While Australian highways and country towns are dotted with all things big from the big Pineapple and the Big Banana to the Big Prawn and the Big Oyster we don`t have is a massive monument to the caravanning industry and lifestyle, something forms such a big part of our childhood memories. However, for road trippers traversing the USA, just off Interstate 80 outside the town of Elkhart (Indiana), the colossal RV/MH Hall of Famelooms calling the traveller to stop off and learn about the history of recreational vehicles and more.
The museum showcases the history of Airstream, Winnebago and other American makers as well as the lifestyle. It was founded in 1972 by the Recreational Vehicle/Manufactured Housing Heritage Foundationand reopened in its current location in 2007. The foundation is a non-profit organization relying on donations and interest free loans from patrons, but at the same time it`s always getting bigger and better thanks to a healthy turnover from entry fees ($8) and the gift shop.
The museum is a massive 100,000 square feet and centers on Founders Hall with artificial trees and plastic cactus simulating a real RV campground. Adjacent to the main building is the 1950s exhibits complete with plywood cut-out families permanently transfixed on their camping holidays. The exhibits than move through the ages to the 1980s displays.
The oldest exhibit in museum is a recreation vehicle dating back to 1913 by a company called Earl Travel Trailer, a precursor to RVs and possible the earliest of its type in the world (outside the pioneers horse and cart trailer that crossed the continent from West to East in the 19th century).
In the lobby there is a timeline that helps travellers put all the key events in RV history together highlighting how outside occurrences such as the Oil Crisis of the 1970s and the introduction of the microwave influenced caravans design and manufacture.
The RV Hall of Fame
Upstairs in the Recreational Vehicles Hall of Fame there are plaques to more than 300 worthy figures in the world of RV, camping and other related technologies. Learn about honorees such as Hal MacPherson who developed the first grind type toilet leading to the important innovations that allowed restrooms to be put in recreational vehicles.
Among the real exhibits there are the trailers of Hollywood stars with plaques explaining interesting bits about their history. One of the most popular of these is a 1931 Chevrolet Housecar that was custom built and offered as a bribe to Mae West by Paramount Pictures, to persuade her to a make movie she`d turned down.
Then there are the quirky custom pieces such as a 1988 `Star Streak II’ van built for a retired B-52 pilot with shiny silver and gold hardware and sharp-angled windows like a spaceship.
Kitsch and oversized, informative but not too seriously, the RV Hall the Fame is a fascinating insight into who and what has been on the road before you and a family-pleaser amongst American RV enthusiasts. We await Australia`s ‘Big Caravan’.