RV exhibit explores American road travel

LOS ANGELES Even with our extremely high gas prices, a lot of people will still head to the great outdoors this summer in motor homes and travel trailers. Some people think of them as modern ways to camp out, but recreational vehicles actually got their start long before most of us were born, as people invented new ways to see the country.

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"There were so many things of so many different varieties that it was extremely interesting to be on the road in Southern California in the twenties and thirties," said Leslie Kendall, Petersen Museum curator.

From the earliest model-Ts converted into crude auto campers to the sleek airstream trailers of the post-Depression era, America started getting on wheels to vacation and even to live.

"A lot of people forget that in the 1930s, trailers were believed to be the up-and-coming thing. And it was believed that half of America would be living on wheels before very long," Kendall said.

The Petersen Automotive Museum has assembled an impressive array of rare vintage RVs complete with all the accessories. They even found some old theatrical newsreels that tell the story of America's new travel fascination.

The interiors of these camping mobiles often mimicked the décor of houses at the time. One particular trailer even somewhat resembled a luxury rail car. It took eight years to build the trailer, but then the owner never used it.

A crane had to be used to lift the display vehicles onto the museum's parking structure and then the doorway had to be cut away to get them in.

"Some of these objects were 8 feet or 9 feet tall, and it was time to pull the trigger on getting that opening opened up," said Petersen Automotive Museum Director Dick Messer.

The exhibit opening was timed this way on purpose. The museum sees a big influx of visitors from other states during the summer. Those travelers will probably wonder how people got by in such primitive campers and wonder how cheap gas must have been back then.


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