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When in Elkhart …

Our philosophy is that you take advantage of what each local area offers. So today we headed off to meet our friends Henry and Danean for a tour of the RV industry — past and present.

Elkhart is the center of the RV universe, and it’s only about 15 miles down the Indiana tollway from South Bend. Our first stop was the factory that Henry works at, which makes RV parts. Riding around in a golf cart, we got a great tour from Henry of robotic welding machines and manufacturing processes. Even Emma was interested. And at the end of the tour, everyone got a company baseball cap!

Next stop was the RV/MH Heritage Museum in downtown Elkhart. This place is basically a collection of really special antique RVs from the 1920s through 1970s. You can walk right into most of the units, and they are mostly in superb condition. The only Airstream in the collection is a early 60s Bambi. My 1968 Caravel and 1963 Serro Scotty would have fit right in.

In the front hall is the Hall of Fame. Wally Byam is there, of course. If you’ve ever wondered what Theodore Bargman (manufacturer of the infamous Bargman locks and lights) looked like, or Art Costello (Airstream’s president of the Los Angeles factory in the 1960s), you’ll find them too.

Then we headed off to Henry and Danean’s house. Henry has an interesting race car, which happens to be more or less street legal. It’s a 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a 454 engine. So we took it out for a spin around the block. When I was putting the five-point seat belts on, I started to sense that this might be a mistake, but it was too late to back out. Sure enough, Henry demonstrated the car’s ability to run the quarter-mile. Uh, 110 MPH in 12 seconds. A bit better than the Nissan Armada/Airstream combo I’m driving these days.

Emma got a chance to drive, too, but not the race car. She steered a golf cart while Danean worked the pedals and Eleanor hung on for her life. It made for an interesting ride around their front yard. The dog raced around in circles while Emma careened around, narrowly missing shrubs and ditches. She wants to tow the Airstream now, but I sense she’s not quite ready.

The day started with a little spin in one of Dr. C’s collector cars, a 1950s Mercedes 190. He took me for a top-down ride through the quiet cornfields and suburbs of West South Bend. A very pleasant touring car, that Mercedes, and as the doctor told me this morning, “It’s great for picking up chicks.”

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That’s Elkhart/South Bend for us. Tomorrow morning, we head over to the northern Chicago suburbs to meet more friends.

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