Camp'otel car-top camping outfit

Description
Autocamping -- traveling with car, tent, and portable, home-like furnishings for cooking and sleeping -- was a very popular family activity in the 1920s. When autocamping became popular again after two decades of depression and war, many vacationing families slept inside their station wagons because of the convenience, economy, and comfort that this ubiquitous postwar vehicle provided. Some families made tents that rested on top of their station wagons. This type of unit provided more space and head room than the car's interior and retained the advantage of distance from insects, snakes, animals, and the cool, damp earth. In 1961, Edmonds Guerrant, an autocamper and mechanical engineer in Fort Worth, Texas, began manufacturing a car-top tent unit that rested on the rain gutter, a metal drip rail around the roof of a sedan or station wagon. The Camp'otel became popular in Texas and was marketed nationally through Sears, J. C. Penney, Western Auto, and other retail stores. Loyal Camp'otel owners travelled in groups, formed an organization called the Penthouse Campers Association, and published a newsletter. The donors of the Smithsonian's Camp'otel, Robert and Delora French, took their two sons on numerous vacation trips in the United States and Mexico between 1963 and 1976. They installed the tent outfit on top of their 1957 Oldsmobile sedan and later on their 1965 Ford station wagon. Mr. and Mrs. French invested in Camp'otel Corporation and knew Edmonds Guerrant and others involved with the firm. Camp'otel Corporation went out of business during the gasoline shortage of 1973-1974. A contributing factor to its demise was the gradual disappearance of rain gutters on new cars.
Image from sales promotion material housed in division object file.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1963
maker
Camp'otel Corporation
place made
United States: Texas, Fort Worth
Physical Description
canvas (overall material)
aluminum (overall material)
galvanized steel (overall material)
plywood (overall material)
ID Number
1997.0112.01
accession number
1997.0112
Credit Line
Gift of Robert L. and Delora S. French
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
Transportation
Family & Social Life
Road Transportation
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

Comments

I am one of the sons of Edmonds Guerrant and I want to add that he also invented and sold a "kitchen" unit that was taken down from the back of the Camp'otel and set up to provide a table seating 6 persons on two benches, a 2 burner Coleman stove, dishpans, and storage space for food. (This is visible and ready to travel at the back of camper in the top photo and is set up under the awning in the lower photo.) The canvas rectangle to the right of the car is a flowing hot water shower and doubled as a toilet enclosure. Dad saw to it that all this equipment traveled on top of the car so there was plenty of space below for kids and dogs. There was even room in the camper for clothes and bedding. Mosquito netting sewed into the end flaps meant we could open the flaps and let the breezes flow though on summer nights. It could be set up in about 20 minutes (but we did it in 12 minutes one rainy night). The only drawback was that we would have to explain it to other campers in every campground, but my father invented a great design. --Don Guerrant
"My parents bought one and becam members of the Penthouse Camper. I remember a rather large gathering of owners in the 60's there was two floating platforms with flag poles with flags made of tissue paper. The games was a version of capture the flag. Later, we joined the National Campers and Hikers Association (NCHA). The Penthouse Campers camped together for 3 decades. As they got older they changed the bylaws from limiting the membership to only cartop camper and all bought motor homes and trailers. My father became the TX State Director for NCHA. We had great vacation, met good friends, and created awesome memories."
I still have my camp-o-tel! Bought it new and our family of 6 used it for many years. It's been stored in our garage since we stopped camping with it. LOVED IT!.
"My first wife found and got this for us, when we lived in Juneau Alaska and needed to economize on lodging, driving back to and from Rock Island Illinois - usually a 7 day trip with little ones. We were the center of attention in any campground we stayed at.For me, it was 1/2 inch too short to be comfortable, but our 2 children loved it, especially climbing up the ladder and then being able to pull it up and in after is for security.. My wife and I slept in the center, because we were heavier, while the kids slept in the half-wide fold-out sections on the side. To this day ... some 30 years later ... they remember me telling them (to get them to quiet down and go to sleep) that if they were noisy and attracted a bear, it would get them first. :-)This is a classic example of American ingenuity. Well done, National Museum of American History, for showcasing it!"
Our most memorable vacation was camping from California to Kansas City and back with our Camp'otel! The 4 of us kids slept in the Camp'otel and the parents slept in our long '65 Pontiac station wagon. The best summer ever!!
"My father purchased a CampOtel in the early 60's. we lived in Fort Worth where they were made. The dealership and was off Lancaster across from Farington Field. We used it on several trips to include California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. Lots of found memories of camping in our CampOtel and people coming to check it out in the campgrounds. Mom and Dad slept in the middle and and the older brother got one of the outside bunks and my younger brother and I had to sleep in the other outside bunk with our heads on each end with legs diagonal to each other. It was used will unto the late 70's and finally given away to a friend of my Father's in late 80's. I do miss it. . "
My family was an owner of a Camp O tel. We traveled many many miles with it and our two daughters. It was really nice and comfortable and a cheap way to travel and camp. We were close friends of the Ed Guerrants. Our daughter was one of the camp o tel queens for one year. We kept it stored up in the top of our garage. Another nice feature....
"In 1975 four adults with five kids went from Virginia to California and back with a Camp'otel atop a Dodge Maxivan. Three of us slept on top, several kids on the ground, the rest in the van. It was the best vacation ever! The Camp'otel was the best purchase I ever made. It was as advertised, never disapppointed. "

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