Boy - I had really been hankering for a doughnut to get my Tuesday morning off to a perfect start, but alas, Special Ed was not on the bus when I pulled into his driveway just a ways down from my motel. Dang!
Instead, I ducked inside a nearby antique shop that had a high enough level of interesting/dusty/mysterious in its window that I decided to turn around and go back to check it out. I was richly rewarded not only by finding several wonderful things I couldn't live without, but also because Matthew McConnaughey of Michigan was there - charming the ladies (I'm not often deemed a lady, mind you) with entertaining stories, copious amounts of attention, huge sparkling blue eyes and long wavy dark hair that had begun to gray at the temples pulled back into a loose pony tail. His mesmerizing drawl was exactly like that of his Texas iteration. A masterful salesman, he quickly honed in on my weak spot and I walked away with the Tower of London for the low, low price of $8.
When I got back on the road, I decided to continue following the little highway I'd taken into Somerset Center the previous day. The traffic was nonexistent and every so often it would begin raining lightly which made everything cool and green and pleasant. I scouted for breakfast venues as I passed through town after tiny town, passing several cafes that somehow just didn't trigger my brake foot. When I arrived in the town of Quincy I saw a promising looking little diner just as I arrived and before I had gotten to the other end of town I had decided to turn around and give it a shot. What triggered the choice was classic Shiree-think: I figured I'd most definitely be considered a punk in Quincy with my wild pink hair, and Quincy punk is a term that really, really tickles me.
It was sort of a hoot to watch as about 7 or 8 gray-headed old farmers and their wives tried to mask their surprise when I walked in. It was obvious that everyone in the place was well familiar with one another and they must have thought a space ship had landed in the parking lot to produce such a deviation to their norm. I did NOT, however, do any cussing because the Quincy service professionals had made it abundantly clear through signage that the Quincy part of punk was in full effect here.
After an unremarkable but well executed breakfast, I continued my push west toward Elkhart, Indiana, where I'd be stopping to tour the RV Hall of Fame and Museum. It didn't sink in until I walked in the door and a helpful fellow showed me around that by Hall of Fame they meant long walls gridded with stiff formal portraits of the administrative heroes of trailerdom. I kind of even liked their attempt to confabulate reverence, even though I didn't recognize a single one of the pictured individuals. It was sort of like attending someone else's family reunion and I soon became bored with it.
So I made a beeline for the museum portion of the attraction which happily was packed with a great many towable and driveable wonders. At left, for example, is a 1958 Airstream prototype trailer "Der Kleiner Prinz" (the Little Prince) so named by Wally Byam. Wally had the factory build it so he and his wife could take it on a trip with an eye toward assessing it for the European caravan market. It only took a few weeks of caravaning with another person in a 10 foot trailer to convince Wally not to take it to production, so this Little Prince is the only one in existence.
There were also an impressive number of specimens from the 1910s and 1920s, which is considered to be the very beginning of travel trailer history. Most of the early units were really just glorified canvas tents on a frame and wheels with few or no amenities. When the concept of a home on wheels began to be popular in the 30s, appliances like the overhead icebox at right (i.e., a REAL ice box that held a block of ice) began to appear. Look how the melted ice drains right into the sink!
One of the most interesting custom trailers from the 1930s was one which was built to persuade Mae West to start making movies by providing her a luxurious mode of transportation to and from the studio. It included a whistle stop style back porch which Mae is said to have used for rocking in a chair on pleasant evenings.
It was after World War II in the 1950s that trailers really got sexy. The 1955 crank-up trailer below was one of the very first to use a fiberglass shell as well as debuting the concept of a pull out (that's a bed in back), which has become the darling of the modern R.V. world. I can only imagine that the crank-up was painted to match the car that towed it since it was the 50s, and I would have loved to have seen the whole shooting match, especially if there were more of those turquoise wheel medallions lurking about.
My favorite trailer by a landslide, though, was the fabulous Star Streak II. Paul Jones from Florida has custom built two of these trailers (the other resides in California) and this one was built in 1988 using a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado chassis and a 1976 Olds Tornado 455 engine. Oh, and lots and lots and lots of fabulous sheet metal work. The poor Star Streak II was jammed into a dark corner of the museum making it close to impossible to get good pictures, but here are a few to give you an idea:
I've already added Star Streak I to my never ending bucket list. In trying to find some information on the fellow that built the Start Streak (still digging) I ran across a reference to an amazing Buick Frankenstein of the same ilk. I just couldn't finish this entry without sharing it with you:
It was constructed using two Buick station wagons! It's apparently currently being restored and definitely makes MY Hall of Fame. I sure hope to be able to see it in person one day.
After finishing up my tour of the museum, I headed back to the interstate and began a beeline for Chicago where I'd be staying with my friends Trent and Carly for a few days. I hit town late in the afternoon and after a visit to the brick and mortar version of one of my favorite suppliers of weird stuff - American Science and Surplus - I headed down Milwaukee Avenue on a nice long rush hour drive to Trent and Carly's, which allowed me to poke along slowly enough to take in all the fascinating things along the way. It was almost like watching a National Geographic special! I joined Trent and Carly at their place and began the process of catching up, long overdue. Tomorrow, hot dogs and science!