News-Sun photo by LARRY LEVEY At Sunday's event at the Avon Park Depot Museum about the Tin Can Tourists, some of the activities took place outside. Here Bob and Rita Della-Flora from Sebring inspect the inside of a 1931 Model A Ford Coupe. Two other Model A's were also on display, courtesy of the Florida Flywheelers Antique Engine Club.ÊÊ
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published: Friday, December 14, 2012
Tin Can Tourists hit the Florida roads in a Model T
By LARRY LEVEY
AVON PARK - Remember this song? "The more we get together, together ...."
You were no doubt just a kid, spending a week at summer camp.
But had you been in the Depot Museum this past Sunday afternoon, you would have heard a rousing rendition of that old song, sung by some 60 folks attending a program on the Tin Can Tourists. But more on the song later.
The program, led by Forrest Bone of Bradenton, was an in-depth look at the Tin Can Tourists. Bone and his wife, Jeri, charter members of a vintage Airstream Club, wanted to create a group open to all, not to just one make, like Airstream. After obtaining the trademark on the "Tin Can Tourist" name, they went ahead and created a club in 1998 for anyone with a passion for "vintage trailers and motor coaches."
Under the new club, Jeri's title is "Royal Exalted First Lady," and Forrest is now your "Royal Exalted Tin Can Opener."
OK, let's back up to the beginning, to the 1920s. That's when middle-class northerners found out they could leave the horse-and-buggy behind while they hit the road to Florida, thanks to Henry Ford ... and his Model T.
And hit the road they did. They jam-packed their $300 Model Ts with clothing, bedding, a tent or two, canned goods, extra cans of gas, extra tires, even the family dog - and headed to the Sunshine State.
And one group of travelers, calling themselves the Tin Can Tourists (TCT), formed an organization in 1919 and received a state charter in 1920, thus becoming the country's first automobile club.
Because the TCT boosted the local Florida economies, small towns all over the state competed to host their yearly "gatherings." But not everyone admired the lifestyle of the "vagabonds." In fact, the TCTers were forced to leave Tampa and move elsewhere. Nonetheless, the TCT was growing - and growing fast -- reaching 100,000 members by 1938. As a sign of these times, they changed their name to "Tin Can Tourists of the World."
How did the TCT come by its name? One story has it that Model T Fords were also known as "Tin Lizzies;" another says it was because these folks carried so many canned goods with them on their travels. (Remember, not too many roadside restaurants in those days.)
Like most organizations, wannabe members had to be initiated, said Bone. The wannabe had to be at least 12, of good moral character, and living in a car, trailer or tent on the grounds of the "Gathering" at the time of the application. He also had to be recommended by a current member at the Gathering, and after learning the secret handshake, the secret sign and the secret password - and - here it comes - after singing the official Tin Canners' song, "The More We Get Together", he was declared a real Tin Can Tourist, complete with a tin can strapped to his radiator.
Bone points out these middle-class Tin Canners in their Model Ts became the first wave of Florida tourism, sometimes moving here for a new life or becoming Snow Birds and spreading the word about Florida once they returned north.
What with more roads, more campgrounds, more luxury-style RVs and campers, the original Tin Can Tourist Club died out during the '70s and '80s - until the Bones revived it in 1998. But the goals are still the same: providing "safe and clean camping areas, high moral values and wholesome entertainment." And you can add to that list, "preserving a wonderful piece of Americana."
For more, visit www.tincantourists.com.
Tin Can Tourists (by: Allon Fish - 12/14/2012)
News-Sun Journalist, Larry Levey continues to enlighten and remind us of so many different elements of our heritage. He has a unique writing talent and manages to bring out the heart of every
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