By Robert Gorden
ELKHART, Ind. — Walking into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart is like taking a trip down memory lane watching the history and development of recreation vehicles unfold from the very simple vehicles used in the 1930s to the opulent homes on wheels the industry produces today.
Where else can you see:
- Mae West’s 1931 House Car?
- The oldest known travel trailer?
- The one of a kind (or perhaps 1 of 2) custom built Cadillac motorhome?
- A 1929 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer?
- The truly unique 1928 Pierce Arrow Housecar?
- An Airstream 1958 travel trailer?
- 1930’s model tent trailers?
- A nicely restored 1964 Cortez motorhome?
- Several beautiful, restored travel trailers and motorhomes from the 1930 to 1950s?
- Streamline designs from the 1930’s?
All of the above and much more are seen in attractive displays at the RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame. This new, multimillion dollar museum depicting the combined history of the recreation vehicle and manufactured housing industries is located at Exit 96 along the Indiana toll road on Interstate 80/90 in a new industrial park. It is easily seen and accessed from the toll road or from County Road 17.
The display is laid out along a “highway” where people can easily see the evolution of recreation vehicles. Some units are open for people to walk through. A supplier hall showcases modern amenities that accept the RV lifestyle from air conditioners to tow equipment.
Go RVing, the marketing arm of the RV industry, offers a short film about RVing along with the opportunity to walk through current model year RVs from big motorhomes to tiny campers.
History of the RV lifestyle
Many of us may think that the RV industry began at about the same time that we bought, saw or built our first RV, be it a tent trailer, mini bumper pull or converted school bus. Actually, the first known RV trailer was custom-built in California for use by a college professor in 1913.
Other RV trailers and tent trailers were homemade, one of a kind or garage built models in the early 1920s. Historically, we may consider that the first RVs were the Conestoga Wagons of the mid-1800s, and one manufacturer embraced this concept with the covered wagon travel trailers of the late 1920’s.
In the 1930s innovative builders employed beautiful, classic, streamline designs for both RV trailers and motorhomes. Most of those designs did not attract a large customer base, however. Rather, more practical designs were well accepted and the mini trailers and later, slide in truck campers were early popular models. There is even a 1930s version of the recently rejuvenated “teardrop” mini trailer to prove that what goes around comes around.
Development of the Hall of Fame
Although the RV industry began in the 1930s, developed in the 1950s and accelerated in the 1960s, the concept of an RV Hall of Fame emerged only in the 1970s.
This concept was discussed, created and developed by a group of seven RV magazine publishers who were determined to honor the pioneers and leaders who had been instrumental in building the industry. The first class of the hall of fame was elected in 1972 and during the intervening years more than 300 honorees have been selected.
The first class was primarily composed of early members of the RV industry dating back to the 1930s and through the trying years of WWII. Annual elections increased the membership, but it was a “paper honor” with names kept in a file cabinet until a more permanent and visible location was developed with the construction of a museum and honor hall in 1990.
In 1994, under the direction of Foundation President Carl Ehay, a fundraising campaign was initiated. With substantial support by the RV industry, funding was secured for the construction and maintenance of the present building and land. Construction began in 2005 and the museum, hall of fame and conference center opened in March 2007.
In conjunction with the Hall of Fame is a substantial library that is open to the public. Researchers from across the nation and the world are welcome to use these fine facilities. However, the holdings are as yet neither cataloged nor computerized. Trade journals, catalogs, dealers magazines, books, papers, drawings dating from the 1930s to the present await the efforts of volunteers capable of computerizing the materials.
Hall of fame inductees are prominently displayed on the walls in the second level of the building. They come from all areas of the industry including manufacturers, dealers, designers, publishers, RV park developers, suppliers and key supporters of the RV industry.
The hall of fame, library, conference center and RV museum invite and urge RVers and all interested persons to visit and use these attractive and excellent facilities. There are openings for volunteers to help staff and maintain each of the divisions. Also, offices, meeting rooms and an auditorium are available for rent.
The facilities are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday during winter months, and is closed Sundays. However, during the summer, it is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.
Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $7 for children age 6 to 17. A special family package gets both parents an unlimited related children in for $28. Groups of 14 or more pay the $8 rate.
For more information, visit www.rvmhhalloffame.org.
For a list of area campgrounds, click here.