Marblehead Lighthouse, near Sandusky, Ohio
The town of Oberlin, Ohio
Oberlin College building
Tartan - C&C factory and boatyard
RV/MH Hall of Fame
RV/MH Hall of Fame
Jul-Aug, 2007 Issue features a book review of Al
Hesselbart's "The Dumb Things Sold... just like that"
Road Back in Time
1929 Wiedman Housecar
driver's seat, a $35 option
1913 Model T & "Earl" Travel Trailer
1913 "Earl" Travel Trailer
1916 Cozy Camp Tent Trailer
Wooden spoked wheels
Well, at least you're up off the ground!
1932 Gilkie Kamp King Tent Trailer
Ice box and pass-through pantry
1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer
1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer
1955 Ranger Crank-up Tent Trailer
1954 Shasta Travel Trailer
Mark and his sisters camped here!
Gravity fed water system with a hose to the sink
1967 19' Winnebegao Motor Home
Mae West's 1931 Housecar. She would sit in a rocking
chair on the back porch to enjoy the breeze.
Pristine woodwork in a 1937 Hayes Motorhome
1929 Covered Wagon
1935 Bowlus Road Chief
1916 Telescoping Apartment
Joe & Kay Peterson were inducted in 2001
"If you don't fulfill your dreams now, when will you?"
Ohio & the Elkhart, Indiana RV Hall of Fame
Early June, 2009 - We left the Detroit area for a southern loop tour.
We drove along the Ohio shore of Lake Erie, headed over to Elkhart,
Indiana and came up along Michigan's southwest coast before
returning to Detroit. In the midst of our seven week hiatus from living in
our trailer, we found it odd and fun to be traveling by rental car and
motels for a change. We hadn't lived out of a car with a cooler in
years. Mark got a kick out of driving the tiny Hyundai Accent, as it
could turn on a dime and park anywhere, quite a contrast to our Dodge
RAM 3500 long bed truck which needs almost four lanes to do a U-
Our first stop was Marblehead Lighthouse outside Sandusky with views
of the Cedar Point amusement park across the bay. It is nestled among
some wonderful flat boulders that stair-step their way to the lake. Built in
1819, the keeper decided to put his home a full 2.5 miles away. Every
night he had to get over to the lighthouse to light 13 whale oil lamps and
then return in the morning to extinguish them. What a hike!
Lake Erie, we stopped for an ice cream cone at the Dairy Dock in the
little town of Vermilion. After licking our way to bliss at their picnic
benches, our hearts stopped when we discovered we'd locked the keys
in the car. Within five minutes the ice cream shop had called the cops
and a cruiser had arrived to unlock the car for us. Incredible. The cop
wouldn't even accept an ice cream treat from us, though he said it was
his fifth keys-locked-in call of the day.
I had heard much about Oberlin College in my student days, and when I
saw it on the map we made a quick detour. The town and college have
grown up as one, both intimately integrated. We spent a happy few
hours wandering around, then stopped in at the admissions office to look
at a course catalog. No such luck: today's students just go online.
We had driven along Lake Erie to visit the Tartan sailboat factory.
Tartan is a highly respected, expensive brand that is nice to admire if a
friend owns one but requires exceptionally deep pockets to buy. So it
was a bit of a shock to see the drab little factory building that didn't even
have a sign out front other than a small cloth banner. There were just a
few boats being built, and they had started taking in refurbishment
projects to keep everyone employed. However, a big highlight for us
was seeing the 53' yacht they were just completing. To the tune of $1.4
million, some fortunate soul would soon take delivery in Florida to sail it
through the Caribbean to the South Pacific.
We cut across
Indiana, the heart of the RV industry, or at least home to the vast
majority of RV manufacturers as well as the RV/MH Hall of Fame. We
had heard rumors that Elkhart was really suffering because the RV
industry had taken such a beating in the past year. However, a stop at
McDonald's revealed the most upscale version of that fast food joint I've
ever seen. There were several very large flat screen TVs hanging on
the walls, like a sports bar, comfy couches, and an enormous two-sided
fireplace that filled the center of the restaurant. If Elkhart was suffering
now, it had certainly known some extremely flush times in recent years.
We spent an afternoon at the
RV/MH Hall of Fame. It sits on a huge piece of beautifully landscaped property and has a
long manicured driveway leading up to a striking, modern building. I was so impressed
with the fountain showing off the building's glass windowed facade that I jumped out of the
car to take a photo. Only after I hopped back in and we parked did I realize that the side
that impressed me so much was the back side. The grander entrance was on the other
side in the front! The building is a rotunda with fountains on both sides and there are
towering plate glass windows looking out at the pretty acreage all around.
A very friendly fellow
greeted us, explaining what
we'd see inside. He stood
next to a podium displaying
an issue of Escapees
Magazine which had
featured a review of Al
Hesselbart's book "The
Dumb Things Sold...just like
that!" Apparently there was
some surprise among the
RV industry's founding fathers that America would take to life on the
road and become so enthusiastic about camping in towed and
A picture on the wall
showed a 1930's era
couple happily driving a
convertible pulling a trailer.
Just beyond that we turned
a corner and stepped onto
the "Road Back in Time," a
clever, charming and
informative display of
trailers and motorhomes
from the 1910's to the
This museum puts you in
the driver's seat (and there
is a crazy one that was a
$35 option in a 1929
"housecar." It looks more
like a living room reading
chair than a driver's seat). You can walk into most of the trailers
to get a good look.
The 1913 "Earl" Travel Trailer (towed by a 1913 Model "T")
is the oldest travel trailer in the world.
The table seats four and folds down into a double bed, with
storage under the seats. This unit was custom made by a
Los Angeles carriage maker for a CalTech professor and
was quite upscale.
In contrast, the homebuilt 1916 Cozy Camp Tent Trailer
looked like all it did was get your bed up off the ground. Under
the wooden wagon box were wooden spoked wheels. These
didn't last long and manufacturers quickly switched to
The idea of a small towable box that popped up and popped
out, like a modern popup tent trailer, seems to have been
common even before World War I. However, unlike the
modern descendants of these rickety looking canvas popups,
the beds opened to the sides of the trailer rather than popping
out of the front and back.
Of course today's popups feature hot and cold running water,
propane stove and refrigerator, air conditioning, forced hot air
heat, and sometimes a small toilet and shower. The ancestral
popup featured two twin beds, some small screen
windows and little else. But I bet they faced fewer crowds
and had just as much fun as we do today.
The 1932 Gilkie Kamp King Tent Trailer had a pass-
through ice box and pantry shelves on the front of the
trailer so it could be provisioned whether it was open or
closed. Gilkie was one of the first trailer builders based in
Indiana, and this particular one was used by its owner
from the 1930's until 1988.
"Hard sided" trailers were popular too.
The 1935 Covered Wagon Travel
Trailer is boxy looking from the outside, but
what storage space inside! All kinds of
drawers and cabinets for those camping
essentials. It was built by the largest
manufacturer of that time. They turned out
45-50 trailers a day from a single plant! The
exterior of this trailer is "genuine leatherette"
over a thin layer of plywood, and the roof is
coated canvas stretched over tar paper.
The 1955 Ranger Crank Up Trailer looked
like a cross between a popup and the
modern HiLo series of trailers. This trailer model was the first
one to use fiberglass for the sides. It also featured a bed that
extended out the back, which the company described as a
"slide-out." They were the
first manufacturer to use
that term which is so
common in all RVs today.
The next trailer got Mark
smiling: "My dad had one
of those!" It was a 1954
Shasta 15' Travel Trailer.
When I peeked inside I
tried to imagine Mark's
Mom making meals in
there and Mark and his
sisters sitting at the little
It had a gravity-fed water
system that had a reservoir in the cabinet over the sink and a small
hose leading into the sink.
The 1967 19' Winnebego Motor Home looked like some of the rigs
we'd seen on Shelter Island in San Diego a few months earlier. It
was the first of the 6-cylinder
Ford chassis based motorhomes
and, priced at $5,000, it kick-started
the motorhome industry.
Once through the "Road Back in
Time," we moved on into the Ingram
Hall of Fame. This is a special exhibit
area that features the antique RV
collection owned by "Boots" Ingram,
founder of Teton Homes (which until
last year produced ultra high end fifth
wheels) and his wife Betty. Each unit
is one-of-a-kind and has a unique
Perhaps most interesting was Mae
West's chauffeur driven Housecar, custom built to take her to and from the movie sets in 1931.
It was offered to her by Paramount Pictures as an enticement to get her to leave the Vaudeville
circuit to make movies. It was intended as something of a moveable lounge, equipped with an
icebox and hotplate stove for making tea, and it carried a rocking chair on the "back porch"
where she could enjoy the breeze.
Another special antique was the 1937
Hayes Motor Home which featured
exquisite woodwork inside. This
particular unit was used just a few
times in the 1940's and then put in
storage until it was rediscovered in
the 1990's. So other than exterior
paint, everything is 100% original.
The 1929 Covered Wagon trailer was
the first production trailer made in the
US. Covered Wagon became the
biggest trailer manufacturer in the
1930's but closed its doors after
World War II.
And what antique RV exhibit would be complete without a reference to the aluminum sided
Airstream. This model was the predecessor, designed by Hawley Bowlus of sailplane (glider)
design fame. His segmented aluminum panels were intended to look like a glider's silk fabric
stretched over a wood frame. Airstream took over the design in 1936 and made some minor
changes, eliminating the boat-tail end and moving the entry door.
My favorite, and the hardest to capture in a picture (and none turned out right), is the 1916
Telescoping Apartment built on a 1915 Model T truck. The back of the truck camper system
slides out on both sides, revealing cooking accessory storage and a fold-out table on one side
and clothing storage drawers on the other. The rear end telescopes out to create an open area
in the middle of the truck large enough to be a bed. It was something of a puzzle to imagine
how it all folded in on itself for travel.
There was so much to see that our
eyes started to glaze over. As I
review the photos now, I wish I had
taken even more pictures, although
I remember at the time thinking I
had taken too many already, as my
camera was flashing about five times more
than anyone else's. Upstairs we found the
Wall of Fame lined with photos of the RV
industry dignitaries that have been
honored each year since 1972. There is
no info about the honorees accompanying
the photos, but there is a computer nearby
that has a database where you can search
for an honoree and read a short bio about
him or her.
We found the photo of Kay and Joe Peterson of Escapees, who were honored in 2001, and the one of
Wally Byam of Airstream who was honored in the first year, 1972. We wanted to see if the founders of
NuWa had been honored, but the system isn't set up to make that kind of search very easy. You need to know the name of the
honoree rather than the name of the company.
Upstairs also houses the Reference Library. Here you can find back issues of any and every RV magazine that ever existed, from
the earliest issues of Trailer Life to the most recent issue of the Gypsy Journal. All the magazines stand vertically in open boxes on
the bookshelves, so you can easily grab any issue and thumb through it. We spent some happy moments leafing through old
Trailer Dealer industry trade magazines and looking at back copies of Camping World catalogs. We even found ads in old trailer
magazines for some of the trailers we had just seen on the Road Back in Time.
It was interesting to breeze through some of the articles from years past and find that many of the same issues were as important
in those days as they are today: how to live with limited resources while on the road, advocacy for access to public lands,
campground etiquette, how to keep the kids happy, and maintenance on every part of a trailer or motorhome, among other things.
I randomly grabbed the October/November 1990 issue of Escapees magazine. It was much smaller and thinner than today's
edition, but it still had an opening editorial by Kay Peterson. As she does in today's magazine, she was gently reminding us to get
out there and pursue our dreams:
"Because we have no way of knowing how long our life's cycle will last, it
upsets me to hear people, young and old, who are waiting for a particular
event to do whatever it is they want to do... If you don't fulfill your dreams
now, when will you?"
Thank you, Kay, that is timeless advice!
And with her gentle encouragement ringing in our ears, we went back to
the motel to rest up for the next day's adventure: driving the Amish