RV historian David Woodworth has sold his 1,800-piece collection of historic RVs and camping paraphernalia to RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc., which will display the collection in a new Hall of Fame/Museum currently under construction south of the Indiana Toll Road near Elkhart, Ind.
“This collection is the finest in the world,” said James McGee, chairman of the Heritage Foundation board and president of Action Homes, Inc., Columbia, Tenn. “It is a real good fit to go along with our new building.”
The purchase was made possible through a “major contribution” to the foundation by Robert “Boots” Ingram and his wife Betsy. Ingram is the founder of RV manufacturer Teton Homes, Casper, Wyo., who also will chair a Heritage Foundation committee to raise money to build an exhibit hall for the collection and provide for its ongoing care.
“A collection like that deserves to be in one location,” McGee said. “With other stuff that we have, the Woodworth collection will bring more credibility to our organization.”
A wing to house the Woodworth collection will be added to the Hall of Fame/Museum by the time Woodworth transfers the collection to the foundation next summer, McGee said. Currently, Woodworth’s artifacts are stored in multiple U.S. locations.
The sale price for the collection, which includes 35 motorized and towable RVs dating back to 1914, was not disclosed. However, a 2001 inventory by the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 2001, which at the time was considering purchasing the collection, put its value at about $1 million. Subsequent budget woes in California torpedoed that transaction.
The Heritage Foundation already owns a small group of historic RVs, including a 1946 Studebaker Mobile Home Toter – a restored one-ton truck designed to pull five-ton house trailers – that was donated earlier in October to the Heritage Foundation by the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Ind.
The bulk of Woodworth’s collection is from the 1920s and consists of items used in outdoor recreation such as lanterns, portable toilets, camp stoves, silverware, flatware, tents and other camping gear.
Many of the pieces still need to be restored, a task that will be left up to the Heritage Foundation.
“I put most of my efforts into getting stuff before it disappeared,” Woodworth said. “When I started collecting, I could go to an RV show and get eight or 10 pieces. I can now got to eight or 10 shows before I can find one piece.”
Among Woodworth’s collectibles are a House Car built in 1931 for Mae West, a 1916 camper with three slideouts designed to fit in the back of a Model T Ford and a 1937 Hunt House Car that looks like a hardboiled egg sliced down the middle.
The oldest RV in the collection is a Cozy Camp tent trailer assembled by Habig, a builder of horse buggies who manufactured a rudimentary RV equipped with buggy wheels between 1914-1917.
Woodworth, 65, of Tehachapi, Calif., has traveled the U.S. for years with antique RVs as a media spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), and he expects to continue to do so “as long as RVIA will have me.”
Woodworth said the sale of his collection also won’t stop him from collecting more RVs and camping accessories. In fact, he’s already purchased several units that were not included in the collection sold to the Heritage Foundation.
“Selling the collection allows me to have some breathing room so that I’m not under the gun financially all the time,” said Woodworth, who has opened a bed and breakfast near Yosemite National Park in Fish Camp, Calif. There he rents restored Model-T and Model-A Fords starting at $400 a day to park tourists.