Mobile Mansions

by Douglas Keister

Published by Gibbs Smith

160 pages, 2006





On the Road Again

Reviewed by David Middleton


It wasn't long after our love affair with the car developed that we managed to combine it with another passion: travel. That seems an obvious statement since cars were invented for the very purpose of getting us from one place to another. I'm talking about more than just getting us to and from the store or work or from point A to point B. This is about packing up all your stuff, piling you and the kids into something that resembles a bonsaied and wheeled version of your home and hittin' the road. Going on vacation; seeing the country; camping; being a nomad.

Imagine you are on a trip. A little respite from the noise and the pressure of the city. You are cruising down the highway. The sun on your face, the wind at your back, and the sound of a dozen other drivers' horns blaring as they pass you. Their angry, contorted faces confronting you through their windows as they give you the finger.

Why? Because you are that scourge of the impatient driver stuck behind you on a one lane winding road with a double yellow line: You are an RVer.

But no need to feel down or picked upon, for Douglas Keister's Mobile Mansions is an ode to you and others of your ilk. Those who feel the need to get out and get away to the wilderness or the park or the places where others of your kind congregate.

Mobile Mansions is also a loving look at the history of -- I hesitate to say recreational vehicle for fear that it conjures up visions of the behemoth land yacht taking up more than its share of asphalt -- an alternate home on wheels. This book is about more than camper vans and bus conversions -- although both are talked about . What Douglas Keister is really writing here is a love letter to the gypsy in all of us. Broken into separate sections for Camp Cars and House Cars, Campers and Vans, Bus Conversions, Motorhomes and Personal Visions, Keister show us these vehicles as they were originally meant to be seen: as self-contained personal freedom machines. Sure they're big, ungainly and lumber down the road and sure, maybe driving one is sort of like piloting a giant watermelon, but that doesn't mean that the owner of an RV should be any less proud of their vehicle than the owner of a vintage sports car.

Filled with pictures and historical facts pertaining to what seems to be just about every mobile home imaginable, Mobile Mansions is a fascinating jaunt through time. From the early days of the New York to Paris race where camping gear was precariously strapped to the running boards of a 1907 Thomas Flyer, through the elegance of the camp cars and house cars and into the era of fake wood and shag carpeted 1970s camper right up to the modern, high-tech rock star-type buses of today, each page of photos and motorhome ephemera is as compelling as the last. | April 2006


David Middleton is the art and culture editor of January Magazine.