This most unusual looking fifth-wheel travel trailer unit was first seen motoring around Southern Ontario in the late 1930’s. It was originally owned by a Chatham, Ontario industrialist named William M. Gray. His father, Robert Gray, had pioneered the production of the Gray-Dort automobile in Chatham some years earlier. Wm. Gray worked in the family automobile business, but in 1924, after the company had experienced some unexpected setbacks, the production of the Gray-Dort automobile ceased.
Wm. Gray then organized a new business in Chatham called Colonial Traders, specializing in the manufacture and distribution of auto parts. It was through his company in 1936 that Mr. Gray imported this unique travel trailer, manufactured by the Aero-Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. “The Big Land Yacht” as Wm. Gray liked to call it, was originally intended as a pleasure vehicle for his family and was pulled by a ’36 Plymouth coupe.
It soon became evident that if full enjoyment of this motor home was to be realized, a more powerful tow vehicle was required. To this end Mr. Gray decided to have a unique tow vehicle built to his specifications. The International Harvester truck plant in Chatham provided a 1938 custom D-Line shorted wheel base cab and chassis with dual rear wheels. Power to the 2 speed rear axle was obtained from a Green Diamond 213 cubic inch flat head six cylinder engine coupled to a four speed transmission.
The body was custom built in Brantford, Ontario by Brantford Coach and consisted of molded sheet steel panels fastened to the hardwood framing members. The tow vehicle was a self contained traveling unit even without the trailer. It would seat seven persons and had bedding compartments and a swing-out sink unit. The windows had pull-down blinds and the six foot long rear seat would slide forward to provide a double berth.
As well, special compartments were built into the body to house the heavy duty batteries and the separate delco power plant which provided interior lighting for the trailer. This unit also had a six volt dash radio, electric windshield wipers, hot water interior heater, chemical and oil flares, intercom phone for driver-to-coach, an air compressor and a vacuum gauge and a hydraulic control of vacuum line to trailer brakes.
At the rear deck, a wooden roll-down covering revealed the coupling well for the trailer hitch which utilized a “Glenn Curtis Aero Coupler” consisting of an aeroplane tire and wheel mounted horizontally.
The overall coupled length of the vehicles was 35 feet, while the trailer alone was 22 feet. The entire length of trailer was reinforced with aeroplane type, steel strut cross bracing between the upright wooden framing member. The complete body was covered with tightly stretched fabric.
When new, the coach came with a propane range, buddy heating stove, ice box and sink with a 30 gallon, pressurized water supply. It had a chemical toilet, front and rear port lockers, quarter ceiling lockers and upper and lower double berths at the front with a sleeper curtain. At the rear was a double berth with night side locker and compartment door with a full length plate glass mirror, as well as a hang up clothes closet.
The trailer came equipped with dual wiring systems. It was fitted with 110V outlets for cooking, and auxiliary or mobile six volt lighting. Other standard accessories were inside and outside night lights. The fully operational windows were equipped with roll-up screens and privacy blinds. Two skylights were provided to ensure adequate ventilation.
During the span of time in which Mr. Gray used this vehicle, he was continually adding to or upgrading many of the features found in this avant-garde mobile home. At one point in time he actually had the complete unit shipped overseas in order that he might tour Britain in his “Great Land Yacht”.
Shortly after World War II ended, Wm. Gray sold his business, Colonial Traders and decided to retire. The city of Chatham persuaded him to postpone his retirement and take on the role of Industrial Commissioner. It was while serving in this position that Mr. Gray used his trailer extensively to treat many U.S. industrialists to exciting camping holidays. Wm. Gray was instrumental in engineering the growth of Chatham’s industrial base to more than twice its original size, However, in 1958, due to failing health, Mr. Gray decided to sell his prized possession.
It passed through the hands of at least two owners during the ensuing years until 1981. At this time, Mr. Morris Shaw of St. Thomas, Ontario became the next owner of the unique old relic. He rescued it from a dilapidated barn that had partially collapsed on it. Both the truck and trailer were in deplorable condition, so the monumental task of restoration has handed over to Ken Hindley of Union, Ontario.
The tow vehicle was to be tackled first, and so, after many months of painstaking reconstruction, the old International was once again a sight to behold. The body sheeting had been carefully removed, the wooden framework almost totally reconstructed and the body panels once again refitted. Many body parts and fittings that were either broken or missing had to be fabricated from scratch.
With restoration completed on the truck, but work not yet begun on the trailer, Morris Shaw decided that, due to other interests, both units were once again up for sale. After having personally worked so many long and tedious hours on the restoration of the truck, Ken Hindley and his wife Lana decided that they would become the present owners of this very unique part of Canadian automotive history.
Work was commenced in 1992 on the rebuild of the trailer unit to restore it to its original splendor. However, to make the unit more functional by today’s standards, some interior items have been replaced by more modern day fixtures.
exhibit is always a crowd pleaser when it makes
appearances on the show circuit.