A retro home on the road

06/06/2014 3:22 PM

06/06/2014 3:23 PM

There’s camping and there’s art, but it takes special people to blend the two.

Members of Sisters on the Fly have a flair for displaying fun, outdoorsy artwork on their vintage camping trailers. Their campers get second and third looks that often mean onlookers get a grand tour of a creatively restored recreational vehicle.

If you stumble upon a campground where the women have scheduled an outing, you’ll be treated to ’50s, ’60s and ’70s trailers “all cuted up,” as they like to say.

There are classic Airstreams, Alohas, Aljos, Aladdins, Pleasure Crafts and Shastas, painted in themes from Coca-Cola to Western, from daisies to fishing – especially fishing (Sisters on the Fly, get it?).

Fridges still hum

Some of the trailers have the original wood cabinets and countertops, and old fridges still hum and keep the margaritas cold. Outdoors, lawn chairs, tables, water jugs and patio mats match the motif.

“They have more fun than anyone,” Anna Ousley, owner of Swiftwater RV Park at White Bird, Idaho, said while hosting the group in early May.

The women love to fish, camp and head out on adventures, but many just have a passion for restoring older camping trailers.

“They’re so dang cute, they’re irresistible,” Ousley said.

Take Teresa Titcomb. She searched fields and driveways throughout Idaho’s Treasure Valley for the right trailer.

She finally found “Sally,” a 1967 Cardinal that was used for hunting. It had stains from leaks on the roof and dirty pans in the oven.

Titcomb went to work repairing the leaks, remodeled the kitchen with new countertops and a tabletop and added curtains and paint.

Her red-and-gold trailer is now a shrine to Coca-Cola. Her camper has a Coke clock, light, pot holder, kitchen magnet, serving trays and more.

“I like it because it’s my own cuted-up space,” she said while camped at the Swiftwater RV Park next to the Salmon River.

“It was a true labor of love,” Titcomb said. “I love old vintage campers because of what it feels like inside and what I see in other people’s faces when they see them.” Her word of caution when buying older trailers: Make sure they are structurally sound.

Vintage feeling

Other members of the group have the same passion for the trailers that come in different shapes and sizes. There are squares, teardrops, rectangles and even one nicknamed “the canned ham.” Members of Sisters on the Fly buy the beat-up campers for a few hundred dollars, and some have to be stripped to the frame.

But the colorfully decorated and restored RVs can bring thousands of dollars. Not that the sisters usually sell them.

The vintage trailers started gaining popularity immediately after Sisters on the Fly was started in 1998 by Rebecca Clarke of McCall, Idaho, and her sister, Maurrie Sussman of Phoenix.

Clarke and Sussman were raised by an adventurous mother who showed them the outdoors. The sisters wanted to share the experience, and one of the first outings was a group of eight women flying into the backcountry for fishing.

Now there are about 4,700 members across the United States, including about 40 in Kansas, a couple of them in Wichita. The group has spread to Great Britain, Australia and Canada.

“We were in Country Living Magazine, and it started to grow,” Clarke said.

In addition to fun, the sisters also take on causes.

They have raised money for such programs as Casting for Recovery, which helps women with breast cancer, and for victims of hurricanes, hospice care and families in need.

Their network of “sisters” across the country means places to stay when traveling, learning of outings nationwide and getting help whether traveling in Alabama or Oregon.

Moms on the Fly

In one case, Sisters on the Fly turned out to be Moms on the Fly.

When one member’s son broke down on a highway in the Midwest, a few calls had sisters in the area providing housing, food and help with car repairs.

But with all the activities of the group, it’s the vintage trailers that draw the most attention.

They became a big part of the adventures because members of Sisters on the Fly went fishing in a lot of places where there were no motels. The trailers proved to be the best accommodations.

Clarke found one of her trailers after snowshoeing to a place in the mountains near McCall; the trailer was stored under a snow roof. It was full of junk, but after it was cleaned out, it proved to be an excellent find for $400.

The 1957 Aljo has original appliances and cabinets and even a chandelier in the galley. It has a painting on the outside of women fishing from a boat.

Vintage trailers are like shoes, said Clarke, who once had four trailers but is down to three.

“You get to ask yourself, ‘Which one do you want to take for this trip?’ ” she said.

Why so many?

Mig Whitt of Bayview in north Idaho has seven vintage trailers.

“You have so many different decorating styles,” she said. “Depending on my mood, that’s the one I take with me.” She has trailers with Hawaiian, cowboy and Mexican themes.

The campers come with lots of stories that can be shared around a campfire.

Juli Thorson has a 31-foot, 1972 Airstream Land Yacht that her husband saw on the side of the road in Kamiah. He gave it to her on Valentine’s Day.

She fixed it up and added some furniture from her home that fit the decor, and it has an old hotel or yacht feel to it. Thorson calls it “Airstream on a dime.” It didn’t stop there. Now she has eight vintage campers. The older trailers bring back memories for some of the women of traveling with their parents in the old-style RVs.

“For some people, it’s nostalgic,” Thorson said.

For all of them, it’s a joy that spreads to others.

“When we caravan together,” Titcomb said, “it is almost as if we are a continual parade as people stop and watch and their smiles grow. I love it.”

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