Northern Indiana: July 31 – August 9, 2012

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

There was an understory at Bardstown, our previous stop — a series of calamities that extended into this stop. Our Bardstown site was on a hill, and during the challenge to level our unit, the landing gear got jammed and quit. I thought the trailer’s 12 volt battery contributed to the issue and bought a replacement. I installed it backward (I have a legitimate excuse!), which zapped parts of the trailer’s system. During a few days of bedlam, I got lots but not everything resolved, so we decided to blow off an interim stop and go straight to Goshen. Goshen is next door to Elkhart, and between the two of them, they monopolize the RV manufacturing industry.

A little north of Indianapolis, in Anderson, IN, we pulled off for fuel and managed to snap the cord that connects truck and trailer, leaving us with no trailer brakes. We found a local campground and booked overnight. Fortunately, a well-stocked RV dealer in town had a replacement, which I purchased and installed. The campground was one of the nicest on our entire three year trip, which lifted our spirits – enough, in fact, to dope out and repair the remaining electrical problem before we left the next day. So we rolled into the Elkhart County 4H Fairgrounds intact. The place is rife with campsites of all types, from defined spaces to open fields with and without utilities. We snagged a site and settled in – but only temporarily.

Each time we stop at a campground, setting up is a multi-step process that is at best a nuisance, often taking 30 minutes or more — even before you hook up the utilities. Bardstown was a worst example. Now it’s no longer a problem. We came to Goshen to have the company that manufactured our units’s frame install a new Level-Up system that automates the process. Push a button and the system makes the unit perfectly level before your eyes. Five minutes, tops. And fewer backaches.

Then we took a week to relax, unwind and take in a few of the many attractions in the area. The region is clearly one of — if not the — largest concentration of Amish folk in the U.S. Even the local Walmart has a stable in back for customers’ horses and wagons. Amish Acres is a showplace farm in Napanee. This year was the 50th anniversary of its Arts and Crafts Fair. We got there early on Saturday and first raided the food building for yummy cinnamon buns and other goodies. Inside the fairgrounds, we spent the entire morning perusing 250 merchant booths. Many displayed lovely Amish crafts and foods, while others were interlopers from other areas, some selling commercially produced merchandise. There were lots of opportunities to pack on calories, many of which involved pre-packaged hearty soups and meals. Free samples were everywhere. The fair surrounded the farm’s large pond, on which children and parents were pedaling around in swan boats. We were entertained by two musical groups and a backup of cloggers (how do you like that collective noun I just made up?).

We ventured to the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart. Elk statues are found all over the city, painted many crazy ways by their hosts. The neat thing about the one outside of the RV Museum was the fact that it had wheels! It was a blast going through the nostalgia room, showing on-the road living from its earliest inventions through massive innovation throughout the twentieth century. Numerous pictures are shown below. The display stopped in the eighties; nothing was shown about all the modernization since then. And the wonderful Volkswagen Westphalia camper bus, a 1971 edition of which was my first venture into RVing, was nowhere in sight. My bus couldn’t go up a 2% grade unless downshifted into second, but it gave me an insatiable taste for adventure.

The first two pictures below are from the balcony overlooking the exhibit. The third pic in row 1 is a verey detailed diorama of the interior of a modent fifth-wheel assembly plant, beginning with the pre-manufactured frame to the final QC tests. And he second row shows a special unit: the traveling home for Mae West. It had a back porch and was elegantly outfitted — for its day!

The upper floor hosted the Hall of Fame. Apparently one person is selected annually in each of ten categories. You wander the hall, read each plaque with name, year and category, and you wonder who the heck you’re looking at. The names are simply not recognizable. An then you finally get to the one you know, Joe and Kay Peterson, and they’re designated “campground owner.” They’re the couple who founded Escapees, an organization with 100,000+ members that singlehandedly revolutionized the world for full time RVers. Campground owners indeed.

Our trip was followed the next day by a visit to South Bend, which is just west of Elkhart. We’d been here several years ago and took in Our Mother’s University, but we now had a different adventure in mind. There was a Studebaker Museum that beckoned our exploration. I am acutely aware of the legend, because in 1957, during my first advertising agency tenure, our client, Curtis-Wright, for whom Studebaker had manufactured military aircraft engines, invested in Studebaker and controlled their advertising. This was the era of the Hawks – gold and silver.

The museum was part of a complex known as the Museums at Washington and Chapin, which combined Studebaker with the Center for History.

In 1857, Henry and Clem Studebaker accepted an order for 100 Army wagons. They were cash-strapped to fulfill it, but brother J.M. rode back into town from California, where he’d made a fortune selling wheelbarrows to gold prospectors. His investment in the wagon works made the difference. The fourth brother, Peter, joined the firm in 1863; by that time the Civil War provided all the orders they could produce.

Powered vehicles emerged from the firm beginning in 1902. For the first decade, they were electric powered. Thomas Edison bought the second one they built, and why not? – he made the batteries! Electric autos were discontinued in 1912. Gasoline vehicle production began in 1904, blossomed in 1911 via acquisition, and moved to South Bend in 1919. The following year, wagon production was discontinued.

The company was forced into receivership in 1933, at which time long time executives Harold S. Vance and Paul G. Hoffman were appointed CEO and President. They led the company out of bankruptcy, and in 1939, they hired Raymond Lowey and his prestigious design firm to revitalize the line. Lowey supervised every Studebaker product, and his dynamism led to the creation of an endless supply of radical designs.

During WW II, Studebaker made significant contributions to the war effort — more deail below. They were the first auto company to get back into production after the war, and Life Magazine heralded this exploit with a ten-page spread.

The bullet nose was introduced in 1950 — the biggest production year in Studebaker history. The Hawks followed in 1956. The Lark was added in 1959 — all Lowey creations, of course. But the next decade was less kind. U.S. production ceased in 1963. when the 1964 Daytona (last pic) came off the line.

The Lowey-designed Avanti was introduced in 1965 to save the company, but the final vehicle rolled off the Ontario production line a year later. There is more history, including continued production of Avantis, but we’ll leave it here.

The Avanti had held a catbird spot at the museum, in a turntabled rotunda. But that spot had recently been taken over, at least temporarily, by a 1947 Studebaker Champion Station Wagon – the Woody — that was never released to production. Few were made; issue #1 was kept at the factory, eventually stripped of its wood, and used as a utility vehicle. That did not daunt the Studebaker Drivers Club, who inherited the remains in 1994 and re-created it over a 18 year period. The shining exhibit is dedicated to Phil Brown, who chaired the project from its inception but died two years too early to see the final coronation.

Upstairs, we were exposed to many more classics. As we entered, we met an exhibit of tiny cars, from the front-loading BMW Isetta to the Nash Metro to numerous Fiats and other contraptions.

Along the left wall was the Museum’s answer to overstock; instead of burying them in a warehouse, they displayed as many models as they could on two story racks. In the back was a heyday exhibit, a tableau of the brand’s Roaring Fifties including the 1953 Starliner (left). Finally a WW II military section completed the tour, with the Hummer, all terain Weasel and award-winning aircraft engine that excelled and earned creds from pilot after pilot.

This eventful day was barely half over. Returning to the entrance rotunda, we were directed to a theater to view the history of the dominant family of the Center for History. The scion was James Oliver, a Scotsman whose family emigrated to the New World in 1835 when he was 11. (Picture courtesy of the Indiana Heritage site.) In nearby Mishawaka, he learned the art of casting iron. He bought an interest in his foundry in 1855, and was involved in the manufacturing of everything from building components to bases for Singer Sewing Machines to runners for Studebaker sleds to columns for the main building at Notre Dame. But this was just the beginning. He invented and patented Chilled Plow, made from cast iron, stronger, lighter and smoother than a steel plow, resulting in quantum leaps in company sales and bringing the company to a level where it was producing 500 plows a day.

James had two children; the younger, J.D. Oliver joined the firm in 1868 and continue to grow and enrich it as president from 1908, when his father died, until 1932, a year before his own death. In February, 1895, work was begun on a 38 room, 10 bedroom, 9 bathroom, 14 fireplace, three story (plus attic and basement) grand mansion, designed by Charles Alonzo Rich of NYC. Called Copshaholm, after the location of his father’s birth, J.D. and Anna and family moved in on New Year’s Day, 1897.

Now for the bad news. Interior photography was forbidden. This has happened a number of times during our travel, and we’ve learned why. Often the reason given is that flash fades artifacts or that copyrights are violated. The main concern, however, is this: would-be thieves case the joint by touring and taking pictures. Security here was the tightest we’ve seen since the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, and it’s impossible to find any pictures of the interior on the internet, save for three rather vapid ones on the Center for History website. But here’s the odd thing. I purchased a 32 page book filled with rich full-color interior shots, along with b&w’s and history of the family.

There are exterior pictures below, four of the house and one (the last) of the carriage house. I don’t have enough adjectives to describe the place, but our guide, Ken Cencelewski, did. It is a woodwork marvel, adorned with oak, mahogany and cherry in every room – ornate walls and ceilings, carved fireplaces, staircases, railings built-in bookcases and cabinets, columns . . . what did I miss? The front door is a solid five inches thick and the inner door is four. It was one of the first homes in the area with electricity. The Reception Room was removed to increase the openness of the Main Hall with its two matching staircases. The view through the Main Hall is to a semicircular room (in Picture 4, it’s below the maroon band). Originally an outdoor terrace, the Olivers enclosed it as a Music Room. A plaster frieze encircles the room, a copy of the original based on the 150th psalm in a Florence cathedral. Above it, off the landing, is a glass-enclosed Sitting Room. J.D.’s Office is on the rear corner; it has the largest fireplace in the dwelling. The walls are covered with photographs of some of his close friends and associates, including Henry and Edsel Ford, Thomas Edison, Andrew Mellon and John D. Rockefeller. The kitchen has an eight burner, three oven stove. The call box over the door indicates from which room a servant call was made.

Family facts. J.D. and Anna had four children. Both sons, James II and Joseph Jr. held leadership positions in the firm. In 1929, J.D. engineered a four company merger to create the Oliver Farm Equipment Company, producing a full line of gear and machinery. Both sons remained on the board but non-family managed the day-to-day after that. Joe Jr. was the last family member involved; he retired in 1960 when the firm was purchased by the White Farm Equipment Company.

Junior married Elinor McMillan, daughter of Tennessee’s governor. She was thrown from a horse a year later and, while she lingered for months, the accident was fatal. From then on, he lived in a suite on the third floor, never re-marrying but continuing to stable horses. James II married Louise Yarrington. The elder daughter, Gertrude, married Charles Frederick Cunningham in the most extravagant wedding ever held in Copshaholm, which put the third floor ballroom to good use. She and Charles lived just two blocks away. Catherine, the younger daughter, was affianced to a well-known golfer, Chick Evans, but her father prevailed upon her to break the engagement and she never married.

Now for the climax.

  • Copshaholm was never owned by anyone but the Oliver family. After her mother’s death, Catherine became mistress of the house, and it was delivered to the Center for History upon her death.
  • Everything in the house belonged to the Oliver family. All of the belongings were transferred to the Center with the deed.

Ken regaled us with stories galore; if this chapter were not already so long, I’d share more. Here’s an example, however: Junior’s suite includes his seven shaving brushes (Sun.-Sat.) in its original-fixtured bathroom, and his 52 (weekly) pipes on a rack in his bedroom.

The gardens were the pride of every generation and are maintained, including the vine-covered pergola. The Center also exhibits other buildings, including an immigrant worker’s home (which we toured), and it has both changing and permanent galleries. We’d already spent about four hours at the site, and after a further cursory look, we headed back for Goshen.

This tour of Northern Indiana measures up with our other adventures. Like all of the other states, we’ve left much still to see. But that’s for the next adventure. Now it’s on to New York State.

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