Welcome to the RV Capital of the World! Elkhart County, comprised predominantly by the towns of Elkhart, Goshen, and Middlebury, account for 80% of all RVs manufactured in North America. That is a staggering number of RVs produced in this rural and otherwise farming community. But, given my love of RVs and the RV lifestyle, I was certainly right at home here, and took well advantage of the opportunity to gorge myself with everything RVs.
Exploring with Mary
Soon after my arrival, my former (not old) boss Mary came out to spend the day exploring with me. She was not far from me, hanging out in Toledo, OH. Though I’ve certainly introduced her to RVs and the RV lifestyle over the years, I figured I’d give her the grand tour and really educate her while she was here. To that end, we started off the day visiting the RV/MH Hall Of Fame and Museum. The foundation was formed in 1971, with the museum first opening in 1991, then relocating to its new and current home in 2007. This 100,000 SqFt facility features a variety of historical RVs going back over 100 years. It also recognizes pioneers in the RV industry who have contributed positively to the ongoing growth and success of this recreational pastime. The oldest RV in the museum is the 1913 Earl Travel Trailer (shown right top left and right) believed to be the oldest surviving one of its kind. Also in the museum was the 1939 Lindbergh Travel Trailer (shown right, 2nd down on right) that was custom built for Charles Lindbergh. Also shown is the housecar (shown right, center and bottom left) given to Mae West by Paramount Studios to entice her to leave Vaudeville to make movies. Featuring a small hot plate stove and icebox, and a small table to enjoy lunch or a spot of tea, this was not so much a “camper”, but rather designed as a chauffeur driven lounge. It was used for several years to transport Miss West from her home or hotel to the shooting locations. There were lots of other really cool RVs to include the oldest Winnebago, and the smallest Airstream ever made. It was a wonderful representation of how camping and later RVing has evolved over the past century.
After a nice lunch at a local deli, Mary and I were then off to do a factory tour of the Grand Design company. I chose Grand Design as they are the manufacturer of the Solitude RV that I currently live in. What better way to see how my RV was made from the ground up. Sadly, as is the case with most factory tours, I was unable to take any pictures during the tour. I did however learn several things about the company and my RV that I was not previously aware. First, Grand Design employs about 7,200 people, 54% of which are Amish. It takes two and a half days to build a Solitude from start thru to the final inspection, and they currently produce over 20 Solitudes per week from their production line. I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice to say the common theme we learned throughout the tour was the pride and quality that goes into every unit made. Everything from a climate controlled laminating area, to regular testing and inspection checkpoints along the entire build process, to the final extensive PDI (Pre Delivery Inspection) that every single RV goes through before being shipped out to the dealer network. It’s no wonder that a company founded in 2013 has so quickly risen to be among the top producers of RVs in the country. After having been on the tour, I’m sure glad I settled on a Grand Design RV for my full-time house on wheels.
No doubt, Elkhart County is all about RVs. I thought it would be fun just to drive around a bit and see how many RV companies I could find. What appears at left is just a sampling of the various RV manufacturers or RV suppliers that are well know, and that I was able to drive up on having driven only a short while. No doubt, this is the RV Capital of the world. I also was able to get in another RV factory tour – this time to a company that only makes a couple of RVs per week, and sells direct to the consumer. They are the RV Factory, and produce the beautiful 5th wheel called the Luxe. I’ve seen them for several years at the RV shows, and always put them in the top 20% of RVs. They are beautiful, with all hard wood cabinets, custom paint, and lots of tech throughout. But, they are also expensive – starting at around $130K on up to over $200K with desirable options.
I also took some time to just explore the greater Elkhart area. They have a wonderful bike trail that I enjoyed, saw a sampling of the beautiful Quilt Gardens that adorn areas throughout Elkhart County, and even visited a famous and huge flea/farmers market in a town called Shipshewana. Also, you know you are at a market frequented by the Amish when you come upon a large buggy parking area! It was a wonderful market and took me a several hours to walk through. Lastly, just up the road from my campground was an abandoned property having several Geodesic Dome structures upon it. I bet it was quite the thing back in its heyday, but sadly today it is in dire need of some TLC.
New Addition To The RV
Since I was in the RV Capital of the World, I figured it would be an excellent opportunity to get something added to my RV that I’ve been wanting for a long time. One of my most impactful regrets that I have from my downsizing in preparation for going full-time was selling my Scooter. While I do love my big-boy monster F450 truck, I do find it challenging if not impossible to get into places and find adequate parking while I’m exploring. Not to mention that I only get in the mid to upper teens for mileage with that beast when I’m not towing. So I’ve wanted to get another scooter for a while now, but had no way to carry one. Alas, when in the town of everything RVs, certainly I can solve that problem, and that is exactly what I did. I had my RV weighed when I was in Florida over the winter, so I was confident I have plenty of capacity to carry a scooter. I made arrangements at an RV repair facility to have a hitch receiver installed on the rear of the RV, securely welded to the frame. Then through the wonder that is Amazon, I added a lightweight aluminum motorcycle carrier, and I was all set. Now, I just needed a scoot! So, I hit the Internet and found a Honda dealership 60 miles back north in Kalamazoo, MI that had a brand new, left over 2018 PCX 150 scooter on mark down. So, I moved the carrier to the truck, and went up to Kalamazoo to play Let’s Make A Deal. After getting some additional pricing concessions and a $100 gift certificate to their store so I could buy a helmet, I brought my new scooter back to Elkhart. Now I just have to get it tagged in Florida to make it all legal. With all the mail forwarding stuff I have to do, that may take a while. But at least I’ve got it and will enjoy many, many miles of fun local travel with it. And oh, it gets over 100 miles per gallon – Wahoo!
My stay in Elkhart was only two weeks, and several days were taken up with scoot prep and purchase, and I was down under the weather for a few days, so I didn’t get to do to much Roadside stuff. But I did manage to get in a couple items. First up is a Police Booth that is located at the corners of Lincoln Ave and Main St in Goshen. It was constructed in 1939 and has walls of limestone and features 2-inch thick bullet proof windows. Its mission was to “protect the city from gangsters who might travel along the Old Transcontinental Lincoln Highway”. Or maybe yet, as a central police presence servicing the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Either way, it was kinda cool. The other Roadside I visited was to be a collection of teeth cast in cement. Apparently, a local dentist thought displaying thousands of teeth he’d yanked over the years would be a welcome sight in Elkhart. All I can say is creepy!
I’ve wanted to visit Elkhart for many, many years. Especially to visit the Hall of Fame Museum. Now I can check that off my list. It was wonderful and everything I had hoped. Catching the Grand Design factory tour was a definite bonus! And, doing both with a dear friend was the the best of all. Thanks Mary for joining me in experiencing this RV stuff. Now I continue to make my way south through KY, TN, and AR to eventually land in TX for the cold season. Looking forward to my continued journey, and I hope you all ride along with me. Till later, safe travels.
(P.S. – Looks like I’d be on level 7 of this Wheels of Life progression. Here’s hoping I can stay on this level for a long time to come!