The Dumb Things Sold Just Like That! - A History of the RV Industry In America... An Interview with the Author
An Interview with Al Hesselbart, author and historian
Q. When and why did you decide to work on this book, ���The Dumb Things Sold Just Like That, A History of the RV Industry In America���?
A. In 2001, I was encouraged to write a series of short articles about industry pioneers for a RV industry trade magazine. After a few were published I began to be encouraged to develop the theme into a book.
Q. How long did it take to write?
A. About 4 years, part time, of research, interviews and writing have gone into the book.
Q. With so many industry greats, how did you settle on the 18 people in the book?
A. Candidates were selected for a variety of reasons. All began their careers in the 50���s or earlier. Several I had met and associated with and was intrigued by their stories. Some were highly respected very early pioneers, and some simply had interesting stories that I stumbled across. I tried to include a cross section of careers, not just manufacturers.
Q. Did you see a common thread or personality trait that existed between these 18 men and women whose biographies appear in your book?
A. All were dynamic individuals who followed their own dreams and none really walked a well-beaten path.
Q. Do you have a favorite?
A. Two have become favorites, Betty Orr because she was so dynamic and varied in her career during a time when woman executives were very rare, and Harold Platt whose career spanned over 60 years. Harold became a friend who taught me a great deal about the earliest days of the industry in my many interviews with him.
Q. Tell us about the photo on the cover.
A. The photo on the cover is an image of the 1913 Earl trailer that is displayed in the RV/MH Museum. It was found by a friend of the museum and was apparently taken soon after it was restored in 1980.
Q. From police officer to Boy Scout to car sales to historian and author. It seems an unlikely career path. Tell us how your other careers have helped you in your current work, and in writing this book.
A. Each of my careers has been in a people-related position. I have been accused of being a misplaced sociologist because people and their relationships have always intrigued me. My function with the RV/MH Hall of Fame gave me access to the world���s largest collection of industry related literature and I grew to enjoy the study of the evolution of the industry
Q. Which career has given you the most enjoyment?
A. Each has been very rewarding in different ways. Public service had its many rewards. Youth service and watching young people develop into responsible citizens and leaders was very satisfying. Sales was financially rewarding but not as satisfying. But becoming knowledgeable as an historian and helping to develop the RV/MH Hall of Fame has become ���something I would do for nothing if I could afford it���, a career my grandfather advised me to seek while I was in junior high school.
Q. Are you an RV���er?
A. I own two RV���s, both vintage units that I use and enjoy. One is a unique 1962 tent trailer and the other is a 1974 micro mini motor home. I spend more time pulling my fishing boat to lakes near and far as an avid angler and fishing tournament participant. I fish for a wide variety of species and have fished large and small lakes and rivers from Northern Canada to Florida.
Q. Would you like to be a fulltimer?
A. I think I would really enjoy the travel lifestyle but giving up regular direct contact with children and grandchildren would be difficult.
Q. Tell us a little about Heritage Foundation���s work.
A. The RV/MH Heritage Foundation is a not for profit corporation that provides three functions related to the RV and manufactured housing industries. The Hall of Fame honors individuals who have made significant and lasting contribution to the greater good of the overall industry, regardless of personal success. The library provides a repository for the archives of the industry and includes nearly 20,000 books and magazines, 7-8 thousand photographs and several thousand product brochures. The museum attractively displays historic units portraying the evolution of the industry���s technology from its earliest days right up to the present.
Q. The museum has been open for about a month now. Tell us about the exhibits.
A. The exhibits in the vintage section of the museum begin with the 1913 travel trailer depicted on the cover of the book and include many housecars and housetrailers from the 1930���s, a variety of 1950���s units and some that represent model years through the 1970���s. The new unit show room depicts a range of current models from a small folding tent trailer to a 35-foot type A motorhome. Visitors enjoy the fact that they are able to enter the exhibits and see the interior appointments.
Q. How many visitors have you had?
A. We are averaging about 20 visitors per day without any advertising that we are open. Q. What was their reaction?
A. We are receiving raves about the new exhibits.
Q. Is construction done?
A. We have already begun an addition to the building to house a newly acquired additional collection of antiques and have 2 more additions planned as we raise funds to be able to pay for them.
Q. What impact has the new facility had on the library and archives?
A. So far we have seen no up take in research useage but it is sure to come.
Q. Can the public use the library?
A. The public is encouraged to browse the archives and desks and seating areas are provided for study.
Q. Tell us a little about your family?
A. I have three brothers. One lives in Virginia and is a computer programmer who entered the computer field as a pioneer in the 1960���s before the days of PC���s. Another, living in Massachusetts, is a retired naturalist who staffed and taught at national parks throughout the country. The third is a social psychologist working for the State of Maine. My late father was a pioneer in the plastics industry, who entered that field in the days immediately before WWII. I have three grown children. One son is a supervisor in a plant that builds brass musical instruments. He has two daughters. Another son is an elementary school teacher and a high school and college soccer referee. And my daughter is a nurse in an extended care medical facility. She has a daughter and a son. All of my children live close by in Elkhart
Q. What is their reaction to your new status as an author?
A. Everyone is excited and waiting to see the public���s reaction to the book
Q. Are there any more books in the works?
A. I do have material outlined for a successor book portraying more industry pioneers and leaders and introducing more founders of today���s industry companies.
Find out more information about the book at its blog, http://rvhistorybook.wordpress.com