After a while we never even noticed the trailer; in fact, it didn’t feel as if we had one at all…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 22, 1936.

“Roger Babson says,” said Jimmie Frise, “that in twenty years, half the population of America will be living in automobile trailers.”

“Think of that,” I said.

“Right now,” went on Jim, “hundreds of thousands of people know no other home than their cabin trailer. They come north. in summer. They go south in winter. It is the life of Riley.”

“Cramped quarters, though,” I suggested.

“What is the modern home,” demanded Jim, “but a place to sleep? A cabin trailer is as good as a ten-roomed mansion. Millions are living in apartments not much bigger than a cabin trailer. As a matter of fact, the cabin trailer is the logical conclusion towards which we have been marching for years.”

“First we were nomads,” I said, “then we moved into caves. Then we built cities. Then we fortified them and put walls around them. Now we are becoming nomads again.”

“That’s it exactly,” said Jim. “Nomads. From dust we came – unto dust we return. Fifty years ago, the home was the foundation of society. The bigger the home, the bigger you were in society. Fifteen, twenty-roomed mansions all over the world; even in Toronto. Now they use them for auction sale houses, or office buildings.”

“They had larger families then,” I pointed out.

“Somewhere about thirty years ago,” said Jim, “something serious happened to the humane scheme. We began to stop having families. We began building apartment houses. Bungalows. Then the motor car came along. And then the trailer. In another twenty years, real estate won’t be worth fifty cents. To own a house will classify you with the old order of things. In fact, houses will be so cheap, you can own houses all over the place, in various cities, in the north, south, east and west; just to store stuff in.”

“How about gardens?” I asked.

“We can have an annex trailing behind the trailer,” said Jim, “with a portable garden in it. The world will consist not of cities but of highways. Vast cities now flourishing will be torn down to make parking areas. If we want to do business with a man, we don’t telephone him. We just move over next door to him. Neighbors, like. And when the business is complete, move on.”

“How will we keep track of one another?” I asked.

“That will be one of the chief charms,” said Jim. “We won’t be able to keep track of one another. That’s what has made us all so sick of the world the way it is. We are all so kept track of.”

“But suppose I want my shoes repaired?” I begged.

“What will you want shoes for?” asked Jim. “You don’t have to walk any place. But suppose you did want your shoes repaired. You just sit on the steps of your cabin trailer until you see a cabin go by with ‘Shoemaker’ printed on it. You hail him. He stops. Backs in beside you. Repairs your shoes. And away he goes.”

To Be Free and Mobile

“How about milk? And bread?” I demanded.

“We have the thing backwards now,” said Jim, “with us nailed down to a house for the convenience of the milkman. In the new order of things, the milkman will have his dairy in a central location, and we drive around for the milk.”

“Ah,” I cried, “so something will be fixed?”

“Certainly,” said Jim. “But not the people. The people will be free. Heavenly free. But the services will be nailed down. We are now the slaves of the system. We will make the system our slave.”

“But,” I said, “suppose the milkman wants to be a nomad, too?”

“Then he can’t be a milkman,” explained Jimmie.

“Oh, well, it will be just the same as it is now,” I protested, “somebody is always the goat.”

“But a few goats,” said Jim, “are better than a hundred million goats.”

“It looks to me,” I assured him, “as if we were gradually slipping back into the past. We are becoming nomads again. In due time, as the thing progresses, we will be right back where we started – in the cave.”

“It would take a brave man,” declared Jim, “to say that the world is better to-day than it was. My feeling is that we are all, the whole human race, just taking a tumble to the fact that we have been gypped. That civilization, as they call it, has been a hoax, an imposition, and we are getting rid of it. For five or six thousand years, we have been patiently submitting to this idea that we should all settle down and begin to die before we have ever lived. As soon as we can walk, we are snatched up and sent to school to learn all the rules of settling down and being a slave. All through our youth, we are drilled and trained in the art of going nowhere and settling down. The great idea in life, it seems, is to be not seen and not heard. The absolute ideal of civilization is to go through life as if you had never lived.”

“By the way,” I cut in, “how would the kids go to school in this caravan civilization you are expecting?”

“I doubt if there will be any kids,” said Jim. “But if there are, there won’t be any schools. Anyway, what would there be to learn? We won’t need to know anything, in the days to come, except to count the change whenever we buy gas. And anybody can teach a kid to count.”

“It certainly doesn’t sound like much of a civilization,” I stated.

“Who says it has to be?” demanded Jim.

“But my dear fellow,” I exclaimed angrily, “where are we heading? What is our goal?”

“We will head,” said Jim, “wherever we please; our goal will be any place in the world. We can stay still or we can move, just whichever we feel like, at the moment. We will be free, compact, mobile; instead of nailed down, enslaved, burdened, chained. Everything we acquire these days is another nail, fastening us to the earth. In the days to come, when we live in cabin trailers, we won’t have room to acquire anything. Life will be reduced to the essentials.”

“And those essentials?” I asked.

“Bed, frying pan and the pursuit of happiness,” pronounced Jimmie in the American manner.

Harbinger of the New Age

“Personally,” I said, “I have never owned a trailer. Not even one of the baggage-carrying kind.”

“We ought to join the parade,” said Jim. “We ought to own a trailer. How ridiculous for us to load our cars like baggage trucks whenever we go for a trip, when all we have to do, to be perfectly comfortable and roomy, is to hitch a trailer on the back and load our baggage on it. Thousands do. But we, in our stuffy, old-fashioned way, load up our cars with baggage and bird cages and clumsy boxes of provisions, until we have to sit on our edges for a hundred miles.”

“If we were getting a trailer,” I said, “we might as well get the real thing. A cabin. It would dispose of this business of hotels, and cottages, and camps. Think of being able to have a little house on wheels and go wherever we please, for as long as we please. For instance, we might want to go to the Lake of Bays. In order to go there, we have to do one of three things: rent a cottage, reserve a room at a hotel, or go on speculation to find a camp site where somebody, will let us camp.”

“Property,” said Jim. “All of it.”

“Whereas, with a cabin trailer,” I pointed out, “we just go home and throw into it a few things we need. Then dangle along. And when we see the place we like, pull off the side of the road, and there we are.”

“A cabin trailer,” said Jim, “costs a bit of money. But you can get a good ordinary trailer second-hand for very little. In fact, there are places you can rent them for fifty cents a day. Now, I do not propose to be left amongst the minority, when this big change comes. I want to join the caravan at the start. I like to be in the forefront of these new things. I will gladly split with you the price of a good trailer, and we can do our first experiments right away.”

“How about this week-end?” I asked. “Let’s put your punt and my tent and a few bags of duffle aboard an open trailer and just go. Anywhere. And see what it feels like. No plans. No nothing. Just mooch.”

“I know a trailer I can get for $15,” said Jim.

“Buy it,” said I.

And Thursday Jim drove proudly into my side drive towing behind him the harbinger of the new age.

It was a very simple and dignified vehicle. Two-wheeled, with springs; painted, substantial; it was a trailer for trailing loads. Jim demonstrated the patent attachment for coupling the trailer to the back of any car. You dropped a bolt down, and then stuck a safety bolt through the bottom – secure, snug.

“Where will we keep it overnight?” I asked.

“I hoped you would keep it here,” said Jim, looking around my drive and garden.

“I’m afraid I couldn’t keep it in the side drive,” I said, “and it wouldn’t go through the gate into the yard, and anyway it would cut up the lawn.”

“I have no room in my place,” said Jim. The kids all around would be hauling it about.”

Joining the Parade

We pondered the problem. Finally Jim suggested we store it overnight at the garage a few blocks away where we got our gas and odds and ends.

“I have to charge a dollar a night,” explained our old friend the garage man, “or my place would be full of these things and nothing else.”

Next day, we called and picked her up and proceeded to load up for the journey. We piled in bags and tent and blanket rolls and tent pegs: Jim added more bags and quilts, and boxes of supplies; and still there was lots of room. Too much room. Everything slid around in the trailer. So we added a few things we didn’t intend to take, such as back rests for the boat, cushions, grass rugs, and anything else we could find around the house to take up space.

“Aha,” cried Jim. “The complete caravaneers. The citizens of the future, foot-loose and free.”

And putting a few of the delicate items such as fishing rods in the car, we manoeuvred out of Jim’s drive, backwards, and set forth upon our journey.

It is a little difficult to back up these trailers. It is also a little tricky rounding corners and taking curves. This one we got had a habit of weaving from side to side whenever we turned a curve. But as Jim pointed out, what could we expect for $15?

Inside of ten miles, however, just nicely outside the city, we were exclaiming that we wouldn’t even know we had a trailer attached, so smooth and free did we run.

For the first hour or so, we both had the five-minute habit of turning and looking back to see if our trailer was coming with us. The sense of pride in a trailer must come from the same source as the feeling a small boy has when he gets his first pants with pockets. It is a sort of all-here feeling; a complete, self-contained feeling. Our nomad ancestors felt that way when on the wide deserts, with all their worldly goods aboard a camel or two.

But presently the novelty wears off, and we cruised along, talking about where we would go, and not caring.

“When evening comes on,” said Jim, “we will start looking for a spot to stop.”

Mile after mile, we sailed along. And certainly, you would never imagine we had a trailer on at all. In fact, we no longer felt the trailer waggling on the curves. It was as if it had got into its stride.

Another car snored past us, pulling a trailer so like ours, both Jim and I cried out: “You’d think it was ours, boat, bags and all.”

“Funny how people all do the same things,” said Jim. “Even to roping on a boat with the same knots.”

A Dreadful Thought

We put another thirty miles behind. We pulled into a gas station for gas and both got out and watched the lady fill her up. Please, reader, observe this. We both got out. Both stood watching the gas station lady fill our tank in the rear of the car with gas.

We paid. Got back in. Drove about four miles up the road when suddenly I felt a curious prickling sensation in the back of my neck. I slanted my gaze around to Jim, at the wheel, and saw on Jim’s face a curious look of horror. He took his foot off the gas. He swivelled his gaze around to me.

“Did you,” he swallowed, “notice whether the trailer was on, back at that gas station?”

“Jim,” I gasped, “the same dreadful thought just struck me this instant. It was NOT on.”

We stopped the car on the road shoulder. Both very reluctantly got out and raised our eyes to the rear of the car.

The trailer was gone.

“It was gone,” said Jim, “back there at the gas station when we stopped for gas. And we didn’t notice it was gone.”

“Jim,” I cried, “that must have been our trailer that passed us, the one we said was exactly like ours.”

“Quick,” said Jim, “after them.”

And at full speed, we raced north on the highway, watching at every village and every gas station for our trailer, in case they had left it to be located.

But though we drove at breakneck pace until dark, we neither overtook the finder of our trailer nor did we see it at any stopping place.

“Either somebody is trying to find us,” said Jim darkly, “or else they are not trying to find us.”

“What,” I asked, “is the status of a trailer left ditched on the roadside? Is it finders keepers?”

So Jim and I located a hotel and had to borrow pyjamas, razor and so forth from the proprietor. And we walked about until midnight, in the village, watching traffic. And we saw many trailers, both cabin and baggage. We slept badly and woke early and continued our journey northward, watching at every camping place and along the shores of every lake, but saw no trace of our trailer, until we had to turn around and head back for home, sans trailer, sans tent, sans bags and blankets and everything.

“In the new era,” I said to Jim, “they will have to invent some better form of attachment for trailers or life will be very precarious indeed.”

Jim reached into his pocket.

“I wasn’t going to mention it,” he said, “but I forgot to put this in.”

It was the small safety bolt for securing the trailer to the car.

“I’ll put up the reward,” assured Jim. And the reward is $10.

Editor’s Notes: Roger Babson was an American entrepreneur, economist, and business theorist. He was a popular lecturer on business and financial trends.

“The life of Riley” means “living a luxurious or carefree existence.” The expression comes from a popular song of the 1880s, “Is That Mr. Reilly?”, in which the title character describes what he would do if he suddenly became wealthy.

50 cents in 1936 would be $10.75 in 2023. $15 is $323. $10 is $215.