Hey, Mouseketeers! School's out! Fill your plaid Thermos with Ovaltine, crawl into that aluminum can on wheels, 'cause it's time to hit the road with all five of your brothers and sisters! And no "Howdy Doody Show" for a whole week!
It's a disastrous scenario for today's spoiled road-trippers. But most baby boom families reveled in the "comfort" of the cozy campers, station wagons and other vacation vehicles of their time. Instead of withdrawing into individual iPods, Gameboys and portable DVD players, family members -- gasp -- actually spoke to one another. Children especially loved their motorized means of escape, decking them out with travel decals while Mom stitched curtains for the camper windows.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 19, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Automotive museum -- The name of the Petersen Automotive Museum was misspelled as Peterson in a headline in Thursday's Calendar Weekend section.
The Petersen Automotive Museum has assembled a sampling of cherished road-trip vehicles, pulling them together as "Vacationland U.S.A.," an exhibition about postwar road-tripping in Southern California.
Exhibit designer Michael Palumbo took inspiration from vintage travel brochures for the murals that surround the cars -- rubber-capped diving gals; gaucho-clad cowpokes; man-high cactuses -- and divided the exhibit into themed sections: seaside trips, mountain escapes and desert getaways.
Each car is popped open to show its version of mobile luxury. Coolers and thermoses sit on tiny, folding tables under detachable canvas awnings. Sunny yellow upholstery, tropical-print curtains, mattresses with the original ticking -- everything is laid out and dusted off, ready to hit the road.
The whole effect can make visitors feel like they're walking through a life-size vintage California guidebook.
"This is my attempt to bring people back in time," Palumbo says, "to show people what they would have experienced if they had traveled during this period."
The exhibit shows off more than a bunch of cars; it illustrates how a whole class of people played during the warm-weather months. Before condos or timeshares, those with a little extra money might've invested in an ingeniously modeled, colorfully imagined, chrome-dusted toy.
One of the first cars in the exhibit is a 1946 wood-paneled Mercury station wagon. David Blietz, a nature photographer and its original owner, outfitted the Merc with a custom roof rack, fresh-water storage tank, built-in icebox and Marmon-Herrington four-wheel drive. The result, in his words, was a "sport utility vehicle" customized to the hilt decades before MTV's "Pimp My Ride." Road-trippers could crawl into the back and sleep on a cot.
On a smaller -- much smaller -- scale, newlyweds could snuggle in "canned hams," rounded pull-trailers made by Alcoa, circa 1947. The semi-aerodynamic shape led to decent fuel efficiency, but at a mere 12 feet long the quarters were snug, and the hams faded in popularity as quickly as baby boom families grew, and as tastes for rolling kitchenettes came into vogue.
By 1950, Americans were crazy for Kamp Masters, teardrop-shaped trailers with pop-up roofs that provided more head space and a dining area. A crawl space at the front of the trailer -- roughly the size of a Tokyo capsule hotel -- was used for sleeping.
"This was very much part of the traveling landscape of that time period," Palumbo says of the Kamp Master. "People are so sensory-deprived today. What this experience was all about was communicating to each other as family, communicating to each other as friends and just going out there and discovering the landscape."
Even two-door station wagons -- practically a sub-compact by today's Cadillac Escalade standards -- were prized for their economical take on comfort as well as their sturdiness. Style often came second to quality; some vehicles, like Aaron Kahlenberg's two-door, 1954 Dodge Coronet Suburban, had dual roles: vacation touring auto and working ranch car.
"These were cars that were really built to last," says Kahlenberg, 36. "They were designed to be obsolete looks-wise, but to last forever, and this two-door just has character."
Indeed, these were not the 1930s, when wealthy Americans dashed around in masterpieces of Flash Gordon style.
Moneyed baby boom parents might have opted for a 1948 Westcraft, a long-bedded, high-roofed mammoth built using aircraft construction techniques in the suburb of La Puente.
Or they might have sprung for an Airstream, like the one on display in the Petersen's parking lot.
"This is a time when people would grab some canvas and build some hammocks to hang a few more kids above a camper's bunk bed," says Phil Noyes, a classic car collector who helped assemble the "Vacationland U.S.A." exhibition. "I think people are going to be amazed at how good we are, as a culture, at putting a lot of things in a very small space -- packing a lot of comfort into something so small as a camper."
Where: Petersen Automotive Museum, 6060 Wilshire Blvd.,
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays
Ends: April 3
Price: Adults, $10; kids ages 5-12, active military and seniors, $5; kids ages 5-12, $3; members and children younger than 5, free.
Info: (323) 930-CARS (2277) or www.petersen.org