Our first big, long (1889 miles) trip with our Avion, LeGrande 28 footer took place from July 28 until August 6, 2017, a total of 10 days on the road. We traveled from upstate NY where we live, out to Niagara Falls NY, crossing over into Ontario at the Peace Bridge, then to London ON for one night in London ON, then crossing over into Michigan over the Blue Water Bridge (below)
into Huron Michigan then to Frankenmuth MI for our first multi day campground.
After three nights in Frankenmuth Jellystone Campground (below), we drove south to Elkhart, Indiana for our very first annual Silver Avion Fellowship Rally.
NOTE: This post is going to be pretty much exclusively about the Avion Rally because, well simply it was so awesome to see so many Avions “nesting” in one roost and we met so many great people that it deserves its own post! We will make other posts about the other stops on our trip.
The Silver Avion Fellowship Rally-Event page (who by the way does have both its own event Facebook page and another page of Fellowship Rally folks) is an annual event which for at least the past 6 years, we believe has been held at the Elkhart Campground in Elkhart, Indiana which is easily accessible from major highways.
The campground is large, has easy to navigate streets to get to most sites (more on that later) and a large indoor meeting hall which makes ideal space when hosting rally activities like pot lucks, etc.
Like I mentioned the variety of years, models and lengths of the Avions that were at the rally was so cool. I think we topped out at about 23 rigs and about 50-60 people. Some came in early on Weds, others arrived on Thursday like we did. Some came as late as Saturday. This location evidently is an easy haul for many current Avion owners.
It stands to reason…Benton Harbor, Michigan is only about a 1.5 to 2 hour drive north of Elkhart and this is where all the Avion’s were made in the day. I am sure that there was a huge regional marketing effort, many workers from the factory enjoyed also owning them, and there were dealers here too. Ours still bears the original tag of the dealership that sold her back in 1973 located just 3 hours northeast of Elkhart! Our baby has come home! (via two trips through Alaska, out to California at least 6x’s, Florida every winter for a decade and thousands of other pleasure miles around the west, mid west and continental USA- all by the three previous owners at some point in her life)
Along the way to Elkhart we did make a slight detour to swing by to visit Cayo Repair, owner Chuck Cayo being the son of Avion Corp Founder. (sorry they do not have a company website, only a minimal FB presence from link above) Chuck is known as the guru of Avion’s and Avion repair. He has grown up with them, and thankfully from what we understand his son has gotten involved in the repair and restoration end which ensures hopefully at least through our lifetime we have a lifeline!
(Cayo deserves a separate blog post too very soon!) Back to the rally!!
Elkhart is home to the largest assemblage of RV manufacturers and secondary feeder manufacturing market industry in the USA. It is no wonder you see lot after lot, factory after factory all making frames, windows, gaskets, furniture, bedding, you name it…until the final product is assembled and shipped to your local RV store for sale. It all comes from this mecca! It also is no wonder then, that the National RV Hall of Fame Museum is located right here in Elkhart. A few years back they included the “manufactured houses” (a.k.a double wides) into their mix. In our opinion, selling out to greed for more sponsorships and the two simply do not mix, but hey–we re not trying to keep a non profit museum afloat in tough times either. After we got ourselves settled Thursday evening and had some libations with fellow Avioners, we drove a short 15 minutes to the RV Hall of Fame museum. We spent a solid 4 hours there including time spent in their pretty good archive library.
The museum is pretty cool and it is obvious it is being supported by brand names such as Thor, Winnebago and others. We honestly did not spend any time at all with the new modern RV’s but went right to the very large exhibition space that begins with the very earliest and first “RV’s which were no more than homemade trucks or cars that had been retrofitted with some pull out storage compartments which then made room for a bedroll. From the early 1900’s right through the 60’s, 70’s 80’s were some of our favorites.
Here is a great shot showing the scope of the types of rigs they have which are in various levels of restoration. Most are nearly in perfect condition, but some, perhaps some that have been more recently donated still need some work and you can see that they are doing their best to tackle.
There are aisles and aisles of great things to see all set up very professionally with dioramas, period appropriate props, etc. which really adds to the feeling that you are in the moment when that particular RV/trailer was being used. A good amount of the trailers from the 1930’s and up you can actually walk onto!!
I have tons of photos of many or most of the rigs in the museum, like I said we were there 4 hrs! Here is a great funky hippie era mobile! One RV had shag carpet like what ours was originally sold with! Can you even imagine keeping shag carpet clean when camping?? What were they thinking?
Another day trip we did not far from Elkhart also includes a foray to visit several RV parts outlets (Bontragers, Factory Surplus RV and Johnson’s Surplus), where entrepreneurs by over production or discontinued parts from the RV manufactures so one can go picking to find replacement parts, etc. for those campers and motor homes that have been produced in more recent years. Of course, no parts available specifically for a 44 year old Avion, but we were able to find the frosted plastic 4 x 4 lens covers for our overhead lights in bedroom and kitchen areas so that was good. If you have one of those newer and cheaper made campers, these places could be a mecca for you. Or for those talented enough to make your own custom camper, they have everything you would need from axles to windows, cushions to cabinets.
But wait! There is more! The Elkhart and surrounding area, even back up a short way crossing over the Michigan border has tons of Antique and Resale shops! Big malls, little ones in historic general stores (which is what i found!) and everything in between. For those who love the Amish arts and traditions (and foods) the area about 35 minutes east of Elkhart in Shipshewana, boasts a huge Amish community and shops filled with quilting supplies, arts and crafts for sale and many Amish-style restaurants. We have been to Amish country in PA before but never have we seen so many buggies in our lives in one place. At one point I counted 12 buggies on the road we were on. This is a boon for the tourism in the area and worth the visit if you are a quilter—they even have a regional “quilt garden” trail you can follow where flower beds have been created and designed following well known quilt patterns on a large scale! Very unique! Sorry to say, I was driving and so we do not have any photos of buggies.
This trip has definitely driven home to us (pardon the pun) that traveling with a towable trailer and being able to unhitch and take your own vehicle on day trips, into town, over back roads really is very nice. When we had our Class A 32′ we did not have a tow car and felt extremely limited in our ability to explore the areas we were camping in . Not so with our Avion bumper pull…..it is great!
So after spending almost two days exploring the area off and on, we also had some great times at the rally including social meal times, Saturday morning Tech Talk, and cocktail hours spent roaming from one rig to another and of course, listening, learning and asking questions of seasoned owners of Avions. One member, Dean had been employed at his father’s Avion Dealership for pretty much a span of 30 years and Dean, at perhaps in his late 70’s (or early 80’s?) at this point is a virtual encyclopedia of Avion tech info and stories . Here is one of the group photos, Dean is in the red t-shirt.
Sadly because I had to be at work on Monday, we had to leave on Saturday afternoon and missed so much of the good party time of the weekend. Next year if we re able to attend the rally we will be sure to do our vacation time AFTER the rally so we can stay through till Monday morning and not miss one ounce of the fun and great people.
Along the way at the rally we met fellow newbies, Hal and Cathy King from North Carolina. We hit it off very well and enjoyed seeing their 60’s era Avion which they have decorated so great. We had brought some roof vent screens that someone had given us and we played them forward to Hal and Cathy since they fit their rig. It was so cool to see inside different rigs to see how folks have redecorated, or in some cases preserved the interior to exactly how they were when originally sold. Along with other shots taken by other Avioners, here is a photo of Hal and Cathy at the bottom, Cathy is in the pink shirt. Kevin and I discussed how fun it would be to team up with other owners, including Hal & Cathy and do small trips to destinations together. Helen, Georgia which is another one of those Bavarian themed towns is one we have planned to get to and this might be the perfect rendezvous spot for them and us! (Kevin and i have set a goal of visiting every Bavarian/European themed town in the USA)
(Above photos are from the Silver Avion Fellowship FB site and taken by various attendees)
PS: The Elkhart Campground, site of the Rally has some very good features for large group gatherings but it also has become obvious that they have tried to fit in too many sites in the safari area and have effectively cut off the ability for anyone to drive down the angled in lanes to have a turn at end of each row to keep rigs exiting in the correct direction. Those turn areas now are sites. So effectively, you pull in on an angle to your site and the options you have when leaving is to completely back out (not gonna happen) or to hope you have enough room to turn against the angle of all the rigs and get out. This is what we had to do, since we had to leave early on Saturday. Not easy, but thankfully there was enough room to our right we could do that. If our neighbor had been a big 45 ‘ Class A rather than an Avion we would have been in real trouble. Greed makes people stupid.
We had such a good time and would encourage any and ALL Avion owners (or wannabees) to attend this annual rally. To keep up with the event planning for next year, ask to join this group!