Vintage Vans: Plumbing of Old

Susan and Keith Hall — 10 September 2011

WE TEND TO take running water for granted in modern caravans. There are hot and cold taps in the sink and sometimes in the shower, too. It’s just like being at home.

But things weren’t always like that. In the mid 20th century they were still figuring out the best system for providing water on tap in caravans. As a result, you find some interesting plumbing solutions in vintage vans.

One early solution was to use gravity feed. There was a removable water tank which sat on a shelf above the kitchen sink. It had a handle on top so you could carry it to and from the water supply at the campsite, and a simple spigot that allowed water to run into the sink. It was a simple and effective system, though a bit of a nuisance when the tank needed refilling.

Another solution was to have a hand pump mounted on the sink, which pumped water from a water tank. These hand pumps were very mechanical looking devices, and have now become quite collectable among vintage van enthusiasts.

These running water solutions are fairly predictable, but there is one more approach which really comes as a surprise. In some vintage caravans there is a sink with a spout for the water to come out, but no tap at all.

We first encountered this odd situation when we looked inside a 1953 Jennison Pathfinder caravan belonging to Jeff Gill of NSW. We were initially flummoxed by the mysterious plumbing. There was a water spout above the sink, but no apparent way of turning the water on. So how did it work? It was all a bit of a mystery until Jeff pointed out the small pedal on the cupboard beneath the sink, right down near the floor. You simply pump on that with your foot, and water comes out of the spout.

Maybe there is a hidden advantage in this unusual way of producing running water: you can wash the dishes and keep fit at the same time.


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Susan and Keith Hall