This wonderful little book captures the family history side of the industry

25 11 2007

Beverly Little,from the Forney Museum of Transportation, in Denver, Colorado, recently wrote us about “The Dumb Things Sold Just Like That.”

“The Dumb Things Sold is a well written, entertaining social history of the
Recreational Vehicle industry. Mr. Hesselbart has captured the essential
details of the very beginnings of auto-camping and followed the ups and
downs of the industry into the mega-business era of our present in an
easy-to-read but fact-rich format. Not an in-depth listing of innovations
and model release dates, this wonderful little book captures the family
history side of the industry. In telling the stories of the men who
founded the industry, Mr. Hesselbart also highlights the spirit of
adventure found in RV-ers from the beginning.

In all, this is a wonderful little book that The Forney will gladly use as
reference in our library.”

The Forney Transportation Museum is a one-of-a-kind collection of over 500 exhibits relating to historical transportation. It began with antique cars, but soon expanded to include vehicles of all kinds. Some of these are familiar, while others spark the imagination.  Among the cars in the collection are the Porsche 928 that Tom Cruise drove in  “Risky Business”, Amelia Earhart’s Gold Bug Kissel, and Prince Aly Khan’s Rolls Royce.  Visit the museum’s website at

Did you know?

7 09 2007

The pioneers of the RV industry were full of passion and spirit.  Some succeeded by design, but many built their companies on a mixture of luck and perseverance. 

Here are some “teasers” to RV industry trivia. The rest of the story is in “The Dumb Things Sold Just Like That”.

-Some early inventors incorporated aircraft and marine technology into their RV designs
-Many started their businesses in their garages or backyards.
-At least one used Karo syrup as a building material
-Early travel trailers ended up as permanent housing for families during the Great Depression
-One manufacturer redesigned his trailer with ski’s to transport surveillance equipment over the ice during World War II
-Several manufacturers built travel trailers to transport or house troops and defense workers during WWII
-After the war, motorhomes led to a new means of recreation for growing, prosperous post war families
-One type of motorhome was used by troops gathering information about the enemy during the war in Viet Nam
-One company, which ended up being an economic savior to small Midwestern town, almost went bankrupt before it was started.  Then a few year later, it burned to the ground.
-One industry leader opened up the world to RV travelers
-Some companies, established during the Great Depression, could not survive the oil embargo and inflation of the 1970’s
-The industry has grown to employ thousands of workers, served millions of consumers and pumps billions of dollars annually into our nation’s economy

The unsung heros

7 09 2007

In the midst of today’s media-rich, hype-ridden communications environment, it is tough to find a unsung hero.  But not many people know that the history of the RV industry is rich with stories of good ole’ American ingenuity.  These pioneers seem to be the underdogs to other industry moguls of the early twentieth century.  Maybe it was just that the Fords, the Wrights, the Dodges and the Chryslers had better promoters on their PR staff. 

Certainly there are exceptions.  Wally Byam and John Crean are two that come to mind.  Sheldon Coleman brings to mind a product that has become an icon for campers and outdoor sports enthusiasts.  (A modest, engineering type, he was always ready to give credit where credit was due.  Once, when asked to what he attributed his success, Sheldon replied, “Choosing the right father had a great deal to do with it.” His dad had been building Coleman camping equipment for years before he joined the company in 1925.)

The RV industry was just beginning pull away from gypsy image it acquired early in its history when the Great Depression hit the country.   The industry’s pioneers rolled up their sleeves and moved head-on into this new adversity.  Author Al Hesselbart profiles these modest giants in his book, “The Dumb Things Sold Just Like That”.   It is available through Legacy Ink Publishing.

Puttin’ on the Ritz in you RV

7 09 2007

I found an article from the New York Times called “The Ritz? No, It’s an RV Park” that talks about what many of today’s RV owners want from their travel experience.

“Hitting the road means taking all the amenities of home with them, like cable television and Internet access. It’s a sharp difference from the experiences of their parents, who often liked to pitch a tent and camp in the woods.”

Read the rest of the article

More than motorhomes

7 09 2007

Thanks to Hollywood, the term “RV” conjures up images of Robin Williams, and spewing sewage.  Although most RV’ers have tales of their own, the truth is that the RV business has a more serious side.  The men and women who built the industry were survivors in a true sense.  They were entrepreneurs who thumbed their nose at the Great Depression. About the time they laid down roots, along came World War II.  Only those who could adapt could survive the shortage of raw materials and manpower. 

 The economic boom that followed was good for the industry, as returning soldiers and their families were looking for new ways to enjoy their new-found prosperity.  But the coming decades were still full of challenges for the pioneers who built the industry, their successors and the thousands of people whose depended upon the RV industry for their livelihoods. There were wars, gas shortages, recessions, and inflation.   An industry built by dreamers, that was once associated with gypsies and ne’er do wells, survived to become a fulltime lifestyle for many.

The Dumb Things Sold Just Like That reveals why the RV industry is certainly more than motorhomes.

Why call a book “Dumb?”

5 09 2007

The story behind the title is interesting.  It is from a poem that Milo Miller wrote to accept his nomination into the RV/MH Hall of Fame. 

 Miller, “the school teacher to an industry”, was a native of Mishawaka, Indiana.  An out of work painter, he traveled from town to town during the Depression selling his homemade “Auto Top Rejeuvenator”.  This tar and gasoline dressing would keep the canvas roofs of early automobiles waterproof.  (Thank goodness for hard tops!).

To keep his family with him, Miller designed a house trailer to pull behind his own Model A.  He built it in his backyard out of scap material, using Karo syrup to secure the canvas top. (Thanks again for technology.)   It turned out that Miller’s house trailer sold better than his rejuvenator.   Read on to see what happened.

It’s about people

5 09 2007

“The Dumb Things Sold Just Like That” is really about people.  The nineteen pioneers profiled in the book had the spirit, entrepreneurialism, and drive that made the United States thrive during the 20th century.  What I find interesting, and maybe a bit disturbing, is that the business men and women who built the RV industry have gotten so little attention by historians.

Many of these pioneers were contemporaries of Ford, Chrysler, and the Dodge and Wright brothers. Certainly those names have found a place in history books.  The nineteen people profiled in “The Dumb Things Sold Just Like That” developed the technology, marketing organizations, and quality standards of an industry that today employes thousands of people, serves millions of consumers, and streams billions of  dollars into our enonomy.

 That, it seems, is historically noteworthy. 


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