Better Life, The Latest

The Vehicles of Camp Wandawega

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For more than a decade, David Hernandez and wife Tereasa Surratt have been busily restoring Hernandez’s boyhood summer camp in Elkhorn, Wisconsin to its former glory; dressing the place with vintage treasures culled from garage and rummage sales all over Walworth County.

The result is Camp Wandawega—a living, breathing time capsule, where it’s 1975 as far as the eye can see. The place benefits from the vision of its professionally creative owners. In addition to running Wandawega, Hernandez and Surratt still maintain their nine-to-fives as creative directors at Chicago ad agencies, and it’s clear that their passion project fuels their work and vice versa. In recent years, Surratt’s collaborated with everyone from Gant Rugger to Land of Nod—even a Russian motorcycle company (more on that in a minute).

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On-site, there’s period-specific basketball hoops, scuffed footballs, enough equipment to field the entire roster of the Milwaukee Brewers, canoes and row boats aplenty and as glamorous a tree house as you’ll ever find: three levels, lots of hiding places, a tire swing, two reading nooks. With events nearly every weekend during the warmer months, the place has found its way into the hearts and minds of locals looking to rekindle the romance of a bygone era.

For me, the rekindling began five years ago, on my first trip out when I got halfway across Lake Wandawega in a 70s era aluminum canoe, just before the same-era wooden paddle snapped in half. Not quite up a creek, but definitely without a paddle. Needless to say, by the time I’d washed ashore, the love affair with this place had embedded itself deep inside.

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But my favorite story of Wandawega has to do with the vehicles that’ve found their way to the property. With their eyes on the classics, Hernandez has taken great pains outfitting the camp with period-correct vehicles, antique utility trucks and newly designed people-movers. There’s the 1971 International Harvester Travelall, complete with hand-painted signage on the driver’s side door. Its forest green color and woodgrain decal make for a wonderfully woodsy throwback, and the perfect vehicle for carting around Wisconsin to pick up their vintage discoveries.

Another of my trips was joined by my friend and internationally-renowned Australian farmer and chef, Rohan Anderson. In the midst of cooking on the vintage range, coughing fumes of all variety into its less-than-industrial-strength hood, Ro set off the fire alarm. After a meet-and-greet with the fire department and a few members of the Elkhorn PD, my red-faced Australian friend would become the inspiration for Wandawega’s very own fire truck.

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Not a visit later, Hernandez had acquired a 1973 International Harvester 1310 4×4 brush truck with onboard water tank and pump. As David tells it, the truck is a preventative measure, “Where we live, it’s an all-volunteer fire department. Their motto: we never met a foundation we couldn’t save. This gives us the chance, God forbid, to hold back the fire while we wait for their arrival.”

Then there’s the 1952 IH Metro Van, one of the very first step-style delivery vans, and Hernandez says he’s figured out exactly what it’ll be used for, “I’m imagining a cabin on wheels, or—more likely—a mobile bar.” Wherever he lands, trust that it will be impeccably appointed and revived to its former splendor in the most Wandawega way possible: hand-painted signage, antique paraphernalia and furnishings, and you can bet a whole lot of Wisconsin’s finest elbow grease.

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Finally, and perhaps most notably, there’s the Ural. Camp Wandawega collaborated with Russian motorcycle company Ural to produce a special Sportsman’s Edition. Urals are a spare bike. They’re a veritable laughingstock in the world of motorcycle design, boasting a measly 750cc boxer twin engine with 41 horsepower and it weighs a half-ton. But the bike’s not actually the reason you buy a Ural. You buy it for the sidecar. And for a mere $15,999 you can buy your very own Wandawega Edition.

Or, just take a trip out to David and Tereasa’s place and ask nicely. Sporting chance they’ll grant you a test drive.