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The birth of the Recreational Vehicle

History's Garden

US National Parks Service.

The McMaster Camping Car in 1889.

Camping – in centuries past, it was how we lived, and it was hard work collecting and chopping wood; making a fire with nothing but a flint and a prayer (or worse, a hand drill and a half an hour of intense labor spinning the stick); building a shelter to stay dry during a downpour, or warm during a blizzard; keeping the scorpions out of your shoes, and varmints (two- and four-legged) out of your meager possessions.

Thank goodness we don't have to worry about that hardship today with our brick-and-mortar houses, forced air heating at the flick of a switch and comfy mattresses! So why come June do so many people go all googly-eyed about a summer full of camping?

In a word: Recreation.

Modern camping is all about the recreational aspect of it – doing it because you want to not because you have to. There is just something special about gathering with friends around a crackling campfire, sharing stories and good food and drink with them, sleeping under a blanket of twinkling stars, waking up to the morning sun glistening on overnight dewdrops, breathing in the glorious crisp and clean air far away from the city hustle and bustle...

Public Domain.

Campbell Camping Outfit and Box.

But not everyone wants to sleep on the hard ground. The first known purpose-built recreational vehicle (RV) in America was the McMaster Camping Car patented in 1889 by Alonzo McMaster. Built on a wagon frame and pulled by two horses, it included a number of space-saving innovative ideas such as:

• Combined driver seat and portable oil stove that could be used inside the car for heating.

• An ice box on a floating shelf that moved downward as the ice melted.

• A sink mounted on a folding plinth. Raise the plinth and you have a toilet seat hole that led to a bucket attached below the car.

• Bench seating that folded into bunk beds.

In 1892, Wylie and Wilson, who operated a tent-camping company in Yellowstone National Park, purchased two of the McMaster Camping Cars for their business. They offered four people (and a driver) a 12-day touring experience of the new National Park for only $5 per day, which was quite a bit cheaper than a hotel tour (and much nicer than a tent). The existing hotel and transportation companies took a dim view of the competition and used some underhanded tactics to force Wylie and Wilson out of business.

The gas-powered automobile came to America in 1893, courtesy of Charles and Frank Duryea (not Henry Ford). The Duryea brothers built a one-cylinder, four-horsepower car and demonstrated it on Sept. 21, 1893, in Springfield, Massachusetts. They began commercial production in 1896 and sold 13 cars. That same year, Henry Ford built his Quadricycle Runabout which led to the founding of the Ford Motor Company in 1903.

According to http://www.bluedogrv.com, the first production motorized RV was the Pierce-Arrow Touring Landau. It made its debut at Madison Square Garden in 1910, and is considered the moment when RVs entered mainstream culture. The Touring Landau was basically a motorhome (vehicle and camper combined) and was the height of luxury, including an onboard privy and a telephone so the passengers could speak to the driver (separated from them by a partition). The seats would fold down to become a bed and there was a fold-down sink with a pressurized water tank hidden under the chassis. Luggage went on the roof rack. Only about 1,250 Touring Landaus were made and the price was $8,250, which in today's money is more than $260,000!

Credit: Airstream.

Airstream quarantine trailer for Apollo 11 astronauts.

Motorhomes were great except they were expensive to buy, and when you got where you were going you had no transportation on site. This led to the rise in popularity of the RV trailer (pulled by a new-fangled motorcar). One of the first of these was the 1906 Auto Camp Wagon, which was basically a storage cart on four wheels. Pretty soon folks realized they could put a permanent but collapsible tent on the trailer frame, add sleeping cots and a galley and have something a lot more convenient. Thus, the pop-up tent trailer was born. By 1916, you could purchase a "Combined Camping Outfit and Box" manufactured by the Campbell Folding Camping Trailer Company in Los Angeles.

The major drawback of the tent trailer was the potential of getting soaked while trying to set it up in the middle of a thunderstorm. Arthur Sherman had this experience and in 1928, decided to build a hard sided trailer that was waterproof and did not require any on site set-up. His Covered Wagon trailer was small (six feet wide, nine feet long) and about as tall as the family car, but created quite a stir when the Sherman family took it out. In 1929, Sherman started the Covered Wagon trailer company, and by 1934 more than 1,000 units were rolling off the production line every month. The Covered Wagon trailer is known for several innovations:

From Wikipedia.

Hand Drill to start a fire.

• Electric brakes.

• Waterproof exterior made of galvanized steel stamped to plywood.

• Sinks with running water.

• Readykook camp stove (forerunner of the Coleman stove).

• Sofa that converted to a bed.

Probably the most iconic travel trailer in existence today is the Airstream, recognized by its polished silver exterior and rounded silver bullet shape. The company was started by Wally Byam in the early 1930s, in Culver City, California. The Great Depression and World War II caused most early RV manufacturers to close shop, but Airstream survived and continued to innovate. In 1954, Byam installed the first ever hot water system in a trailer. Shortly thereafter, he built the first ever fully self-contained travel trailer. One of the more noteworthy Airstream trailers was custom built as a mobile quarantine facility for Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins upon their return from the moon in July 1969.

Today, there are more than 700 RV manufacturers in the United States, with 160 of them located in California. Lance Camper Manufacturing Corporation, known for building high-quality truck campers is just a few short miles from us in Lancaster. My hubby and I started our RV journey in 1994 with an 8.5 foot Lance camper and 30 years later we are still RVing.

Until next time, happy trails to you.