Friday, July 31, 2015

RVs, cars, history, and family

July 31, 2015—Visiting attractions in a new area is fun, but when you can do it with family (especially family you have not seen for a long time), the occasion becomes special.

We spent three days in northeastern Indiana (Elkhart area), and then drove up to Marshall, Mich., to visit with Rob, Corky and the grandkids.

I spent the first half of my life as a Hoosier, but I had never really visited the Elkhart area. I had just driven by on the interstate highway.

Jim had done some research, which indicated there were actually a lot of attractions (mostly museums) in the area. Among them, which we visited, were the RV Hall of Fame, the National Military History Center and Kruse Automotive and Carriage Museum (a two-for-one one with admission), the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automotive Museum in Auburn, Ind., a windmill museum, and Shipshewana Flea Market (open Tuesdays and Wednesdays). (We got “museumed out” and also ran out of time. The area has several other museums.)

Elkhart Museums

The National Military History Center was interesting, but I do not have an optimistic outlook for it to survive. We were the only visitors. The attendance (who, I believe, was a volunteer) said that the museum had been forced to sell off a number of its exhibits a few years ago, but was not acquiring more.
Linda stands with General Eisenhower and his secretary (also his mistress) in front of the car Ike used in WWII.

The exhibits the museum had were interesting, especially the original vehicles used in several wars.
Included with the price of admission was the Kruse Automotive and Carriage Museum, housed in the same building. It, too, was worth seeing, especially if you like old cars. This museum was not dedicated solely to cars; it exhibited some very old carriages and some very new cars.

The Kruse museum displayed many types of vehicles, including this Indy racer. Getting into the racer was not too difficult, but getting out was hard, as Jim discovered.

The RV/MH Hall of Fame displayed an assortment of antique recreational vehicles. We could go into many of them, although the oldest were off-limits. The evolution of the RV, from its earliest days, was intriguing. As technology improved, so did the RVs
One of the first motorhomes

The seats on this antique motorhome don't look too comfortable. 

With the history of RVs firmly in mind, we asked the museum docent about tours of RV plants. About 80% of all recreational vehicles in the United States are manufactured in the Elkhart area, and a number of the manufacturers gives tours.

RV Manufacturing Tour

We went to the Thor Company, which manufactures all classes of motorized RVs: A’s, B’s, and C’s. We would have preferred witnessing the assembly of a Class A; however, on the day we visited, the only tour available was for a Class C.

In our journeys, we have toured both the BMW manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, S.C., as well as the Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Ky. Both were highly automated, with probably 80% to 90% of the assembly done by robots. The plants were so clean and tidy that you could almost eat off the floor!

The Thor assembly plant was quite a contrast to the auto plants. About 90% of the RVs are assembled by human labor. And the manufacturing floor showed it. The plant was not as neat as the car manufacturers.

Antique Cars

One of the attractions we visited was the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn, Ind., about an hour east of Elkhart. This is a world-class museum, one that I have wanted to visit ever since I heard about it more than 25 years ago when I lived in Muncie, Ind. It was worth the time.
The Auburn Auto Manufacturing Company operated in Auburn, Ind., from 1900 to 1937. It manufactured high-end automobiles. Some cost more than $8,000 in the late 1920s! Needless to say, that was a lot of money for that time period. These autos were hand-assembled, unlike Model T Fords. Henry Ford introduced the assembly line in order to make cars affordable to the masses. Auburn Cords and Duesenbergs were meant for the elite—and the workmanship shows, even today in the 126 autos on display.
Some of the cars on display at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum

This photo captures some of the elegance of the art deco building, which was the original showroom for the Auborn Auto Company.

Most of us think antique cars were all painted black. That was Henry Ford's autos. These Cords and Duesenbergs were quite colorful.

The museum is housed in the art deco building that once served as the showroom for these cars. It was an impressive building.


On the way back from Auburn, we saw a sign advertising the Mid-American Windmill Museum. It was an awesome visit.

A fellow who was about 85 years old took our admission, and then proceeded to educate us about windmills. A more knowledgeable docent we would not have been able to find. After learning about why windmills were invented (to mill grain) and the types of windmills, he turned us loose to look at the 55 windmills on the museum’s property.

Alas. This museum will probably cease to exist. Again, we were the only visitors. The docent said that the museum relies on volunteers, and few young people are interested in windmills. That is sad, because today, windmills are a great alternative source of energy. When we trekked out west a couple of years ago, we saw miles of huge windmills. We were pleased to see acres of these same types of windmills on our drive through Indiana.

Shipshawana Flea Market

On our final day in Northeastern Indiana, we made a quick trip to Shipshewana Flea Market, advertised as the Midwest’s Largest Flea Market. It is open only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from May through October.

We only had time to browse a couple of aisles, but we were able to purchase some excellent sausage at the Amish meat market. (Incidentally, the Elkhart-Goshen area has a large number of Amish and Mennonite families, who farm, butcher, and handcraft furniture and other items. Drivers must watch out for horse-drawn carriages.)

Family and Greenfield Village

The highlight of our trip, for me, was going to Marshall, Mich., to visit my son, his wife, and my grandchildren. I hadn’t seen the kids for almost two years—way too long. We cooked out twice and visited several hours. Corky (my daughter-in-law) and Maddie (my 16-year-old granddaughter), Jim and I made the drive to Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, Mich., on Thursday. (Jack, my grandson opted out of the trip.)

Greenfield Village is another attraction I have wanted to see, ever since I lived in Marshall, more than 20 years ago. Henry Ford built the village—he actually brought in original buildings of significant inventors, scientists, and writers—as a school to preserve the history of America’s technological and cultural progress. It originally served as a private school.
A street in Greenfield Village
Corky, Maddie and I try on stylish hats at the millinery shop in Greenfield Village.

An outdoor museum, the 255 acres of exhibits (and a working farm) are divided into five districts.
I learned that Henry Ford had been a protégé of Thomas Edison. As a tribute to Edison, he brought Edison’s laboratory to the Village. He dedicated Greenfield Village on the 50th anniversary of the invention of the light bulb. Edison attended the dedication. Ford realized that Edison’s days were numbered, so as an additional tribute, he declared that the chair Edison had sat in during the dedication at Edison’s relocated laboratory should be nailed down and never moved.

When the floors of the laboratory needed to be redone, the chair was cut out and replaced exactly, in order to keep Ford’s declaration true.

Thomas Edison's laboratory 

Our visit with Rob and his family was too short, as it always is. But the trip to Greenfield Village was made more memorable because we shared it with family.
Maddie, Jim, Rob, Linda, Jack, and Corky. Family.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


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