June 4 (AM) – RV and Motor Home Museum

The major reason we decided to spend an extra day in Elkhart was to visit the

As we went directly from backpacking into a class A motorhome in 2010, we both missed living in many of the types of recreational venhicles on display.

Founded in 1972 as the Recreational Vehicle/Manufactured Housing Heritage Foundation, the Museum opened in 1991 and in 2007, moved into its current location, located just off I-80 near Elkhart, Indiana and features pull through parking for RV travelers, which comprise a portion of the visitors. The primary building, Founders Hall, is complete with artificial trees and other plants to create simulated RV campgrounds.

The museum features a variety of recreation vehicles dating back 100 years and continuing through the 1980s. The oldest vehicle on display is a 1913 Earl Travel Trailer and is the oldest surviving specimen known. The museum is divided into areas that highlight key events in the history of Recreational Vehicles such as the introduction of the first microwave oven the first indoor toilet and other features.

The latest RVs on display date from the 1980s, so absent are any of the modern travel trailers, fifth wheels and motorhomes Many of the older vehicles are open for inspection. As most of the older RVs are small, “walking through” many of them is usually brief but fun, akin to walking around a tiny submarine.  Paneling still smells of pine and birch, tables fold into beds, linoleum patterns bedazzle, and every footstep squeaks and sets off rocking waves.

Some of the many RVs were were able to enjoy included:

1913 “Earl” Travel Trailer and Model “T” Ford

The oldest travel trailer in the world.  Custom made for a Cal Tech professor by a Los Angeles carriage maker.  This was the last year for choice colors on the Model “T” … the following year the were manufactured in black only.  The trailer has a dining table that seats four and then converts into a double bed.  The khaki colored upholstery is in the original style.  Storage is provided under both benches and in two cabinets on either side of the rear doors.

1916 Cozy Camp Travel Trailer

This is an example of the earliest manufactured trailers at time when most of them were made by local craftsmen.  Pneumatic tires quickly replaced the buggy wheels as the buggy wheels broke easily on the rutted roads.

1916 Automobile Telescoping Apartment

The “telescoping Apartments” were built on the east coast as aftermarket camping accessories for early trucks.  To travel, both side-cbinets slide in and the rear section then “telescopes” into the main compartment and is secure fo travel.  Warm water for the shower is produced by radiator heat from the engine.  This uint originally sold for $100.00!

Zagelmeyer Camp Trailer

Manufactured between 1922 and 1930

1929 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer

The 1929 Covered Wagon was the first production travel trailer in the United States.  During the 1930s Covered Wagon became the largest trailer manufacturing company in the US and went public on the NYSE in 1937 … only to go out of busienss during World War II.

1929 Wiedman Housecar


1900 Ford Model A

1931 Mae West Housecar

The 1931 Chevrolet-based custom-made housecar was one of the enticements offered by Paramount Studios to get Mae West of leave the Vaudeville circuit and begin to make movies for them.  It is designed as a chauffeur-driven lounge and not as a “camper’ unit.  It features a small hot plate stove, an icebox, and a small table to enjoy lunch or a spot of tea.  It was used for several years to transport Miss West from her home or hotel to the shooting locations.  Legend has it that she has a rocking chair on the back porch where she could enjoy the breeze when appropriate.


1931 Model AA Ford Housecar

The housecar is believed to have been built by an unknown custom carriage maker and woodworking artist.  The floors are yellow pine and the cabinetry and interior is oak and yellow popular.  The seats for the driver and passenger were added by the restorers; although the vehicle originally had flat benches without backs.  All of the hardware and much of the wood is original.  The original engine still runs.

1932 Gilkie Kamp King Tent Trailer

Starting in the mid-1902s, Gilkie was probably the first successful manufacturer in Indiana.  A unique feature of the trailer is the pass –through icebox and pantry on the front side can be accessed from either inside or outside the trailer so that it can be provisioned when fully loaded up.

The "kitchen" had to be set up separately outside the trailer.

1933 Ford Kamp Kar

Manufactured by a custom builder for local customers from about 1915 to 1940


1935 Bowlus Road Chief

These trailers, designed by a world-famous sailplane (gliders) builder, Hawley Bowlus, were the predecessor of the more recognized Airstream clipper style.  The segmented aluminum roof design simulates the look of silk fabric stretched over a wooden frame on the sailplanes.  When Airstream took over the design in 1936, they removed the boat-tail feature and moved the entry from the front to the side.

1935 Covered Wagon Travel Trailer

In 1935, Covered Wagon was the largest trailer manufacturer in the country and produced 1 out of every 6 “house trailers’ built in the US.  Their record production for a single day at that time was 45-50 trailers per day.  The exterior is “genuine leatherette” over a thin plywood shell and the roof is covered with coated canvas stretched over tarpaper.

1935 Kozy Kamp Tent Trailer


1935 “Kumfort” Travel Trailer

A welded all-steel body, this is an example of many of the homemade trailers built by enterprising craftsmen of the early days.  The dining table drops down to convert nearly the entire trailer into a single huge bed


1935 York Rambler

Manufactured with an all-steel body, a unique feature of the time is the integrated storage “trunk” at the rear.


1936 Roadhome Coach

Built in Los Angeles with Masonite sides placed over a diagonal truss spruce frame much in the style of early aircraft framing.  This is an example of the more basic camper coaches of the mid-1930s.


1937 Hayes Motor Home

This trailer, built by the Hayes company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, bore the designation “motor home” long before that name signified motorized RVs.  It features a full steel body including the roof and complete underbody making it totally varmit-free.  It was apparently used only a few times and put in storage before 1940 and not removed until it was discovered in the mid-1990s.  Other than having been repainted, it is entirely original.


1937 Hunt Housecar

The unit, designated “The Star” because of its hood ornament, and an identical sister vehicle, “the turtle”, in another collection in a California museum, which differs only in its hood ornament emblem.

Note the toaster


1939 Schult 8’x20’ House Trailer

This is an example of the mid-range homes between a travel trailer and a full home that were popular in the 1930s.  They were the predecessors to the recreational park model trailers of today.  It features a small built-in refrigerator instead of the common ice box and a gasoline fueled cook stove and heater.  Schult is the oldest home manufacturer in business today, having been started as a company in 1933.


1946 1-Ton Studebaker Truck (Model M15A-28)

Postwar demand for trucks was high so Studebaker continued its popular prewar series of trucks.  This cab design was used by Studebaker on all their wartime truck production.  Many of its parts were interchangeable with Studebaker cars, helping to keep costs down.  Truck production for 1946 was 43,196.  This vehicle is in operable condition and is being used by the museum.  Its price when new was $1,285.

 1946 Kit Teardrop

Collapsable picnic tables and chairs

1950 Fleetwood Sporter

This is the very first camper built by Fleetwood.


1954 Holiday Rambler Travel Trailer

It was built while the company was Klinger Products Company before the name was changed to Holiday Rambler.  Its features include a unique maple wood interior and a double-wide army stretcher type bed with canvas stretched between steel pipe bars above the standard bed

1954 Shasta Travel Trailer

This 15’ trailer, without the standard company logo wings, was built with an upper bunk with a ventilation window that would have been covered by the wings.  It also features a gravity water system with the reservoir in the cabinet above the sink and a small hose for a water tap. 

1954 Spartan Imperial Mansion 8’x42’ Mobile Home

The Spartan Aircraft Company, owned by J. Paul Getty, built these homes in Tulsa, OK beginning after the end of World War II to utilize the surplus production capacity that had been built up to meet wartime airplane demands.  They were recognize at the finest mobile homes available in the late 1940s and 1950s.  It features an all aluminum exterior assembled using aircraft technology, aluminum wall studs and roof rafters, and an all birch interior.  The wrap around front window was a Spartan trademark.

1954 Yellowstone Travel Trailer

This is an example of the higher-line of travel trailers made in the 1950’s. It features a blond birch interior along with apartment-size appliances.

1955 Ranger Crank-up Tent Trailer

One of fewer than 200 built in 1955 by Hille Engineering of Anaheim, CA.  It features modifications creating the upper bunks that fold down when the roof is lowered.  It was the first use of fiberglass in trailer bodies and the first brand to use the term “slide-out” to describe the extendable body to facilitate the rear bed.


1956 E-Z Kamper Prototype Tent Trailer

This a wooden prototype of the original E-Z Kampers.  After a few camping trips, the builder, Clyde Grambsch began to receive mail orders for similar units.  Recognizing the demand, Grambsch founded a company to build them with steel bodies.

1957 Serro Scotty 12’ Travel Trailer

The unique low silhouette design, with a rear entry door and drop down area in the floor where standing was possible provided the advantage of being able to store these trailers in a residential garage.  A unique feature is the “floor furnace” where the entire heat appliance is set in the floor in one piece.  In later models the entry door was moved to the conventional side locaiton and the drop in the floor moved forward of the axle staying directly opposite the door

1957 Serro Scotty 10’ Teardrop Trailer

Due to their easy availability, low cost, and the increasing population of retiring baby boomers, there has been a resurgence of popularity for these small trailers that can be towed by even a 4-cylinder, and stored in the family garage.

1958 22’ Airstream Flying Cloud Trailer

The 1958 Airstream Flying Cloud, built in California, came equipped with a gas hearer, refrigerator and cooking stove, pressurized water system and 110 volt electrical system.  1958 was also the year Airstream implemented a significnat body style change, going from 13 to 7 panels on the end shells. 


1958 Airstream Der Kleine Prinz (“The Little Prince”)

Smallest Airstream ever built.  Unique features of the trailer are the Lilliputian bathroom with shower that Airstream managed to wedge into the left rear corner, a three-burner stove, refrigerator, propane-fired heater and perhaps the most unique of all, a Der Kleine Prinz nameplate. The nameplate is particularly noteworthy because at the time of its manufacture in 1958, Airstream did not routinely put nameplates on its custom trailers, more evidence that it was probably Byam who commissioned the trailer.  The actual box of the trailer is 6 feet by 10 feet with a 6-foot, 3-inch ceiling. The tidy proportions made sleeping a bit of a challenge for the 6-foot, 3-inch Faber and his wife,  Only one was ever made.

1962 Apache Chiefton

The Chief weighed 340 lbs and was more of a hybrid trailer and tent. The tent pulled over to one side. The trailer served as the off-the-ground bed while the tent, with its enclosed canvas floor, served as the living area where additional sleeping cots and tables could be placed.

1964 Clark Cortez Motorhome

The Cortez was made from 1961 to 1974.  It showed a unique sleeping arrangement where the dinette converts into an upper and lower full sized bunk bed with the upper bed suspended from the ceiling on leather straps

1964 Coachman Cadet Travel Trailer

It features a novel bed which is stored up against the ceiling to be manually lowered into position above the dinette when ready for use.  Pete the Dalmatian coach dog became the company’s symbol.

1966 Mustang Travel Trailer

This was one of the first trailers of the “bunkhouse” design with a second story bed function.  It also shows the advent of the popular provision of the tiny bathrooms with shower, sink and toilet in the same compartment.  Bathing and toilet facilities were rarely included in “camper” trailers before this time.  These trailers were built before Ford Motor Company began using the name.

Access to the bunkhouse beds through narrow corrido to the left


1967 FAN Luxury Liner

This trailer shows an early example of the torsion bar anti-sway “MOR/ryde” type suspension system

1967 Winnebago Motor Home

This 19’ motor home, built on a 6-cylinder Ford Chassis, is an example of the first motorized RV built by Winnebago.  It was designed to sleep 6 on 3 double beds.  It was the first popular assembly line built motor home.


1968 Carriage Travel Trailer

The one piece fiberglass end pieces were a new feature.  It was designed with the idea of producing a high-quality travel trailer with retirees and other full-time users in mind.

1968 Chassis Travel Trailer

1969 Fleetwood Pace Arrow

Fleetwood's First Motor Home

1969 Holiday Rambler Truck Camper

An example of a large, fully-equipped, slide-in pickup truck camper.  Popular for family camping in the 1960s.  This 11’ camper was designed to sit in an 8’ pickup bed and extend 3’ beyond the rear bumper.


1969 Stites Chassis Mount Truck Camper

The Stites family built these slide-in chassis mounted truck campers during the 1960’s and early 1970s.  It is an example of larger truck campers that, in the late 1960s, outgrew the ability to be slid in and out of pickup trucks and required that the truck bed be removed and were permanently mounted to the cut-off of the truck. 

1974 GMC Motor Home

The GMC Motorhome was manufactured by the GM Truck and Coach Division for model years 1973-1978 as the only complete motorhome built by a major auto/truck manufacturer and serving as a “halo” vehicle for GMC. The motorhome was conceived not as just a "camper," but as a vehicle for comfortable travel as well. The design was radical for the day with front-wheel drive and a low profile, fully integrated body.  Motorhomes are typically manufactured on adrivetrain equipped with frames supplied by a chassis manufacturer. GMC built the bodies and in most cases the interiors in-house, and designed the chassis and drivetrain to create the motorhome. Empty shells were supplied to other RV manufacturers for upfitting the interiors and also to specialty manufacturers for a range of custom purposes ranging from mail delivery and mobile training facilities to people movers and ambulances. The GMC Motorhome was built in 23’ and 26’ lengths.

1978 Coachman Leprechaun Ford Chateau Camper

1978 Travco

The Travco motorhome was an aerodynamic Class A RV built on a Dodge chassis from 1965 until the late 1980s. The Travco design originally emerged as a 1961 model called the “Dodge” Frank Motor Home" and marketed with the assistance of the Chrysler Corporation, which was the maker of its chassis. One hundred thirty one were produced the first year, with an average price tag of $9000

1985 Fleetwood Bounder

This model changed the industry by placing (allbeit limited) basement storage in Class A motorhomes.

Star Streak II

It was built in 1988 using a 1976 Cadillac and a 1976 455 cubic inch Oldsmobile Toronado V-8. The 455 was a larger big-block introduced for 1968 as the Rocket 455 at 455 cu in (7.5 L) to replace the 425s. Output ranged from 275 to 400 hp (199 to 298 kW).  It’s front wheel drive and fits in a standard garage.  Its a custom made aluminum-bodied motor home built by Paul Jones of Cape Coral, Florida.  At 84 inches high, the outrageously styled RV was designed to fit in a standard garage yet contain all the creature comforts of a larger, more cumbersome motor home.  The floor is recessed since it’s front wheel drive, so standing is no problem.  There were just two made, both in museums.

Unfortuately, I have no detailed information on following

Travel Trailers,

Truck Campers

and Motorhomes

This is a must see place for all RVers to visit at some point in their travels

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