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OPINION: The RV/MH Hall of Fame has it backward

OPINION: The RV/MH Hall of Fame has it backward

By Jeannine Patane
Founder, RV Compass

When I planned a road trip from North Carolina to the Midwest this month, it was for the motivating reason to visit the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart. I was excited to experience fresh inspiration and new innovation in the RV industry. Instead what I got was a reality check to the atrophy of an industry’s history.

The morning I visited, some employees with Thor Industries had a catered event outside of the theater for their company meeting. An architect’s image of the museum’s future expansion project sat on an easel opposite the buffet tables. It looked like a giant shell of a warehouse to park more RVs into.

The first wing I entered was the Go RVing Exibition. A museum staff member mentioned it’s the newest wing that’s still in progress and it will represent the industry currently and what it will hold for the future. It sounded exciting. The first visual I got of the future was the caterer for the company event commandeered the bench seating in front of a dark screen for their supplies. Even if the caterer wasn’t there, I wondered if the screen would have been turned on for viewing.

If the wing is supposed to give us a look at the road ahead, it appears to be a detour to a dead end. Other than a few trailers parked in the space to fill it with something, the only thing the room offered was a scale model of a manufacturing plant’s production line with a button audio tour.

For me, that was the best feature of the entire museum. It appeared Go RVing had a great idea and started to act upon it, but then quickly abandoned the project after initiation. The exhibition had been stripped from what the website photos projected. There were no easels displaying the future vision for the space.

The RV Founders Hall was well displayed with a winding road on the floor to take you through history of the RVs. The biggest annoyance for that exhibit would be the poor, direct lighting. The inaccessible, roped off trailers had cheap clamp lights that either blinded visitors directly in the eyes or reflected off glass or mirrors in the trailer, making it difficult to see or photograph the details of interiors.

The trailers that we could walk into were so poorly lit, that flash photography was necessary just to see anything. There is no reason not to have the RVs better illuminated with indirect light. At least move the clamp lights down to the floor and aim upwards.

While I visited the Elkhart area, I heard mention about how the Mennonites greatly contributed to the quality craftsmanship that set a manufacturing standard. Yet, there was no contribution or display throughout the whole building that recognized their craftsmanship with an introductory history about them and their importance to RV manufacturing.

However, the Family Motor Coach Association got a nice spot on the wall for a membership overlook.

The Exhibitor Hall was sparse at best. It’s unfortunate that the companies providing the sponsorship don’t put in a little bit more effort to cater to the purpose of the space. It looked as if most exhibitors just dumped some leftover trade show displays in the room for representation.

Draw-Tite–Hidden Hitch–Reese was the only historical display that looked like it was specifically designed for the space. I wondered why Thor Industries didn’t have their catering presented in that wing instead of taking up the front lobby of the museum and using the Go RVing Exibition as storage. I didn’t pay $10 to walk into a catering closet. Maybe it would have just required a few extra steps on their part.

The museum staff encouraged us to explore the Hall of Fame on the second floor as well as the library. The aspect that intrigued me the most about visiting the museum was the research center. When I stepped into the room I was under the impression I’d be greeted by someone, but there was no one around.

The well-lit room had an outdated university library feel to it, pre-computer cataloging. Periodicals were scattered on some tabletops. Beyond the bookshelf to the right was an empty, cavernous room that looked like it used to be a large library that had all the shelving removed.

I took this road trip for this room, so I forced myself to stay in it and at least nose around. With some persistence, one book was spotted with interest. Winnebago Nation by James Twitchell, enlightened me to more history about RVs than anything in the museum or Hall of Fame offered. As I skimmed through the book sitting in an overstuffed mauve chair, a few visitors turned their heads into the room without crossing the threshold. No one had an interest to step in. One gentleman even commented as he looked into the library, “Boring.”

Of course it’s boring. The room is on the second level all the way in the back corner of the facility. It has been discarded and looks like it hasn’t had any importance for about 20 years.

It’s funny to see a time capsule trunk at the entrance of the RV Founders Hall downstairs, when all you’d need to do to step back in time is to visit the entire second floor of the museum. There is so much potential to turn the second-story into an interactive and educational experience, but the founding visions have been lost and abandoned by a generational gap.

Which brings me to the Hall of Fame photos. This is the best display of a contradicting message of what the RV industry should represent. It clearly reflects the old white males. Each photo looks like it came out of a fraternal yearbook and the only reason you look at the photos is to visually challenge yourself to find any face that doesn’t seem to fit in.  It’s like playing a game of where’s Waldo.

I say this contradicts the RV industry because it’s these very men (and a few women) who hang on the wall for their passion and dedication to an industry that promotes and markets the vehicle of escapism from the rat race of rules, bylaws and following others. Fraternal organization is the farthest thing from a pioneering spirit.

As a rally coordinator, I am aware of the committees, clubs and the nature of inclusive belonging that the RV culture holds. The repetitive Hall of Fame photos are paradoxical; such a liberating lifestyle encompasses such political doors. It’s the upstairs that should be dimly lit with clamp lights like a secret society passage, not blatantly illuminated by the industry’s stifling truth.

A suggestion to make all those fraternal men instantly more unique for their accomplishments is to add an inset photo of them on a corner of their portrait. Visitors want to get some sense of why these faces should be viewed as important individuals. Make us lean in to see an image of them in their element.

It could be them in the factory working with their staff, relaxing around the campfire with their family, digging the hole for the campground they operated, or anything to show us why they are on that wall in the first place. The Hall of Fame photos need life to them like the great exhibit on the first floor of the individuals that live in manufactured homes.

Even the women’s second floor bathroom had an awful funeral-like feeling to it. An overly perfumed pit stop made me feel like I just walked into someone’s wake. In the corner of the room, a coffin-colored heavy end table displayed a fake floral arrangement and the overpowering deodorizer made me wonder what scent of unpleasantness was trying to be covered up.

Upon escaping the second floor, the bottom of the staircase opened into the gift shop.  At this point, I wasn’t inspired to pay for overpriced books or leftover swag from trade shows. It was an odd and miscellaneous mix of merchandise. I looked back over to where the buffet tables were earlier in the day for Thor Industries.

The caterer had cleaned up from the event, but the picture of the future expansion project came back into sight. They don’t get it. It’s a continual make-more-and-make-it-bigger attitude instead of taking the existing building and revamping it into something truly inspirational. The museum is unfortunately morphing into a mausoleum.

When I arrived at the museum, I was wide-eyed and eager to find inspiration in an industry that I am working to build a career in. When I exited the building, all I could do was let out a deep sigh and be thankful that my next inhale was outside, taking in the fresh air. My steps were quickly away from the depressing experience and my eyes were forward on an individual, pioneering road ahead.

Jeannine Patane  is the founder of RV Compass, a company that helps plan and organize RV rallies. She also serves as the coordinator of Eggshells in The Outer Banks, a rally for tear-drop RV owners that takes place in North Carolina in October. She can be reached at handywomanscomp@gmail.com.

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RV Daily Report welcomes opinion pieces and feature stories submitted by people interested in the RV industry and the RV lifestyle. To submit something for publication, send it to editor@rvdailyreport.com.

16 comments

  1. Sounds an awful lot like many of the RVs being built today…

  2. Tommy Watters, Jr.

    It sounds like you didn’t like it Jeanine. The RV industry is far more than what you give it credit for. Sure, we might not be the state of the art automobile industry and don’t pretend to be. Some of us have spent a lifetime in an industry that if not for the pioneering spirit would not exist. The RV industry is a unique industry that has lived throughout the years on it’s own (without outside help) and represents the true American spirit in my opinion. As with any industry we can improve and I’m confident we will! And finally, I hope that should your efforts return some success in our industry you will then understand and appreciate our unique charm so many of us are proud of. Safe Travels.

    • Jeannine Patané

      Hi Tommy,
      The RV industry did not build the “pioneering spirit”. It exists in certain individuals regardless of recreational vehicles. The vehicle is just that; a tool to assist those want to explore and pioneer. Before I had my travel trailer, I lived and camped out of my cars for over 200,000 miles, and that’s after I utilized a bike with a tent for my travels over 20,000 miles. I did not need an RV to demonstrate my pioneering spirit.

      The RV industry is very dependent on outside help such as government policy. The Hall of Fame and museum is an excellent opportunity to inspire people to recreate with RVs, yet this opportunity is being completely overlooked an actually can be a deal breaker if it’s all someone experiences from the industry.
      I was vocal about my negative visiting experience because I care about the industry and have had much success already with my efforts with rally coordination.

      • Tommy Watters Jr

        I was referring to the RV industry as a business. Not exploring our beautiful country. I think you misunderstood. I realize your experience didn’t require the RV industry and that you “pioneered” through America without it. I get it. You clearly bashed an industry I hold dear and you bashed a group of business pioneers who helped the RV Business exist. I truly hope that adds clarity for you. Again, I look forward to you seeing the charm in our industry. 🙂

  3. Did the author speak with any of the staff? Maybe they were having a bad day? I mean look at those crowds in the photos! People love the place and plan their trips around visiting it… oh wait not really.

    On a side note this author accidentally dropped in a bit of racism, sexism and ageism into the post: “It clearly reflects the {age} {race} {gender}. Each photo looks like it came out of a fraternal yearbook and the only reason you look at the photos is to visually challenge yourself to find any face that doesn’t seem to fit in. It’s like playing a game of where’s Waldo.”

    • Jeannine Patané

      Hi Mark,
      I’m proud to admit I’m not politically correct. 🙂
      It wasn’t accidental, but to be sensitive to others, I used choice words such as “reflects”, “looks like”, “seem”.
      Thanks for your comment.

  4. Well written RV story.Go Girl!!!!

  5. I glad to see I am not the only one to find the Museum lifeless and uninspiring. We have an exciting industry and we need our Hall of Fame to represent that. Good article! Hope it inspires all involved to make it better in the future.

  6. I agree with Jeannine. I, along with my children, visited the RV Museum on a cross country trip last year. We all liked the way the industry was chronicled along the “road” but also felt that more could have been done to light the interiors of the various “RV’s” better. I also, agreee that the second floor just seemed like a library and not relevant to the average family.
    Overall, I too felt that the a lot of the space could be used to better excite and entice families to take up RVing.

    Tommy; if I had spent my life in this industry and had the opportunity to created a museum AND Hall of Fame, I would want to make sure that it ROCKED!! The museum part arguably is close but again really needs better lighting to showcase the exhibits. The Hall of Fame needs to showcase WHY those in the portraits are in there. What exactly did each member do to deserve their induction and show some of THAT history. A lot of baseball and football players dedicate ethier lives to their sport and never make it into the hall of fame, but those that do are showcased.

    Listen, I know I am a just one person from Pennsylvania who stopped by the museum my kids loved it …and wanted more. There is so much more that can be given, and I know it all involves money, it always does, but I truly think Jeannine is on to something. It does hurt to have her submit some type of outline which just might be the inspiration for making a good idea better……just sayin’

  7. Michael Schwarz

    My wife and I visited the Hall of Fame in 2012 during our first full-time year of RVing. Thank goodness we didn’t look to this place as inspiration ! The author nailed our reaction. We were headed cross country to be with my Dad before a surgery that easy scheduled when we saw the Hall of Fame on the side of the interstate.

    We were living the life that these folks were promoting. We purposefully went through the entire building, looking for some inspiration. Image our disappointment when we didn’t find it. I looked at every display and picture (nice description, by the way, although you need to put it in th context of the.times).

    Of thats the beat the RV industry can do, they have bigger problems than displays. Someone needs to get a little enthusiasm and figure out a way to communicate it to us regular folk.

  8. For those offended…..I would say “the truth hurts”. I felt it was a scaldingly well written piece. The organization would do well to listen to the guests reactions more than “industry” self congratulating chatter.

  9. It’s too bad than an otherwise insightful article about the opportunities that exist to improve the museum (one that I hoped to visit someday) had to include such snarky comments about race and gender. “Fraternal”, “Old White Males”? As if we should somehow be ashamed of these people? I appreciate your frank opinions about the state of the museum, and hope the curators heed your advice. But, you come off sounding like an angry person looking for a reason to find racism and sexism where it does not exist.

    I wish I could at least escape identity politics when I read about RVs.

  10. I think it’s funny and maybe a little telling that all of the people mad at your ‘old white males’ comment are male. And probably white.
    As a female I had no trouble with how this was phrased at all. Keep up the good work.

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