|Race cars give way to horses and buggies - talk about Culture Shock!
Today we got out early - anxious to get moving again. Our destination; Elkhart, Indiana, a town in the heartland of the nation’s RV industry, and home to the RV Hall of Fame Museum. That Elkhart is also in the heartland of Indiana’s Amish country makes it that much more appealing.
Elkhart is a three hour drive north of Indianapolis. The countryside grows increasingly wooded and hilly as you get into the lower reaches of the ancient glaciers. I grew up in such country and it feels like home.
No peanut farmers here - the cash crop is corn and the farms are small and family owned. The only signs of Agribusiness are the Ethanol refineries, turning corn into fuel. At Wabash we crossed the muddy Wabash River, flowing west on it’s way to become the border between Indiana and Illinois. No evidence of the ‘Cannonball’ though - unless you count the name on one of the bowling allies we passed.
Along Highway 15 we stopped at a roadside stand. It’s early in the season to have much selection, but the tomatoes were red like God meant them to be and the cantaloupe smelled sweet enough to make you dizzy. Even the parking was right - in the shade of two hundred year old oak.
South of the Michigan state line and running parallel to it, is the Indiana Turnpike - and here we found the RV Hall of Fame Museum. The building and grounds are new and impressive, and as cars, trucks, and even a few RVs whizzed by on the Turnpike we took a two hour journey through some fascinating RV history.
The idea of taking your home with you when you travel wasn’t new - pioneers and gypsies had been doing it for centuries, using horses and oxen to provide the muscle. From their example it was a short leap for early motoring enthusiasts to envision covered wagons pulled by engines!
Early attempts date to the turn of the century, when most mobile living quarters took the form of trailers. The variations were many, from canvas tents set upon wheeled platforms to hard bodied chambers equipped with beds, benches, tables and even some rudimentary cooking and sanitary facilities. From these beginnings it wasn’t long until richer and cleverer motorists were designing elaborate contraptions for traveling in style and even comfort. Their enthusiasm led to great ingenuity, and the most skillful of them built vehicles of great beauty and utility.
The RV Hall of Fame Museum has a fine collection of these vehicles, some donated and part of their permanent collection, and some on loan from other parties. From the smallest Airstream ever built, to a 41 foot monstrosity billed as the 1954 Spartan Imperial Mansion, from the most primitive canvas tent on wheels, to a state-of-the-art Class A motorhome - the museum presents a wonderful variety of recreational vehicles, from well preserved relics to brand new units. It was fun, it was educational and it was several hours well spent.
From the RV museum in Elkhart we drove east a few miles to a KOA in Middlebury. Middlebury is home to both Jayco and Coachmen factories. In 2004 we came to Middlebury, to tour the Coachmen factory in anticipation of maybe buying one. We bought a Winnebago instead, and now we are back in our Winnie to renew the acquaintance and spend the night.
Elkhart and Middlebury are in Amish country, and it is more than a coincidence that the manufacturers of motorhomes located their factories in a place where a sizeable percentage of the population don’t drive motorized vehicles. Never mind - they’re not here to sell to the Amish but to employ them. Amish people may make terrible customers for RV manufacturers, but they make excellent employees.
They are honest and hardworking, they are skillful and intelligent, they have a reputation for exquisite craftsmanship - and they don’t need or want insurance! The Amish are self insured, and they neither want nor expect their employers to insure them. You have to admire that kind of integrity and self reliance - and if you’re an employer you have to love it.
We ended the day with an Amish style dinner at a popular restaurant named Essenhaus, and we topped it off with shoo fly pie - a concoction made with molasses, brown sugar and little else besides pie crust. It’s a gooey sweet filling that resembles nothing so much as pecan pie without the pecans. I love it, and Madolyn endures a little of it for my sake. What more could I ask? Life with Madolyn is good!