Tin Can Tourists

 Posted by at 4:45 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 162009

Yesterday our friend Al Hesselbart from the RV Hall of Fame Museum called to tell me that several vintage RVs from the Tin Can Tourists were visiting the museum and that I was missing a great photo opportunity. So I grabbed my camera and headed over to check things out.

The Tin Can Tourists are a club for owners and fans of vintage trailers and motor coaches. The units on display at the museum included everything from a neat old Travco motorhome to classic travel trailers, and even a couple of really neat homebuilt campers. I really liked this homebuilt camper, with cedar shingles and a back porch, and the old truck pulling it was pretty cool too. I’d have loved to see the inside of it.
Another neat homebuilt is called simply The Shack. Built by John and Dot Flis, the camper built on their 1940 International truck was made from 90% recycled stuff they collected here and there. Don’t let the old truck’s outward appearance fool you, John replaced the original engine with a powerful 350 Chevrolet V-8 engine and beefed up the suspension and drive train to handle the weight of The Shack.

They designed their neat camper to look like a miniature farmhouse, complete with galvanized roof, and tail lights made from old kerosene lanterns. Inside, The Shack has all the comforts of home, including a sink, small refrigerator, microwave, and porta-potty. The Shack has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s RV Crazy episode.

I also liked this beautiful 1950 Spartan trailer, owned by Michael Greene of nearby Bristol, Indiana. As it turns out, Michael is the cousin of our pal Trina Ambris, who runs RV Surplus Salvage, here in Elkhart. Michael told me that he found the 32 foot long trailer decaying in a field one day and tracked down the owner.

The old trailer was in terrible shape, and most sane people probably would not have taken on the task of resurrecting it. But Michael and his wife own a company called Sierra Custom Interiors that builds custom living quarters in horse trailers, and they also build neat retro looking camper trailers called Campfire Campers. Judging by what I saw inside the old Spartan John restored, I think there are some horses that are really traveling in style!

Back at the bus, Michele Henry from Phoenix Commercial Paint stopped over to visit. Both Al Hesselbart from the RV Hall of Fame Museum, and Bob and Gita Patel, owners of Elkhart Campground, had high praise for Michele and her work, and we were glad to get to know her.

For years Michele’s company has painted RVs for some of the local manufacturers, including Four Winds, Forest River, and Phoenix. But with the downturn in the RV industry, Michele, like many companies that support the RV manufacturers, is scrambling to stay alive.

She has painted quite a few coaches for private owners, and it is amazing how much she can transform a dated looking motorhome or fifth wheel. Click on some of the tabs at the top of her webpage, and then click on the individual pictures, and I think you’ll be just as impressed as Terry and I were.

Michele said she much prefers working with individual owners over the big companies, who want to dictate terms and are more concerned with saving a dollar by cutting quality, than the final job.

Michele is a sharp lady, and she has a good business model. Instead of trying to get top dollar from every customer, she charges much less than the competition, and turns out what I feel is work far superior work to some of the other shops. By running a lean operation, and concentrating on quality, she is able to turn out beautiful custom work for around $200 a lineal foot. So if you thought you needed to spend $12,000 to $15,000 for a custom paint job on your RV, think again. Instead of buying a new coach, you can save thousands by refurbishing your present rig inside and out. Check out Michele’s website, she’s good people and she does good work. When Terry and I buy a coach to replace our bus conversion, you can bet we’ll be seeing Michele for a paint job.

Thought For The Day – A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

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Nick Russell

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  4 Responses to “Tin Can Tourists”

  1. Hi Nick,
    Since you are in Elkhart you may be able to help. We are looking for a quality person or company to make a custom desk for our class A. If you know or run across someone could you pass on their name. Since we full time the location can vary. Thanks in advance.

  2. John.
    Two companies whose work I have seen are Focal Wood Products in Nappanee, Indiana and From Trees to These in Decature, Indiana.

    Carlyle, the owner of Focal Wood Products, is an Amish craftsman, and his work is excellent. Call (574) 546-1662. If there is no answer, leave a message.

    The website for From Trees To These is http://www.fromtreestothese.com/ I have seen some of their work and was very impressed with them too. Either company would be a god choice.

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  4. Hi Nick,

    The first rig looks like Wayzalot (http://wayzalot.com). I met Terry and Hardy Evans a few years back at the Chicago show and later donated a lot of antiques to them to use as they saw fit. I think a few items made it into Wayzalot.

    Great seeing you and Terry even if briefly, last week at the RV/MH.


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