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Hall of Fame Offers Insight, Enjoyment to RVers

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July 30, 2007 by   Leave a Comment

The outsiders, the ones who don’t understand, might make a joke about the RV/MH Hall of Fame as they speed down the Indiana Toll Road between Elkhart and LaGrange.
But, according to a report in the South Bend Tribune, to enthusiasts like Don and Pat Mumford – people who sold their home in Hawaii 14 years ago to travel the United States full time in a 35-foot Winnebago – the building is a good place to spend a couple of hours.
Inside the building are a lot of things not many know exist, including a trailer owned and used by entertainment legend Mae West.
Knowing West’s reputation as an early Hollywood bad girl (think Paris Hilton, except with a sense of humor) you might wonder what went on inside the trailer. “Well, you might,” said Al Hesselbart, historian at the Hall of Fame. “I try not to.”
Hesselbart knows just about everything there is to know when it comes to RVs. He’s been working with the RV/MH Heritage Society since 1994, and just came out with a book on the RV industry called “The Dumb Things Sold Just Like That.”
He can point out the 1913 RV – the world’s oldest – at the head of the exhibit, and the original Winnebago, an item so important to the industry’s history the museum had to seek it out, Hesselbart said. Most everything else was offered up for the collection.
“(Winnebago) is like the Kleenex of the RV industry,” he said. “It’s a generic term almost.”
Hesselbart is also the guy who can explain why there are plenty of RVs from the 1930s and a ton from the 1950s, but not a lot from the 1940s.
“Material rationing was a severe detriment to building campers, and all the customers were busy,” he said. “They were preoccupied in Germany and Japan and the South Pacific, so they weren’t buying a lot.”
And then?
“As these soldiers came home from the war, got married and started making babies, they needed inexpensive family recreation,” Hesselbart said. “The camping industry provided that.”
In other words, the RV industry had a baby boom, too. In a way, the ebb and flow of American history is recorded here, in the size and number of RVs.
The Tribune reported that the 304 people in the Hall of Fame will grow by 10 on Aug. 6, when the class of 2007 is inducted. One of the 10 men enshrined will be honored posthumously.
The induction ceremony is the hall’s grand opening, but it’s been open to the public for weeks, offering walks through the Founders Hall full of vintage RVs and the Go RVing Hall, an industry-sponsored room full of the latest models.
Go RVing, the industry’s publicity arm, pays $200,000 a year to maintain the room, which is nice, Hesselbart said, “because it doesn’t cost us $200,000 a year to hire a janitor to sweep the floor.”
Manufacturers get to display in here by winning a lottery.
Lastly, Hesselbart’s pride: A library on the second floor full of books and magazines chronicling the industry’s past.
“We have the only known copy of some of this literature,” he said. “The Smithsonian has sent researchers here on at least four different occasions to use our collection of archival materials.”
The building is being constructed in pieces, so that when it’s done it also will include a conference center that can seat 1,000 people for dinner, or 2,500 in a theater-style setup.
“We’ve said from the start of this building, we will mortgage nothing,” Hesselbart said. “We will build for cash. That is not totally paid for yet, and so we’re waiting for it to be paid for to build it.”
But, according to the Tribune, the mild construction noise and steel skeleton that hangs off the back of the building didn’t detract from the experience for the Mumfords of Hawaii.
They were just passing through, visiting Don’s sister and her husband in Elkhart.
Soon, they’ll be on the road, stopping in Maine (“for lobster,” Pat says) and then down the coast as the leaves change colors before ending up in Florida for the winter.
This was just a stop along the way – something to do on a Tuesday morning in northern Indiana.
They went through the Founders Hall on Tuesday morning, and previously visited the old Hall of Fame in downtown Elkhart.
“That was fascinating,” Pat Mumford said. “But this is really becoming.”

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