From stagecoach to motorcoach, a history of RVs in the USA
Duck into the Old West Museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming and you'll see so many chuck wagons, sleek phaetons, and sturdy stagecoaches you'll think you stumbled onto a Clint Eastwood film set. The museum, part of the broader Frontier Days rodeo complex, is home to the largest collection of of pre-automobile vehicles West of the Mississippi. It's also, somewhat unintentionally, a prologue to the sprawling RV/MH Hall of Fame in Ekhart, Indiana – the midwest manufacturing town that's turned out most of the motorhomes, travel trailers, toy haulers, and recreational vehicles you'll see on highways not only in the US, but around the world.
That's because long before Winnebago was a household name, and even before companies like Ford made the automobile king of the road, the buggies, coaches, and wagons you'll see on exhibit in Cheyenne or the Plains Museum in Laramie were the original RVs that helped Americans get outside not for work, but for the sheer fun of it.
Now a century later, RVs are having something of a renaissance. Not only have sales gone up in recent years, RV users are increasingly diverse. And many in the industry are predicting that the COVID-19 pandemic is about to create a major boom for motorhomes as many adopt RVing as a way to travel while practicing social distancing. But how did these rolling homes on wheels get their start? To answer that, you'll have to travel back to the wild west, and the rugged landscape of Wyoming.One of the original touring coaches used to guide visitors around Yellowstone National Park before the advent of the automobile © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet
The history of the first RVs
One of the jewels of the Old West Museum is an original Yellowstone stagecoach in the signature bright yellow hue that's still standard for the park's current fleet of buses and snow coaches. The Tally-Ho Touring Coaches, as they were known, were manufactured by Abbot-Downing Company of Concord, New Hampshire especially for the Yellowstone Park Transportation Company. The century-old paint job is flaking off the museum's example, but it's still easy to get a sense of what it would be like to tour the United States' original national park behind a team of horses after making the long journey from cities back east via the Northern Pacific Railroad.
Long before major thoroughfares like the Lincoln Highway or Route 66 linked states from coast to coast and made road trips to national parks possible, visitors arrived in train cars and stayed in grand hotels built by the railroad companies themselves, often with an architectural style that blended western rustic with Old World alpine motifs – a genre that came to be known as "parksitecture." Back then, a multi-day tour through the park cost about $50 a passenger (over a $1,000 today if you account for inflation), and took you from the North Pacific Railroad's station in Cinnabar, Montana, to the hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs, which you can still visit today.Little boy sitting on bumper of early RV circa 1915. © Vintage Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Soon the well-to-do tourists who went to the trouble and expense of trips out west wanted their own recreational vehicles in which to tour national parks, or the countryside closer to their homes and summer retreats. Carriage companies began to add extra features like fold-out beds, sinks and "potted toilets" to the landaus they were already manufacturing – landaus being a kind of precursor to the modern convertible, with a broad passenger seat and a fold-down top.
In 1910, Pierce-Arrow debuted its new Touring Landau at the Madison Square Garden auto show. It was a swift, sporty carriage equipped with many of the comforts of home, perfect for the leisure class's recent yen for escaping the polluted, crowded city in favor of outdoor adventures. The Pierce-Arrow was not only the first RV as we know them today, it was also the ancestor of today's Type B motorhomes – part car or truck, part home on wheels.A car pulls an early caravan with tent construction in the Kaibab National Forest on the northern edge of the Grand Canyon circa 1929 © Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Alamy Stock Photo
RVs in the age of the automobile
It didn't take long for other carriage makers to roll out their own versions of the Pierce-Arrow – or for the burgeoning auto industry to get in on the small but exciting RV trend. Some of the innovative wealthy converted Packard trucks into the first ever Class C motorhomes (the mid-size RV models built on truck chassis, often with a bed in a pop-out over the cab) and in 1910, a Michigan company called Auto Kamp started rolling out the first pop-up campers much like the ones you know today, with space for sleeping, cooking, and dining.
What set the Auto Kamp apart was that it was designed not to be pulled by horses like the Touring Landau, but by the brand new Model T's that rolled off Ford's Detroit factory lines just two years before. The age of the automobile had arrived, giving a broader swath of Americans access not only to Yellowstone, but the six other national parks that had been established in the decades following the United States' first national park, including Sequoia, Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, Crater Lake, Wind Cave, and Mesa Verde.An exhibit at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart Indiana shows a number of RV styles from decades past © Vespasian / Alamy Stock Photo
Just three years after Pierce-Arrow introduced the first RV and five years after the Model T debuted, an instructor at Cal State invented his own model of travel trailer to tow behind his own "Tin Lizzy," as the Model T had affectionately become known. It was called the Earl after its inventor, who hired a local carriage company to build out his design, which is still on display at the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s, as automobile ownership continued to increase and slews of new national parks were designated from Grand Canyon to the Everglades to Great Smoky Mountains, new types of RVs debuted, too. It was an era of "Tin Can Tourists" as one RV enthusiasts club called itself, a reference to the gleaming silver campers of the era – a style that lives on in the perennially popular Airstream, which debuted in the early 1930s.
No longer were visitors to national parks limited to the railroad's massive lodges. Now they could camp throughout Yellowstone and its descendants – and at a variety of other outdoor destinations, too, including the first proper RV parks that cropped up across the country, along with filling stations and motels along brand-new "auto-trails" like the Dixie Highway, Egyptian Trail, Evergreen National Highway, and New Santa Fe Trail.Desi Arnaz and Lucile Ball appear in the film "Long, Long Trailer" © United Archives GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
How RVs became part of American culture
Though the Great Depression slowed the sale of RVs along with everything else in America, the Civilian Conservation Corps was hard at work on numerous projects in national and state parks around the country, constructing campgrounds and other outdoor recreation facilities still in use today. By the time World War II was over, the economy was roaring again and Americans were eager to explore. The age of nuclear family road trips and summer vacations had arrived, and so had a new generation of RVs that were bigger and more luxurious than ever, packed with new technology and ready to run on plenty of cheap gasoline. Sprawling Class A models (the largest size of RVs, which often resemble tour busses) rolled onto dealers' lots, along with the first RVs known as "motor homes."
RVs had started to make their way into pop culture through films like 1943's What's Buzzin' Cousin? and 1953's Long Long Trailer. A decade later, a VW microbus appeared on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, just a year after Donna Reed took her fictional TV family on western vacation in a Dodge Travco RV. Also in 1962, an aging John Steinbeck hit the road in a camper named for Don Quixote's horse, in search of the American essence and whatever the country was becoming, perhaps unaware that his journey itself, and the means by which he traveled, typified the very questions he was trying to answer.
Steinbeck's experience, recorded in the great travelogue Travels with Charlie, later inspired CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt to start filming America's back highways for a segment called On the Road, a project that ultimately lasted twenty years and six motorhomes. By the end of the 1960s there was no denying that RVs were firmly cemented in both mainstream family life and counterculture, as American as apple pie.A family packs up for a summer vacation in their travel trailer sometime in the 1960s © ClassicStock / Alamy Stock Photo
Motorhomes from the midcentury to today
Many of the carriage manufacturers who started the RV travel trend had been put out of business by big auto decades earlier, but a new generation of RV-builders were about to become household names. Small buses and conversion vans like the VW Type 2, Westfalia Vanagon, and conversions of Dodge and Ram commercial vehicles came to the fore in the 1950s and 60s and have stayed popular to this day.
Meanwhile, Winnebago released its first model in 1966, and thanks to its iconic design and affordability, the brand quickly became genericized, the company's name synonymous with RVs in general. Competitor Jayco was founded two years later, and in 1972, a small family-run building supply company in Red Bay, Alabama, purchased an ailing RV manufacturer and turned it into Tiffin Motorhomes. That was the same year the RV/MV Hall of Fame Heritage Foundation was started in Elkhart, which later developed the Hall of Fame.
Barbie got her first RV in 1970, the same year the Partridge Family hit the road in a brightly painted Chevy school bus to make their first gig at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. It was just a few years before the oil crisis put a dent in the RV industry juggernaut, slowing sales. But by the 1980s, America was still in love with RVs, giving them pride of place in popular films like Space Balls, The Blues Brothers and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, proving that travel – even in far-flung galaxies – was still very much synonymous with the all-American motorhome.RVs are gaining popularity with Latinx and African American outdoor enthusiasts in recent years © Wendy Ashton / Getty Images
In recent years, new demographics have been getting in on RVs. As the outdoor industry diversifies, so have rentals and purchase of the recreational vehicles people use to access their favorite destinations. The popularity of the vanlife movement and a proliferation of RV influencers on YouTube and social media have contributed to RV's shedding their retirees-only image, as new generations of "schoolies" and "dirtbags" adopt vintage school busses and new models like the Dodge Ram ProMaster and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans as permanent rolling homes.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen is putting the finishing touches on an all-electric version of its classic surfer van, ushering in a new, more sustainable era of RVing. Many of those now-classic brands like Coachmen and Fleetwood that became synonymous with motorhomes over fifty years ago are putting out new models with a host of features modern travelers demand, like USB chargers and faux-marble countertops. And there's been a crop of glampgrounds mushrooming around the world where guests can savor the style of vintage Airstreams and Shastas, from Hotel Caravana in the Hudson Valley to The Vintages Trailer Resort in Oregon wine country.
The first century of RVing has been a long, strange trip. Fortunately, if you're still curious to learn more about how your contemporary adventure rig evolved, you can gas up your current model and head to the Old West Museum, Plains Museum, the RV/MH Hall of Fame, John Sisemore Traveland RV Museum, Steven Katkowsky Vintage Trailer Museum and beyond to see the original recreational vehicles for yourself, not to mention those gleaming space-age Tin Cans, canned hams, Winnies, toy-haulers, and everything in between. You might just run into a national park or two on the way, and see some of the places that inspired your favorite motorhomes all those years ago.
This article first ran on our sister site, Lonely Planet.
Checking in on evacuated Peace Corps members
The call for American citizens to return to the United States came about suddenly and urgently at the beginning of March, 2020. Americans who were working, studying, and volunteering abroad had to improvise logistics to return to the U.S. One notable organization that had a complex issue of safely returning members from more than 60 countries is the Peace Corps. Their struggle and circumstances Many volunteers were evacuated very suddenly with no opportunity to secure stable accommodations or health care upon their arrival home. They were forced to leave the local communities they’d integrated into and grown to love, many in the middle of long term initiatives. Returning home from an extended period of time can always bring feelings of reverse culture shock, especially when serving poverty-stricken or remote communities that many serve in. But especially for these recently evacuated volunteers, returning home to rising COVID-19 rates, vast unemployment, and a sense of instability that resonated from the general public through our political leaders. What are they doing now? Stephanie Erestera, a 23-year-old who had plans to continue her Peace Corps service in the Philippines until September 2020, immediately started searching for work. For the past year or so she’s been an educator and mentor to local teachers, and now faces uncertainty on many levels, though she’s happy she’s able to move back in with her parents for the time being. While she says she knows that it’s not an ideal job market to come back to, especially in her home town of Boise, Idaho, she “feels like it’s like that for a lot of Americans right now”. Unexpected and involuntarily evacuated from Bicaj, Albania, Pawnee Maiden, a 24-year-old volunteer teacher, says she left behind a host family, students, friends, and coworkers that she’d expected to engage with for another year. She’s found the transition experience to be extremely hard and painful but has high hopes that she’ll be able to return and finish her service. Having returned to the DMV area, she’s now focusing her giving heart and love of service to her foster dog, Sherwin. However, not all Peace Corps volunteers are in their 20’s. Adam Greenberg, 34, was volunteering in Zambia with his partner working on sustainable food sources. They had actually considered staying in Zambia instead of returning to the U.S., even if that meant no financial or logistical support from the Peace Corps. However, they ultimately decided that the better decision for Zambia’s infrastructure was for them to return home. Luckily, Greenberg says, they have enough savings to temporarily get by, though he will have to begin looking for work to pay the bills, another hurdle in itself as more than 26.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment since March. Many returned service-people have also found themselves in Tim Feng’s complex situation. Feng, 23, returned to the U.S. from Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand where he served as an educator, but had to consider his high-risk parents in his last-minute planning. For their safety he ultimately decided to quarantine himself in a short-term rental apartment that he paid for out of pocket. Feng would also love to return to his service, but for now he is doing what he can to find stability here at home. He’s spent his time revamping his resume, seeking job opportunities, looking into higher education options, and the like. How Peace Corps volunteers might continue to serve their community The good news for Peace Corps volunteers is that they might be just the perfect people to continue to serve by supporting their fellow Americans. From their international experiences, Peace Corps volunteers are adept at “creating order out of chaos”, as the Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security so eloquently put in their recent returned Peace Corps volunteer study. Returned volunteers have real-world experience in establishing a routine, adapting to drastic change, and have experience coping with isolated/distanced from loved ones for extended time periods. As returned volunteers continue to look toward the future, every day brings news and renewed hope—the Peace Corps recently announced that there will be an expedited application for recently evacuated volunteers who are interested in returning to service that will be announced in early June. Peace Corps Comment When asked to comment, a Peace Corps spokesperson gave the following statement: “The Peace Corps continues to support evacuated Volunteers—providing evacuation and readjustment allowances, a wellness stipend, extended health insurance, health and quarantine instructions and resources, information and webinars for federal government job opportunities, job postings for other private sector positions, and graduate school options. Importantly, Volunteers who were evacuated will qualify for Non-Competitive Eligibility (or NCE), which makes it easier from them to join the federal workforce. They will also qualify for Coverdell Fellowships available for graduate school study. Volunteers who seek to return to their host countries or seek a new assignment will be given expedited consideration over the next year. For more information, please go to https://www.peacecorps.gov/coronavirus/.”
Revealed: The Destinations People Are Itching to Get Back to ASAP
Instagram isn’t just about sharing the moment. It’s also about nostalgia for the past. And among hashtags such as #ThrowbackThursday and #FlashbackFriday, you’ll find a very specific trend: the cry to #TakeMeBack! The #TakeMeBack hashtag is a bittersweet celebration of past vacations. Nothing satisfies those wanderlust cravings quite like re-posting a forgotten holiday snap and breathing fresh digital life into a place that holds special memories. With the travel industry currently paused around the world, these moments are more precious than ever. SavingSpot used Instagram data to identify the destinations that travelers miss the most. To do this, the team extracted location data from Instagram posts with the #TakeMeBack hashtag and organized it by location. 10 U.S. cities travelers miss the most: 1. New York, New York2. Orlando, Florida3. Los Angeles, California4. Las Vegas, Nevada5. Honolulu, Hawaii6. San Francisco, California7. Miami Beach, Florida8. Miami, Florida9. Lake Buena Vista, Florida10. San Diego, California10 U.S states travelers miss the most:1. California2. Florida3. New York4. Hawaii5. Nevada6. Arizona7. Colorado8. Texas9. Utah10. Washington 10 National Parks travelers miss the most: 1. Yosemite (California)2. Grand Canyon (Arizona)3. Zion (Utah)4. Rocky Mountain (Colorado)5. Glacier (Montana)6. Sequoia (California)7. Death Valley (California)8. Yellowstone (Wyoming)9. Bryce Canyon (Utah)10. Joshua Tree (California)This project is part of a series of content campaigns commissioned by frugal living blog SavingSpot (managed by the CashNetUSA team). As travelers around the globe anxiously wait for when they can safely go on trips again, the team tapped into Instagram to create the ultimate source of armchair travel inspiration that any reader can lose themselves in. If you want to dig into the data yourself, the dataset is available on https://bit.ly/TakeMeBackData
What to expect on Memorial Day during the pandemic
Most people staying home When we polled the Budget Travel audience, most people said they are prepared to stay home for the holiday weekend. According to AAA, this weekend is expected to set the record for the lowest travelled Memorial Day weekend since the organization began tracking the metric in 2000. In fact, there is so little travel anticipated, that AAA didn’t even bother releasing it’s Memorial Day travel prediction report for the first time. For those that do decide to travel, they are encouraged to stay within one days’ drive of home and within state lines of their home state. Beaches reopen Along the coasts, beaches are reopening to the public for the summer. Beaches in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut are all opening with enforced 50% capacity. They are also preventing contact activities like beach volleyball. In New Jersey, beach goers were required to purchase passes to enable the state to limit the number of people on the beach. In California, beaches are reopening to swimming and running, but patrons are encouraged to wear a mask. In Los Angeles county, sunbathing and picnicking will not be allowed. In Southern states such as South Carolina and Florida, local officials say they don’t have too many ways to limit the number of people on the beach, so they will be enforcing one thing they do have control over - parking lots to public beaches. Law enforcement will be aggressively ticketing parking violations, as well as enforcing rules about glass and alcohol being prohibited on beaches. If you decide you need some beachtime, we recommend that you check with your local beach to determine what rules and regulations might be in place. We also encourage you to be patient with your local officials - this is the first major holiday weekend of the pandemic, and there are sure to be hiccups as they try to keep people safe. What about the pool? Memorial Day weekend is also typically the opening weekend for public pools. Based on the phased reopening of each individual state, pools are slowly opening for business around the country. According to the CDC, there is no evidence that the COVID-19 virus can spread to people through pools and hot tubs. In fact, properly maintained pools should have chemicals such as chlorine that will inactivate the virus. That said, there is still a risk of spreading the virus as in any public place. The CDC recently released guidelines about how to safely operate a pool during the pandemic. These guidelines include: Encouraging staff and swimmers to wash their hands often Face coverings when not in the water Staying home if they feel sick Posting signs and having regular messages about preventing the spread Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces regularly Regularly laundering towels and clothing Ensuring ventilation of indoor pools are operating properly Modifying pool layouts so that people can stay 6 feet apart, by separating things like deck chairs, and providing physical barriers to limit the concentration of people in a space Discourage use of shared items like goggles, toys and food Prevent large gatherings Camping Camping is a favorite activity of Budget Travel readers, but COVID-19 restrictions caused the closure of campgrounds all over the USA for most of the spring. As states begin to reopen, campgrounds are in various stages of reopening. Check with your individual state to see if campgrounds have reopened. For example, in Colorado, one of the country’s largest outdoor recreation states, camping resumed for Colorado residents last weekend, but people must make a reservation ahead of time. Colorado residents are encouraged to stay within 10 miles of their home, and the state does NOT want people who are not Colorado residents to cross the state line. People who plan on camping over the holiday weekend should plan well ahead to ensure they have all the supplies that are needed and that they are able to safely avoid other campers. When using public restrooms and showers, make sure you wash your hands and use ample hand sanitizer. National Parks National Parks are slowly reopening, but visitors should be prepared for limited services, including closed visitor’s centers, restrooms and popular trailheads. Make sure you check out the National Park Service website for information on the specific park you’re looking for.
How hotels are adapting to the new reality of COVID-19
Covid 19 has changed the world. From the minutia of our daily lives to how we plan, the coronavirus has pierced the very heart of society. Hotels, travel, and the general service industry has been hit particularly hard at this time, making an inherently social experience almost impossible to deliver. But all is not lost. Owners, managers and industry leaders are coming together to figure out a way to survive, and change, giving guests and consumers the time to dream about their next trip—and hopefully make it a reality when things are safe and sanitary. From check-in, to room cleaning to mini bars to pool areas, here are how some hotels, resorts and destinations are trying to make sure everything is safe and sanitized for the future of travel. Wyndham Destinations, the world’s largest timeshare operator, is looking at a phased opening in late May. Kevin Maciulewicz, SVP of Resort Operations, says they will be limiting the number of guests to maximize social distancing, depending on the specific configuration of the resorts. “We’re actually seeing very strong demand in bookings for travel in August and beyond from owners and guests,” he says. However, “many resort amenities will remain closed for the immediate future, including swimming pools, food and beverage, fitness centers and other public spaces,” he adds. In glamping news, Peter Mack, CEO of luxury glamping disrupter Collective Retreats, believes its vacation offerings are set up to naturally allow for social distancing. And though there are no lobbies, elevators, or hallways to deal with, they company is adding staff, cleaning more frequently and offering branded bandanas to guests. In fact, Collective Hill Country, in Wimberley, TX, has remained open through the crises. “And guests seem to feel comfortable given the open-air nature of the accommodations,” he says. In New York City, one of the hardest hit areas of the country, Collective Governor’s Island is offering a “Recharge Package” where guests can book a future stay at a discounted price—with a percentage benefitting the food bank, City Harvest. And at MGM Resorts a seven-point safety plan was recently released for all their resorts—a result of months-long work with public health experts, according to Acting CEO and President Bill Hornbuckle. For employees, this includes temperature checks before entering properties along with mandatory masks and gloves. To help with social distancing, plexiglass barriers will be installed in casinos and lobbies, and in rooms, air conditioning units were recently updated to help with air quality. “Our properties will not look the way they used to for a while, and that’s not only OK, it’s critically important, “says Hornbuckle. In addition, they will be offering a completely contactless check-in experience. Using a mobile app, guests will be able to check-in, pay their bill and get a digital room key via their smartphone. For those who feel uncomfortable going fully digital, employees will still be available with physical barriers to protect interactions and reduced lines, and physical keys can be made using self-serve key encoders. Of course, some hotels have decided to stay open during the crises and The Hotel Figueroa, or The Fig, a downtown fixture in Los Angeles, is adjusting to the times. Connie Wang, the hotel’s Managing Director, suggests there is minimal contact between guests and associates. “For the pool, we have positioned all furniture for appropriate social distancing of 6’ apart. Staff have been trained to fully wipe down all seating with disinfectant between guest usage, and a freshly laundered rolled towel placed at the head of our lounger is used to indicate to the next guest that it is safe to approach. We have signage to remind guests to socially distance, and staff to keep an eye out as well,” she says. In addition, they are using electrostatic sprayers with disinfectant in public areas, and UV light disinfecting technology in between guest stays. Face masks must always be worn by staff while guests are asked to don face coverings in indoor public spaces. Other, smaller hotels and resorts are also coming up with strategies for reopening, though most don’t have plans to reopen in the immediate future. To help limit interactions between guests and employees, the Harbor House Inn, in Mendocino County, CA, is considering opening only 50 percent of its rooms and allowing a “rest” day between guests. This would allow for in-depth cleaning and sanitation. And, The Inns of Aurora, in the Finger Lakes region, NY, have shifted its accommodation model to allow for full buyouts of three of the five inns on the property. Each one will be available at a base price and offer specific, customizable amenities like private chef service and grocery delivery on an a la carte basis. Check in and arrival experiences are also being reimagined and Arizona’s Castle Hot Springs plan on streamlining the arrival experience with guests before check-in, while the Wayfinder Hotel in Newport, RI, will completely skip lobby and curbside check-in, providing keyless guestroom entry. For the most part, most properties are considering making in-room dining easier and more comfortable. At The Roxbury at Stratton Falls, Catskill, NY, the usual buffet-style continental breakfast will become a la carte and they are working with local restaurants and food trucks to deliver meals—all of which will be directly delivered to a guestroom door. And, not to worry, Union Grove Distillery and Roxbury Wine & Spirits will also deliver to the hotel.