In the 1930s, caravanning in Australia meant hitching up a small, oval-shaped plywood caravan and hitting the open road – here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow.
Although times have changed – and the caravans certainly have – somewhere, in most people’s hearts there’s a desire for a simpler world, a time when life was gentler, slower and easier. So, for many of us, there are probably still moments when the idea of the small round plywood van of yesteryear seems desirable.
But it doesn’t have to be just whimsy. Gold Coast caravan manufacturer Woody Caravans makes new vans that hark back to those early days. To add a twist, the van I saw was aimed at those who see themselves touring the blacktop, working from their retro plywood van.
The idea of an anachronism on two wheels took hold and I went to check out a new van by Woody Caravans. I wanted to know if there was a chance of finding the old-fashioned mobile writer’s retreat that would allow me to settle in to a quieter pace that I dreamed of.
So, one showery morning, I caught up with one of Woody Caravans’ latest creations in a beaut little camp usually frequented by Scouts called Baden Powell Park – wide-open tree lined spaces, lush and green. Better still, it is just 30 minutes from Brisbane city, near the hamlet of Samford Village.
HITCHED TO HITCHED
Woody Caravans makes vans to order. This vintage-style van is a purpose-built ‘work from your van’ caravan. But rather than a nook from where ramblings of roadside wanderings are penned, the charming Lawdy Miss Claudy was designed as a mobile hairdressing salon for folk who want a little pampering on the road or for a special occasion like a wedding.
Quite simply, if you’re thinking of getting hitched or need a new do but don’t want to run to the hairdresser, owner Susan Skermer will pack the clippers, hair dryer, hair gel and scissors, hitch up her little Lawdy Miss Claudy and haul it to your place, or your site in the caravan park, so you and the entire wedding party can, as the French say, Chez le coiffeur.
In a time when caravanning usually means hitching up a large van with all the bells and whistles, Lawdy Miss Claudy is certainly the very epitome of simplicity and elegance. A very straightforward chassis and old-fashioned leaf springs hold up a van of plywood walls and roof, with room for a few tools of the trade inside.
Susan loves her little retro-styled van, especially the rear concertina wood-framed window that lets in a great measure of light and fresh air, and adds a feel of handcrafted workmanship often lost in the hurly burly modern world.
Susan said she designed the van with a deep sink by the window so that it could be used as a mobile party van for family occasions. She just opens up the window and, hey presto, The bar is open. “It worked a treat for a recent 21st,” Susan recalled.
A porthole set into the caravan door adds to the quaint feel imbued by the canary yellow and white livery.
While the look and feel go a long way when you’re creating lasting memories pampering a bride on her day, a van needs a good dose of versatility before you can convince me to take it on tour. But the van was built for riding the blacktop, which makes the five-leaf spring suspension about right for this lightweight van that carries a price tag of just over $33,000.
When it comes to living outdoors, there’s no awning to extend. Instead, it requires a freestanding umbrella to keep you out of the weather. Obviously, staying reasonably true to heritage caravan design dating back to the 1930s brings with it challenges. Notably, this includes limited interior space due to the van’s small size, fewer creature comforts and the potential for wood rot and water damage, inherent in wooden clad and wooden-framed caravans of the era.
DOWN TO BUSINESS
But Woody Caravans are not trying to compete with the modern behemoths, and they are custom designed to exactly what the customer wants. And the idea of working from your caravan is something that is appealing to a good number of caravanners, as is the vintage vibe. Although Susan dedicates her Woody Caravan to her hairdressing business, it is not hard to imagine how a similar van could be used as a weekender without needing a very big budget. The minimal changes required to turn this van from a workhorse to a weekend get-away are a fold away bed, an exterior barbecue (which would also require the addition of gas canisters) and, perhaps, a 12V system.
Nonetheless, the interior has some features that’ll make the average traveller happy, including well-made cupboards providing adequate storage, quality upholstered seating and solid timber benchtops.
Wall-mounted utility baskets add to the storage as well as provide a decorative touch and a small bar fridge keeps drinks cool. The van also has hot water plumbed to a 79L fresh water tank (and 79L grey) – although Woody Caravans is keeping schtum about the hot water system – it’s imported and apparently unique to this manufacturer.
Although this Woody caravan has no air-conditioner, its small size and ample ventilation including a roof hatch means it has plenty of airflow.
In terms of the electrical supply, Lawdy Miss Claudy might benefit from portable solar panels and perhaps a inverter and battery system, if it were to be used as a weekender. However, she’s fitted with 240V system, which is the right power option if Susan continues to use it solely as a salon. Clearly, for a professional, lightweight 12V hairdryers and clippers just don’t cut it.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Despite the rain, the open spaces of Baden Powell Park in the lush green Samford Valley provided a superb location in which to check out this interesting retro van. For those looking to work on the road without hauling around a large van, a custom Woody caravan might suit.
Add in the fact that you’d be travelling in a van with the style and charm of yesteryear and things are looking pretty good.