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Recreational park-trailer industry pioneer Bob Kropf recently was named chairman emeritus of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA), which he helped form 10 years ago.
Kropf, who served as president of RPTIA for nine of the past 10 years, credits the association for establishing and enforcing national building and safety standards for recreational park trailers
“The quality of our units is continually improving,” Kropf said. “We’re being accepted.”
Kropf started his career at age 14 in 1948, pushing a broom in his father’s trailer factory near Goshen, Ind. At that time, he had no idea that he would eventually help develop an entire segment of the RV industry.
His father, Solomon, who founded Kropf Industries in 1946, wanted Bob to fully immerse himself in the family business and learn as much as he could on the way.
“I worked every job in the plant,” Kropf said. “I worked on floors, painting, sidewalls. Cabinets. I literally did every job there was to do.”
Not long after Kropf finished high school, he moved into sales and management, traveling all over the country. Over the years, he gained experience building virtually every kind of trailer product, from mobile homes to travel trailers and fifth-wheels.
His calling to develop recreational park trailers came during the gasoline crisis of the mid-1970s. “People were taking their trailers and leaving them in Florida for the winter,” he said, because the rising cost of gasoline was making it too expensive to haul them back and forth. The rising cost of towing a trailer was compounded by the major automobile manufacturers, which responded to the surging gas prices and a congressional mandate to make more fuel-efficient vehicles. Unfortunately, a byproduct of this increased fuel efficiency was a substantial reduction in towing capacity.”
These factors combined to create an incentive for Kropf and other companies to market a new and more spacious kind of RV product for Florida-bound travelers who didn’t have to be towed — a recreational park trailer or “park model.”
“The concept took off pretty quickly,” Kropf recalled, adding that his father opened a retail sales lot in Florida that was subsequently run by Kropf’s brother, Vernon.
Demand for park trailers soon spread from Florida to other states. Eventually, it became apparent to Kropf and other manufacturers that the nascent park trailer industry needed to develop its own set of national structural and safety standards, adherence to which could be policed by a national association.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) already enforced standards for towable and motorized RVs, but a number of RVIA members were concerned that the code requirements for nonhighway use RVs could indirectly affect existing standards for towable and motorized RVs. Eventually, RVIA asked its park trailer manufacturers to leave the association.
Undeterred, Kropf and other park trailer manufacturers joined forces to form their own trade group in 1993, the Newnan, Ga.-based RPTIA, which worked with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to develop national standards for recreational park trailers.
The ANSI 119.5 code not only helped to ensure consistency in the quality and specifications of recreational park trailers, but helped foster the growth of the park trailer industry, which is tapping increased consumer interest in many parts of the country as rising real estate costs make the prospect of owning a site-built vacation home increasingly more difficult for the typical family.
“We’re being accepted,” Kropf said, adding, “The quality of our units is continually improving. We’re regulated. We have third-party inspectors who make unannounced calls upon the manufacturers to verify that they retain the ability to produce units in compliance with the ANSI standard.”
Park-trailer manufacturers credit Kropf for his leadership role in developing the national park trailer industry and for serving as president of the RPTIA for nine of the past 10 years.
RPTIA’s board of directors recently named Kropf chairman emeritus of the association to honor his years of leadership for park-trailer manufacturers. He was presented a trophy during a recent impromptu ceremony at Kropf Industries in Goshen.
“It’s quite an honor,” said Kropf, 69, who now serves as a consultant to Kropf Industries. Kropf Industries is currently owned and operated by his son, Don, and son-in-law, Curt Yoder.