Editor’s Note: The following column by Sue Bray, executive director of the Good Sam Club, discusses the RV centennial, which will be celebrated this year. Her column appears in the February issue of Highways magazine. Affinity Group Inc. is the parent company of the Good Sam Club and www.RVBUSINESS.com.
It was a much simpler world 100 years ago. But with so many technological advances just around the corner, 1910 must have been an exciting time to be alive. Like today’s world, in which the latest computer technologies open up new possibilities, the world of 1910 was opening up to motorized travel. Innovative horseless vehicles were embarking on new highways and byways across the continent.
The lure of the open road had enticed tourists prior to 1910. People traveled to camping spots by horse and wagon, but those trips were restricted by time and distance. A few wealthy excursionists had tent trailers custom-built so they could enjoy the outdoors in relative comfort. But in 1910, the adventure of travel on North America’s developing roads began to change as three manufacturers, led by Pierce Arrow, started building motorized campers. In 1914 towable tent trailers were introduced, and in 1917 the first fifth-wheel appeared on the horizon.
Fortunately, a handful of historians have preserved this past. David Woodworth, for one, has chronicled RV history for decades. In 1986, David arrived at the headquarters of the Good Sam Club driving a Model A and towing a Ziegelmeyer tent trailer. We began working together, and for years David toured the country on behalf of Good Sam, meeting with club chapters and other groups and displaying his ever-growing collection of vintage vehicles. He’s taken his amazing assortment of RVs and RV gear on media tours representing the RV industry. Today, much of his collection is on display at the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in Elkhart, Ind.
David has a wealth of information on RVing’s early days. He even has a collection of collapsible coat hangers! He tells how auto pioneers Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, both avid campers, made plans for RV manufacturing while on a train ride in 1915.
David’s also researched the evolution of campgrounds. In the 1800s, he relates, many towns built wagon yards where visitors could release their horses and store their wagons when they were passing through. By 1914, the now-obsolete wagon yards were converted into free municipal campgrounds. “After World War I,” says David, “cities started charging 25 cents a night to camp in their campgrounds, basically in an effort to weed out the undesirables.”
In 2010, the RV industry will celebrate its 100th anniversary. Events recognizing the milestone will be held at the Elkhart museum and various RV dealerships, shows and campgrounds around the country.
The Good Sam Club is sponsoring a special RV History Caraventure en route to the Louisville Rally, which runs July 22 through 25. Up to 100 RVs, both old and new, will meet at the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in Elkhart, travel to Dearborn, Mich., to visit the Ford Museum, then drive on to the 2010 Rally in Louisville. Seminars held along the way will offer insights into today’s RVing experience and RV travel’s fascinating past. (Caraventure contact information is available at (800) 829-5140.)
At the Rally, we’ll have a special area for vintage RVs to park and display life as it was in the early days of RV travel.
For David Woodworth, RVing is here to stay: “It’s gone through World War I, the Depression, World War II, high gas prices and high interest rates and it’s still such a popular activity.”
We RVers know it’ll keep on going and we look forward to the next 100 years.