I’m going to hold my hands up and admit something here. For the past few days, I’ve been phoning it in. Usually I’m pretty good with trying to give you an idea about where we’ve been heading and what we’ve seen, but all I can tell you of our recent road adventures is this – it was a 6 hour drive back east towards Michigan, we stopped to get petrol which took over an hour to fill the tank during which I skyped my grandfather, and we drove through Illinois; which apart from containing a lot of corn, I couldn’t tell you a darn thing about. Sorry folks.
But I can now tell you we find ourselves once again in the south of Michigan where a very nice gentleman called Mark (who happens to own a Bluebird as well) has allowed us to park in the driveway of his workshop, while another fellow Bluebirder called Aaron has helped Loops fiddle with the generator and air conditioning. They spent the day getting their hands dirty (and arms and t-shirts and shorts), and I attempted to feed them doughnuts as my help to the cause.
The following day they feel they’ve completed the task at hand and so Mark presents us with a watermelon. This is not some strange Michigan ritual or anything, it turns out Mark is a fruit farmer and apparently it is watermelon harvesting season – I love watermelon, what a treat! I pop the melon on the counter and go out to say our goodbyes (though apparently we are meeting them for dinner later) and give our thanks for letting us park at his barn overnight.
We plan to stay the evening over at Shamrock Park in Berrien Springs where we spent a week earlier this year, and as we pull forward to leave the driveway, Loops turns the wheel and the next thing we hear is – THUD! and a wet cracking sound. Loops slams on the brakes and we both spin around in our seats to discover that neither of us remembered the watermelon on the counter; which has now rolled off and smashed open on the kitchen tiles. We look at each other and then break into a fit of hysterical laughter at the ridiculousness of what’s just happened. Four months on the road and it’s still easy to forget even the most basic of rules – don’t leave anything out on the counter! (Especially if it rolls…)
I feel a little like someone might be trying to test us right now, as when we get ready to leave the next morning for our drive over the border to Indiana, Loops discovers that Belle has been stabbed. That’s right, at some point we’ve run over a nail and it’s now stuck in her tyre. Our poor bus is in pain.
Now everyone at some point gets a nail in their tyre and you must know that sinking feeling that goes with it, when you try to fend off the worst thought that you might need to now buy a whole new tyre, and secretly pray that maybe the nail can stay there and hasn’t damaged anything or that maybe you can just fix it with some of that magic foam stuff you spray in the tyre.
Now times that feeling by about 1000 when you know a single new tyre could set you back about $500.
We get Belle to limp over to a local tyre place and Loops sets about trying to figure out how good or bad the tyre might be – after all, it hasn’t deflated or anything…yet. I keep my fingers crossed, practice my calming breathing and, well, what do you know! He proclaims the nail has just hit the main rubber of the tyre and not punctured anything, so we are good to go!
We happily get under way and plot a course for Elkhart, Indiana.
Now Elkhart might not be a town on people’s Top Ten Places to Visit Before You Die list or anything, but for those people who are into RV’s, it’s a little bit of a mecca. It seems to be that Elkhart is pretty much the RV hub of the entire United States, with lots of RV manufacturers based nearby with the accompanying RV industries you would expect to find with them. If you need something for your RV, it’ll be made or sold from around here. If you need something fixed, guaranteed the people who can do it are in the neighbourhood. It also happens to be home to the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum.
Truth be told, I felt bad for Loops the first and second time we cruised through Indiana and managed to miss the RV museum due to time limitations. Pretty much every Bluebird buddy he’s made during our travels have at one time or another uttered the words “Oh you’ve been past Elkhart? You stopped in at the museum, right? What did you think? Amazing isn’t it?” At that point my heart would die a little bit when Loops would have to sadly admit to having passed it by and not seen the delights within.
Well, that’s about to change, for we have shoehorned a stop to the museum into our plans and a free overnight stay in the car park to boot, just because it’s allowed and almost like a rite of passage.
To reach the museum however, we must first do battle with Loops’ irritating Google Maps sat nav. As Loops could simply not pin down a single brand of satellite navigation system he was happy with before we took off at the beginning of the year, we have had to rely on his phone and the map service on it. Of course as any driver knows, technology is not perfect. There are always stories about people being plonked in the middle of a river after their satnav instructed them to drive through it. However, our main issue is that Google Maps is not set up for RV travel. It does not understand the height, weight or width restrictions we face when it decides to plot our course through the smallest roads in the world; as it has chosen to do today. So we do battle in the tiny back streets of an Indiana town with first, a rubbish truck driving way over the speed limit as he barrels past us and we close our eyes and hope for the best, and second, not two minutes later, we try not to be forced off the road and into a ditch by a JCB taking up way more than his half of the road.
Following a quick breather (I was going to say trouser change, but that somehow seems a little gross), we make a turn into the road leading to the museum, only to be surprised to find that apparently this week is the national RV dealer buyer show, right here at the RV Hall of Fame Museum. That’s right, if you are a motorhome dealer, now is your chance to tour the new models for next year and order your stock. Well, we aren’t dealers, so we don’t get to nosey around inside any of the RV’s, but we do park up for the night (we’re touring the museum in the morning), grab the bikes and spend a pleasant evening meandering in and out of the rows of campers, fifth wheels and class A’s, B’s and C’s on offer.
I’m just going to preface our visit the next day by saying I thoroughly enjoyed the several hours we spent learning about the history and evolution of the motorhome industry in the US; and please do bear in mind I’m not really a motoring geek. In fact, I’d highly recommend it to anyone in the area, or passing through, who has ever gone camping in something motorised, even just once.
The museum starts out with a small room that contains some benches and a film playing. You take a pew and watch, for about 15 minutes, the video diary of a family filmed probably in the 90’s as they explore the USA in their small motorhome. It’s really an advert extolling the virtues of getting out and about, spending time with the kids and seeing the sights. This one is specifically based around a family who plans to spend their holiday touring baseball fields and watching games in each stadium in the country.
Once some of the feel good, wholesome attitude has rubbed off on you, you get up and move over to take a look at the model also in the room. It is depicting the building of a motorhome in a factory from start to finish, and the very best part of it – it has all been handcrafted in minute detail from toothpicks and other such items, making you feel about 5 years old again when you get excited at all the intrinsic tiny details, pointing them out to each other and exclaiming in delight; “Oh, look at the little lights! And here comes the roof! Look at all of the tiny electric cables! And the sink! Oh my god!”
You leave the video room and move into the main museum itself, with the path that runs through set up as a road that you walk along, and all types of motorhome you can imagine lined up on either side, from oldest to newest. It’s a plethora of moving houses, right from the very first non-tent motorised home, the 1913 Earl Trailer and Model T Ford, through to Kozy Kamp tent trailers, house cars, teardrop trailers and airstreams, before moving into more modern motorhome and truck campers.
And you don’t just get to view them from the outside, the majority of them you can climb into or, at the very least, peer through the open doors and windows. Each display has an informative label that tells you the date and model of the vehicle you are looking at, and some of the features about it.
Coming to the end of the roadway, I felt thoroughly worn out by looking inside over 55 different vehicles spanning over 100 years.
But it didn’t end there. As you get ready to leave the main room there is a bench to perch yourself on and watch another video from one of the major RV companies (I think it might be Winnebago), about the testing that RV’s go through to make sure they are safe and suitable for road use. Fascinating (and not said in a sarcastic tone).
The two parts of the museum I was most fond of (well, I enjoyed it all, really) were at the end.
The first is a display on the wall of the ground floor of the museum about ‘mobile life’. It is a poster wall with individual stories of people who’ve chosen to live in a mobile home of one sort of another. Each poster is an interview in which the person is asked to describe where they live, why they’ve chosen their lifestyle and the ups and downs of it. At a moment when I am still struggling with being on the road all of the time and questioning the wisdom of my current non-conventional lifestyle, it was a much needed boost to once again realise that people all around the world live happily and successfully in what may be considered an atypical lifestyle, and actively choose to do so.
The second part I enjoyed was the library. Upstairs on the second floor is a room that contains books and magazines going back decades about motorhomes, traveling and documentation about specific motorhome brands. I spent a very diverting hour or so reading through magazines from the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s with the most amazing old school adverts, which I adore. Rather than using the sensationalism or sex selling they use today for items, older adverts love to sell the virtues of their product – the type of selling where they love to describe how you will be a better person physically, mentally and emotionally for buying their product or how the neighbours will hold you in high regard and see you as a person of distinction and good judgement, that type of thing.
Flipping through the 1997 magazine, the year our bus was built, I found an advert for the Holland Bus Company up in Michigan – Holland being a town we passed through earlier this year and we drove right past the bus company then, it’s still around. They used to sell Bluebird motorhomes, apparently for $500,000 brand new! What? It’s crazy to think our bus was once worth that!
Once we had our fill we meandered through the gift shop, stopping off to pick up the mandatory fridge magnet for my sister (Hi Jo!), before climbing aboard Belle for our next drive.
It’s time to go home to my favourite Amish town. Yes, it’s time to visit Shipshe.