We think it’s finally time you meet Elsie. It’s getting pretty serious. But listen: she’s a little rough around the edges—and the middle, too, and the underside could use some work, and her top keeps falling down. Hell, she’s had a rough ride! The last guy didn’t treat her well. His name was Ray. Isn’t it always? Anyway, she has a kind heart, and with a little socializing I think she’ll come around. Back in Hollywood, they called her Vivian Ward. She wore tight skirts and black thigh-high boots and looked like Julia Roberts and….oops! Sorry, wrong story.
Elsie was born in a factory in LaGrange, Ind., in 1968 (and she looks like it, too!). Her designer was a man named Franklin A. Newcomer, once the proprietor of a small Indiana farming operation and the husband of a presumably lovely woman named Maxine who worked in a bag factory. The origin story isn’t totally clear—the secrets of the RV world are deep and plentiful (check out the whistleblowing documentary, “Going There: RVing and the Prison on Wheels”)—but at some point Newcomer decided, as all good and able men of a certain age do, to build a camper trailer in his barn. It is “a story repeated many times in Elkhart County by other entrepreneurs,” says Frank Fisher, historian at the Elkhart County Historical Society. (What? You think we didn’t research this shit? Anyway, as I was saying…)
Newcomer must have been impressed with his creation. He installed a Quonset hut to build more, and in 1956, reacting to the increased demand for his campers, he again expanded the operation for what he now called the FAN Coach Company and moved to Wakarusa, Ind. In 1965, he expanded again, this time purchasing a 74,000-square-foot factory in LaGrange, Indiana. He hired hundreds of employees. Three years later, in 1968, FAN gave birth to a beautiful little girl. Just a few thousand pounds and eight ounces. They say she laughed just minutes after her delivery. A little miracle.
We don’t know who first bought Elsie. But we know at some point she ended up with Ray, and that Ray, after storing her in a shed for years, listed her on Craigslist for $1,600. In late 2014, I drove three hours east from Lincoln to meet Ray at the McDonald’s parking lot in Stuart, Iowa. It’s a long story (one we’ll tell you later), but Ray was not totally honest about Elsie’s “condition.” He also managed to bust a window and crack the frame just pulling her out of storage. I drove home in the dark that night, Elsie in tow, broken taillights. Ray said they worked. Ray said a lot of things. Ray is a mother fu**er. I will find you, Ray.
Anyway, without further ado, I present to you—in the condition she arrived in—our beloved Elsie. For more pictures, check out our Camper DIY series.