Tow it with your car to a sweet out-of-doors spot somewhere, anywhere, and in return it will transport you to a simpler, more expansive, handcrafted time in America.
It’s a vintage camping trailer, perhaps one of the adorably homely little ones built at mom-and-pop workshops when aluminum and other building materials became available again at the end of World War II and many American families for the first time packed up their vacation accoutrements and hit the road.
An endearing variety of such trailers will be shined up and on display this weekend at a rally of collectors in Bodega Bay. Among the 85 old-fashioned, lovingly kept-up trailers are likely to be a few built in Sebastopol by a band of brothers and called Little Caesars, well before the name was applied to order-in pizza.
Michael and Aedan Haworth of Sebastopol are tickled to own one of the little darlings, shaped like a canned ham and built right there in their town in 1951. They’ve got other trailers for actual camping; this one doesn’t too often leave the garage.
“It’s a museum piece,” said Michael Haworth, a general contractor and someone who appreciates fine workmanship.
His like-new Little Caesar boasts all the standard features of the nameplate: a step-up double bed with storage underneath, a dining nook that converts into a sleeping space, a closet, a three-burner Hansen propane stove and oven, an icebox and a sink with a faucet that can be connected by hose to a water source. No shower, no toilet, no hot tub, no surround-sound entertainment center.
Haworth and his wife bought the Little Caesar from a fellow in Santa Rosa in 2002. Among the pleasing discoveries to follow was that the mattress appears to be original, wearing a tag from the “Sonoma Mattress Co., Cotati, California.”
The Haworths have since learned a fair amount about the travel trailers built off of Gravenstein Highway South by the late Emil and Ed Sokolis and, at one time or another, their other brothers, Charles, Ernie and Al.
They opened Sokolis Brothers Manufacturing Co. in 1946, just a year after the war ended, and began cutting half-inch plywood and aluminum and assembling sportsman’s trailers, most of them a compact 13 feet long and a smidge under seven feet tall.
It wasn’t an entirely original enterprise.
“There were literally hundreds, if not thousands, of backyard camper operations,” said Paul Lacitinola, who lives near Sacramento and publishes Vintage Camper Trailers magazine.
America’s modest early 20th century production of travel trailers came to a halt with the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the diversion of aluminum, rubber and other essential materials to the war effort.
The return of peace and of legions of young war veterans brought the United States a boom in myriad areas of production and entrepreneurship.
“You had soldiers that needed jobs,” Lacitinola said. “You had soldiers that needed housing.” Veterans transitioning to civilian life could live in a camper.
Among the war-time skills of many of the people suddenly available for non-military manufacturing was proficiency in working with sheet metal and wood — back then, the primary components of travel trailers.
The Sokolis brothers took a somewhat unusual approach to building them. Instead of framing a trailer like a house and attaching paneling to the inside of the frame and aluminum to the outside, they built a ribless, contoured box of Douglas fir plywood and attached to it an external skin of aluminum.