On Some Happy Campers

Getting back to nature and going camping has appealed to people ever since cities began housing more people that the countryside did. We campers see retreating to the outdoors as getting back in touch with our collective past, a simpler (and perhaps, happier) time. And the invention and proliferation of the automobile made those remote and rural areas much more accessible.

Take the case of a group of four chums in the 1910s. During the week, they were workaholics, dedicated to their various careers and businesses, but, on occasion, they would tear themselves away and go, by the fairly new automobile, to the woods. There, they would camp–after a fashion. Some people today would call what this group of mature men did glamping–the idea of camping but with some of the creature comforts from “civilization” in tow. And I get that. The older I get, the more I want a nice bed, even if it’s under the stars. I want good food and not gorp or MREs. However, this group went a bit farther than that. They loaded their cars with folding tables and even had batteries rigged up for electric lights. Now, remember, these guys were doing this in the 1910s. But they insisted on the creature comforts because, well, they were, as I stated, more mature men.

The four friends labeled themselves The Vagabonds because of their camping excursions. Jack, Hank, Tommy, and Harve enjoyed their trips together. They’d smoke cigars around a large fire and swap tales and even brag about their business exploits or even (and these were secrets) their conquests in love. Sometimes, other business types would join the group, but the four Vagabonds were always the core.

And the group documented their trips. They kept journals about what they did. They took photographs. And one of them even brought an early movie camera and made some 1910s version of home movies about their exploits “roughing it” in the “wilderness” of wherever it was they were on that particular trip.

Now, remember, at that time, there wasn’t the extensive highway system that we have today. There weren’t the typical tourist and traveler comforts like common gas stations or rest stops. So, in that sense, the Vagabonds were indeed roughing it after a sort. But not so much. They were, in fact, rather happy campers.

But then, Jack died. It didn’t seem the same after that. The last trip the group made together was in 1921 before he passed. The remaining three tried to carry on, but they knew the magic period had passed. Besides, word was getting out about what they were doing, and other people were copying their methods and style.

Yet, today, we can still look at the pictures of what famous naturalist John Burroughs, inventor Thomas Edison, industrialist Henry Ford, and rubber magnate Harvey Firestone did on their trips to the wilderness.


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