Tailor your trailer with RV raconteur
Motor home fiend is the king of the road, and Doug Clark is along for the ride.
Doug Clark - The Spokesman-Review

They don't offer college degrees in the kind of history David Woodworth majored in.   He earned his credentials not in classrooms, but by digging through automotive boneyards and putt-putting down highways in contraptions older than the average grandfather.  Woodworth is an RV historian. As in recreational vehicles.  He owns the largest collection of antique RVs and related gear in the country, according to an industry association. A consultant for the Smithsonian Institution, Woodworth is probably the planet's foremost expert on the camping-mobile. oldrv.jpg (39745 bytes)

When I started getting into this, I realized I can be an authority and not know much because nobody knows anything about it,'' says Woodworth, 58, who puts 35,000 miles a year on his motor home.  The Tahachapi, Calif., resident brought his RV road show to Spokane on Friday with his wife, Sharon.

Woodworth, a retired Baptist preacher, drives a state-of-the-art 1998 Winnebago slightly smaller than the Exxon Valdez. A trailer behind the Winnebago contains a fully restored 1921 Lampsteed Kampkar, one of only two in existence.

house.jpg (33389 bytes)As the son of the inventor of ``the Outdoor Toilet Strap,'' I relished interviewing Woodworth. I needed to find out if my late father was an outdoorsman ahead of his time or just plain out of his mind.  My young psyche was scarred by my old man's delusion that he was Daniel Boone. A Chicagoan who had no business in the woods, he converted the family's green 1952 Chevy wagon into a poor man's RV.  He built plywood boxes to hold all our grub. At night he folded down the back seat and rolled out a piece of foam. We slept crammed like herring, listening to his buzz saw snore.

One year, his aged mother took a train from Chi-town to join us on a vagabond adventure. The only bears she had seen played on Soldier Field.  Arthritic and overweight, my grandma -- whom we immediately nicknamed ``Bear Bait'' -- discovered she was too infirm to attend to nature's call in the wild.  That's the trouble with going out into the woods. It sounds so romantic until you have to actually GO out in the woods.   A pragmatic man, my dad got out some canvas belts. He then strapped grandma's squatting bulk to a tree.  ``I could patent this system,'' he told us as we went into laughing fits. 

According to Woodworth, my grandmother's dilemma actually had been solved in 1919. rv_tarp.jpg (41136 bytes)The Imperial Toilet Tent ($15.95) hooked a nifty two-holer seat to a tree and then covered the entire apparatus with silk walls.  People forget that Americans have been modifying the automobile for camping purposes since about 1910, says Woodworth.  ``It's everything that's America,'' he says. ``It's not something that precludes people. Everyone can get out and enjoy America in varying degrees.''

There is a lot of room between those degrees.  A modern pioneer, for example, can buy a used tent trailer for $1,000. Or plunk down $80,000 for a Winnebago like Woodworth's.  That ride is sinfully decadent. It has plush carpet, Surround Sound, bedroom and living room walls that expand. A rear-mounted video camera and dashboard monitor lets the driver see what's coming up behind him.  I ask Woodworth if this kind of camping is cheating.  He tells me about a rich friend who has an $800,000 rig.  The thing is customized with every high-tech luxury. He even tows a car in another trailer for those emergency runs for milk and eggs.  Yeah, says Woodworth, the guy just gets out and pushes a button. The back end of the trailer slowly lowers to the ground, whisper-quiet.  Then he just hops in and drives his Ferrari convertible to the store.  Roughing it has come a long way since the Outdoor Toilet Strap.

From a 1921 brochure:
   "Make this the kind of a vacation you've always dreamed about - enjoy the splendor of
Yellowstone, the majesty of the Grand Canyon, visit balmy Palm Beach or the great North Woods.  Go anywhere you wish - on your own schedule, over your own railroad system in your own private car, stopping at your own hotel, eating your own cooking at your own table - all in great comfort and at a price you can easily afford.
The Lampsteed Kampkar Body, complete with full equipment and ready to mount on a standard model "T" Ford Chassis costs only $535.00 including war tax." Manufactured by Anhauser-Busch, St. Louis MO from 1921-1926.