saw the cute li’l wings I thought of the turkey camper from Skinny Legs and All, but that one was built from an Airstream.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
3 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

“the gobble-stilled butterball”

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
3 months ago

OMG. I restored/restomoded a 1967 Shasta, which was more squared off than this 1950s model. Almost every detail I see in this 50s model was identical to my 67. Almost the same layout, too.

As much as I enjoyed the project I would never try to restore an old trailer again. Leaks are inevitable, which rots anything wood and eventually rusts-out the frame. A broken frame doomed our trailer. Still, we got about 10 years out of it at Burning Man.

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