100 years of Rving

100 years of Rving

A century ago, the popularization of the automobile, improving roads and America’s passion for exploration gave rise to mass-produced, manufactured recreation vehicles, and the RV industry was born.

In 1910, William Howard Taft was president, Ty Cobb won the American League batting title, Jack Johnson was heavyweight boxing champion of the world and the Boy Scouts of America was founded. There were few gas stations, few paved roads and no highway system. But there were RVs. Through war and peace, booms and busts, fuel lines, fads and the cyber revolution, the RV lifestyle has endured and is still going strong, even in today’s challenging economic times.

“Think about how far we’ve come in the past 100 years in terms in technology, yet the reasons to RV remain the same,” says Richard Coon, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. “RVing has been able to thrive and grow because people still enjoy the freedom that it provides.”

The industry will celebrate its centennial in 2010 with a series of events that highlight its proud past and bright future.

“Recognizing and celebrating the 100th anniversary of the RV industry is a unique opportunity to tell our story to the media and public,” says Coon. The industry’s anniversary will showcase today’s innovations and new products while emphasizing America’s century-long love affair with RVs.

The roots of RVing are as old as pioneers and covered wagons. But 1910 is the year that America’s leading RV historians — David Woodworth, Al Hesselbart and Roger White — cite as the true beginning of this uniquely American industry.

“The first motorized campers were built in 1910,” says Woodworth. “Before then, people had private rail cars that were pulled to sidings along train routes. The year 1910 brought a new freedom to people who didn’t want to be limited by the rail system. RVs allowed them to go where they wanted, when they wanted.”

Hesselbart, archivist for the RV/MH Heritage Museum in Elkhart, Ind., also pinpoints 1910 as the birth of the RV industry. “Camping has been around for centuries, but 1910 is when the first auto-related camping vehicles were built for commercial sale.”

Known as auto campers a century ago, these motorized vehicles were a forerunner of today’s modern motorhomes.

“There were one-offs [individual units] being built prior to 1910,” says White, associate curator division of work and industry for the Smithsonian Institution. “But 1910 is a good benchmark for the industry.”

“The 1910 RVs offered minimal comforts compared to today’s homes-on-wheels,” says Woodworth. “But they did provide the freedom to travel anywhere, to be able to get a good night’s sleep and enjoy home cooking. One notable exception to today’s RV was the bathroom. In 1910, it was usually either yonder tree or yonder bush.”

Hesselbart points out that one brand of auto camper in those days was equipped with a bathroom onboard. “Pierce-Arrow’s ‘Touring Landau’ had a potted toilet,” he says. A version of today’s Class B van camper, the Pierce-Arrow “Touring Landau,” was unveiled at Madison Square Garden in 1910.

In addition to Pierce-Arrow, there were several other companies or auto-body builders producing motorized RVs. These companies and innovative products were featured in a Popular Mechanics issue in 1911, but Woodworth says the motorhomes highlighted in the article were actually built in 1910.

Camping trailers made by Los Angeles Trailer Works and Auto-Kamp Trailers also rolled off the assembly line beginning in 1910. Hesselbart says the earliest RV on display at the RV/MH Museum is a 1913 trailer, ancestor of the contemporary travel trailer.

Photos of 1910 RV models appear in White’s book on the history of RVing and exist in both Woodworth’s and Hesselbart’s libraries. RVing travel author Harry Basch lists 1910 as the beginning of the “first mass-produced RVs” in his Frommer’s Guide: “Exploring America by RV,” published in 2008.

“Celebrating our centennial will create excitement and pride throughout our made-in-America industry and provide an opportunity for manufacturers, dealers, suppliers and campground owners to unite under one banner,” says Coon. “For 100 years, we’ve been helping Americans explore their scenic treasures and heritage more comfortably, affordably and enjoyably. That’s something to celebrate as a nation.”

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Andy,

I enjoy going to your website and can see that you have put a lot of effort into it. It is a great resource for people that are interested in vintage motor homes, weather they own one or are thinking of restoring one or just love the history.

I don't know if are aware but I am the owner of two places of business, Soapstone Valley Equipment is a truck and equipment repair shop, with myself and three mechanics since 1994, and next door Classic Motorcars of Ellington, where we have a show room with 20 - 25 antique cars for sale, we also offer repair service and parts for old cars and trucks.
www.oldantiquecars.com

The reason I tell you all this is because after being in the truck and antique car repair bussniess for 35 years, I have a few thoughts I would like to share with people who are thinking of restoring a vintage motor home.

I'm sure you have seen other web sites or blogs about Travcos. Some have done wonderful jobs and inspire the rest of us. Others seem to jump into a total restoration project without sitting down first and counting the cost. I have seen this many times when it comes to old cars.

I tell people the most expensive car (or in this case motor home) is the one you can get for free.

The real cost of a restoration is staggering.

People start with good intensions, tow home an old Travco and rip out the interior, try to get it running, after a while reality sinks in, the list starts getting longer and longer, rust issues, fluid leaks, wood rot, glass, electrical, paint, brakes, tires, exhaust, interior, etc. and all they wanted to do is take a trip in a cool old motor home. Sadly some get frustrated and give up.

I really admire those who stick with it and end up with beautiful rigs even if at a great cost.

I would encourage wannabees to consider buying a vintage coach that has had most of the work done, this has proved over and over to be the most cost effective way to enjoy the hobby.

Good running, driving Travco can be bought for $5,000 - $7500 and is far less than the cost of a restoration.

We that have old vehicles know that there is always things that need attention or find that even a good unit is a continuous work in progress. Or better said, we get to use out rigs and are always tinkering with them too.

It is my hope that someone reading this might give it some thought and that more people would be able to enjoy this great hobby.

Thanks Arlo Hoffman


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