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Gypsies had their wagons, pulled by horses. And as long as the automobile has been around, people have been incorporating their sleeping space with their vehicle.

The recreational vehicle history is more than 100 years old.

Robert and I spent September in Michigan and Indiana, learning more about this industry of RVs. 

At Elkhart, Indiana we visited the RV Hall of Fame – we learned lots about the 100+ year industry…

Often people ask us where the name of “5th Wheel” came from – and we had no clue… so we asked Ralph, our guide. He told us about the person who first invented it and where the name came from.

 Our guide, Ralph, explains:

(I’ll do a separate post with all the photos from the RV Hall of Fame so you can see more of those RVs in the early 1900’s till today.)

Most of the trailers, pop-ups, fifth wheels, Motorhomes and Coaches are built in the area of Elkhart Indiana.

To have a greater understanding of how these homes-on-wheels are constructed, we toured three factories: Open Range, now known as Highland Ridge, Jayco, and the Thor motor coach facility.

We were allowed to take photos at Open Range and Jayco, but not at Thor. The construction is pretty much the same, except, of course, on a Motor Coach, there’s an engine included.

Constructing a House on Wheels

Here’s a quick video (30 seconds) that shows the process – the RV Hall of Fame had models of a factory floor, as the trailer progress from the deck to the final stage.

Making a Travel Trailer Step by Step
The photos are from a generic style of factory layout, showing the process through a model.

In the Open Range facility and the Jayco factory, each trailer progressed through stations, both of them laid out a bit differently. Every manufacturer probably has a slightly different process.

Photos from Open Range

The walk-through of the Open Range manufacturing facility was personally very interesting, as you’d imagine, because we could see behind and underneath all the nooks and crannies found in our little home-on-wheels.

The other tour we photographed was the tour of Jayco.

Photos from Jayco

The Jayco facility was much larger than Open Range. We began in a central building, saw a seminar, and then took a trolley to the manufacturing building. The workers usually started at 4:00AM and completed a quota of 8-10 trailers per day – then they were free to head home. As most of the workers were Amish, they still needed to do their farming, so this type of schedule worked well for them.

After the tour…

When the tour was complete, we drove back to the central building and walked through a few of the completed Jayco trailers. While there, we were able to meet a family of 12 who are also traveling full time.

We exchanged information, and talked about “real life” on-the-road – things like doing laundry and finding adequate Wifi.

This family has a unique story – I invite you to read more about them over at Encourage Your Spouse (where I write about marriage) to learn more.

Have you ever thought about traveling full-time?

Would you ever buy a camper, 5th wheel or motor coach? Consider touring the manufacturers before your purchase to see the “how” behind the scene – it’ll be fascinating!