There are two kinds of campgrounds; RV resorts and everything else. RV resorts typically feature a gated community with highly manicured, concrete-paver sites and allow only late model coaches—nothing older than 10 years, only class-A (bus style) rigs. Trailers? Pop-ups? Tents? Horrors! Such common human conveyances are not allowed. These resorts are luxurious, with private tennis and pickle ball courts, on-site shops and restaurants, pools, spas and other high-end amenities. They also have a long, long list of rules governing everything from the exterior appearance of the campsite to personal conduct and the level of smoke from your campfire. We do not go to such places.
Every other campground falls into a range of almost-as-fancy-as-an-RV-resort to a parking lot/pay booth combo. We shoot for the middle of the range, which usually means a state or city campground or a smaller private RV park. With a somewhat looser set of criteria for appearance, there is guaranteed to be at least one vehicle that everyone notices; a converted school bus, either painted tastefully and tiny-home-status worthy or covered with peace signs and squiggly hippie-script sayings; a hand-built trailer or a vintage vehicle lovingly restored to pristine beauty. Ben is the one who usually finds these gems, as it is his habit to immediately scope out the entire campground to see what everyone is driving and to find out what they are all about.
We finished setting up camp in Mackinaw City and Ben set out on his usual reconnaissance mission. He returned to tell me I ‘had to go look at this guy’s Airstream and truck.’ I was busy doing some important to me thing and told him I’d get around to it. We were staying for a few days, so I didn’t feel any special pressure to rush over to see it. I also knew Ben would track the owner down and get all the intel—which is exactly what happened. Through him I learned the owner’s name was Craig, and he was traveling with his grandson Chase. The two of them were traversing the country for the summer. Craig was a Street Rodder, so he and Ben had that instant connection all guys who love old cars share.
A day or so later I was wandering around the campground and found Craig’s campsite. I couldn’t believe my eyes. You won’t believe it either. If I tried to use words to describe the old rat-rod 54 Chevy truck/Airstream trailer combo he was driving, this post would be a 5-page essay. I promptly ran back to get my camera. You can see the pictures-worth a-thousand-words for yourself at the end of this post. The guy had Rat-Rodded his setup.
So-called Rat Rodders are an interesting bunch, kind of the “shabby chic” genre of old car aficionados. The idea is to create a vehicle that looks as if it might fall apart at any moment—until you lift the hood and find a sleek high-horsepower late-model engine. They are craftspeople; it takes a lot of artistry to create such a vehicle. As you can see from the pictures, Craig put hours of cutting, welding and crafting to make his truck and trailer. What most impressed me was the added meaning he put into his work.
The whole thing is not only an expression of Craig’s delightfully warped sense of humor, it’s also a love letter to his grandson Chase. One side of the Airstream is a mural made entirely of snapshots of Craig and Chase at varying points along their journey. Signage and decorations are all designed to amuse and to let you know a little about the people inside. Most importantly, it’s a welcome mat that invites people to experience their journey for a bit. Craig dubbed their journey “The Summer of Chase.”
We got to know Chase; a sweet, gentle young man who adored animals. He loved the Red Dogs naturally and if he saw either of us walking a dog he’d join and discuss his knowledge of all things canine, which turned out to be considerable. He always had a dog fact to relay when we walked together.
A couple days later, it was time for Craig and Chase to leave. We said goodbyes the night before. They pulled out early in the morning. We knew exactly when they left because the 54 Chevy had a beefy V-8 that could rattle windows. Likely the rest of the campground was also aware of their exit.
In these digital days it’s easier to keep track of people, plus Street Rodders like to keep in touch. Ben got a note from Craig today. He and Chase are presently in Florida, in an RV park that allows such vehicles, and likely Chase is busy meeting all the dog owners and learning the dog’s names. Craig asked Ben to send along a photo of us with our dogs so that Chase can remember us. I hope we make it onto the side of the Airstream.