Vintage trailer court provides tourists a journey back in time
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...
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.