The RV Museum.

RV Museum and Hall of Fame

Field review by the editors.

Elkhart, Indiana

The RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame knows what its visitors drive. When the attraction moved to its new building in 2007, it picked a spot just off Interstate 80, and built a parking lot with pull-thru spaces 65 feet long.

For over a hundred years Americans have indulged their love of the open road by hauling themselves around in RVs, according to Al Hesselbart, the museum's historian. The oldest exhibit in the museum is the 1913 Earl Travel Trailer (the world's oldest survivor) and the exhibits mostly get bigger and fancier from there.

Luxury on wheels.

The bounty of America can be seen in the growing square footage and upgrades in our RVs.

Out in the building lobby, a timeline highlights key events over a century of recreational vehicles, such as the Oil Crisis of the 1970s, and the introduction of the microwave oven. Upstairs, the Hall of Fame honors 300+ worthies, such as Paul Tweedy and Dusty Crum. "Hal MacPherson, Class of 1972," reads a typical plaque. "Pioneer supplier who developed the first grinder type toilet which allowed the use of toilets and holding tanks in trailers."

E-Z King invites all to visit his camp trailer.
E-Z King invites all to visit his camp trailer.

In Founders Hall, downstairs, are most of the exhibits. The room is set up as a surrealist campground, with fake trees and cacti arranged among over 50 vintage vehicles. Painted on the floor is a "road back into time" with dashed highway lines, snaking its way through humble tent trailers and bulky motorhomes.

There's twice as much exhibit space as in the previous museum, and it's packed as efficiently as the inside of an Airstream. Still, the highway ends in the 1980s, with no room for today's motorized McMansions, which are displayed in the Go RVing-sponsored exhibits hall next door.

1988 Star Streak II.
1988 Star Streak II.

Several of the older vehicles are open for inspection. Visits inside are brief but fun, akin to walking around a tiny submarine. Paneling still smells of pine and birch, tables fold into beds, linoleum patterns bedazzle, and every footstep squeaks and sets off rocking waves. How many times did our hard-driving grandparents open their trailers to find that everything had crashed to the floor?

Exhibits are roughly chronological, with helpful signs to explain each RV's museum-worthiness. There are freaky specimens, such as the 1916 Model T "Telescoping Apartment" and the 1935 Bowlus Road Chief that looks like an Airstream with a fish tail. There's a blocky blue 1931 Chevrolet Housecar, built by Paramount to bribe Mae West into making movies; the world's oldest Winnebago (1967); and the smallest Airstream ever built, the "Little Prince," which was designed to appeal to Germans.

Parked in a back corner was one of our favorites, the 1988 "Star Streak II," custom-built by a retired B-52 pilot. With shiny silver and gold hardware, western sunset color accents, sharp-angled windows, and residual Cadillac tail fins, it's part-family motor home, part pimpmobile. Al Hesselbart, who's strict about what gets shown in the museum, made an exception for this oddity. "It's just so neat," he said.

Scale model of an RV factory.
Scale model of an RV factory.

We searched for familiar, amusing items seen on previous RV Hall visits at the old facility, spotting the E-Z-King plywood cutout man, propped against a trailer door to invite in the curious. Around a corner was a plywood 1950s teen boy and girl, enjoying a weenie roast. The concept model for a never-built RV high-rise (the "Skye Terrace") sits behind another display, atop a pile of boxes. It's an artifact that never fit well into the history of RVs.

In recent years old RVs have developed second, unexpected careers, from public art to motel cabins. Is there also a second life for RVs as museum exhibits? Al told us that travelers have driven in and essentially said, "We're done, do you want it?," but those offers get turned down. "Sometimes they'll say, 'I'll loan you my motor home from November to April,'" said an exasperated Al. "That's not a loan. That's free storage!"

Al has also fielded requests from visitors who want to sleep in the museum's exhibits overnight ("Do you rent beds?") but he declines those as well. For now, at least, the RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame is not a sleepover experience. If that's what you want, you'll have to get your own RV (and family) and go out on the road.

RV Museum and Hall of Fame

RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum

Address:
21565 Executive Pkwy, Elkhart, IN
Directions:
RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum. I-80/90 exit 96, southeast side.
Hours:
March-Oct. M-Sa 9 am - 5 pm, Su 10-3. Shorter Winter hours. (Call to verify)
Phone:
574-293-2344
RA Rates:
Major Fun
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