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The Retro-Hip Trailer Park

By Deborah Tunney
Sunday, July 11, 1999; Page E04


Shady Dell Trailer Park in Bisbee, Ariz., is a valentine to the great American road vacation. You can stay in one of its eight lovingly restored vintage travel trailers--gems like a 1950 Spartanette Tandem, a 1957 El Rey and a 1949 Airstream--for a night or longer.

Each sleek silver trailer is trimmed in period style--from vintage print curtains to whimsical cocktail shakers. The Airstream is retro-mantic with its pink-and-purple chenille bedspread, old wedding albums and pair of pink flamingos grazing in front. The newest addition to the neighborhood, a 1951 Spartan Royal Mansion, features a leopard-print carpet and dancing hula girl knickknacks.

I splurged ($70 a night) to stay in the longest trailer, the 33-foot Spartan Mansion, ca. 1951, top-of-the-line in its day. Its kitchenette is a red-and-white dream--Formica, gingham curtains and a gleaming red Frigidaire, plus a polished chrome toaster and percolator. There's a Westinghouse phonograph and some 45s, and a black-and-white TV--with a hidden VCR.

After two nights in the deluxe Mansion, I tried the tiniest trailer: a cozy 10-foot "Homemade," probably built from plans available through Popular Mechanics at the time. At $25 (including coffee, bottled water and Barnum's Animal Cookies in the ceramic cactus cookie jar), it was cheaper--and smaller, and infinitely more fun--than the rental car I'd driven to get there.

Shady Dell attracts "roadside America" fans--retired couples old enough to remember when, and baby boomers who like to pretend. During my stay, neighbors to the right rumbled in on his-and-her Harleys; neighbors to the left in a late-model Mercedes. The week before, the place had been booked by a group of fashion photographers and models from New York.

Once settled, I gladly traded dot com for Dot's Diner--Shady Dell's sparkling 1957 10-stool joint, where pancakes and grits were served up by Dot and her counterpart, who goes by "Not Dot." Since my visit, Dot has retired, and the diner is temporarily closed, awaiting just the right manager--someone with a fast spatula, an easy smile and preferably a great meatloaf recipe.

Shady Dell fits right in with sleepy, funky Bisbee, a picturesque if precarious mile-high mining town with charm and lore to spare. During its legendary days as a copper boomtown, if the mines didn't get you, the fires or the floods might.

Today's Bisbee boasts antique shops, galleries and a restaurant, Cafe Roka--which, with its contemporary Italian (by way of the Southwest) fare, ranks among Arizona's best.

Shady Dell (1 Douglas Rd., Bisbee, Ariz., 520-432-3567) is 1 1/2 miles from downtown Bisbee, which itself is about 95 miles southeast of Tucson on Route 80. The vintage trailers include linens, dishes, stoves and other amenities. Some have bathrooms; otherwise, there's a central restroom with showers. Rates are $25 to $70 per night. No small children or pets in the vintage trailers. The park also has hookups for modern campers. For more information on Bisbee, contact the Bisbee Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, 520-432-5421.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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