Elkhart, IN – A Visit to the RV/MH Hall of Fame

Marblehead Lighthouse Sandusky Ohio

Marblehead Lighthouse, near Sandusky, Ohio

Oberlin Ohio

The town of Oberlin, Ohio

Oberlin College

Oberlin College building

Tartan C&C Sailboat Factory and Boatyard

Tartan - C&C factory and boatyard

RV/MH Hall of Fame Elkhart Indiana

RV/MH Hall of Fame

RV/MH Hall of Fame Elkhart Indiana

RV/MH Hall of Fame

Escapees Magazine

Jul-Aug, 2007 Issue features a book review of Al

Hesselbart's "The Dumb Things Sold... just like that"

1930's vintage travel trailer RV/MH Hall of Fame Road Back in Time

Road Back in Time

RV/MH Hall of Fame Road Back in Time RV/MH Hall of Fame Road Back in Time 1929 Wiedman Housecar

1929 Wiedman Housecar

driver's seat, a $35 option

1913 Model T &

1913 Model T & "Earl" Travel Trailer

1913 Model T &

1913 "Earl" Travel Trailer

1916 Cozy Camp Tent Trailer

1916 Cozy Camp Tent Trailer

Wooden spoked wheels on vintage trailer

Wooden spoked wheels

Vintage tent trailer

Well, at least you're up off the ground!

1932 Gilkie Kamp King Tent Trailer

1932 Gilkie Kamp King Tent Trailer

1932 Gilkie Kamp King Tent Trailer

Ice box and pass-through pantry

1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer

1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer

1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer inside

1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer


1955 Ranger Crank-up Tent Trailer

1955 Ranger Crank-up Tent Trailer

1954 Shasta Travel Trailer

1954 Shasta Travel Trailer

1954 Shasta Travel Trailer

Mark and his sisters camped here!

1954 Shasta Travel Trailer

Gravity fed water system with a hose to the sink

1967 19' Winnebegao Motor Home

1967 19' Winnebegao Motor Home

Mae West's 1931 Housecar

Mae West's 1931 Housecar. She would sit in a rocking

chair on the back porch to enjoy the breeze.

1937 Hayes Motorhome

Pristine woodwork in a 1937 Hayes Motorhome

1929 Covered Wagon

1929 Covered Wagon

1935 Bowlus Road Chief

1935 Bowlus Road Chief

1916 Telescoping Apartment

1916 Telescoping Apartment

Escapees' Joe & Kay Peterson

Joe & Kay Peterson were inducted in 2001

Kay Peterson quote

"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!

Along the

shores of

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

Ohio to


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

driven vehicles.

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

pneumatic tires.

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

Heritage Trail.