Forrest and Jeri Bone of Dearborn bought their first vintage RV — a 1964 Airstream — in 1993. Twenty years later, they have owned 10 vintage trailers and are now directors of Tin Can Tourists, an international club dedicated to the promotion and preservation of historic campers (tincantourists.com).
The Bones are among thousands who have embraced the RV way of life. “We love the flexibility…. There are no surprises like you might find at hotels and traveling expenses are lower,” Forrest claims.
Nationally, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reports that 8.9 million households now own an RV, up from 7.9 million in 2005. Here in the Great Lakes State, the Michigan Association of Recreational Vehicles & Campgrounds 2012-2013 show season posted the highest consumer attendance in years, notes director Bill Sheffer. “Michigan residents continue to look at the recreation vehicle lifestyle as an increasingly popular way to travel and vacation with their family in a safe and efficient way,” he says.
While luxury RV parks such as Hearthside Grove in Petoskey have emerged to meet demand, Lloyd Bridges Traveland in Chelsea — the state’s oldest RV dealer — has seen sales all over the board, according to sales manager Jeff Shumway (funrving.com). “Montana and Cougar sales are still No. 1 in the country,” he says, “with Rockwood and North Trail top in travel trailers.”
Small and Sturdy
Dealers also report that customers are looking for smaller, lighter and more fuel-efficient RVs. Among the smaller models, Shumway says Rockwood’s MiniLite and Viking are popular. Meanwhile, new towables such as Winnebago’s 2014 Lightweight Minnie, just under 22 feet in length, are also catering to a growing fan base with bright colors, high-tech options and designer interiors (winnebagotowables.com).
Even smaller is the 17-foot Eggcamper, developed as a retirement project in 2005 by Jim Palmer of Grandville, where these distinctive designs are still made. “The molded process makes the Eggcamper strong and lightweight, but very sturdy,” Palmer says, noting he built 42 last year and sends them nationwide, often to other retirees. “Some are looking to travel; some use them as a place to stay when they go see the grandkids.”
Celebrity owners such as Matthew McConaughey are spurring renewed interest in classic-style campers such as Airstreams, says Chad Carlson of Woodland Travel Center in Michigan, the manufacturer’s oldest dealer (woodlandtravelcenter.net). The Grand Rapids-based company — whose business is one-third restorations, one-third new sales and one-third parts — customized John Mellencamp’s Airstream and recently shipped another to Japan, where it’s the centerpiece of a customer’s garden. Aficionados of the retro brand are “very eccentric, eclectic people,” Carlson notes, including a lot of artists.
While equipped with new technology, recent Airstreams remain true to their vintage roots, he adds. “It’s hard to decipher models from one year to the next,” Carlson says. “The idea of Airstream is to be minimalistic. They aren’t gimmicky and are truly built to last forever.”
— Khristi Sigurdson Zimmeth, Michigan BLUE Magazine.
Photography courtesy Michael buck; Terry Bone; Winnebago Industries, Inc. & Airstream.