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Ben driving along
Ben driving along
Parking overnight

Indiana RVs

Thursday, October 28, 2004
We send Ben to Indiana to unravel the USA's fascination with recreational vehicles. Well Ben, what's the story?

North Americans have taken to the recreational vehicle, or RV, with open arms. They hit the freeways and highways in hordes all over their vast continent.

Around 135 manufacturers supply 3000 dealers with motorhomes, conventional travel trailers, fifth-wheel travel trailers, truck campers and folding camping trailers. They range from rustic to luxurious and there are around 16,000 places to pull into for a night, a week or much longer.

Towable RVs come in four types and are designed to be pulled along by a car, van, SUV (sports utility vehicle), pick-up truck or conversion vehicle. The beauty is that the towables can be unhitched and the vehicle used for regular things.

Folding camping trailers are lightweight and can be towed by a variety of SUVs and in some cases, by the family car. When unhitched, they can be manoeuvred by hand into tight spots. Their compact size and collapsible sides mean quick set-up and pack-up and these are the choice of many first-time explorers.

Truck campers can be loaded onto the bed of many pick-ups. Once at your destination you just detach it, set it on its own jacks and you then have the pick-up to use separately.

The conventional trailer can be towed by some cars, SUVs, vans and pick-ups. A new lightweight trailer has recently been introduced and they can be towed by six-cylinder vehicles.

Conversion vehicles are vans, trucks and SUVs which can be customised with enhanced windows, carpeting and entertainment systems. They are comfortable and convenient and offer smooth, quiet rides.

Fifth-wheel travel trailers are built to be towed by pick-ups with a special hitch. They are bi-level units and provide good living space. As with all towables, they can be unhitched at your destination, freeing the towing vehicle for local travel.

Motorised RVs, usually called motorhomes, are recreational camping and travel vehicles built on or as an integral part of a self-propelled motor vehicle chassis. They have all the comforts of home and no special licence is required, though some states may require the driver of the very large models to take a test.

A man named Lloyd J. Bontrager had the foresight to make his own mobile home in 1968. He then started a company, Jayco, on his farm in two chicken houses and a barn, with a lot of help from his wife, Bertha. Jayco is now the second biggest manufacturer of towables in the US today, and the numbers you see on the roads make you realise just what a huge company is.

"RVers" often hook up with each other via the Internet, CB radio or RV bulletin boards. There are hundreds of rallies held right across the country. Sometimes they travel in caravan led by professional wagon-masters who are familiar with areas and who make camping arrangements and know places to go for repairs and spare parts.

Elkhart, Indiana, is the venue for many rallies, often numbering up to 1500 people at a time. They are held at the town's large, grassy fairgrounds and are really great social occasions.

They are usually sponsored by local saleyards or manufacturers and include seminars, lucky door prizes, cooking and dancing contests, theme dinners, sporting events and tours to historical and cultural attractions in the area.

In 1972, a RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum was formed and around 200 industry pioneers and leaders belong to the elite group. The headquarters is in Elkhart and visitors are most welcome.

The RV/MH library and archives houses thousands of volumes of industry periodicals, records and photographs and is often used for research. The museum displays trailers, photographs and memorabilia back to the 1920s.

Factories in the Elkhart and Goshen areas are very important to potential RV purchasers who do several factory tours before deciding on one which vehicle suits their requirements.

It seems almost ironic that the northern part of Indiana has one of America's largest Amish communities. The population is mostly Mennonite, a sect a little more relaxed and casual than some of their more orthodox counterparts, but they only use technology, electricity and modern tools when totally necessary, and certainly do not drive motor cars, let alone RVs. They travel in distinctive buggies and dress very modestly in sober colours.

Shipshewana is beautifully quiet and has one of the United States' biggest flea markets. More than 1000 vendors, mostly Amish, sell crafts there, and their beautiful quilts are high on the shopping list of many shoppers.


Elkhart County in Indiana.


RV’s can be hired from $420 for three nights. RV Park rates start at around $35 for four people. They open from April to October.
Qantas flies daily to Los Angeles starting at $1840 from Melbourne, $1842 from Brisbane, $1854 from Sydney, $2237 from Adelaide, $2624 from Darwin and $2691 from Perth, per person. American Airlines have onward connections to Indiana.
Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

More information

RV/MH Heritage Foundation
801 Benham Avenue, Elkhart IN 46516
Ph: 0011 1 219 293 2344
Fax: 0011 1 219 293 3466

Newmar Factory Tour
Ph: 0011 1 574 773 7791

Jayco Center
PO Box 460, Middlebury IN 46540

Shipshewana Campground, RV Park and
Amish Log Cabin Lodging
PO Box 172, Shipshewana IN 46565-0172
Ph: 0011 1 260 768 7700

Qantas Ph: 13 13 13

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