A brief History of the Nationals

  A brief history of Vanning                                                                                                                                                           By Greg (Coop) Cooper                                                                                                                                                                                         circa 1994

Have you ever heard the phrase "Those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it" or you can't know where your 'going if you don't know where you've been, or are, in the case of some vanners I know.

    The main stay of Vanning for over 20 years has been the National Truck-in. The one big nationwide event that brings vanners together each year. The Nats has a very rich History especially in the early years with controversy and conflict between some vanners and,' the N.S.V.A. run by the infamous Fred Blumenthal. I've run across vanners using the Fast Buck Freddy term or had the old Fred is dead sticker on their cooler and couldn't tell me who he was. Which reminds me of another saying "a little knowledge is more dangerous then none at all".
The N.S.V.A. has been gone for over 15 years. The legend of Fred is ten times what the reality was There are a host of us (vanners) who have been doing this for what seems like all of our lives but if you started in to Vanning after August of 1978 you never had an opportunity to come in contact with the N.S.V.A. or Fred in particular and of those who did how many really paid that close attention to what was really going on. Most opinions about what went on were traversed around the campfire at a Truckin and you know how that can distort recollections. For the most part we're talking ancient history when we talk about the N.S.V.A. and the beginning of the National Truck-in.
In the last year very significant developments have taken place with the running of the National Truckin. It was done to help improve what should be the best event held every year and I don't have to tell you that over the past 15 years it hasn't always been up to expectations. So I have been asked to write a letter to give background to what has happened and what originally was to be a short explanation really needs to be a definitive attempt at a history. As far as I know its never been done. I've spent hours reading old magazines, newsletters ,and tbe like to 'put this all together. There are, some people that I would love to talk to fill in some of the holes but this is as complete as I can get before this years Council of Council meeting so, here goes.
In 1973 Hot Rod Magazine had run several' articles about. the New Trend in California at Customizing the lowly delivery van. Interest was skyrocketing the country over. The then Editor, Terry Cook, suggested via the magazine that there be a gathering on a national scale to bring all of these Van people together. He asked for any club interested in hosting such an event to contact him to see if the details could be worked out.
One of the clubs responding was Rocky Mountain Vans of Denver. They had a site that Could be used for such a gathering near Tiger Run, Colorado. Being of equal distance (some what) from the, west and east and showing much enthusiasm for such and event, they got it, Being the first of it's kind there were few things that we now expect at a VAN-IN. Some games, a show, a band but basically a big open field full of 600 + vans.
The event was considered a hugh success and expectations were high for a second. In January the word came down from Hot Rod Magazine that the second National Truck-in was to be held in Bonner Spring Kansas, Hosted by Vans Am of Kansas City. A club that answered the call from the magazine for a host. The one thing new this time was the event was sanctioned by the new fledgling National Street Van Association.
   The 2nd National Truck-in drew over double the numbers of the year before. The Vanning movement was taking hold and new vanners were getting into it daily. As with any growing group the need was felt that there be some organization.
     In 1973 the N.S.V.A. started. They grew in numbers and influence over the next 2 years. They nurtured a relationship with the powers that were, as in Hot Rod magazine. Hot Rod dealt with the N.S.V.A. as the spokes persons for Vanners. Since there was no one else and the N.S.V.A. had a presence all over the country. In 1974 after the Nationals an article appeared in the N.S.V.A. news letter stating that the N.S.V.A. was going to apply for the Trademark to the terms National Truck-in, Van Fair, and Van Happenings (the newsletter name) they had asked Hot Rod if they minded if they (N.S.V.A.) did this. Hot Rod reportedly said they didn't mind. Evidently they didn't immediately follow through with this, maybe feeling that Hot Rod, who had been calling the shots to this point, had given them the authority to control the NATS. Hot Rod had always kept a distance. Not wanting to actually get involved with the actual running of the event so they probably felt it was a good idea to have a "National organization" to administer the event. Another interesting point is that about the time Hot Rod got away from involvement is the time Terry Cook left the editorship of the magazine and another editor took over.
        As the next year progressed the question of where the 3rd Nats would be was a big topic. Hot Rod magazine ran an article in the fall asking for suggestions, telling you to send them to the N.S.V.A. Around the first of the year the word come down that the Nationals would be in Bowling Green Kentucky, at Beach Bend Park hosted by Midwest Vans of Matoon, Ill not to be confused with Midwest Vans LTD. (vanners with hammers, kazoos and other loony stuff). Two other clubs that were reportedly in the final running were River City Truckin Co. of Memphis, Tennessee and Ohio Street Vans Ltd.
Midwest Vans of Matoon Ill was a club that several of the N.S.V.A. staff including Ray Gebhart and Fred Blumenthal were members of. Two people that were the movers and shakers in the N.S.V.A. It is no real surprise that this club ended up as the host for the third. The price of the third Nats went to 10 and 15 dollars, a 250 percent increase in a little less than 2 years. That was where the grumbling started. The N.S.V.A. was primarily the only force running the NATS that year they were talking of total attendance of 2500-3000 vans, more than double the 2nd Nationals. The Actual attendance at the third Nats was 4500 + Vans.
     They were obviously unprepared for the massive numbers that actually showed up. The facilities were over taxed. The promise of camp facilities didn't materialize as most were occupied by the permanent campers at the park. Couple that with cheap plastic dash plaques that they gave away and a lot of people had their first bad experience at a National van-in.
    The N.S.V.A. announced shortly after the 3rd that the 4th Nationals would again be at Beach Bend Park. It was now the N.S.V.A. completely calling the shots and it didn't sit well with a lot of vanners including Rocky Mountain Vans.
     The first two years of the NATS were seen by some as a laid back, down home, party with friends. Un-hampered by outsiders, The first to events numbered 600 and 1500 vans. A friendly by Vanners for Vanners event. With the 3rd there were over 3000 vanners experiencing their first Nationals, this was no longer a close friendly small event. Add to that the influx of lots of money and influence and a lot of people who never knew how it was . There were now two distinct sides wanting the NATS to go in different directions.
    Rocky Mountain Vans sent an open letter to the Van magazines with the N.S.V.A. rebutting. It became a public feud, Rocky Mountain felt that the NATS should be a traveling event moving host and location every year. They didn't like the blatant commercialism that was taking hold and the N.S.V.A. announcing the 4th Truckin for Bowling Green they just didn't want a repeat of the 3rd. Also they had been campaigning to get the NATS back in Colorado for 76 and that change shut them out seemingly without consideration.
    So they went to the legal route going after the Trademark rights. The thing that you must realize is that this attitude was a direct result of the times. The early to mid 70's were at the tail end of the VietNam War. The vast majority of Vanners were of the younger generation. The generation that didn't trust any authority figure. Fred had set himself up as the guy controlling it all and was not trusted. By vanners for vanners was an out growth of the times. Actually it was inevitable, the so called hippie vans of that day were occupied by vanners who had grown up with a mistrust of big business and authority over them. They wanted to do it themselves and keep control of it themselves. It isn't really possible to say if it was the right or wrong way to go. A case could be made either way.
Personally I think that the N.S.V.A. as it was being run made it inevitable that it would eventually go the way of the EDSEL. The N.S.V.A.'s idea of a national organization in itself was a good one. But the way it was run was not compatible with the attitudes of the people it was trying to service or at least a large enough part of them to eventually put an end to the N.S.V.A.

       Rocky Mountain Vans received the rights to the National Truck-in. By doing so the NATS was now in the hands of the vanners. Their is a good chance that had the N.S.V.A. gotten sole ownership of the NATS that it would now be gone and the rest of organized Vanning with it.

      Ok now its 1976 the Bicentennial. The N.S.V.A. is having there big event calling it the 4th annual N.S.V.A. Truckin. Later to be shortened to the N.S.V.A. Annual Van-In. The National truck-in was in Colorado in 76. By virtue of numbers the N.S.V.A. had the biggest 6318 vans to 3200 in Colorado. Actually a very good showing considering they drew a lot of trucks from the west coast and the east. Actually the feud between the two factions was well known in certain circles. But a large number of people were confused by it all or even completely unaware of what was going on.
After two more attempts by the N.S.V.A. to keep it together they could fight it no longer. September 1978 the N.S.V.A. calls it quits. Now the Vanners are on their own. With the N.S.V.A. gone a number of Vanners felt that it was all over. Vanning fell off somewhat. Within 3 years all of the 15 odd Van publications on the market were gone save one or two. The vanners were truly on their own. Many may not have recognized it but survival was up to what we did as a group. The obvious thing was the National Truck-in.
    It was the only thing the Vanners had on a National Level to keep us together. The group in charge Rocky Mountain Vans administered the NATS for the next 3 years on their own. But it became obvious to them they weren't able to cover the entire country without some help. In 1981 Rocky Mountain Vans announced the formation of a Board of Regional Reps. For the purpose of helping them locate and decide on potential hosts for future National Truck-ins. The people they picked were Vanners they had known or worked with previously and were knowledgeable about Vanning in general and specifically in the are they lived. The reps were to be their eyes and ears in the rest of the country.
During the next 10 years or so Vanning had its ups and downs. The main avenue of communication for vanners was the club and council newsletter. No van magazine was left by then and anyone not already aware of the van events going on had no way of finding out about them.
Vanning became a close knit group within itself but outwardly there wasn't any evidence of what was happening. Truckin Magazine was the only magazine doing any reporting of anything van oriented. With a column each month and an occasional article on the Nats. In recent years the coverage has improved somewhat and with the introduction of Vanning Now Magazine we now have a national voice no matter how small.
    Now to the present. The National Truckin Board that was set up in 1981 by Rocky Mountain Vans is now the owner of the Trademark and decides who will receive the NATS. This is what Rocky Mountain Vans envisioned when they set up the Board. Slowly since then Rocky Mountain has given more and more responsibility to the Board. The transfer of the actual ownership was little more than a formality since the Board has actually been administering the National truck-in for the past several years. Rocky Mountain's original interest has been fulfilled with no single person or group controlling the NATS. The Board is made up of people of their choosing from all corners of the country. They are reachable for any questions or comments and any deserving club has a square shot at hosting a National Truckin. It is the intention and the goal of the National Truck-in Board to bring a renewed vitality not only to the Nationals but to Vanning in general.
A case can be made that Vanning's decline can be traced to the split with the N.S.V.A. and their subsequent demise. A lot of vanners simply gave it up as a result. I know there are some who will take offense at this kind of statement but it is a fact that a large nationwide group with a public presence will lend a sense of legitimacy to a sport and attract new people as a result. That is the thing Vanning has been missing, New Blood. This is a problem that has been discussed a lot over the past years it needs the involvement of us all to improve our sport.

   The National Truck-in Board can help but it is a problem that goes to the heart of our sport.  Actually the Council of Councils is probably the group most adept at solving this problem. I would encourage all Vanners to get involved with their Council and make an honest effort to work together with other Vanners to improve what we have. History shows that we will not make things better by contradiction and tearing down what is there. Petty greed and egos are supposed to be below mature, intelligent people. I've always found Vanners to be an intelligent group of people. I myself see a lot of good things in our future. Lets have at it and have a good time too.

 Here is the letter that Rocky Mountain Vans released in 1980 announcing the formation of the Nationals Board


  1. A good written article Greg.. here's a 'tidbit' from the past to add to that History..

    Back in those Early Days of Vanning, when the N.S.V.A. was in formation, and started calling their Newsletter 'Van Happenings', they received a letter from 'West Coast Vans' of Whittier, CA, thru our then attorney, informing them that the term 'Van Happening(s)' was a Common Knowledge Trademark of 'West Coast Van Club', having had been used since the late 60's to describe the Events we put on for the vanning community in Southern Calif. The Cease & Desist letter was issued to the N.S.V.A., in part stating that WCV had previously applied for Registration of the name 'West Coast Vans' and 'Van Happening(s)', further showing 'proof' of its prior use. Copies were also sent to Fred Blumenthal & Terry Cook. At first, the only person who responded back was Terry, who said he had no control of the NSVA, but would talk to Fred. A later letter was received by WCV from the N.S.V.A., stating they would take that matter under consideration, but it all came to mute in '78, when Fred's little empire folded like a pile of cards.

    In 1973, 'Rocky Mountain Vans of Denver' was WCV's 'Sister' Club, and had been for a few yrs, so when the 1st Nats were in formation, Terry Cook had suggested to 'Rocky' that they ask for our help re the technical side of the 1st, as we'd thrown many a 'Van Happening' beforehand. So during the event, we stayed out of the limelight, just helping in the background, as we as a Club felt we should, as it was their Event, not ours. In 1980, for the 8th Nats, we invited 'Rocky' to share in the event, as a co-host.

    Btw, this is not hearsay, just fact. I am a former President of West Coast Vans back in the '70s hayday. I retired from the honor of Presidency in 1976 to put more of my time into my then Company, and tho I've kept up with the 'Vanning Spirit' thru-out those decades since, I only recently in my 73rd yr, after a hiatus of 42 yrs, purchased another, an equally old as dirt, '65 Chevy..

    Cheers from Montana, Rob

  2. I attended the 2nd National Hot Rod Truck In in 1974. We are from Connecticut and were wandering to the West coast, and the truck-in was the only scheduled thing on the agenda. We got there early in the week, by chance, and got a great spot on the edge of the woods near the bridge to the main grounds. We were in a retired 1968 E300, tired from years of abuse as a national rental workhorse. Frank built the interior using wood panelling, a marine sink and dual voltage refrigerator. It sported a built in gas cooktop,storage cabinets and miles of yellow and orange shag carpet. 12 volt bulbs in small ornate light fixtures adorned the walls near the full width bed (at the rear doors) that featured a removable center section. Completely home built custom interior with the original Ryder Rental yellow exterior that had the rental name sanded and painted over, but still actually visible. The spare tire on the black/rusty wheel was prominently mounted on the front bumper. The van was ugly and beautiful at the same time. We had a blast. There were about two thousand vans and pickup trucks in attendance. It was a continuous celebration for the 6 days we were there. People came to refer to the van as The Ugly Duckling, and was pointed out frequently as being ugly outside and beautiful inside. Like I said, we had a blast. It had taken us weeks to get from Connecticut to Kansas City and another couple to get to Denver. But that's a story for another time.

  3. Thank you for the info! I recognized the Nationals logo on another page and followed the logo/link to your site. My Dad drove an old VW van back and forth to work "Back in The Day" but dug through every van magazine he could find at the time, like he was a part of the movement. One of the guys! I'll never forget him dragging Mom and us kids to Bowling Green for the big event in '74 as we were just outsiders looking in. I was just 12 at the time but I had a blast seeing all the vans and the people coming together and completely taking over the small town. My Mom however had to cover our eyes from time to time as Dad would drive us around and we'd happen by a van with the side door open and a little hanky-panky going on. I had the event T-shirt for years and years until a tornado took the roof off their house and I lost it forever. Months after the event we saw the magazine coverage and I kept some of the pictures from it. When they showed the pictures of the trash that was left after the event was over, the pictures didn't do it justice. That was an incredible sight to see in person. During the event AND after! Butch Pate