According to the website GoRVing.com, the first motorized campers were built in 1910. They were known as “camping trailers” or “auto campers” and were the forerunners of today’s modern RVs. RV Camping Clubs date back to the 1920s and ‘30s. The “Tin Can Tourists” were RVers who drove their “Tin Lizzies” across the U.S. through mud and dirt before transcontinental roads were paved.
The RV industry began to grow after World War II, and many in today’s RV industry began producing their products in the 1950s and ‘60s. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), more than nine million households now own an RV. That is the highest level ever recorded, and RV sales are expected to increase as baby boomers reach retirement age.
Jim and Sandi Madaris have always liked traveling and did a lot of tent camping with their children when they were young. The retired military veterans officially started RVing about three years ago, when they bought a 20-foot pull-behind travel trailer called a Lance. They were empty nesters at that point. They drove the Lance to California and back on a two-and-a-half month trip.
“We learned on that trip that, one, we wanted a real bathroom, not an all-in-one efficiency bathroom. Two, we found that we needed an island bed with room on each side of the bed to get out. Plus, we did not have enough room in the Lance to just ‘hang out’ when the weather was bad,” says Jim.
In November 2016, the Madarises bought a 33-foot fifth wheel travel trailer. Fifth wheels are designed to be towed by a pickup truck with a device known as a fifth-wheel hitch. “The bathroom was bigger and had a real shower,” says Sandi. “We added a washer and dryer and a tankless water heater. Plus, we had room in this one to hang out.”
In August 2017, the Madarises sold their house and were looking at starting full-time RVing. They have recently decided to upgrade to a 36-foot motor home with all of the amenities they had before. They’re hitting the road this summer.
Both say travel is one of their favorite aspects of RVing. “You get to know people in the RV parks, and there is a sense of camaraderie,” says Sandi. “Plus, you get to travel at a slower pace. There is a great feeling of relaxation.”
Roger Ruess, another retired military veteran, started selling mobile homes in Michigan in the 1970s. After a while, he decided to move to south Florida and started selling cars in Kissimmee. There, he met his wife Aileen when she came in to buy a car. He and Aileen were married in 1985. Roger then began selling RVs in Orlando.
“I had done a lot of tent camping with my parents and five brothers and sisters growing up in Fort Walton Beach,” says Aileen. She and Roger took their first RV trip together to Key West. Roger then started his own RV dealership in Apopka, buying, selling and delivering RVs for 10 years. He also did RV shows for Camping World across the country. As their family grew, Aileen and the kids would travel along in demo RVs while Roger did RV shows.
The Ruess family (Roger, Aileen, and six kids) traveled in their RV to Branson, Missouri, Washington, D.C., North Carolina, Ohio and Williamsburg, Virginia.
“Traveling with kids is so easy,” says Aileen. “The RVs have everything you need in one place. The kids loved it. The RV parks always felt very safe, and the kids always had plenty of playmates.”
Roger and Aileen moved to Gainesville in the early 2000s, where Roger managed an RV dealership. In the mid-2000s, they moved to back to Fort Walton Beach and got out of the RV business.
“If you are looking to purchase an RV, attend RV shows,” says Roger. “You can learn a lot at the shows. Then rent an RV and try it out at a local campground.”
Aileen agrees with the Madarises that RVing is a relaxing lifestyle. She also notes that you don’t accumulate a lot of stuff like you do in a house. Owen, her oldest son, says he always liked traveling around in the RV.
“My favorite part, though, was getting to sleep on the dashboard!”
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