Vin­tage trailer court pro­vides tourists a jour­ney back in time

Tulsa World - - Our Lives - By MATT YORK

BISBEE, Ariz. — Visi­tors ar­riv­ing at the neon-il­lu­mi­nated of­fice of the Shady Dell trailer court en­ter a kind of time warp, trans­ported back to the 1950s when big Stude­bak­ers and Chevys rolled up car­ry­ing road-weary trav­el­ers, their trail­ers in tow.

Decades later, that mid-cen­tury feel­ing en­dures at this south­ern Ari­zona tourist stop.

Lined in­side with warm woods, vin­tage alu­minum travel trail­ers man­u­fac­tured un­der names such as Airstream, Spar­tan Royal Man­sion, Air­float, Boles Aero and El Rey pop­u­late the tidy trailer court with gravel paths and small lawns. But the trail­ers, rather than the spa­ces, are for rent, like ho­tel rooms.

(Spar­tan trail­ers were man­u­fac­tured at Spar­tan Air­craft Co.'s Tulsa fac­tory at 1919 N. Sheri­dan Road after World War II. They were fash­ioned from air­craft-qual­ity alu­minum, ma­hogany and birch from 1945 to 1960.)

The trailer win­dows glow a soft am­ber hue after dusk, and tiki torches and neatly hung strings of mul­ti­col­ored lights cir­cle a small band­stand out­side. Once-popular songs from 1950s vinyl records crackle over a loud­speaker through­out the park just 10 miles from the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

Founded in 1927 as the Thomp­son Mo­tor Court and re­named Shady Dell in the 1950s, the rest haven nes­tled in the cop­per min­ing town of Bisbee was a fre­quent stop for mo­torists along High­way 80 dur­ing the golden age of Amer­i­can au­to­mo­bile travel.

Sim­i­lar to its big brother, Route 66, the lesser-known High­way 80 once linked Amer­ica's At­lantic and Pa­cific coasts — in its case be­tween Sa­van­nah, Georgia, and San Diego. Back then, trailer courts lined High­way 80, of­fer­ing respite to mo­torists travers­ing the South­west's harsh land­scape in the fi­nal push to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

The Shady Dell later sat dor­mant for years, re­open­ing in 1996 with the idea of re­viv­ing its vin­tage at­mos­phere.

Now, the for­mer lay­over for peo­ple trav­el­ing long dis­tances has be­come a desti­na­tion of its own for vin­tage en­thu­si­asts and those just look­ing to get off the beaten path. The trailer park shuts down sev­eral months each year for the bru­tally hot desert sum­mer but re­opens as fall nears, com­ing this year on Fri­day.

Along with var­i­ous mid-cen­tury trail­ers, a 1947 Chris Craft yacht with V-shaped berth sleep­ing quar­ters and a 1947 Air­porter bus decked out in 1950s Hawai­ian style have added to the court's yes­ter­year charm.

All guest rooms come com­plete with pe­riod-cor­rect fur­nish­ings. Sev­eral have old-fash­ioned phono­graphs and blackand-white tele­vi­sion sets, but there are no tele­phones, dig­i­tal clocks or re­mote con­trols.

Stay­ing true to the 1950s style, clas­sic films are shown ev­ery night at a kind of drive-in the­ater out­side, the view­ers sit­ting in carts as they watch the big screen spread against Ari­zona's star-filled sky. The out­door movie, ad­ja­cent to a lit­tle snack bar, is the per­fect night­cap.


The sun sets be­hind a 1950 Hughes Spar­tan travel trailer com­plete with pink flamingo and vin­tage El Do­rado Cadil­lac parked by its side at the Shady Dell Trailer Court in Bisbee, Ari­zona. Founded in 1927 and re­named the Shady Dell in the 1950s, the...

MATT YORK/As­so­ci­ated Press

This gal­ley area and V-berth are aboard a 38-foot 1947 Chris Craft Yacht that is dry docked at the Shady Dell Trailer Court in Bisbee, Ari­zona.

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