For nearly as long as the automobile has existed, drivers have taken cross-country adventures, exploring our nation’s natural wonders and camping in roadside campsites, national parks, and open wilderness. Travel trailers began to grow in popularity in the late teens and early twenties, however, they were limited to either rudimentary tent trailers (literally a trailer with a built-in tent) or large, opulent, and expensive “house cars” built to order for a select few. That changed dramatically in 1929 when Arthur G. Sherman, a scientist, and inventor from Detroit took a camping trip with his family only to become frustrated with the unsatisfactory accommodations in his tent trailer. Upon his return, he set to work designing a new, vastly more comfortable and practical travel trailer for his family that was of a manageable size, yet with many of the comforts of home cleverly packaged for travel. His children lovingly dubbed it “the covered wagon” in honor of the prairie wagons of old.
Sherman quickly recognized there was a significant market for his design, so he rented a garage, hired some cabinet makers, and put his Covered Wagon into production. The prototype shown at the Detroit Auto Show garnered a particularly enthusiastic reception. Orders soon followed, and by 1933 the company sold 117 trailers. In 1934, that figure jumped to 320, and they soon moved to a new factory in nearby Mount Clemens, Michigan. The Covered Wagon Company continued as a sales leader, growing to over 500 employees and spawning an entire industry of copycat products and supporting accessories along the way. Later iterations of the Covered Wagon established such features as electric brakes and a patented exterior skin of zinc plated steel and plywood called “Shermanite.” Labor problems would ultimately be the undoing of the Covered Wagon Company, and following a switch to wartime production of truck bodies, travel trailer production never resumed. Despite the abrupt end of his business, today’s multi-billion dollar camper and RV industry can thank Arthur G. Sherman and his humble Covered Wagon for making the travel trailer an integral part of American culture.
This 1934 Covered Wagon trailer is a charming and delightfully original throwback to the dawn of the recreational vehicle. Most recently in a significant collection of classic era motorcars and memorabilia, it is believed that this trailer spent over 60 years with the second owner, who used it to bring his family to the Kentucky Derby every year. The exterior has been carefully restored using correct leatherette materials and fireproof roof covering while the interior fittings are amazingly well-preserved. The period correct dark green leatherette exterior conjures images of fly fishing adventures and camping in Yellowstone in the 30s. The interior is astonishingly original, complete with 1934-vintage linoleum floors, wooden cabinets, and window curtains. Numerous fascinating details include period-correct food boxes, tins, maps, travel guides, and even a vintage radio. Factory original fittings include the icebox, Readykook camp stove, heater, and porcelain sink. While showers and toilets were optional extras on later models, this example requires one to perform those tasks au naturale.
Very few of these pioneering (pun intended) travel trailers remain in existence. The exceptional authenticity and originality set this trailer apart from restored examples, with the incredibly well-preserved interior being a particular highlight. Included in the sale are period advertisements, brochures, travel guides, and maps. When paired with an appropriate classic car, this Covered Wagon is sure to be a crowd-pleaser at any number of concours events. This beautiful Covered Wagon is one of the more fascinating period pieces we have encountered in recent years.