Remembering ‘Trailer Camp’
Community was close among GI Bill students and families

A“UVM Trailer Camp? Never heard of it.” That’s what some people say when I ask them. The UVM Cynic, October 1946, reported, “Community of Trailers for Veterans and Wives Form City Within a City. Tucked away near a corner of Centennial Field, Burlington’s most interesting housing project is providing homes for forty-six UVM students, their wives and children. Affectionately known as Trailer Town, it’s a going community complete to everything except unit hot and cold running water and taxes. Both may come later.”

The foldout trailers, provided by the Federal Housing Authority and purchased by UVM (rumor had it for a dollar apiece), were put up between East Avenue and the west entrance to Centennial Field. Jim ’51 G’54 and I moved in during the summer of 1949. By that time it was known as the UVM Trailer Camp, full of young families with babies and toddlers. “We called it Rabbitville,” Donna Larrow ’56 says. She and Rod ’59 lived on East Avenue, filling their own hutch with four.

Betty ’53 and Del Borah ’53 of Williston remember the one-room trailers put together after World War II for families of veterans returning to college on the GI Bill. Married in August of 1950, they moved into camp in September – Del, an engineering student, Betty in education. “We got seventy-five dollars a month with no kids, went up to ninety-five after the baby was born. Rent was twenty-five a month,” Del says. In addition to class, he worked at GE and took care of UVM tennis courts.

The exterior walls were thin. “My side of the bed sure is cold,” Jim commented one morning. Later when I made the bed I discovered water had condensed, seeped down the inside, and frozen the bedclothes to the wall. We laughed.

“Those heaters could kick out forty thousand BTU’s,” Del says. “We ran them turned low all the time.” John Trono, who delivered oil, always good-natured, let us pay when we could.

Social life centered around the two bathrooms, dividing the camp. After kids were settled in bed, wives would walk to get buckets of water or to bathe or shower and end up talking, five or six or us, until a husband would pound on the wall on the men’s side around midnight and holler, “When are you coming home? Are you coming home?” We could talk and talk and talk. No one had any money. This was our social life.

Our daughter Janet was two when we moved into our trailer and our second child was due the end of October. With friends visiting for the homecoming game, we went to Centennial Field to cheer. After half-time I went home to turn on a meatloaf for dinner, intending to return. Suddenly I knew the baby was coming, called the field and, standing in the doorway, I heard the announcer call, “Jim Carter. Return home immediately. Medical.” Everyone in the camp heard it, too. Within minutes we had offers of rides and sitters. That’s how things happened in the camp. Our son Jim was born as the game ended.

Betty Borah, with a new baby and a full load of classes, ran across the hill behind the hospital between classes to nurse her baby. When our third child, Mary, was born there were four of us from camp on the maternity floor.

Like many parents, mine worried about us. My mother’s letters sometimes included clippings of trailer fires with mothers and children trapped inside. They insisted we let them pay for a telephone and as neighbors came to use it we soon knew who was pregnant, who was sick, who was having difficulties. Since no one had much money, we helped each other out and laughed a lot.

Shirley and Willis Spaulding ’50 G’63 were married in September of 1946 and honeymooned by moving into their trailer. “We furnished it in Early Attic,” Shirley recalls, “moving in with not much more than a couch and a bed. I worked at the Concord Candy Kitchen downtown.” By the time Willis graduated they had two tow-headed little girls.

Willis says, “There was a lot of Yankee ingenuity in the camp. Doc Hale – that’s what we called him – a medical student, would bring home medical alcohol in aspirin bottles and a bunch of us mixed up a good drink with grapefruit juice.” “I don’t remember that,” I said.

“Well there was only room for so many people in one trailer, so the parties were small.” The laundry building doubled as a site for baby showers, potluck dinners, Tupperware and farewell parties.

Most of us had small gardens and aggie students could tell what our carrots needed. If a child seemed to be coming down with something, a medical student was happy to come over with a tongue depressor and a stethoscope. Having trouble with wording a paper? Locate an English major. Car trouble? Somebody had a grease rack. Jim, working part-time at Sealtest, brought home pints and quarts of ice cream after test samples had been taken. Since we only had an ice box, it disappeared quickly.

We felt lucky to have one of three trailers by the only row of trees in the camp, tall cedars, and a grassy back yard rimmed with trees. Al Hitchcock ’52 and family lived in the middle trailer, with Carters and Borahs on either side. Del and Al discovered that the water line to the laundry building ran right under our three trailers. We had faucets and sinks that drained, but no water. What an opportunity. After careful planning and appropriate purchases, one dark night, the three men dug down to the pipe and connected our faucets to the water line. For the last year and a half we had running cold water.

I remember those days, with the wonderful stories, and hard work, and laughter. By the time Jim finished his degree we had three kids and one room full of stuff.

When we moved to Mineville, New York for Jim’s first teaching job, the kids ran into the bathroom and flushed the toilet excitedly – their very own toilet – and ran the tub full of water, amazed. Every once in a while I turn on the hot water and still think, “That’s pretty remarkable.”

Evelyn Barre Carter lives in Burlington; her husband, Jim, died in 1993. Both worked as educators in the Burlington schools. Evelyn recently revisited the site of the Trailer Camp and was pleased to find that their backyard cedars are alive and well.