The last Forester travel trailers were manufactured in 1979 in Forest City, but appear to be continuing their resurgence in popularity.
Marlen Hanson of Forest City has been busily preparing for the 2021 Vintage Forester Travel Trailer Rally to be held Sept. 16-19 at the Crystal Lake Park campgrounds.
Hanson began working at the former Forester manufacturing plant in 1958, its first year. He worked there 19 years until 1976.
“I was the first employee hired, as a gopher, not that I knew a lot about it,” Hanson said. “I worked on the line. I was a material handler and then the lead man for final assembly.”
Hanson spent his last nine years as a purchasing agent before heading off to serve in the U.S. Army. He noted that the current trend of shortages and price hikes for many material supplies is something he encountered in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“We went through that back then, too,” Hanson said. “Everybody was building trailers and vendors could not keep up. We wanted to keep getting materials as soon as possible, but wanted to keep the suppliers happy. I remember some sleepless nights, being afraid we would not get parts.”
The Forester trailers were manufactured by Forest City Industries in what is now a Holland Construction storage building on south side of town.
“A lot of new people around here don’t even know they were built here,” Hanson said. “In about February and March of 1979, the last ones were built.”
The trailers are much like motorhomes on the inside, from an earlier era of outdoor recreation possibilities. Hanson said he still has the original curtains and seat cushions in his 1970 Forester 16L trailer.
“It’s a low line, which means it is low to the ground,” Hanson said. “It makes for easy towing. I wanted it to seat five people (family members) and have a bathroom.”
Those family members include his wife Karen, daughter Julie, and sons Kris and Kerby. In recent years, Kerby created an online shopping site, https://kerbys-store.myspreadshop.com, for rally goers and members of the public to purchase items such as mugs, apparel, and stickers with a choice of three Forester logos. Merchandise ordered from online store is shipped to buyers. Forester T-shirts are also made available to all, rally goers or not.
Hanson said a woman from Nebraska is scheduled to participate in the 2021 rally with her 1979 Forester trailer that was one of the last ones manufactured. The Forester Club also recently surpassed 1,500 member families from all across the country.
Hanson said some of the members have refurbished trailers and made them entirely their own. But his trailer is almost as it was the day he brought it home. The original cushions and curtains are characteristic of the “Vietnam flower child” era, he said.
It looks to have few if any spots or blemishes inside or outside and he has been able to keep almost everything original. A classic Panasonic television is set inside with Johnny Carson and the Tonight show always on the screen, Hanson jokes. It is one of several classic screens he pastes to the TV.
He cited highlights of this year’s rally being a Sept. 17 meet and greet for the 50 confirmed rally goers, but he said many will arrive as early as Sept. 14-15 to get settled before it officially begins.
“There will probably be 20 that come on Wednesday,” he said. “There will be potlucks and lots of visiting in the evenings.”
On the morning of Sept. 18, rally goers will have a private tour of the Mansion Museum in Forest City from about 9-10:30 a.m. followed by a trip to the old Forester manufacturing plant.
“I’ll walk the whole group through there and tell them how it used to be and where everything was,” Hanson said. “It’s pretty much storage space now, which makes that easier. It’s a little bit different story every year, I think.”
That afternoon will include a “tour of homes,” Hanson said. “We invite the public to come and view the homes, and by homes we mean trailers, at Crystal Lake.”
He noted that the rally goers are not just locals, but come from across the country. They will compete for awards like the best refurbished trailer, farthest distance traveled, and “people’s choice,” he added.
The first Forester trailer rally was held at Pilot Knob State Park five years ago. It has since been held at Crystal Lake Park, with this year’s being the fifth national rally.
Manufactured between 1958 and 1979, Forester compact trailers became successful among recreation enthusiasts in the 1960s. The trailers came in many different sizes and models, the smallest weighing just 1,550 pounds.
The family of Forester trailers varied in size from 14 feet to 24 feet. Most models had tandem axle for easier towing, handling and lower overall height. With a pull-out bed and couch, Forester had an eye for camper comfort.
Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at email@example.com.