Who remembers those summer camping trips from your youth? Those are memories that had been stored in a dusty file in the back of my brain. When we were in the planning stages of our Amarillo trip, we were looking for some unusual stops to add to the itinerary. Braley Hand, our contact at the tourism bureau, made an unexpected suggestion. A visit to the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum would certainly offer something out of the ordinary. A chance to tour a variety of recreational relics sounded a little obscure, but we try to keep an open mind.
Since our trip was a continuation of our Route 66 explorations, visiting this attraction made a lot of sense. After all, the golden age of auto-touring also happened to be the prime period for recreational vehicles. We can remember the days of riding in the backseat and watching the various pull-behind campers glide by. Our young minds would imagine the wonderful destinations that the people would see during their travels. Little did we realize, but our visit to Traveland Museum would open a floodgate of nostalgic memories of back road camping.
We want to thank Visit Amarillo and Jack Sisemore Traveland for their hospitality. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
Going Back in Time
The Siseland Traveland RV Museum was not visible when we first arrived. The museum is located behind an RV dealership but is easy to find. We stepped through the dealership door and asked the receptionist for directions. They actually have a painted line that leads straight to the attraction. Of course, as we approached the building, the huge painted sign on the side kind of gave away its location. Before we even crossed the threshold, we were already being whisked back to our youth.
One of the first displays we spotted was an El Camino loaded up for a day at the lake. It was parked in a replica of an old A&W restaurant drive-thru line. So many fun memories began flowing. We could remember the smell of the exhaust from dirt bikes, and the splash of the waves on the front of the boat. Another great memory was the frosty mugs of root beer that we would get at A&W. This was one of those special treats that seemed so extravagant to a child.
Early Days of Camping
We moved into the main exhibit of trailers and RVs to examine some of the ones from before our time. The Sisemore Traveland RV Museum is the proud owner of a 1935 Airstream, which was produced in the second year of the company’s history. The founder of Airstream, Wally Byam, had spent his youth traveling. Much of it included sleeping outdoors. The idea of making it a comfortable experience was close to his heart. We can imagine him spending nights in a sleeping bag but dreaming of being indoors.
His earliest trailer versions were constructed with plywood and masonite. The addition of amenities began piling up, and by 1934, he introduced the Airstream line. The idea of an enclosed kitchen and bedroom struck a chord with Americans. They were an expensive luxury, especially during the Depression. Still, the demand was so high, that they struggled to keep up with demand. Many Americans associated the riveted aluminum with the burgeoning airplane industry. Camping would never be the same.
Have you ever seen a display that really caught your attention? When we spotted this 1936 Alma trailer, we were shocked at how well it had been preserved. Of course, learning that it had spent the last 64 years in storage would certainly keep the aging process minimized. We had no recollection of the Alma Trailer lines, but evidently they were pretty big stuff in their time. They started in Alma, Michigan, and produced models from 1934 to 1957. During the 1940’s they were the largest trailer factory in the United States. This 25′ Silvermoon model was cutting edge in its day.
While the Alma may have passed away in history, there are still some big names in the RV industry. The Sisemore Traveland RV Museum has a 1953 Fleetwood trailer on display. Fleetwood trailers got their modest start in 1950. Created by a company that made window blinds for travel trailers, they saw the possibilities of moving into the RV business. In 1953 Fleetwood Trailer Company began to release travel trailers designed for the growing American population. With personal income increasing after World War II, people were looking for recreational opportunities.
The country was primed for outdoor activities, and owning a recreational vehicle or travel trailer were signs of a successful career. Soon, families all across the country were packing up the station wagon and hitching up the trailer for family vacations. National parks saw a surge in attendance, as Americans scrambled to make the most of their time away from work.
As we walked through the Sisemore Traveland RV Museum, we were amazed at how many artifacts they had assembled. There were so many recreational vehicles that they even had some suspended from the ceiling. Seeing the row of motorcycles took us back to the beginning of our relationship together. In my teenage years, I rode a motorcycle, and Crystal would join me at times for rides. Hitting the open road was an amazing experience. We loved having the wind in our faces and getting to be more connected with the world.
These days, we have chosen the path of riding in cars. I would say that a lot of this is for the comfort level. Much like the early trailers had minimal amenities, over time this has changed dramatically. The newer models we saw at Jack Sisemore’s have all of the bells and whistles. Of course, when we were kids it was an awesome experience just getting to sleep indoors when we were at a campsite.
All of this nostalgia was starting to make us wonder if those days were really as amazing as we remembered. You know how the mind can be selective about memories. Is it possible that we were just seeing the good things, and overlooking some of the issues that went with RVing in the ’60s and ’70s. This is the kind of thing that goes along with a Hollywood movie script. A good idea goes south for a bit, but it all ends up well in the end.
During our tour, we found that even RVing has a footnote in Hollywood history. In 2006, the movie RV showed that a dysfunctional family can find new bonds, after a series of mishaps. Traveland RV Museum has a vehicle that was used in the filming of Robin William’s movie. You know that you are mainstream when Hollywood picks your industry to highlight in a movie. I just don’t remember any of those hilarious maladies happening during our family trips.
Sisemore Traveland RV Museum
It was quite apparent that the Sisemore Traveland RV Museum is designed to elicit feelings of nostalgia. This may be a little difficult for those too young to have experienced the use of these historic vehicles. To be honest, many of the items on display predated us, as well. At least we were well aware of most of them. Hitting the open road, with a travel trailer in tow was a memory that did not elude us. We could even remember the days of full-service filling stations, even though neither of us was driving.
We were now in full nostalgia mode, and I started to think back to many of the various styles of camping we had done. Some of my earliest memories were my parents towing a Starcraft pop-up camper behind the Galaxy 500. We would head off to a lake area, where us kids would spend time imagining life as pioneers. Of course, we never thought about all of the modern amenities that we had brought with us. To us, it was all about being out in nature.
As we grew, the versions of camping changed. During a short period, my parents owned a VW Microbus. Trips made with this unique vehicle were a little tighter but required less fuel. This was important during the gas shortages of the 1970s. For us kids, it was still a chance to get out of town and explore new areas. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned about the Hippie culture that embraced this interesting vehicle. We certainly never sat around a campfire singing Kum-ba-yah, but we did get back to nature.
Some summers, nature even got in contact with us. We dealt with unbearable heat waves, biting mosquitoes, tick checks, and those strange noises in the middle of the night. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only kid that imagined some wild beast making its way into our camp to check out the burrito shaped packages of children sleeping by the campfire. Of course, in all of those campouts, I was never nibbled on, even by a mildly ferocious beast. Probably because I positioned my sleeping bag so that one of my brothers would get eaten first.
Take a Walk Down Memory Lane
As we ducked in and out of the recreational vehicles, at Sisemore Traveland RV Museum, so many of the items inside evoked fun memories. It was like taking a walk down memory lane, except it was focused on just RV’s. The colors and patterns of the fabrics are so memorable. Crystal remarked about how today’s styles are starting to incorporate some of these very designs. While we fondly remember this period of our lives, I’m not sure I am ready to return to the leisure suit era. I did leave with a renewed interest in RV’s. Maybe an overnight visit to Palo Duro Canyon. It certainly has some amazing sights to explore up close. Who’s up for a camping trip?