Turns out classic cars, vintage motorcycles, wooden boats, historic aircraft and antique farm tractors aren’t the only vehicles people collect and restore. In northern Indiana, there’s an entire museum of recreation vehicles, from old pop-up campers to vehicles especially created for the likes of Mae West and Charles Lindbergh.
The RV/MH Hall of Fame, Museum & Library is located just off the Indiana toll road at the East Elkhart exit. That only makes sense since the Elkhart area is the heart of RV manufacturing in the United States.
Oh, the MH in RV/MH doesn’t stand for motor home but for manufactured housing, another big industry in northern Indiana, and just outside the museum is an example of a factory-produced home.
But the primary attraction are the historic recreational vehicles inside the large main building that houses not only the museum, but the hall of fame and an expansive research library as well as the Northern Indiana Event Center, which is large enough to entertain a thousand people at a social gathering or business conference.
Oh, again — and it’s not just RVs that are included in the museum’s display. There are several classic cars and trucks, from a Ford Model T pulling what is believed to be the world’s first travel trailer — the 1913 Earl — to a 1946 Studebaker Model M15A-28 dually hauling a 42-foot 1954 Spartan Imperial Mansion, a virtual apartment on wheels. There’s also a Pierce Arrow, perhaps the largest one ever produced.
Speaking of trucks, the rear fender and trim design on the 1955 Ranger crank-up tent trailer would look good on any pickup truck from that era.
The museum includes many “firsts,” — first Airstream, first Fleetwood, etc. It also displays a 1935 Bowlus Road Chief next to the 1939 Lindbergh travel trailer, which makes since: Before he started making trailers, Hawley Bowlus was the lead engineer on the Spirit of St. Louis that Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean. And speaking of Airstream, its founder, Wally Byam, was a Road Chief salesman.
But so much for the guys. Guess who’s leading the classic RV restoration hobby?
“You know who’s doing it?” RV/MH Heritage Foundation president Darryl Searer asked before answering the question. “It’s women who are restoring old trailers!”
Searer said that women — married or single — who want to travel, but may have a husband who would rather stay home in his man cave — are buying old motor homes and camping trailers and modernizing them and decking them out in design themes and are enjoying the company of their fellow “Glampers.” That’s Glampers as in “glamorous campers.”
Particularly popular among the Glampers are small vintage camping trailers but also huge units such as the 26-foot motorhomes designed by General Motors and built in the 1970s by its GMC Truck & Coach Division.
Photos by Larry Edsall