RVing Through History – 80 Years of RV Travel!

October 2018 – While the most famous and beloved part of the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Indiana, is the fabulous display of antique trailers and motorhomes downstairs, the library upstairs is an equally outstanding (if less flashy) gem.

RV-MH Hall of Fame Elkhart Indiana-min

The RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum antique trailer display downstairs is fabulous.
But you’ve gotta check out the library upstairs too!

Every year notable people in the RV and Manufactured Housing industries are inducted into the Hall of Fame, and when you head upstairs in the museum you can find walls filled with plaques commemorating the work of each inductee.

RV-MH Hall of Fame Inductees Elkhart Indiana-min

The “Hall of Fame” dignitaries in the RV and Manufactured Home industries.

Around the bend there is a library that is open to all visitors. This sizeable room is filled with several rows of bookshelves that house all the periodicals and publications in the RV and Manufactured Housing industries since its inception.

There’s bit of whimsy in this library: the tops of the bookshelves are decorated with toy RVs!

RV-MH Hall of Fame Library Elkhart Indiana-min

The library upstairs is a wonderful place to kick back and learn a little history.

I find the history of RVing very interesting because it is a hobby and a lifestyle that has rolled through our nation’s history for over a century, a time that has included two world wars, economic booms and depressions, baby booms and boomlets, energy crises and more.

As a columnist for and avid reader of Trailer Life Magazine, I was especially eager to look at some of the earliest editions of its predecessor publication, Trailer Travel Magazine.

High up on a bookshelf I found a row of the earliest Trailer Travel magazines the museum owns, all nicely bound by year.

Woodall's Trailer Travel Magazine 1930s and 1940s issues RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Library Elkhart Indiana-min

Bound volumes of Trailer Travel Magazine from the 1930s to the 1960s

I randomly took one volume down and flipped it open to the January 1959 issue. The little girl in diapers could have been an older sister of mine or a younger sister of Mark’s. How fun!

Woodall's Trailer Travel Magazine Cover January 1959 RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum-min

Trailer Travel Magazine – January 1959 – 25 cents an issue

Flipping the magazine open to a random page, I found a fantastic two page advertisement for Airstream trailers called “Land Yachting.” The accompanying photo showed a motor yacht tied up at a dock where an Airstream was parked. Very cool!

Land Yachting Woodall's Trailer Travel Magazine Cover January 1959 RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum-min


Thumbing through a little more, I found an article about a fellow who loved the trailer lifestyle so much he had built a custom home that he could back his trailer into. While the house had a full kitchen, living room, bedrooms and bathrooms, he could also use all of the trailers amenities when it was parked inside the house!

This fellow had been involved in the RV industry for a long time, towing trailers since 1924, and he confessed that he and his wife preferred the bedroom in the trailer to any of the bedrooms in the house!

Have Trailer Will Travel Woodall's Trailer Travel Magazine Cover January 1959 RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum-min

This guy liked to back his trailer right into his custom home and use it inside the house!

I picked up the volume for the 1937 issues of Trailer Travel (the magazine started in 1935 but I didn’t see that volume there).

The January 1937 issue cost just 15 cents and it featured a photo of a palm tree lined street on the cover and the promise of an article about “Trailing Through the Land of Thrills” inside.

Trailer Travel Magazine 1937 Cover photo RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Trailer Travel Magazine – January 1937 – 15 cents an issue

Like today’s Trailer Life, the magazine was filled with advertisements. Of course, as with any media publication, including this website, the ads make it possible to pay the bills. But I loved each and every one of the ads because they said so much about the life and times and interest and concerns of the RV industry back in 1937.

We had seen several Covered Wagon trailers in the museum downstairs, and here was an ad for the 1937 model. By the looks of the lady in her evening gown, this was a trailer for the well-to-do. Boasting “superb perfection of design” and “eight years of quality trailer building,” this rolling home would set you back $1,295.

Trailer Travel Magazine 1937 Covered Wagon Ad RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

At $1,295, this trailer must have been quite a luxury during the Great Depression.

In 1937 America was still deep in the throes of the Great Depression, and $1,295 was an exorbitant amount of money. No wonder the lady was in such an elegant gown as she prepared for a night on the town. She was a woman of means who had somehow escaped the worst of the economic woes that the Great Depression wrought.

Trailer Travel Magazine 1937 Silver Dome Ad RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

The Silver Dome had a caster type wheel under the hitch pin.

It struck me that owning a trailer was not something that was probably possible for most families, as many families didn’t have a car in 1937. “Trailerites,” as the early RVers were called, must have been a fairly exclusive crowd, especially when the country was in the grip of the Great Depression.

1937 Trailer Travel Magazine Club Car Ad RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min


1937 Trailer Travel Magazine Royal Coach Ad RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min


But there were trailer builders out there who were aiming at a more budget oriented crowd. The 17′ Indian “Scout” started at a mere $395, just 1/3 of the cost of that fancy 22′ Covered Wagon model.

1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN Indian Scout Trailer Ad-min

A smaller, simpler trailer for just $395.

Another big surprise was that many of the trailers in 1937 (model year 1938) offered most of the household comforts we have built into our trailers today, from water tanks to kitchen stoves to insulation and more.

One ad for the Bender Travel Mansion boasted air conditioning and heat which they said marked “a new era in trailer life!”

Not only did the 1937 Bender Travel Mansion feature climate control, it also had a hot and cold water shower, a flush toilet and an automatic electric and marine water system. The foundation was the Bender Tandem Axle and Spring suspension system, and the interior was walnut.

All this for a base price of just $447.

Trailer Travel Magazine 1937 Bender Travel Mansion Ad RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Air conditioning, heat, hot and cold shower and flush toilet — in 1937!

I was also surprised that most trailer ads stressed that their units were all steel construction. This didn’t mean just the frame, as it does today. The studs and rafters were welded steel too.

When we had looked at the units in the museum downstairs, Mark had noted that even the aluminum sided models of the early years had tack welds rather than rivets.

These early trailers were solidly built and heavy!

Trailer Travel Magazine 1937 Hayes Ad RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

These trailers were super rugged and all steel.

The 1938 Hayes trailer featured not only a complete steel cage — chassis, frame, sides, roof were all “electric welded into one rigid piece” — but it also had five kinds of insulating materials.

One insulating material mentioned was “Reflect-O-Cel aluminum air cell insulation” used in the roof.

This sounded a lot like our modern product Reflectix that many RVers use to block heat and cold in their RV windows. It also sounded a little like the “radiant barrier” that trailer manufacturers use today (although some radiant barriers we saw on factory tours resembled aluminum foil while others were a foil product that had some kind padding).

1937 Trailer Travel Magazine 1938 Hayes Trailer Ad RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

A steel cage frame and 5 materials for insulation including “Reflect-O-Cel.”

I was intrigued that while today there are many industry publications for people who work in the RV industry and a few magazines geared towards consumers who buy RVs, the early Trailer Travel magazine had a very wide audience that included not only the manufacturers but the “trailerites” who bought them, the campground and trailer park owners who were hosting them and the dealerships who were selling the manufacturers’ products.

So, there were ads for everything from Coleman stoves to trailer windows, a new folding trailer step, Foreman trailer axles, Bendix power brakes and a Red Top Gas-O-Lectric AC/DC Power Plant to give the trailer electricity when it was parked off the grid.

Coleman Stove Ad 1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

1937 Coleman stoves.

Trailer Window Ad 1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Trailer windows… not very different from today.

Folding Trailer Step Ad 1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

A fold-out step!

Foreman Trailer Axles Ad 1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Trailer axles.

Bendix Trailer Brakes Ad Foreman Trailer Axles Ad 1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Bendix Power Brakes save your car’s brakes…same thing today!

Red Top Gas-O-Lectric Power Plant Ad Foreman Trailer Axles Ad 1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

AC and DC power for the trailer when it’s not plugged in.

I was also fascinated to see that companies had emerged to rent out trailers to folks on vacation. Western Trailways Service offered trailers for $5 a day for one or two people or $6.50 for three or four people. Why spend $400 or more buying a trailer when you could rent one for a weeklong honeymoon for just $35?

1937 Trailer Travel Magazine Ad RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN Western Trailways Rental Plan-min

Why not rent a trailer for a week before going all in and buying one?

Just as fascinating, or perhaps even more so, was reading the articles about where people took their trailers in 1937. An ad for Covered Wagon explaining their sales method of selling a base model plus options showed a young couple dressed up for camping in nature.

It was a different era!

Covered Wagon Pacemaker Trailer Ad 1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Camping in style.

One photo showed several riders on horseback and a trailer parked on the side of a dirt road, a glimpse of the transition still taking place in the 1930s in the most rural areas from horse to motorized travel.

Trailer and horseback riders Durango Colorado Foreman Trailer Axles Ad 1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Old and new modes of transportation on the dirt road to Durango Colorado

An article entitled, “Yellowstone Parking – A Trailer Travel Thrill!” described a trailer trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Some things have changed quite a bit since 1937. A photo showed a black bear eyeing up a car towing a trailer. In those days feeding the bears was a popular activity at Yellowstone. Fortunately, from what I understand, grizzlies were extremely rare in the Park back then since they were not a protected species.

Trailer driving past Bear in Yellowstone National Park 1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

It was common practice to feed the bears at Yellowstone back in 1937

But the fishing on Fire Hole River (“Fire Hole” was two words in those days) seems like it was much the same, excellent both then and now.

Fire Hole River with trailer at Yellowstone National Park 1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Fire Hole River in Yellowstone.

And photography was as important to Yellowstone visitors in 1937 as it is to all of us today.

Photography with trailer 1937 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

A “trailerite” family enjoys a meal together in their campsite while dad snaps a pic.

As I perused the January 1937 issue, I discovered that the feature article, “Trailing Through the Land of Thrills,” was all about taking your trailer on a fabulous adventure down to Mexico City.

The new 1,000 mile long international highway had been completed in July, 1936, and Americans were taking their cars and trailers down the highway and loving it.

Interestingly, that was not the only travel destination feature article about going to Mexico in 1937. In the August issue of Trailer Travel Magazine there was an article about taking your trailer down to the fabulous tropical destination of Acapulco!

Mark and I spent some time in Acapulco on our sailboat, and although Acapulco is sadly very dangerous in many areas today, it was easy to see how extraordinarily charming it must have been years ago.

When we anchored there we heard whales singing in the water around our hull at night, and we saw a seahorse attached to our anchor chain when we hauled the anchor up. The water just outside the populated area was the bluest blue we’d ever seen, and at night Acapulco Bay looked like a bowl full of diamonds as all the homes on the steep hills around the bay lit up.

I can only imagine how exotic it would have been to take a trailer down to Acapulco for a tropical winter vacation in 1937.

Acapulco Mexico Town Beach

Acapulco’s town beach

Another fascinating article was entitled, “What is Happening to the Trailer Industry?”

Apparently for the first half of 1937 trailers flew off the shelves, so the manufacturers ratcheted production up to high gear. By May, however, trailers had stopped moving and there were surpluses everywhere.

The article pondered whether the sudden slowdown was because President Roosevelt had tampered with the Supreme Court as he tried to push through his New Deal legislation. Or perhaps the Housing Act of 1937 (Wagner Act) which provided government funding for public housing agencies to assist low income families was the cultprit.

The writer also mused that the problem might be plain old competition. He noted that for every one trailer being built by a manufacturer in 1937, four were being built at home. I guess in 1937 “trailerites” were looking for affordable trailers that were customized to their own needs and preferences.

Boy, does that sound familiar!

Trailer Travel Magazine September 1937 What is Happening to the Trailer Industry?

The RV industry has always been cyclical,
but even so, a sudden downturn in 1937 prompted some soul searching.

On the positive side, another article in the January 1937 issue discussed how Hollywood was becoming more and more enamored of using trailers on movie sets.

Downstairs in the museum of antique trailers we’d seen a fabulous House Car on display that belonged to Mae West. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the stars in Hollywood routinely began to use luxury trailers as mobile dressing rooms and places to relax on set.

One article entitled “Trailer Trails to Health: Water” discussed the importance of finding good drinking water in your travels. The article opened with a cute reference to Samuel Coleridge’s poem in which the Ancient Mariner lamented, “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.”

Today we all rely on bottled water that is in abundant supply everywhere, but in 1937 the only choices were city water, which was filtered, chlorinated if necessary, and approved by the State Department of Health, and well water or spring water which was a gamble.

“Trailerites” were advised to seek out city water supplies and to use spring or well water only if it had a certificate on it from the State Board of Health.

Trailer Travel magazine 1937 Trailer Trails to Health - Water-min

Finding safe drinking water was a big concern for “trailerites” in 1937

I grabbed the Trailer Travel volume for 1940 and flipped through a few issues.

The price of the magazine had dropped from 15 cents in 1937 to 10 cents in 1940, and it was now called Automobile & Trailer Travel Magazine.

Automobile and Trailer Travel Magazine 1940-min

Automobile & Trailer Travel Magazine – August 1940 – Now 10 cents an issue!

What a neat surprise it was when I saw an ad for a 4.8 cubic foot electric refrigerator!

This RV fridge was a combination electric refrigerator and ice box. When you took your trailer off grid, rather than relying on propane, which came later, you could pack 50 lbs. of ice in the ice box and still enjoy a cold beer.

In 1940 there were still rural folks who didn’t have running water or electricity, but the finest trailers had electric refrigeration!

Marvel Trailer 4.8 cubic foot Ice and Electric refrigerator ad from 1940 Trailer Travel Magazine-min

A 4.8 cubic foot electric fridge with a big ice box for off-grid camping.

The October 1940 issue featured an article, “How To Use Your Camera,” that explained how to take advantage of different film speeds. Of course, film cameras have gone the way of the ice box!

Trailer Travel magazine 1940 How to Use Your Camera-min

Photography and travel have always gone hand-in-hand, whether the camera is film or digital.

I jumped ahead a few shelves and pulled out the March 1977 issue. The magazine was now called Woodall’s Trailer & RV Travel, and the cover showed a pop-top van as one of the best new designs of the year.

Water was still covered in this issue in 1977, but the focus in this particular article was on how the RV’s water system works and what to do when it doesn’t.

March 1977 Woodall's Trailer and RV Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Woodall’s Trailer & RV Travel – March 1977

My jaw just about hit the floor, however, when I opened another issue from 1977 and discovered that finding safe drinking water was just as big a concern in 1977 as it had been 40 years prior in 1937.

Not only did the article, “The Traveler’s Guide to Water,” warn RVers not to trust random wells and springs for drinking water, but it also opened with the same quote from Coleridge’s poem The Ancient Mariner: “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.”

How funny.

Ironically, when I wrote an article for Cruising World Magazine a few years ago about our sailboat’s water desalination system that converted ocean water to drinking water, the editors titled it, “Water, water everywhere…”

Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner is timeless!

Trailer Travel magazine 1977 The Traveler's Guide to Water-min

Finding safe drinking water was still a big concern in 1977, some 40 years later!

In 1977 there was also a lot of concern about the safety of taking an RV into Mexico. Several articles discussed rising crime in Mexico, but the writers expressed hope that it was a temporary problem that might abate in the near future.

John and the motorhome

Camping on the beach in Mexico!

When we were in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on our sailboat, we were very fortunate to meet a young German man who had been raised in a Class C motorhome by his adventurous parents as they traveled all over North America. While showing us his photo albums of family photos, he described camping on the beach in Mexico as a kid in the 1980s. How fun!

At one point, his dad had gotten the clever idea to ask a train conductor heading through Copper Canyon if they could put their motorhome on one of the empty flatbed train cars. Soon, a whole generation of adventurous RVers were riding flatbed cars on that train and enjoying a trip of a lifetime.

Blog posts about meeting this special fellow here and here.

Another big topic of concern in Woodall’s Trailer & RV Travel in the late 1970’s was the future of the Alaskan wilderness. The public land debate goes back over a century and is very complex, but the Alaska Pipeline spawned much debate in the late 1970s, and Woodall’s Trailer and RV Travel weighed in with their thoughts.

Who Gets the Alaskan Wilderness 1977 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Public land debates were as hot in 1977 as they are today.

Alaskan Wilderness quote 1977 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Interesting to look back on this comment 40 years later.

By the 1970s, Woodall’s Trailer and RV Travel Magazine was published solely for RVers — the consumer side of the RV industry — and was no longer a trade magazine for the RV industry itself. But one amusing business-oriented article headline caught my eye: “Renting Your RV – It Could Put 10 Grand in your pocket.”

There has been an effort in recent years to put potential RV renters together with people who’d like to make a little side income from renting out there RV. I had no idea that this business model dated back 40 years, but there it was in 1977!!

Renting Your RV 1977 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Renting your RV is not a new concept. Heck, folks were putting 10 grand in their pockets doing it in 1977!

I had a hard time leaving the RV/MH Hall of Fame Library and could easily have stayed a few more hours. But the volunteer at the front desk downstairs came up to me at closing time and told me very kindly that she was going to shut off the lights in a few minutes!

She let me hunt down one last magazine from August 2010, an issue of Good Sam Club’s Highways Magazine. The cover of this magazine featured our little buggy in a streamside setting. She smiled as I snapped a photo of the cover and told her that the very same trailer was parked out in their parking lot right now.

Looking at the Highways Magazine cover more closely a little later, I noticed that besides my article about Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, there were articles on water filtration and brakes and there was even a photo contest.

So many themes in RVing have stayed the same, all the way from 1937 to now.

August 2010 Highways Magazine Cover 1977 Trailer Travel Magazine RV-MH Hall of Fame and Museum Elkhart IN-min

Water, brakes and photography were all in this issue too!

If you have a chance to visit the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum, allow a little extra time to sit in one of the comfy chairs upstairs in the library and thumb through a few RVing magazines of yesteryear. It is a heartwarming journey.

You can subscribe to the modern day Trailer Life Magazine here and see our photos and stories in its pages almost every month!

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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


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


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


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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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.
























































































































Elkhart, IN – RV Factories and Amish Country

Bonneyville Mills

Irises in bloom

White Amish barn

Horses & buggies parked at the hardware store

Kids get early driver's ed at a young age.

Jayco Designer fifth wheels in the holding pen

Jayco Jay Feather travel trailers

Amish home across the street from the Jayco holding pen

Modern versus antiquated. 

Complex & Global versus Simple & Local.

These buggies move at a fast clip

The Amish drive on government maintained roads

Yoder Popcorn

Plowing with a team of horses

Getting a little motorized help

Tending the garden

Nothing beats a little power

We saw at least seven women mowing this way

Return to Indiana countryside with red barns

Heartland Factory

Trailer chassis stacked up outside.

Wheels, water and holding tanks installed.

Flooring installed.

A unique dolly system moves trailers sideways down the line

Furniture installation begins.

Bathroom sinks waiting for installation.

Side and rear walls installed. It starts to look like a trailer.

Ready to install the slide-out room.

Slide-out ready to be installed on the trailer.

Slide-out is pre-assembled.

Ready for front caps to be installed

Front caps lined up for installation.

Ready for delivery.

Elkhart's Amish & Heartland RV Tours

Early June, 2009 - The Elkhart Visitors Center is a great resource.  Not

only did they help us locate the RV/MH Hall of Fame, but they gave us a

list of RV factory tour schedules.  It was astonishing to see how many

manufacturers are based in this town, and more surprising to see how

many weren't offering tours because they weren't in business any more.

I wanted to find out how to experience some of the local Amish culture,

and the lady at the desk handed me a CD called "The Amish Heritage

Tour."  You pop the CD into your car's player and it guides you through

a 90 mile tour of the surrounding countryside.  The accompanying paper

map helps you figure out where you are going.  The CD assumes you

drive the speed limit, and gives directions on where to turn.  As you drive

it narrates the history of the area, describing the industries that support

Elkhart today, pointing out the Amish settlements and giving insights into

their lifestyle, and explaining the Indian and European roots in the region too.  The sound effects and accompanying music are

delightful, and the driving instructions are terrific.  Every 5-10 miles there is something worth stopping to see, and the CD explains

where to park and what to look for as you walk around.  We returned the

CD to the Visitors Center at the end of our tour and later found out you

can download the MP3 files from their website instead of borrowing the


We spent a very happy day with that CD.  The first stop was Bonneyville

Mills.  A beautiful iris garden out front caught my eye.

The second suggested

stop was the RV/MH Hall

of Fame, which we had

seen the day before.  I

don't think you could

squeeze both tours into one day.  What we were most eager to see was the Amish countryside.  We

learned that some 20,000 Amish live in this area, of about 225,000 worldwide.  They are a subset of

the Mennonites who number about 1.5 million in 65 countries worldwide.  With a birth rate of 6.8

children per family, the Amish population is growing at 4% annually, making it one of the fastest

growing cultures in the world.  Customs vary by community, but in this area their homesteads have

white barns rather than the usual red ones in the rest of Indiana and Michigan.

The essence of their beliefs is twofold:  humility and isolation.  Their forebears were so terribly

persecuted for their religion in Europe in the 1600's that they withdrew from society at large,

preferring to nurture their own community's independence while keeping the rest of the world at bay.

Therefore, when electricity became available in the 1920's, they rejected it, as it would bind them to

the non-Amish around them.  Similarly, they prefer to travel by horse and buggy and work the fields

manually.  A horse's range is perhaps 25 miles before it needs to rest and eat, shortening the distance they can travel outside the

Amish community.  Manual field tools prevent anyone from attempting to acquire a larger field than his neighbor and thereby

aggrandize himself rather than remain humble. All this adds up to an extremely simple lifestyle that thrives without much

technology.  However the rejection of technology is not so much of technology in and of itself but of things that could lead to one

individual standing apart from the rest or that could make the community dependent on the outside world.

I had seen photos of Amish horses and buggies but

couldn't really believe it, so when I saw them all tied to

hitching posts at the local hardware store and local

dentist's office I was quite startled.  The biggest

grouping was at the local bulk food market, a huge

building that must have had 40 horses and buggies

lined up outside.  All the horses were dark colored and

the buggies were black.  Most had a roof, windshield

and doors, though some were open air buggies.

The kids get early equestrian training and learn to

drive on the roads responsibly at a young age.

The CD instructed us not to take photos of the Amish, which

I mostly obeyed.  However, in every Amish shop we entered

(which were staffed exclusively by Amish), there were

arrays of books and information about the Amish for sale,

featuring photos of all kinds, including some beautiful coffee

table books that had very intimate photographs of the

Amish in all aspects of their lives.  Who took those lovely

photos, and did the Amish object?  Apparently not, as they

were happy to display and sell the books.  The Amish are

not totally independent of the world around them, as they

need to buy homes and land as their population increases,

so they interact financially.  Some rely on the tourist trade

for money and others hold jobs.  They have

been affected by the economic downturn as

well, and I read one local newspaper article

about an Amish man who had lost his job in

an RV factory and had to rely solely on his

farm.  He liked spending more time at home

with his kids and wife, tending their farm

together, but he said if his job were available

again he would return to work without


In our search for trailers last year, we had encountered several

manufacturers who advertised that their trailers were Amish made,

especially the interior woodwork.  The image of a man with beard,

suspenders and wide brimmed hat carefully crafting the cabinetry with

hand tools while his horse and buggy wait patiently outside can be

appealing.  But it isn't quite accurate.

Jayco, in particular, advertises this Amish connection.

We came across their holding pen for trailers ready to

be shipped across country.  It was an open field with

space for rows and rows of trailers.  Only about half of

the rows were occupied, but it was interesting to see

rows of their high-end Designer fifth wheels and light-

weight Jay Feather travel trailers ready to go.

Directly across the narrow lane from this holding pen was an Amish farm, complete with a

large barn and several buggies parked out front.  The woman of the house was tending her

vegetable garden and the clothes line was full of clothes swaying in the breeze.  I was

fascinated by the juxtaposition of the simple living and home based values sandwiched into

the modern, mass market standards of the surrounding community.

We found this odd mix of

cultures on the road too, as the

horses and buggies fill all the

roads in the area.  We stopped

at the Rise 'n Roll Bakery and

were enchanted with what lay

inside.  A group of young Amish

were baking and selling their

goods.  The girls were singing together as they worked, and when

they stopped periodically to talk together they spoke German (we later

found out it is a dialect of Swiss-German).  Of course their English is

perfect as well, and the young boy at the cash register was utterly

charming as he offered us samples of the most amazing donuts I have

ever tasted.  There was an innocence and sweetness among those

teenagers at that bakery that I have rarely experienced elsewhere.

And what better place for sweetness than a bakery; the sugar coated delights were heavenly.  I

wanted so much to photograph the charming scene there: the girls in their bonnets laughing and

singing; the boy in his suspenders gently teasing them.  Instead, I took a picture of a little sign

they had hanging below the cash register:  "As you travel on life's pathway, may this always be

your goal: Keep your eyes upon the doughnut and not upon the hole!"

We took a fresh raspberry pie and

some donuts out to a little bench in

front of the bakery and watched the

Amish world go by for a while.  The

horses and buggies were more

common than the cars, and they moved

at quite a clip.  I was amazed looking at

one of my photos later to see that all

four of the horse's hooves were off the ground.  The Amish may not travel

long distances, but they have the same urgency to get where they are

going as we do.

I read later that in some Amish communities only the young use open-air

buggies, and they are used for courting.  That didn't seem to be the case

with this open-air buggy, but it sure looked like a fun way to get

around.  Of course they travel on all the state and US highways that we do, and those roads are maintained by the governments

that govern us as well as them.

The Amish pay all taxes except social security tax (because they never apply for social security, relying on families to take care of

their disabled and elderly instead) and Worker's Compensation (because they do not use insurance).  Again, both Social Security

and insurance would bind them too tightly to the community at large.  However, some hospitals have begun to offer special care for

the Amish when they are sick, and they have been participating in studies of genetic diseases and disorders, as most Amish today

are descended from just 200 original European ancestors, and genetic disorders have become an issue.

We found ourselves eating our way across Amish land as we stopped next at the "Deutsche Kase Haus," the Cheese Factory.

They had a seemingly infinite variety of cheeses, and all were available for sampling.  Mark was immune, because he doesn't like

cheese, but I tried almost all of them, and they were delicious.  I noticed that other tourists were stocking up on goodies, both here

and back at the bakery, and I discovered that many people come into

Amish country on a regular basis just to buy their amazing foods.

One fellow who was traveling through ("I come here twice a year every

year!") highly recommended that we stop at the Blue Gate Restaurant in

Shipshewana and have the "Amish Plate."  He said it would be one of the

best meals we'd ever have.

We didn't make it there, but we did get to Yoder Popcorn where we

bought a bag of Tender Tiny Whites.

Across the street we watched a man working his fields with a team of six

horses.  The notion of using manual labor to discourage individuals from

trying to outdo their neighbors by having a bigger farm was intriguing.

The very essence of western culture can be such a Darwinian survival-

of-the-fittest scramble to the top, where aggrandizement is revered and everyone

wants to stand out.  It was hard to imagine a culture where the drive for

achievement was capped.  We learned that the Amish don't go to school past

eighth grade, usually attending one-room school houses in their communities.  In

order to comply with the government's minimum age for leaving school, they simply

repeat 8th grade until they are the acceptable age.  Amish students score higher

than average on all standardized tests except vocabulary.

Down the road we saw a man working his field with a single horse pulling a cart

that he sat in, and which, in turn, towed a gas powered tractor.  Because it wasn't a

riding tractor, his farm size was naturally limited by his horse's stamina.

We did not see any churches in their communities, as they prefer to worship in

each others' homes, every other Sunday.

It was a perfect spring day, and every home had a prominent vegetable garden out front.

Almost every vegetable garden was being tended by a woman in her long dress and white

bonnet.  The division of labor between the fields and the homes was distinct.

Women also mow the grass in

the yard.  I stopped counting

after then 7th woman I saw

pushing a lawn mower.

These weren't little manual

rotary mowers like my brother

used to push in our tiny city

yard in Massachusetts.  These

were big gas mowers that

could really get the job done.  One thing we noticed is that extreme

obesity is not a problem with the Amish.  All that work around the home

and farm keeps them trim.

There are Mennonite communities in the area too, and they are much

more lenient in their interpretation of how to live humbly, simply and

without ties to the outside world.  At the local supermarket I watched a

group of women in long dresses and

bonnets filling their baskets with many

of the same goods we rely on, and

when they got outside they hopped in

a car and drove off.

Near the end of the tour we emerged

back into the familiar Indiana

countryside with red barns.  They were

beautiful too, but it was a sign we were

coming back to a society that is more



We enjoy factory tours, and we wanted to visit

Heartland RV, one of the very successful newcomers to

the fifth wheel market.  Having left the rundown looking

but elite Tartan yacht factory a few days earlier, what a

contrast it was to pull up to this modern building topped

with a proud sign and a new Mercedes parked out

front.  We walked inside, inquiring about a tour, and several people instantly scurried off and came back with a salesman for us.

He was clutching some papers and thrust them towards me as he said excitedly, "Sales are down 27%!"  I raised an eyebrow.

"We're number three in the industry!"  He handed me the papers, and sure enough, out of 30 or so manufacturers, where sales

were down 40-60% across the board, Heartland was third from the top for smallest decline in sales volume. What a sign of the

times that a 27% drop in sales would be news to brag about.

He led us on a brisk walk to the beginning of the line, explaining to us that Heartland's founders

had been in the RV industry since time immemorial, coming from Coachmen years ago and

starting several other RV enterprises before opening Heartland.  The place was abuzz with

activity.  Drills, saws, stacks of parts, people moving fast: it was like a movie set.  A feeling of

purposeful, focused ambition filled the air.  We came out into the sunlight where the line begins

with stacks of chassis made by Lippert.

Once inside, each chassis gets

its water and holding tanks and

wheels installed.  Then the

flooring is laid.

Unlike the traditional trailer

manufacturing techniques we

have seen elsewhere,

Heartland has a unique

method for getting the

trailers down the line.  Most

manufacturers line the trailers up

nose to tail and let them stand on

their own landing legs and wheels

as they do at a campground.  They

roll down the line all in a row on their

own wheels.  In contrast, Heartland

puts each chassis on a dolly system,

both the front landing legs and the

rear wheels.  They stand cheek-to-

cheek and roll down the line

sideways.  The trailers don't come

off the dollies until they leave the

building, fully assembled.

This allows Heartland to put

twice as many trailers on

each assembly line.  In

addition, each station on the

line has a scaffolding system

mounted to the ceiling that

can be lowered around the

trailer once it is in place to

allow workers easy access to

the high areas.

After the flooring is installed

on the chassis, the furniture

can be put in place.  The

furniture modules are largely pre-


Then the walls are installed.

The gaskets for the slides are

installed next, and the windows

are put in place.

Then the slide-outs, which are

assembled and furnished

separately, are mounted in


Last of all the front cap is

installed on the nose of the


Finally, the trailers emerge into the

sunlight, ready for shipping to the


There is a lot of pride in this

bustling factory.  But when I asked

about warranties and repairs, it

didn't sound like the Heartland

factory wants to see their trailers

once they leave the plant.  Unlike

NuWa, which offers phenomenal

personalized service at the factory for both

in-warranty and out-of-warranty work,

resulting in a steady stream of loyal customers

visiting their plant in Chanute, Kansas,

Heartland's repair service is handled exclusively

by the dealers.

Elkhart is loaded with RV manufacturers, and most offer tours.  However, we

were ready to change gears and go up Michigan's west coast to visit some of the

cute waterfront towns that line Lake Michigan's shores.