This article and pictures taken from the December 2001 issue of "Family Motor Coaching"

MEMORY LANE by H. John Johnsen

All Camping Roads Led To Florida

     They arrived in Florida from everywhere. . . in cars, trucks, and trailers.  People of all types trying to escape to a better place -- or at least what they hoped would be a better place.  It was in the 1920's, and Americans were on the move like never before.  They had money to travel, received paid vacations from work, and had discovered a new way to reach their destination: the automobile.  Many of these travelers also found that, with a little ingenuity, their vehicles could be converted to rolling homes.

    These pioneers lived simply,  avoiding the expense of hotels and restaurants by spending their nights in tents or inside homemade house cars and dinning on rations carried in the car that could be cooked over portable gas stoves.  They were adventurers, willing to accept the risks of automotive travel to experience America up close
Photo courtesy of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation, Elkhart, IN
and at their own pace. All that was necessary for the trip was a vehicle, family, food, and a destination.  For many people, that destination was Florida. 

Sold on the Sunshine State.      Travelers were particularly attracted to Florida for a variety of reasons.  Some claimed it was because the state was a strange, wild, and mysterious land.  Emigrants from Georgia headed south in caravans with other bold adventurers to seek out the unknown.


Storage space in the earliest RVs  was limited, but resourceful travelers found places to strap or tie all of the camping necessities they would need.  Traveling wasn't nearly as adventurous for wealthy campers.  The 1920s land yacht (above) featured a large back porch and a generator (shown in the front door).

     Florida's warm climate drew voyagers from the North and Midwest who were eager to spend winters away from frigid temperatures and snowy weather.  Others were lured to the Sunshine State because it imposed mo state income taxes or inheritance taxes and would not do so before 1944.

     Florida's liberal attitude with its citizens, especially those on the road, was another selling point.  For instance, if you were caught speeding in the Northern states, you could expect to be cited.  In Florida you seldom would be stopped for speeding.  In fact, in some instances, the state encouraged motorists to go faster.  On the Miami/Miami Beach Causeway, a sign notified drivers that they must travel at least 25 mph.  Relatively flat roads with few dangerous curves helped allow faster travel by motorists.

     These factors made Florida an attractive place for people to visit or to relocate to, which they did in astounding numbers.  In 1918, 57,000 campers called Florida home for at least a brief time;  by 1925 that number had risen to 300,000, with 65 percent of them hailing from Midwest states.  From this wave of tourists sprouted several camper organizations, most notably the Tin Can Tourists (see Tin Can Tourists Article).

     Traveling equipment for the motor camper.  Anyone who traveled in any kind of motor vehicle needed to have at least the essentials before starting the trip.  Frank Brimmer listed such essentials in his article titled "If You Should Go Camping," which appeared in the June 1927 issue of American Motorist.  These included a storm-proof tent ($40-$65); camp beds -- with or without resilient springs;  a comfortable cotton mattress ($25); and an efficient gas stove ($10-$15).
     According to the article, car repairs, accessories, tires, food, clothing, amusement, and souvenirs -- the necessities nd luxuries of traveling -- would cost campers $2 a day, per person.  A two-week vacation for a party of four in 1927 would have set the group back approximately $112.  Of course, today's travelers enjoy vehicles that have air conditioning, indoor plumbing, satellite TV, digital phones, and even laptop computers to make their trip comfortable.


While there weren't any motorhome manufacturers at the time, wealthy camping enthusiasts could have a coach custom built for them, such as this self-contained, all-electric motorhome built in 1927.

     The hardships of travel.  During the early days of motor travel, it wasn't easy to get around the country in a car.  Automobile trips were fraught with unknowns, as Carl D. King described in his book, Model T Days . . . Florida or Bust.  "We depended upon roadside signs that pointed out direction and indicated the distance to the next town," he wrote.  "We had an old out-of-date AAA-approved Blue Book --- this little publication was the predecessor of our present-day road map. It gave written verbal directions and distances to points along the way.  We managed, eventually, to reach our destination.  We would occasionally make a wrong turn and come to a sudden dead end out in the lonesome nowhere."
     Getting lost was a mere inconvenience compared to other difficulties voyagers might expect during their journey.  Flat tires, running out of gas because sporadic filling station locations, and mechanical troubles were only a few of the problems hardy travelers faced as they wound their way southward.  The primitive roads linking the small towns along the way to Florida were not made to handle this type of mass migration.  More vehicles and slow drivers caused increased traffic congestion.  Bad weather also took its toll on travelers.  Rain and snow made many roads impassible, and the non-insulated, sometimes leaky canvas tents provided little shelter from storms.  Bug invasions were a common nuisance as well, especially if netting wasn't available to keep the pests at bay.
     Worst of all, according to an excerpt from a December 1925 issue of American Motorist, was the all-too-frequent interference from Prohibition agents who apparently believed all motor tourists were rumrunners.  Because of the proximity to the Bahamas and Cuba, Florida had serious liquor prohibition enforcement problems.  Florida law enforcement officials -- and those throughout the United States -- would randomly stop and search cars on the chance that they might find a flask of liquor.  In one instance, it was reported that an elderly woman in Louisiana was subjected to indignities because she had less than a pint in her car . . . and it was legally purchased on a doctor's prescription!  The practice became so intolerable that the Hoosier Club found it necessary to warn motorists to avoid Indiana even as the state was in the midst of a campaign to attract tourists.
     Because of these recurring instances and mounting citizen's complaints, Lincoln Andrews, the assistant secretary of the U. S. Department of the Treasury, instructe regional administrators to concentrate on the "big game" and leave the innocent motorists alone.

     Enticements from cities and towns.  Realizing the economic importance of these southbound travelers, city and town officials built tourists camps and recreation centers.  Florida's Chamber of Commerce contributed to the push with favorable newspaper articles publicizing great land investment deals in the Sunshine State.  Promoters, architects, and engineers created  the world-known "Florida Lifestyle," which emphasized the state's warm climate and abundant opportunities for outdoor fun.
     The biggest obstacle to getting people into and around the state was the quantity and quality of roads.  In 1923 construction of an east-west thoroughfare (US 41) through the Everglades, connecting Miami to Naples, was started.  A delay in financing slowed the project, causing one caravan to drive across the uncompleted road.  For these poor motorists, the approximately 100-mile drive turned into a 10-day trek through a creature- and bug-infested environment.  Once the route was completed, however, it became a heavily used cross-state thoroughfare.  Because of its popularity, the state extended the route north from Naples to Tampa.  In 1928, the 283-mile Tamiami Trail, linking Tampa to Miami was completed.
     There was even a Florida Short Route Association that created a map called "The Florida Short Route."  This guide helped people from as far away as Lake Superior make an easier trek through the states to Florida by plotting out various routes from northern cities.  The association marked state roads and displayed orange "F.S.R." signs on the roads in the South to make sure travelers could find their way to paradise.
     Florida wasn't the only state to realize the enormous growth of traveling campers.  New York City entered the race by panning a 300-acre camping site at the proposed Bronx airport.  The site would accommodate motorists attending the 1939 New York World's Fair and included a general store, a drugstore, a filling station, and emergency hospital, a restaurant, and a community kitchen.
     Other states were also impacted by the increasing number of vagabond travelers.  In 1936 California asked for federal assistance to pay for the schooling of 50,000 trailer children.  Legislation was enacted in several states to help ease these problems, but the government found it difficult to legislate to someone who could just pack up and go to another state.
     The self-sufficient travelers also drew the ire of other industries.  Hotel, restaurant, and real estate owners protested that the tourists were bad for business, and they complained to government officials.  The National Association of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers pleaded to the government for a uniform licensing law and safety standards.  In a 1936 article from the New York Times titled "Gasoline Gypsies," it was reported that Flint, Michigan banned motor tourists unless their ambulatory residences conformed to the local housing regulations.  On some roads, automobiles and trailers were banned because they were classified as trucks.  And legislators considered ways of taxing motor tourists both as highway users and homeowners.
     Some towns and most of the exclusive communities, such as Palm Beach, Florida, put up signs that read "No Trailers Allowed."  Many towns passed rigid restrictions on sanitation and other matters that affected mobile travelers and permanent residents.  Public health officials began drafting laws to regulate the disposal of trailer garbage and waste.

     The growing trend.  Restrictions, regulations, and general harassment couldn't deter the swarm of motor tourists invading Florida.  The popularity of mobile traveling gave way to newer and fancier homes on wheels.  In the 1930's, Airstream and other manufacturers began producing many types of trailers, some for those with moderate incomes and others for the affluent.  During the 1940s and '50s, motorhomes began to show up more prominently.  Some had modest accessories while others boasted luxurious interiors.  Of course, today's motor coaches have all the amenities of home, making travel much less adventuresome than it was during the early part of the 20th century, when four wheels, a load of canned goods, and a thirst for discovery was all a family needed for a season-long vacation.