First-time vintage camper rally in Peru draws dozens from across Midwest



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PERU, Indiana — Mike Blackowiak said he's used to creating some buzz when he pulls into a campground. But, then again, turning heads is one of the perks of owning an old-school 1963 Cree camper like his.

"New campers — yeah, they're nice, but you pull into a campground and it looks just like everybody else," he told the Kokomo Tribune (http://bit.ly/1rrZV8N ). "You pull in with a vintage camper, and you're an attraction."

That's what the Honey Bear Hollow campsite north of Peru turned into on Friday, when 21 old-fashioned trailers pulled in and set up shop for the Mid-Central Indiana Vintage Camper Rally.

The first-time event drew retro-camper enthusiasts from all across the Midwest. Some pulled in with sleek, silver Curtis Wright campers from the 1940s. Others had curvy, groovy Silver Eagles from the mid-1960s painted with thick, pastel stripes.

On Friday, Blackowiak, a maintenance guy from Kokomo in his upper 30s who founded and organized the rally, was taking it easy beside his 15-foot Cree.

Plastic red and yellow owl-shaped lights hung off the awning. A sleek Westinghouse fan from the 1960s kicked out a nice breeze in the muggy morning stillness.

Besides the laptop and radio playing 1990s tunes sitting on the picnic table near his camper, Blackowiak's campsite would have passed without a second-glance in the 1960s.

That retro camping experience is what all the people who showed up for the rally were looking for, Blackowiak said.

"We're outside underneath our awnings all week," he said. "We're not sitting inside the camper watching TV. It's about quality family time — playing games and hanging out outside."

And it's the kind of experience more and more people want.

Blackowiak said he decided to start the first-time get-together in Peru this year because other vintage-camper rallies, like the big ones in South Bend and Terre Haute, had gotten so popular it was hard to get a spot.

There's already a waiting list to book one of the 80 campsites next year for the Northern Indiana Vintage Trailer Jam in South Bend, he said.

"Those rallies are getting so packed," Blackowiak said. "It was the case where we needed another rally to allow new people to come. There's a huge demand for these things."

It all begs the question: Why are so many people getting into vintage campers?

Sandy Muffley said she has a theory, and if anyone has the right to have a theory on the popularity of old-school campers, it's her. She and her husband, Mike, have 27 of them.

Out of their extensive collection, Muffley decided to bring a 1964, white-and-blue West Wind camper from her home in LaCrosse to the rally in Peru.

For her, owning a vintage camper is all about nostalgia, she said. As a kid, her family had an old Shasta trailer. When she came across a similar camper 10 years ago, Muffley had to get it.

She said it's the same for lots of people. They remember having an Air Stream or TAB tear-drop camper when they were kids, and they want to relive their childhood.

"People are looking for simplicity — a simpler time — and this is as simple as it gets," Muffley said.

But camper rallies like the one in Peru are about more than nostalgia, she said. It's about getting together with people equally obsessed with vintage trailers.

"People come out and see the comradery we all have," Muffley said. "It's a gathering of like-minds. You get drawn in, and you get addicted to it."

Blackowiak said that's what happened to him ever since he started attending trailer get-togethers four years ago. Now, he said, most of his friends are also vintage camper enthusiasts.

"Most of my friends are here this weekend," he said. "We share the same hobby, and it's what makes us friends . And it's a great hobby to have. I don't go out to the bars in my free time. If I got a few hours, I tinker with my camper."

Joy Galbraith, who drove from Cincinnati pulling her tiny, 1969 Playmor camper named "Sew What," said she's glad people like Blackowiak plan rallies like the Mid-Central Indiana Vintage Camper Rally.

Without them, she said, her camper would just gather dust in her driveway.

"When you commit to coming to a rally, you commit to camping — which is what these campers were built for. At a rally, they're not just sitting around. You're using them, having fun."


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

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