Vintage Phoenix Artifact: Bill Johnson's Trailer

Just when you think you know everything there is to know about Phoenix, someone finds an old trailer, once owned by a barbecued-beef baron, that used to house a radio station and, well, you realize there's still more to learn about this crazy place.

Built by Bill Johnson of Bill Johnson's Big Apple Restaurant, the trailer -- a long-bed number that Johnson hauled around with a Ford pickup truck -- was used in the '60s as a mobile station for KTAR radio, host to Johnson's very own radio program, usually broadcast from a corner of his popular eatery. Later, Johnson used the trailer as a mobile office before sending it out on the road to promote his business.

"Someone would drive it around on weekend nights, back when traveling hootenannies were fashionable," explains local historian Marshall Shore. "They'd drive around, maybe over to Van Buren, and they'd park it somewhere and play records, and there'd be a dance. Back then, it took a truck to do that -- you needed all this huge equipment to play music."

Once hoot nights became passé, the trailer wound up in a huge storage yard on Jefferson Street, languishing alongside old deep-fryers and used bathtubs. After Johnson died and the family divided his spoils, the trailer was headed, Shore says, for the dump -- until it was donated by Johnson's granddaughter, Sherry Cameron, to the Roosevelt Row A.R.T.S. Village, a newish adaptive re-use project that's dressing up vacant lots with modified shipping containers.

"It's in the shop now," says Roosevelt Row maven Greg Esser. "But we hope to have the trailer up and running soon." Future plans include turning the vehicle into a mobile classroom -- to teach kids about the old days of radio broadcasting -- and possibly making it into a video editing lab.

"The graphics on the vehicle itself are amazing," says Shore, who's relieved that initial plans to repaint the trailer have been scrapped. "One fresh coat of paint, and all that history would have been lost."

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