- Written by webmin
Hemmings Classic Car reader Peter Betz saw the writeup on the Stewart-based motorhome in a recent HCC Lost and Found and shared with us the following story of a family from Johnstown, New York, their one-and-a-half-ton Dodge truck and the trip of a lifetime. Peter wrote:
During the fall of 1924, George Chamberlain and his brother Tamerlyn or ‘Tam’ purchased a new Dodge one and one-half ton truck and during the winter built a “portable home” on the chassis. They were both carpenters and from the photographs, we can see the resulting motor-home must have been large enough to contain Tam, Goldie, George plus their seven sons. Close to the end of building season, September 7th 1925, the entire clan climbed into this self-made mobile home and headed west for their long, memorable trip to California. They did not have a lot of money, but George and Tam somehow found room on board for their carpenter’s tools, and whenever funds ran low, they managed to find carpentry jobs along the way to replenish their credit.
The Johnstown Morning Herald of April 19, 1926, informs us that, “Starting about 8 each morning, the party traveled eight hours a day and always put up for the night when darkness came. They averaged 175 miles per day, some days going as far as 280 miles. Making numerous side trips to visit places of interest, they arrived in California just one month after leaving Johnstown.” Probably they traveled south, joining the Lincoln Highway, our first cross-country paved road, in Pennsylvania.
The Chamberlain family toured California for two months, and in early January 1926, turned the dependable Dodge back eastward. They toured Arizona and went as far south as Corpus Christi, sensibly sticking to the warmer states until spring, while passing through Louisiana and Mississippi. They remained in Montgomery, Alabama, for two and one-half months while Tam and George erected two houses and several barns on a large plantation whose owner appreciatively provided lodging and let the children attend a plantation school. When spring arrived in the north, “They again started for home, coming north by way of Washington. They made the last 1,162 miles in four days and five hours.” George and Tam probably wished to return home in time to obtain summer construction work.
In discussing the conditions of American highways during the mid Twenties, George related, “The roads on the trip westward were not so good; those over the southern route were excellent, but that stretch between Amsterdam and Johnstown over the Fort Johnson road (now Route 67) was the worst piece on the entire trip.” So the worst road was right at home.
George Chamberlain and his family were not the only ones to ‘hit the road’ during the 1920s, largely because this was the first decade of really reliable cars and trucks, and the dependability of tires had also greatly improved. It was the decade when major oil companies developed national service station chains, stretching them across the country and thereby lessening traveler’s anxiety about breakdowns.
We are indebted to Mrs. Gladys M. Chamberlain for the photographs of the Chamberlain motor home. Photographs of other early home-built mobile homes exist, sometimes accompanied by stories of the families and their adventures. As to the Chamberlain’s Dodge, one wonders how so many people – 10 in all, including the youngest at one year and eleven months – toughed it out so successfully. No doubt not all slept inside the vehicle except when necessary. Chamberlain related that they “attracted some little attention with their home on wheels. They lived in this home while traveling between towns, but whenever the opportunity presented itself, they stopped at various camp sites scattered along the routes.”
When Tam and George built their mobile home, they must have researched other contemporary designs in magazines like Popular Mechanics. They were not the first men to build one: pictures of such home-built RV’s appeared in The Motor Magazine as early as 1909. Ford made the one-ton Model TT truck chassis available for such use from 1917 through 1927 and the Nash Quad (four-wheel) flat bed was also favored for early motor home conversions. According to the Morning Herald, “Their portable camp carried all the necessities of a trip of this kind and it was a most delightful experience from every standpoint, costing less than $700.00, and no sickness or accident occurred to mar the trip.”
We love these stories of self-reliant and self-directed do-it-yourselfers willing to just pick up and drive around the country. Nowadays, it seems too many people are tied to one place and unwilling to go on such adventures.