21 Surprising Things We Learned at the RV Hall of Fame

RV/MH Hall of Fame, Elkhart, Indiana


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RV/MH Hall of Fame, Elkhart, Indiana

RV 101

The Hoosier town of Elkhart, Indiana, is proudly called the "RV Capital of the World," and it's home to the RV/MH Hall of Fame (the "MH" stands for manufactured housing). There's a museum dedicated to the history of the RV, and the Hall of Fame's spring show earlier this month offered a look at where the industry is going. Here are some key takeaways from our visit.

Related: These Are the RV Shows You Don't Want to Miss

RV Hall of Fame - Elkhart

The Hall of Fame Is in Elkhart for a Reason

Of the half-million RVs produced in the United States, some 80% or more are made within 50 miles of Elkhart, according to Darryl Searer (pictured here), president of the nonprofit RV/MH Heritage Foundation, which maintains the hall of fame. Many of the biggest names in RVs, including Thor Industries, Forest River, and Winnebago, have a local presence. Related suppliers like Lippert Components, Patrick Industries, and Dometic, a maker of RV awnings and other components, are also located in the area.

RV Hall of Fame Hosts Shows

It Hosts Annual RV Shows Open to the Public

There are two annual retail RV shows that are open to the public at the museum and hall of fame. (There's also an invitation-only wholesale show for dealers.) The Spring Hall of Fame RV Show typically draws about 2,000 visitors, while the summer show in August brings in about 5,000 visitors, according to Matt Rose of the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association-Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council.

Buying an RV Can Be a Minefield

Buying Here Can Save You Money

At the Elkhart shows, RV buyers can skirt expensive destination fees for RVs shipped across the country. Shipping can add thousands to the purchase price, according to one of the dealers at the spring show. "You're saving a lot by buying here in this area, because you're buying it where it's built," said Steve Showalter of Showalter RV Sales and Rentals in Nappanee, Indiana. "You're not paying shipping. If you're willing to make the trip here to get it, you can save a lot of money."

RV Hall of Fame Matt Rose

Shows Make Shopping Easier

Consumer-aimed RV shows are a convenient buying opportunity, because they gather hundreds of vehicles in one place, making it easier for shoppers to compare features and prices. "At an RV show, they can buy one ticket, and they can come in and see a variety of products from multiple dealers," said Matt Rose of IMHA-RVIC (pictured here). Just remember the Boy Scout motto: "Be prepared." Shows are spread over large outdoor spaces, so comfortable shoes are a must and visitors should dress for the weather (which was gray and drizzly the day we went).

RV Write-Offs

There's Financing Available

First-time visitors to an RV show might wonder whether it's worth coming to a show without being preapproved for a loan or able to pay cash. What would happen if they fell in love with an RV and wanted to buy? Dealer Steve Showalter said such preparations aren't necessary. His outfit helps customers with credit applications and sets them up with banks that do RV loans. Chad Rothrock of Total Value RV in Elkhart agreed: "Financing is easy for someone with a decent credit score. The banks have been very responsive."

RV Hall of Fame Current Outlook

RV Sales Are Going Strong Overall

The industry was hit extremely hard during the Great Recession, and some companies and plants actually closed. Now a booming economy and low gas prices have contributed to strong sales and revenue increases, surpassing the levels seen prior to the crash. Rothrock expressed some concern about interest rates edging up and mentioned that the tax reform law wasn't especially friendly to RV owners because of its impact on mortgage interest deductions. Still, he noted, "retail sales continue to set records quarterly."

Maximum Capacity

More RVers Are Going All In

Steve Showalter and other sellers said they've seen more people becoming full-time RVers — and not just retirees; younger folks, too. "They look at it as an alternative, if they're gonna be on the road working," he said. While working remotely is certainly a trend, a properly equipped RV can stretch the limits of that concept.

Related: What It's Really Like to Retire in an RV

RV Hall of Fame Smarter Use of Space

RVs Are Making Even Smarter Use of Space

A lot of people are asking for more internal storage, especially those who want to live in an RV full-time, said Kyle Kujawski of Indiana RV Connection in Middlebury, Indiana. He said he's seeing "a lot of smaller fiberglass units with more bathroom space." He pointed out one clever use of space to provide more internal storage: a side hatch (pictured here) that allows owners to load bicycles into an area that is otherwise a bunk spot.

Visiting the RV Hall of Fame

RV Buyers Are Getting Younger

The market for RVs is starting to skew younger, according to dealer Steve Showalter. Although RVing is more often associated with older folks, Showalter said Gen Xers who went camping with their families want to share similar experiences with their own children. "So I think you're seeing more and more younger families buying," he said.

RV Hall of Fame White Makes Comeback

RVs Are Getting Lighter, in More Ways Than One

Dealer Chad Rothrock said he's seeing more new RVs in white, which has a significant upside: A lighter colored exterior absorbs less heat, helping the interior stay cooler. "It can be 15 degrees cooler on a hot, sunny day," he said. Kyle Kujawski said he's noticed a preference for lighter-colored cabinetry inside RVs. Multiple dealers identified a trend toward ever lighter-weight campers, which are easier to pull.

1968 Jayco Tent Trailer
RV/MH Hall of Fame

Jayco Made an Unexpected Announcement

Pop-up camping trailers have been on the scene for decades. Affordable and space-efficient, they've been the entry-level experience for millions of RV enthusiasts. But Jayco, one of the biggest names in pop-up campers, recently told dealers by email that it would be getting out of that line of business, Kujawski said. Cheapism confirmed the move with a company representative.

RV Hall of Fame - Tech Goes Camping

RVs Are Going Off the Grid

Advanced technology is paving the way for RVers to go "off the grid" without undertaking ambitious DIY projects, said dealer Chad Rothrock of Total Value RV. RVs that come equipped with lithium-ion batteries and solar panels are making it easier for folks to get even farther away from it all. "These are progressive movements that are really going to change the shape of the RV industry," he said.

RV Hall of Fame Scot Moody

Class A Motorhomes Are Going the Extra Mile

Among the large, bus-size Class A motorhomes that can cost hundreds of thousands, Scot Moody, also of Total Value RV, said he's seeing more outdoor kitchen set-ups (pictured here). In another nod to advancing technology, Moody added that RV heavyweight Thor Industries has announced plans to build all-electric models. "Like an electric car, it's gonna be an electric motorhome," he said at the show.

RV Hall of Fame Its Popular

The Hall of Fame Draws Crowds Year-Round

More than 20,000 people visit the RV/MH Hall of Fame each year, Darryl Searer said, and it boasts a rating of 4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor. Visitors can see a brief video about the RV industry and its connection to the Elkhart area in the museum's theater.

RV Hall of Fame Its Big

It's Big

The museum has about 25,000 square feet of space and holds some 60 vehicles tracing the history and evolution of the RV. While there are other venues with historic RVs, this complex alongside Interstate 80/90 is "one of a kind" because it's also home to the hall of fame, which honors more than 400 industry pioneers and leaders, said Searer, an honoree himself.

RV Hall of Fame Getting Bigger
RV/MH Hall of Fame

It's Getting Bigger

Construction is underway for a sprawling event center beside the hall of fame as well as a 20,000-square-foot pavilion and outdoor rally area. The museum will grow to 32,000 square feet, with space marked for manufactured homes. It will feature units from the 1930s, '40s, '50s, '60s, and '70s, Searer said.

RV Hall of Fame Lindbergh Travel Trailer

Historic RVs Abound

The industry dates back more than 100 years, Searer said. While the museum doesn't yet have any RVs owned by celebrities still around today, it does boast several from famous folk of bygone days. One aluminum-skinned travel trailer was owned by the legendary American aviator Charles Lindbergh, while a large lounge car was made for 1930s Hollywood star Mae West. Most of the vehicles are open for visitors to enter and get a real feel for what RV life was like in days gone by.

RV Hall of Fame Present Day RVs

There's Plenty to Learn About Present-Day RVs

Part of the facility is dedicated to today's vehicles. The Go RVing area gives visitors a glimpse at new RVs as well as a self-guided walk-through of the RV manufacturing process with a model replica of an RV factory.

RV Hall of Fame Lots to Read

There's Also Lots to Read

The Hall of Fame and Museum also houses a library with more than 20,000 industry-related magazines, journals, dissertations, and other materials, some dating back to the earliest days of RVs.

RV Hall of Fame Superbowl
RV/MH Hall of Fame

The 2018 Super Bowl Was a Win-Win for the Museum

When the museum opened, about 12 years ago, its collection included 18 antique RVs purchased for $1.3 million, Searer said, but most exhibits have been donated. One recent donation came from a Philadelphia Eagles fan. He vowed to give the museum a $300,000 custom rig his family drove to and from the games if the team ever won the Super Bowl, which it did in 2018.

You'll Need a Place to Park an RV When It's Not in Use

Overnight RV Parking Is Free

Visitors to the museum ($12 for adults, $9 for kids 6 to 16) who arrive in their own RVs can park for free the night before and the night after they go to the Hall of Fame. Just note that there are no electric, water, and sewer hookups.