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Antique RV Show in Detroit Depicts Early RVing

June 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Daniel Hershberger of Plymouth, Mich., found an antique camping kitchenette at a swap meet and spent the next 18 years building an entire collection of gear and vehicles to go with it, according to the Observer & Eccentric, Detroit.

“It bolts onto the side of a running board. I bought it from the grandson of the original purchaser. I knew I had something,” he said.

“For the next 10 years I kept thinking ‘I’ve got to do something with this.’ That was the start of it. For 18 years I’ve been buying one thing at a time. I tell people I’m a consumer from 1920.”

Hershberger loves to look through old Field and Stream magazines and find motor camping items featured in the advertisements. He enjoys identifying and hunting for his acquisitions, buying them and sharing them with the public through lectures, exhibits and vintage camping vehicle gatherings. His collection includes a camping bathtub made of rubberized canvass on a folding frame, a folding gramophone and Coleman gasoline stove.

“If it’s packed in box in my garage, it’s not doing any good for anyone. The purpose is to get the stuff on the road and to talk to people.”

He’ll do just that on Sunday (June 20) at the annual Eyes On Design Automotive Design Show at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich. The automotive display benefits the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology and will include a first-time exhibit of antique motor camping vehicles and equipment within the car show.

Hershberger is co-chairing the “Life on the Road” exhibit, which traces the history and evolution of recreational vehicles in America. It will include his own 1927 Auto-Kamp fold-out tent trailer and 1920s camping artifacts that he has collected for nearly two decades.

“When cars became affordable, people hit the road. There was no infrastructure, so they had to camp along the way and cook their own meals. By 1920 motor camping was in full bloom. Millions of people were on the road.”

Life on the Road’s 20 displays show vehicles and camp gear from the 1920s-1960s. Some are vintage trailers and tow vehicles, some are travel trailers and some are self-contained. Hershberger’s will be the oldest on display.

Motor camping enthusiasts of the 1920s could travel on a budget, staying in a $7 lean-to tent that attached to their car or splurge on a trailer. The deluxe Auto-Kamp was one of the more luxurious units at $345. Made by a Saginaw-based company, the trailer featured two metal spring beds with wool felted mattresses, an electric light fixture and two pull out storage drawers — one for dry goods and the other a galvanized ice box.

“It’s comfortable,” said Hershberger, who camps in the unit on the road or at vintage vehicle shows. “It’s like sleeping on steel spring beds off the ground. Your head is by a screen window. It’s water proof. It’s cozy.”

Hershberger said his trailer is one of five remaining Auto-Kamp fold-out tent units in the world.

“I was looking for a trailer and when it became available, it was the chance of a lifetime to get it,” he said.

Hershberger, who works for the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan, taught classes in “roadside history” and graphic communication at College for Creative Studies for several years. His interest in the auto segued into auto advertising, then led him to study about early gas stations, roadside restaurants, lodging and finally, motor camping.

Other vehicles in the Life on the Road show range from a 1936 Curtiss Aerocar, — the first fifth-wheel travel trailer — to a 1968 VW Westfalia camper to a bus-sized 1978 Newell coach, and everything in between.

Visitors can browse the exhibit on their own or take a guided tour at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. or 3 p.m.

“You can go to a million car shows, but we’re trying to create an experience for folks. This will be new and different.”

Click here to read about a 1917 camping trip in an Auto-Kamp camper.

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