A home for homes away from home

Without irony, an RV owner is seeking a permanent space for mobile-home culture.

April 11, 1999|By arizona republic

PHOENIX -- A man's dreams are as unique as his DNA code. So it's inevitable that some are a little strange. Take David Woodworth, for instance, whose hope it is to open a museum devoted to recreational vehicles.

"It's a major part of American history that no one knows much about," he explains while seated inside -- what else? -- an RV. Woodworth was parked at the Welcome Home RV campground in Phoenix, a stop on the National RV History Tour, sponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.

He greeted a trickle of visitors from inside a 1999 Winnebago, a $125,000 34-footer with a full bedroom, a couch, a television (and VCR) and bathroom with enough water stored for a week's worth of showers and washing. With the push of a button, the bedroom and living room double in width. (When done in reverse, it makes you feel like the victim in one of those movies where the walls squeeze in menacingly.)

"Considering it's a vehicle, it's really not too shabby," Woodworth says. The same could be said for the 1921 Lamsteed Kampkar he's towing along with him. It sleeps four, has a two-burner stove, a pantry, a clothes chest and running water, and you could park it inside the Winnebago.

But still. An entire museum dedicated to RVs? Those giant land cruisers driven by geezers with wraparound sunglasses, plodding along at 25 mph in the passing lane of the interstate, emergency lights blinking?

That image is "not accurate," Woodworth says. In fact, according to a University of Michigan study, which Woodworth quotes with ease, 40 percent of RV owners are 55 and older while 45 percent are between 35 and 54. The recreation vehicle association says that the average age is 48.

"You see a lot of people coming down here in the winter months who are retired," says Woodworth, who is retired himself at 58 (he was a minister) but assures he drives the speed limit. "That helps skew the image."

To say that Woodworth is an RV enthusiast is to say that Dick Vitale has a passing interest in basketball. When a few people gather in his mobile living room, he says: "Let me give you a quick history lesson." And he does, including a brief reading from a dusty, well-worn book on the subject.

Some visitors were looking for advice, others for RVs. Katy Koivastik of Phoenix hoped Woodworth could hook her up with a silver 1950s teardrop model for some desolate property she owns.

"We thought it would be neat to have one sitting out in the middle of the desert," she says, laughing. "For guests. Leave 'em out with the coyotes."

Woodworth owns a home in Tehachapi, Calif., that doesn't have wheels. But that's the exception.

"I only own 30 [RVs] right now," he says, "but I am looking for more."

What he's really looking for, though, is someone who can help him make his RV museum dream come true.

"What I really need is someone that will co-op with me," he says. His collection forms the basis for a good start, including a 1914 trailer model that carries this gem of a slogan: "It follows you like a shadow and unfolds like the night."

Woodworth is confident his dream will be realized. Witnessing the glee he gives off in the living room of the Winnebago makes that seem likely.

"It doesn't take you long to get used to this," he says, sweeping an arm around the room. "It's like saying, 'I'm not used to living with a million dollars in my checking account.' I guarantee you'd get accustomed to it."

Pub Date: 04/11/99

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