RV/MH Hall of Fame + Elkhart (RV Heart) Indiana

October 2018 – The region around Elkhart, Goshen and Shipshewana in the northern part of Indiana is the heart of the RV industry, and a trip there is a must for everyone who loves RVing. One of the coolest things to see is the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum (“MH stands for Manufactured Housing, not “Motor Home”).

RV-MH Hall of Fame tells RV History about RVing industry in Elkhart Indiana

The RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum is at the heart of the RV industry’s heart in Elkhart Indiana

We visited Elkhart, Indiana, back in 2009. That visit was during the very dark days of the recession, and the entire RV industry was in total free fall as it plunged to miserable depths in a very steep nose dive. RV manufacturers that had been around for as long as forty or fifty years were dropping like flies.

At that point, unfortunately, darker days were still to come. It was hard to imagine when or how the economy, especially the RV manufacturing industry, would ever recover.

So, what a marvelous shock it was this year to arrive in Elkhart and find the place absolutely humming with activity. The economic rocketship ride has taken Elkhart and the RV industry by storm, and there were help wanted signs in front of every manufacturing plant and on every street corner.

Elkhart Indiana is hiring in economic boom-min

There were jobs aplenty in Elkhart, Indiana

Hiring signs in Elkhart Indiana as economy booms-min

We saw hiring signs in front of every business.

When the RV manufacturers are running at full tilt, everything around them takes off at a sprint too.

There were RV transport trucks towing sparkling new trailers everywhere we turned. Each transporter was embarking on a trip to haul the attached trailer to a dealership in some far corner of the country, and every RV manufacturer’s lot was filled with rows and rows of rigs waiting their turn to be shipped out.

Jobs jobs jobs and hiring in Elkhart indiana-min

RV transporters were busy busy busy!

Now hiring in Elkhart Indiana during economic recovery-min

Warehouse – Yes! Sewers, not so much.

The mood was almost giddy, and there were help wanted signs at all the supermarkets, restaurants and fast food joints. I don’t think there was a company anywhere that was suffering. One coffee company even cracked a joke about needing new hires right on their sign.

Of course we are hiring who is not-min

Of course… Who isn’t??

Wages were ticking upwards too. One small manufacturer of specialty trailers told us the starting wage for assembly line workers at their plant — once they’ve proven themselves for a month — is $27 per hour. Wow!!

But besides the exuberantly happy mood we felt around town, we were having a blast just being right smack in the heart of the RV industry where something like 90% of the RV-related corporations have their headquarters. Every direction we looked we saw a familiar brand of something.

Lippert Components freight truck in Elkhart Indiana-min

Lippert Components… we have a lot of their stuff… Hey, is that a help wanted ad on their truck?!

Keystone Drive Elkhart Indiana-min

You can’t get far from the RV industry here.

The manufacturing plants go on for miles, and all the big corporations have many many plants.

LCI Plant 85 Elkhart Indiana-min

The various plants for the big manufacturers go on for miles and miles.

R-Pod Plant 37 Elkhart Indiana heart of RV industry-min

R-Pod too.

The companies and the residents are all very much tied in with each other, so it was no surprise to see familiar names on the Adopt-A-Highway signs too.

Adopt-a-Highway Lippert Components Inc Elkhart Indiana-min

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XLR toy hauler plant Elkhart Indiana RV industry-min

Drive a block and see another familiar manufacturer’s plant!

XLR Thunderbolt toy haulers lined up in Elkhart Indiana RV plant-min

Ready for outdoor adventure.

Every RV manufacturer offers factory tours of some kind, and we made it a point to do quite a few. But just driving around Elkhart, Goshen, Shipshewana, Middlebury and Nappannee, it was amazing to discover how enormous this industry is and how vast its many manufacturing plants are.

Keystone RV Company Headquarters Goshen Indiana-min

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Of course, lots of other kinds of vehicles are made in the Elkhart area too. How cool to see a zillion shuttle buses hot off the assembly line out gleaming in the sun.

Shuttle buses lined up in Elkhart Indiana-min

This region makes more than just RVs.

Much of this area is Amish country, and every so often we would come across signs letting us know their horses and buggies were in the area. How fun to see the horse tie-ups at the supermarkets and to see the horses and buggies waiting patiently outside various businesses. We saw the Amish working in the plants too.

Goshen and Shipshewana Indiana are Amish country-min

Something old and something new – Rooftop solar panels, horses and buggies and electronic controls.

It was also the peak of fall. At a cider mill the pumpkins were stacked high and the cider was selling fast (yum!).

Pumpkin display Elkhart Indiana-min

Fall was in the air and the cider was delicious!

Even though we had visited the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum the last time we were here back in 2009, we wanted to see it again this time. It is unusual for an industry to celebrate itself and its products with so fabulous a showcase in such an impressive building.

Don’t miss it if you drive by on I-90 (you can see it from the highway!).

RV-MH Hall of Fame Museum-min

Buddy couldn’t wait to visit the museum!

Out in front of RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum there’s a statue of a star spangled elk. He’s decorated with the painting of an RV, and very close to his heart is the RV’s front door. Perfect!

The RV industry is the heart of Elkhart Indiana-min

The heart of Elkhart is the RV industry, and the heart of the RV industry is Elkhart.

There is a lot to see inside the museum, but the coolest attraction is the Go RVing Hall which houses an incredible collection of vintage RVs.

Entering the GoRVing Hall in RV-MH Hall of Fame Museum-min

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The RVs are lined up along a road that is painted on the floor, and this road winds all around a huge room and even goes over a small bridge. At the beginning of the road the RVs are arrayed in more-or-less chronological order, so you can see how the RV industry developed as you move from one rig to the next.

One of the first rigs is a 1913 Ford Model T towing a 1913 Earl Trailer.

1913 Model T Ford and Earl Travel Trailer-min

1913 Model T Ford towing an Earl Travel Trailer

Another early rig was a “Collapsible Automobile Camping Outfit” that could be attached or detached from any roadster.

1916 Telescoping camping unit on a roadster at RV:MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart Indiana

1916 Telescoping camping unit on a roadster

The museum shows a page from the May 1916 issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine that has photos of this inventive contraption in action. Note that they’d already figured out how to get hot water for showers… over a century ago!

Popular Mechanics May 1916 Telescoping roadster attachment

Popular Mechanics Magazine, May 1916

The early days of RVing was a time of enormous creativity as people tried building all kinds of crazy contraptions to get themselves up off the ground while camping and have a little storage space for clothes and food as well.

Some were simple popup (folding) tent trailers that were obvious precursors to today’s popups. Others were very high end and fancy “house cars” that were early versions of motorhomes for the wealthy.

1931 Model AA Ford House Car-min

1931 Model AA Ford House Car

Some of those early companies were wildly successful. Covered Wagon was one of the most successful. At their peak they turned out 40-50 trailers every day.

World War II put a quick end to that success, however, and by the end of the war the RV industry had virtually collapsed. Almost every manufacturer went out of business, including Covered Wagon.

1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer-min

1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer

Interior 1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer-min

Interior of the 1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer

1937 Hunt Housecar-min

The very cool 1937 Hunt Housecar

That meteoric rise and sudden crash of the RV industry seemed eerily familiar to what we saw happen after 2008, especially in the trailer industry.

All of the wonderful trailer manufacturers that had built good quality, solid trailers for a modest price for decades up until 2008 were gone by 2015. The rest consolidated under two main conglomerates. At the same time, all the suppliers save a few also consolidated under a single conglomerate.

Sadly, this has left the current trailer customer with a million different models of trailers to choose from that are all extremely similar except for the graphics and the name on the outside of the trailer.

But so go the wheels of invention and maturity in every industry. The great fun of the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum is seeing things like the first trailer that Fleetwood built in 1950.

1950 Fleetwood Sporter travel trailer first Fleetwood built-min

The 1950 Fleetwood Sporter travel trailer was the first Fleetwood RV ever built

Interior 1950 Fleetwood Sporter travel trailer first Fleetwood built-min

Interior of the 1950 Fleetwood Sporter travel trailer

And an elegant trailer by Yellowstone Trailer built in 1954.

1954 Yellowstone Travel Trailer-min

1954 Yellowstone Travel Trailer

Early trailers had all kinds of interesting shapes. The 1967 FAN trailer had a flip tail at the back end.

1967 FAN Luxury Liner travel trailer RV-MH Hall of Fame Museum Elkhart Indiana-min

1967 FAN Luxury Liner travel trailer

Underneath the trailer, tucked between the two wheels, was an early version of MORryde’s rubber equalizer system. When we toured the MORryde plant we learned that they had spray painted the equalizer on this trailer silver to match the trailer and to make sure people could see it.

1967 FAN Luxury Liner MORryde equalizer early version-min

One of the first MORryde equalizers on a 1967 FAN Luxury Liner travel trailer.

We savored every minute in the museum, and I went back again a second time for more.

Mark loved the early mechanical systems — imagine a regular shower head screwed onto the outside of your trailer or an air-hose system to pump air into the water tank to pressurize it — and I loved imagining people of an earlier era taking these fun and crazy travel pods out to the National Parks to breathe the fresh air and see the wonders there.

I’ll have more for you from this trip to the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum. In the meantime you can see more cool antique RVs in our 2009 blog post about the museum. They’ve moved a few rigs around, but they are all still there.

Most important, if you are planning a trip that will take you anywhere near Elkhart, Indiana, check your favorite RV manufacturer’s website for their factory tour schedule, and be sure to visit to this special museum.

A walk back in time at RV-MH Hall of Fame Museum Elkhart Indiana-min

A walk back in time at the RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum

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14 thoughts on “RV/MH Hall of Fame + Elkhart (RV Heart) Indiana

  1. Great post! I liked the interesting vintage rigs very much, thanks for sharing.
    As for the companies that died, the only one I can hope never revives is the one who made the horrible mattress filled with dacron. It went flat and very uncomfortable within a month!

  2. Em,
    Great article and photos. What a place! We’re going to need another lifetime to visit all the wonderful places you highlight in your articles. 😉
    Bob

  3. Visiting that place never gets old. We were there for the Aug RV Super show, but it got postponed a week, due to a lot of rain….and it rained considerably again the following week. It was a muddy mess outside. So, we went thru the museum twice. Not a far drive from Ft Wayne. Love the nice wide angle pics. Did you notice a lot of near flat tires on the rigs? As a full timer, it’s a habit I can’t help noticing.

    • What a fun occasion to go the Elkhart, Darin, but too bad about the rain you had. We got a ton of rain too, and cold temps to boot. But the museum made for a great escape! We did notice flat tires, but those special rigs are kinda parked for life now, so I think it’s okay!

  4. This was one of the coolest places that we have visited also. Love looking at one vintage rig after another. Thanks for the reminder. Hope to see it again one day.
    Another.

  5. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE those “old-timers” ! Fond memories of your pop-up with the hummer feeder swinging from the awning….

    • It’s such a great walk through history to see all these old campers. The popup design of today was one of the earliest types of trailers ever built, although those early ones didn’t have awnings. We cherish those memories of our little popup and the hummers coming to visit the feeder!

  6. Hi Mark, Emily and Buddy,
    Roger and I have so enjoyed sitting in our armchair and traveling with you across our great nation on your blog. Your photographs and informative articles are awesome. We hope to get to Elkhart, Indiana one day. Last week we had the MoRyde System installed on our Alpenlite 5th Wheel at RTW in Mesa. They were GREAT to work with just as you said. Sure miss you guys…
    Hugs…

    • Thank you so much for traveling with us since we last saw you and for letting us know you’ve enjoyed the ride! Rucker Trailer Works in Mesa is a great shop and I’m sure they did a fine job with the MORryde installation. I hope you like the new smooth ride and your two new solar panels too. We’ll be watching for you down the road!

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