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Grandad’s Grandad’s caravan

Graham Leslie and Margaret Earle

Our son Tom was five days old when he first went camping.

He’d been born on Boxing Day and we were keen to join the rest of our family for New Year at Morison’s Bush in the Wairarapa. In those days we camped in a tent but, because we had a newborn, my parents-in-law offered us the caravan. It made looking after baby Tom much easier.

The caravan — sometimes called Escargot because of her snail-like shape — was built in Dunedin in the 1960s by my partner’s grandfather, William Leslie. At that stage he had retired to Dunedin from his farm in the Catlins and built his own house with timber from the farm. Escargot was the third caravan he built.

Escargot was designed with my parents-in-law — Adrienne and Stewart Leslie and their young children — in mind. It became their first family caravan. Escargot is 9ft 6in (≈2.9m) long and 6ft 2in (≈1.9m) wide — designed so that Stewart could fit in the double bed across the back.

The frame of Escargot was built from ribbonwood (manatu) milled from the farm in the Catlins. The caravan was covered with marine ply and painted. As well as the double bed, there are two bunks at the front and there was a cradle across the end of the double bed for the baby. The wardrobe was built between the door and the bunks and has a curtain at the side so that as the kids grew taller, they could stretch their legs into the side of the wardrobe. But, in reality, the kids generally slept in the car or a tent.

In the mid-1990s when my parents-in-law bought a larger pop-top caravan in preparation for retirement. They offered us Escargot.

We were quite happy camping in tents, but there was no market for second-hand, home-built caravans so we agreed to take her. Our first task was to cover Escargot in fibreglass to make her more weather-proof as we had nowhere dry to keep her. Escargot became an integral part of our camping arrangements.

Because she is small, our kids didn’t get to sleep in her very often either. However, I can remember making breakfast for 9 (4 adults and 5 kids) after a very windy night camped at Kaitoke Regional Park (just north of Upper Hutt). Our friends’ borrowed tent had got bent in the strong winds overnight and by breakfast time 9 of us, huddled in the caravan, were the only campers still at Kaitoke.

Fibreglassing the outside of Escargot only delayed the inevitable. Water seeped in and the ribbonwood frame started to rot. By the mid-2010s it was time to give her a substantial rebuild.

We pulled off the marine ply, replaced any framing that was rotten, insulated her as best we could, completely rewired her and reclad her in aluminium. Tom and Vivian (our daughter-in-law) worked with us on this major project.

We have had many adventures and travelled many miles in Escargot. In the last year we have taken our young granddaughter to several All Points events and she has slept in the same bunk that her grandfather and dad did when they were young.

The latest adaptation of the top bunk, to make a cot for the latest arrival; the 5th generation.

History does repeat. This year, in preparation for my retirement, we bought a larger caravan with good insulation and heating. Fortunately, Tom and Vivian were keen to take Escargot and are making it their own. So our two granddaughters will grow up going camping with Granddad’s Granddad’s caravan. I suspect that like the generations before them they will mostly sleep in tents alongside Escargot.


The Desert Road
: On our first road trip with our new caravan. We made it successfully from Wellington to Whangarei. ©2023 Margaret Earle

Our two granddaughters will grow up going camping with Granddad’s Granddad’s caravan.

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