Sunday, July 18, 2004
The Grand Rapid Press
It's a good thing Don Mayton's vintage trailer has that nice aluminum finish. People drool over it.
"People come to it like bees to honey," Mayton says with a grin, standing inside his 1936 Bowlus-Teller travel trailer.
Sleek, aerodynamic and really rare, the Bowlus was created by William Hawley Bowlus, a nationally known aeronautics expert who, in 1927, supervised the construction of "The Spirit of St. Louis," the airplane that Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic.
Mayton, 66, tows it with his gleaming turquoise 1936 Buick Roadmaster sedan.
A retired General Motors plant manager, Mayton has restored a fleet of vintage cars at his Zeeland-area home. He decided he wanted a trailer to match one of them. He saw this one listed for sale in Old Cars Weekly magazine.
He bought the 18-foot Bowlus -- a Deluxe Road Chief model -- in 1993 in California for $2,300 then painstakingly restored it with help of fellow vintage Buick fan Dean Tryon. They had to replace all the interior wood, meticulously bending thin wood veneer to match the trailer's sleek curves and pointed tail.
The exterior, now shimmering silver aluminum, had been painted red.
"I had to grind the paint off," Mayton says. "I couldn't find a stripper that would touch it."
He and his wife, Carol, take their grandchildren camping and have hauled the Bowlus to vintage car shows.
Bowlus-Teller only made about 140 of these trailers, Mayton says, and about 25 are known to still be on the road.
The frame is crafted of 3/4-inch metal tubing, built into a skeleton covered with a polished aluminum skin, held in place with aluminum rivets. The trailer's single door is in the front -- an oddity that was changed after the company went bankrupt and Airstream took it over.
Back in the 1930s, people rode in the trailers, so Bowlus created an intercom between the car and the trailer.
"Ma would call Pa and say it's time to pull over -- the kids need a break," Mayton says. The original one was long gone when Mayton got the Bowlus, but he found one from a company in Wisconsin. One part's in the Bowlus, the other in the Buick Roadmaster.
"It's important that we save our heritage," says Mayton, who's also the driving force behind restoring the Futurliner, a gigantic, bus-like vehicle created by General Motors in the 1940s to travel the country showcasing exhibits on science and technology.
"Our young people need to know we have a rich history in this country," Mayton says. "Camping has been popular in this country for a long time. I think it's important to get these things out on the road and let people see 'em."