Revisiting Trailer Life’s star-spangled bicentennial issue
The nation was in the midst of celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence when Trailer Life Publisher Art Rouse opened his July 1976 column with the words “Happy birthday, America!” Beyond its red, white and blue layouts, the issue featured “RVing the Liberty Trail,” a bicentennial road trip from Philadelphia’s Independence Square to Washington, D.C. “Don’t bother with underground parking,” the author advised. “RVs are not welcome.”
Rouse updated his close-cropped Mad Men look to bushy sideburns and aviator glasses in the mid-’70s, showing an acceptance of trends that carried over to the magazine with topics ranging from the CB-radio craze to the sport of land sailing. Trailer Life even capitalized on two ’70s fads by selling its bicentennial emblem as a sticker and embroidered patch. Another item advertised in the issue, the Stick-on-States kit, soon went from popular to ubiquitous, as readers showcased their travels on the outside of their RVs, one colorful state decal at a time.
RV road tests were a big part of the magazine in the ’70s, as they are today. The bicentennial issue paired a bright-orange Apache Ramada with a black-and-tan Granada sedan equipped with Ford’s light-duty towing package. The consensus? “An economical combo.” Speaking of economical, the 220-page issue sold on newsstands for a dollar.
Trailer Life’s advertisers made the most of the 200th anniversary, with bicentennial ads flaunting the country’s founders, national landmarks and patriotic slogans like Skyline’s “the Pursuit of Happiness” to promote its Nomad trailers. A sage-looking Ben Franklin presided over an ad for Duo-Therm air conditioners, and Betsy Ross stitched the stars and stripes while seated in the red, white and denim interior of a Wickes Swinger. Not to be outdone, the Coleman ad combined all three elements with a folding trailer parked in front of Mount Rushmore’s presidential foursome under the banner “Home of the Free.” Now that’s all-American.