Early Car Campers

A little car camping in 1918. No attribution found.

In the heady days of 1918 while the German threat was being finished off in Europe Americans began to take leisure time in a new direction.  Automobiles were almost commonplace and Yankee ingenuity was applying itself to this new platform of creativity.  Patents were being filed to sell improvements on the original designs while pioneer camping technology was far from lost.  Money was tight for the average person and the economy was devastated world-wide encouraging frugal holidays.

There is a little stove on the pull-out, a hurricane lamp on the side shelf, and just enough of the comforts of home under the wagon cover to make for an easy vacation.

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Classic Liquid Fuel Stoves

A look at the origins and evolution of our favorite camp stove…

This post was going to be a few words about the Primus stoves we all love and some images I’ve collected from around the web.  As usual, I found myself rambling all over the topic without a clear direction but here is a bit of an overview of liquid fuel stoves over the past century and a half.
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Primus advertisement 1899. Image found on the Classic Camp Stove Forum.

Outdoor cooking has become something of a lost art for those of us raised in the industrial world, but not too long ago, what we think of as camp cooking was just plain cooking.   Several major advances made in the 19th and early 20th centuries resonate in our lives without a second thought from most of us.  Most of our great-grandparents cooked with solid fuel (mostly wood, peat, manure, or charcoal) and their grandparents may have felt fortunate to even be able to cook indoors in bad weather.

In the 19th century, the Caravan Craze, global expansionism, and campaign warfare sent massive numbers of otherwise civilized people back to the outdoors; often with high expectations about the board-of-fare.  Although we, as a species, have cooked over campfires for many thousands of years, this is not always convenient or desirable; whether for speed, lack of fuel, or need for a low profile in the hedgerows.  An early response to this need was the brazier or hibachi-type grill reinvented on numerous occasions in various parts of the world.  These  stoves can use small wood or charcoal but are heavy, smoky, and need large volumes of solid fuel for sustained use.  Not a good option for the traveller.  When coal oil and kerosene became common, liquid fuel appeared to be the answer.

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Supper at the Caravan

Although common now, liquid fuel stoves have not always been a good or safe choice for cooking on the road or in camp.  Early portable stoves used a wick and some variety of coal oil for the fuel.  The flame created with a wick is relatively low-temperature, causing incomplete combustion.  Wick stoves exude fumes and soot, like a low-quality oil lamp and are unpleasant at best, especially n confined spaces.  These were not a terrible option for the 1850s, but nothing as good as what would come in the next generation.

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Soyer stove.

The advancements of Alexis Soyer – The contraption above is one of the many inventions given to us by Alexis Soyer, celebrity chef and cooking guru of mid-19th century Britain.  Many of his cookbooks are still referenced and can be found for free on the web.  He was, by the way, born a Frenchman but we can forgive him this oversight for his many wonderful contributions to the world of food.  Not only did Mssr. Soyer invent several useful contraptions for cooking, but he is credited with organizing the first  Soup Kitchen to help the starving Irish during the Famine.  And as a further claim to fame, the larger unit stove he developed for the British army during the Crimean War was such and excellent design it was still regular issue 120 years later.  But I digress from our theme.Soyer_StoveSeen in use above, this little stove was revolutionary but left much to be desired, especially for cooking indoors.  I don’t believe you’d catch a sane cook using something of this sort on an actual tablecloth unless it was made from asbestos.  In the 19th century, both camp and home cookery were beginning to change drastically; up to this time the two were not very different.  Along with improvements in stoves, better cooking pots, and roasting pans, other kitchen gadgets were being developed to help make cooking better and easier.  A humble and often overlooked kitchen appliance was invented in this period…

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Soyer’s Alarum.

The wind-up cooking timer –

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This little beauty is something that all modern cooks take for granted.  It seems obvious now, but Soyer realized that mothers, chefs, and camp cooks have many things to attend to at once.  He wisely decided that a dinging countdown timer timer could take some of the strain away from cooking and make for better prepared meals.

The coming of the pressurized stove – The Crimean war, the Raj in India, and other colonial ventures undertaken during Queen Victoria’s reign spurred on great advances in campaign living and long-term camping.  The East India Company and the regular military encouraged officers to bring the comforts of home as whole careers were spent thousands of miles from home creating and running an empire.  From this period, the Brits gave us great folding furniture, camp bedding, portable furnishings, and the Gypsy caravan but it took a Swede to take us to the next level, and camp technology has never looked back.

The pressurized kerosene stove –

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Image 1914.

From the Wikipedia Entry as of October 2014:

The Primus stove, the first pressurized-burner kerosene (paraffin) stove, was developed in 1892 by Frans Wilhelm Lindqvist, a factory mechanic in Stockholm, Sweden. The stove was based on the design of the hand-held blowtorch;

From this...

The origins of the camp stove!

Lindqvist’s patent covered the burner, which was turned upward on the stove instead of outward as on the blowtorch.

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Improvements and variations came quickly after their introduction.

…The Primus No. 1 stove, made of brass, consists of a fuel tank at the base, above which is a “rising tube” and the burner assembly. A steel top ring on which to set a pot is held above the burner by three support legs. Other Primus-style stoves may be larger or smaller, but have the same basic design. The No. 1 stove weighs about 2½ pounds, and measures about 8½ inches high with an overall diameter of just under 7 inches. The tank, about 3½ inches high, holds a little over two pints of kerosene and will burn for about four hours on a full tank.

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We think of this type stove as a camp stove but they were marketed far and wide for household use as well.

…Prior to the introduction of the Primus, kerosene stoves were constructed in the same manner as oil lamps, which use a wick to draw fuel from the tank to the burner and which produce a great deal of soot due to incomplete combustion.

The Primus stove’s design, which uses pressure and heat to vapourize the kerosene before ignition, results in a hotter, more efficient stove that does not soot.  Because it did not use a wick and did not produce soot, the Primus stove was advertised as the first “sootless” and “wickless” stove.

sverige270These stoves are still celebrated worldwide and are in use on every corner of the planet.

The ads give a hint as to how far and wide the Primus stove reached around the globe.

This Radius ad is interesting as it shows the kinship or reapplication of technology from blow torch to stove with only a little modification by the engineers.

The designers continually improved this relatively simple device with, among other features, a safety cap that failed at a lower pressure than that which would have caused the stove to turn into and actual brass grenade.  Although safety features were invented to reduce the number of serious accidents, I suspect these little contraptions are responsible for burning down a fair number of burns and the loss of more than a few homes.

As with any successful product, there were and are many imitators of this relatively simple design and many still on the market models come from former old Soviet Union, China, and India.

Judging by the marketing, they bring nothing but bliss and happiness but seriously, these devices were probably a huge boon to the housewife no longer in need of wood or dung for cooking fuel.

The switch to gasoline –

Although introduced in the early 20th Century, the Second World War and subsequent decade saw widespread popularity of the gasoline stove for military use.  Unlike kerosene, gasoline (or purified “white gas”) is truly explosive, not just flammable.  Placed under high pressure, these are potentially bombs.  However, gasoline or derivatives can be found almost anywhere on earth with the spread of the internal combustion engine, making this a fuel of choice for international travelers.  As per usual with us humans, we chose practicality and convenience over safety.

The iconic early stove of this design is the Svea 123 as it it is a beautiful combination of design features including simplicity of construction, easy field repair, and heating power.

Here’s a link to lighting the Svea 123 (and a little info about why they are so cool):  “DEMYSTIFYING THE SVEA 123”

Svea_123_Optimus_99_cousin.

Classic Svea 123 and a close cousin.

Variations on the theme are endless, from the Svea 123 (gasoline) to the Ultra-Primus double burner home range (kerosene).  The various designs proved themselves in kitchens, on river trips, mountain tops, and in virtually every modern backpacker’s gear in one form or another.  For much of the world, this style stove is still the centerpiece of kitchen cooking.

A different spin on the basic Svea design. The main feature of the 71 is it's convenient packaging.

A different spin on the basic Svea design. The main feature of the 71 is it’s convenient packaging for the traveller.

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Summitting  Everest, a pretty great endorsement.

As a side note to history, the design was so successful that many other companies copied the essential design.  Here are just a few ads for the Optimus line of stoves and lamps, another spin-off, from their own website showing a wide range of related products over the last century.

The modern era of the camp stove –

In my lifetime, liquid fuel backpacking stoves have undergone some serious refinements but overall, the system for liquid fuel stoves is essentially the same.  Safety has been a big issue, of course, but size (decrease) and fuel capacity (increase) are probably the biggest changes.  Many stoves use canister fuel (butane or propane), alcohol, or solid fuel pellets; but I won’t get into those here as they are beyond our scope.

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A new era; the MSR XGK multi-fuel stove.

The final round of changes came from Mountain Safety Research and it’s later competitors.  The big innovation was to separate the fuel tank from the burner assembly and add a pressurizing system to the tank.  Small but efficient details were added like the self-lighting sparker, self-cleaning tube, and the inclusion of a lightweight wind screen.  I have used one of these for used with pretty good success but I still find myself choosing the Svea 123 for many journeys.

Links and Further Information –

This post is woefully inadequate in so many ways but it is meant as a quick overview of the pressurized liquid fuel stove we all love so much.  Here are some links to some great information on the web.

And my all time favorite, the Svea 123. We have been friends for many years.

The Base Camp is a specialist equipment internet retailer based in Littlehampton, Southern England since 1986.  They stock classic stoves and have an excellent selection of obsolete parts.

A H Packstoves Supplies and Parts – is an online seller through ebay.  He always has good stuff and some hard to find parts.

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The Fettle Box is a good source for pieces and parts for your classic stove. I have had good luck with them.

Finally, the Classic Camp Stoves Forum.  Several images above were found here.  Information about virtually every kind of stove available.  History, art, repairs, tutorials, and reprints are all available on the Forum.

Click here for the mother load of information about Classic Stoves.

More stove ramblings to come…

House Trucks from the Early 1970s

Rolling homes go back almost as far as rolling vehicles and the modern era of motor driven cars is not an exception.  If you have followed this blog at all you may have seen some great contraptions, especially from the 1920s and 30s.  The counter-culture of the 1960s lead to a generation of rolling home builders and dwellers ready to hit the road.

Luckily…

Photographer Paul Herzoff took a series of photos of some of the interesting, home-built, house trucks between 1971 and 1973 on the American West Coast. Many of these images are now housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Since I save a LOT of reference images, I sometimes forget what is even there.  I picked a few from my files to share here since they gave me many ideas since I first encountered them many years ago.

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Paul Byrd’s Old West-themed truck is among my favorites and has a lot of charm in the details. I hope it survives somewhere today.

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This thing looks like a mid-century sheep wagon mated with and early Airstream (its descendant) and gave birth to a little COE camper. The giant drop down porch looks like a precursor of a modern day Toy Hauler camper.

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The interior of Bob’s Bus. It appears to have a lot of great storage space and utilizes a loft for added room.  You have to love the plants as well.

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This one is called “Cab, Craftsman’s Van.” Again, I just love the homeyness of the plants on board.

David

Not much information about this other than the title “David.” It is a very utilitarian door that appears to be made from a recycled packing crate and a re-purposed window. I wouldn’t put a hasp on the outside unless it could be locked in the open position. I think there would be too much chance of mischief.

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Here’s another pragmatic interior with a guy named George. Small bed, maybe it folded out?

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Here’s another bus interior decorated with recycled cloth. Very Bohemian.

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Craig’s house truck really speaks to me. It has a great form with the compound curve of the roof and a mollycroft. You’ll notice the water barrel on top and the ever important stove pipe poking up.

Craig Inside

Another view of Craig’s home. Not only does it have a mollycroft, but it has a sunroof as well.

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Here’s a pragmatic plywood beauty. Maybe not very aerodynamic but it sure looks spacious.

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And finally, probably my favorite from the set. I suspect it is ridiculously heavy but I think this truck can handle it. There are a lot fine details to note with this one.

If you are preparing to build a rolling home, there has never been a better time to find pertinent examples to learn from on the web.  Enjoy the views.

A 1926 Home Built Camper Truck

An early tiny house on wheels… and a family selfie.

W.M. O'Donnell & family of Detroit in bungalow auto, 2/1/26.

W.M. O’Donnell & family of Detroit in bungalow auto, 2/1/26.

The Library of Congress has some pretty amazing stuff.  I rarely find what I came for but I always find something pretty spectacular.  This house (click to enlarge) is quite a piece of woodworking.  Shingle siding all glass door, sturdy balcony, beautiful windows, under storage, and what I think is a pull out pan box on the back.  The O’Donnell’s were certainly traveling in style.

The amount of joinery that went into the door and windows is probably more than found in most houses today.

W.M. O’Donnell & family of Detroit in bungalow auto, 2/1/26

The amount of joinery that went into the door and windows is probably more than is found in most houses today.  I really like the old basement windows used as storage access underneath.  As usual, I could find no interior photos but I suspect it was well appointed.

Original files can be found: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/npc2008007978/and http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/npc2008007936/

If this isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.

Oh, and nearby photo caught my eye in the Library:

Mlle. Rae with garter flask, 1/26/26.

Mlle. Rae with garter flask, 1/26/26.

I’ve never known a woman with a garter flask before…

Finally…

A perfect rolling home.

And a place for everything!

Bundesarchiv. Bild 183-1987-1002-510 Foto 1 November 1922.

Bundesarchiv. Bild 183-1987-1002-510 Foto 1 November 1922.

The details here are remarkable including the decorative framing around the windows and planter boxes … with plants!  I believe this sits on solid rubber teeth-rattling tires.  You can probably tell from the caption but this is apparently from Germany in 1922.  I wish I knew what the function of the trailer was; workshop, spare bedroom, animals, kitchen?

Prius House

Experimental house on a Prius from Australia.

priusWhat an odd combination.  I like it indeed.  The short article is HERE.

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“It provided a stylish place to sleep at the Meredith Music Festival in Victoria earlier this month while his fellow campers were forced to rough it in tents.

“It’s quite well insulated in there. It’s more comfortable than a tent,” he said.”

An Engineering Marvel; Tiny House Truck

That transforms into a modernist castle.

As usual, Lloyd Kahn always finds the good stuff to post when it comes to unique Shelter.  The Tiny House Truck is built on an old flatbed and is a true marvel of engineering as it “pops” out into a faux castle.  An appropriate home I suppose for these traveling performers.  Some of the luxuries include a separated toilet, separated shower, full kitchen, and a bath tub (with hot water) on the roof patio.  There are some extremely modern amenities and ingenious storage solutions here.  It is worth the twelve minutes to watch the video and see this remarkable home as still photos do not do it justice.

The original story is on the Living Big in a Tiny House blog HERE.

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Click to go to the Living Big website.

 

Early Motor Caravans

We live in an age of motor vehicles.  Few of us could consider, for safety if nothing else, taking to the roads in a horse drawn vehicle.  When the automobile seemed here to stay, caravanners in Europe adapted to the new technology.

MotorVans1 The earliest models look essentially like their horse-drawn cousins, just stuck onto a truck chassis.  In this era, I suspect they were topping out at 35 mph.

MotorVans2This is the earliest side-door design I have found which changes the dynamics of the interior layout.  Note that in the vehicles above, the driver is still fully exposed to the elements.  A far cry from our modern experience.  Note the “driving coat” worn by the pilot of this beauty.

MotorVans3This French innovation has boxed-in the driver’s compartment making it suitable for foul weather.  Still, I would be worried about those huge, non-safety glass windows.

MotorVans4And finally, a very practical little design; the AEROPLANE.  A cute little beast.  I could not find the floor plan for this one but there is a section profile to help the would-be builder:

MotorVans5This style fold down seat/bed is exactly what I had in my first Ford pickup camper.  Simple and practical.  Maybe these early designs will inspire more modern builders to dive in and get their build on.  Keep it simple, keep it light.