Pay a visit to Trotter’s RV , the largest RV sales and repair facility in northwestern Arizona, and it quickly becomes evident that people love their RVs. And if they don’t have one, many people fantasize about taking to the road with all of the comforts of home. American’s have had a love affair with the recreational vehicle that has lasted for more than a century but the quarantine, the restrictions, and the uncertainty about the future resultant of the COVID-19 pandemic have ignited an unprecedented interest in travel, in road trips, and in roughing it in style.
For many people the RV life is more than a mere weekend or vacation hobby. According to a recent Recreational Vehicle Industry Association there are more 450,000 people who call their RV home 365 days a year. And countless others spend months at a time on the road, some on annual migrations to warmer climates during the months of winter.
In the dawning years of the American auto industry, automobile camping was a necessity rather than a luxury. That was the case even for the rich and famous. Emily Post chronicled her coast to coast adventures that included many a night spent sleeping under the stars, or in the car, in By Motor To The Golden Gate published in 1916. In the summer of 1915, Edsel Ford, the 21-year old son of Henry Ford, and his college buddies followed the National Old Trails Road west to California.
The July 5 and July 8 entry in his travel journal hints of the challenges faced by pioneering motorists. July 5, “By seven o’clock the occupants of Ford had their backs sore from hard ground, got up and scrounged firewood before preparing breakfast, and making needed repairs.” July 8, “Pitched tent in the dark among the tarantulas. All scared to death. H. J. Caulkins decided to sleep in back of the Cadillac.”
According to an old adage, necessity is the mother of invention. It is also often the cornerstone of industries. By the late teens innumerable companies were catering to the needs of the ever growing automobile tourists. Pierce Arrow is credited with creating the first production RV even though the Touring Landau that debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1910 was a limited production custom model.
By the 1920s many communities had developed public campgrounds in a hope of capturing tourism dollars. Some were rustic affairs with cold water showers, a communal pump and a small general store. Others were luxurious, especially when one considers that at the time more people owned an automobile than had indoor plumbing. A campground in Denver, Colorado opened in 1922 offered an array of amenities including 800 campsites with on site pumps, a nine-hole golf course, a hair salon and even a movie theater.
A great deal has changed since the era of Model T Ford, rustic campgrounds, dirt roads, and travel kit recommendations that included spare tubes, a tire repair kit, block and tackle, tarp, pistol, rope, tool kit, and ground cloth. What hasn’t changed is Americans love for adventure on the open road.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America