Lowden campground a stop for antique camper

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When Don Boehme pulled into Lowden State Park last Wednesday the first thing he did was find some shade for his “friends”.

“She tends to run a little hot,” said Boehme, an Oak Park resident.

That’s to be expected — especially for a 58-year-old who just finished pulling her 52-year-old traveling companion up Lowden hill after logging 3,000 miles.

Boehme, age 76, was talking about his 1956 Ford station wagon and his 1962 Shasta camper, a perfectly matched red and tan throwback to the days before tollways were the mode of the modern day travelers.

Boehme, followed by his friend Doug Hardekopf, of Somonauk, were on their last leg of a month-long trek that started in Toronto, Canada on July 8.

The pair are members of the Tin Can Tourists, an “all make and model vintage trailer and motor coach club.” The club’s goal is to “promote and preserve vintage trailers and motor coaches” through gatherings and trips where participants can exchange information while on the road with vintage vehicles.

“We started on Yonge Street, which was built in 1792,” said Hardekopf, age 63. “We went across Ontario to Rainy River and then back through Minnesota to here. We were part of the Black Fly Caravan with other vintage campers.”

Hardekopf was pulling his 2010 fiberglass Scamp camper with a modern-day truck.

“The Scamps are called the ‘egg trailers’. They started being built in 1972 when someone got the idea to take a septic tank and make it into a camper. It’s lightweight,” he said.

While Hardekopf’s Scamp included a full bathroom, shower, and microwave, a peek into his camping mate’s Shasta was like a trip back in time.

Road maps from the 1950s were presented neatly in a Mobil gas display case on the wall by the door that was right across from the snazzy coppertone stove, a popular color that premiered in the early-1960s.

Boehme smiled as he sat at the camper’s kitchen table surrounded by curtains that were made to look like road maps and windows bordered by antique travel stickers.

Within reach was his vintage “How to Fix Your Ford” and his one-of-a-kind Shasta toaster that he won as a door prize. The chrome toaster had been retrofitted with little wings (echoing his Shasta trailer) a hitch, and teeny propane tank.

“A guy made it as a gag gift, but it really works,” Boehme said. “I’ve had people ask me where they can get one like it. And you won’t believe how many times I’ve had to use this book.”

Boehme owned the 1956 Ford since the 1980s and found the camper about 10 years ago.

“The camper was white so I had it painted to match the car and the upholstery,” he said.

After some upgrades which included disc brakes and trailer brakes, the station wagon was ready to pull the camper.

“The car is original and has been rebuilt. The trailer is just big and bulky—like pulling a big shoebox, but I tell people that with the wings I’m aerodynamic,” he said smiling.

The trio made the trip in good shape, with the exception of a lost mud flap, flat tire, and wayward roof vent.

“The roof vent blew off in Moonbeam, Ontario, but a local carpenter made me a new one out of a piece of wood which we attached with duct tape. We had to get that all fixed up before it rained,” Boehme said. “The roof vent blew off again but one of the guys from the caravan saw it in the ditch, knew immediately what it was, and picked it up for me.”

Driving antique vehicles also means traveling at antique speeds.

“We drove at 1950s speeds which means 40-50 mph, like the speed limits were back then,” Boehme said. “I check the fluids every night and the car does use a little bit of oil.”

“The newest car Don owns is a 1975,” interjected Hardekopf. “Our average speed for this trip was 38 mph.”

“Well, let me just say that the people who see us on the highway have plenty to time to take our picture,” Boehme said. “We went a long ways, but this little trailer made it.”