0

The Tin Can Tourists were the first RVers that gave themselves a name. Why tin can tourists? Because they heated tin cans of food on gasoline stoves they carried with them in their RV. Gather some wood, light a fire, get a pot and pour your can of beans and sausage in the pan… no plate needed—just a spoon from your back pocket.

Many of the original RV Parks were in Florida in the early ’20s. The pictures below show one in Gainesville, but they were also in Ocala, Tampa, Sarasota, Arcadia, and Eustis. Imagine how difficult it would have been to drive a Model T with 20 HP and a top speed of 45 MPH from Michigan to Florida. How many gas cans would you have to carry to get to the next fuel station?


Tin Can Tourists camp – Gainesville, Florida | via floridamemory.com

The horse and wagon may have been the first RV (although it was probably not used much for recreation), it was definitely a vehicle. In Latin, the word “vehiculum” is defined as a machine that transports people or cargo. Since the wheel was created, people have been using vehicles for transportation and the design for all vehicles are still based on the natural laws of physics; gravity, inertia, momentum, kinetic energy and friction. So, when we think of the RV that we drive today, consider all of the changes that have occurred since vehicles were first used for recreation. It’s been over a hundred years since the motor vehicle was manufactured for the masses, imagine where it will be in another 100 years. We’ve come a long way baby.

As more and more families began using their cars for vacations, they quickly realized that they needed more space. The next stage of RVing came when people started converting buses for their recreational vehicle. Clubs started to form so people could meet and share their adventures. The clubs also shared tips on how to improve their lifestyle on the road, make their bus look more like a home, and help with installing modern appliances like gas stoves, electric lights, and flushing toilets. Most of the early clubs were informal groups of people that enjoyed getting together. The 60’s was an era for growth and clubs started popping up all across North America; the bigger the clubs got, the more difficult they were to organize. Most of the clubs that exist today have a formal structure similar to a large corporation; including constitutions, bylaws, guidelines and voting structure.

One of the first organizations to provide such structure for the RV lifestyle was FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association) which started in 1965 as a club for mostly converted bus owners. I spoke to one person at FMCA that converted a 1962 Flxible bus and he estimates that it has been driven over 1.5M miles. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore! George has been a member since 1965 when his Dad signed up to be with FMCA. George has an FMCA member number that is in the 1000s (to give you some perspective, my FMCA number is close to 500K). Each member is assigned a number for life and can be passed down to children and grandchildren. Bus conversions take a lot of work to build and maintain and George does almost all of the work himself. It’s quite impressive to see what people can do with some mad carpentry skills and a bit of imagination.

Sandra and I are FMCA members, and recently attended FMCA’s International Convention & RV Expo in Perry, GA. They hold two conventions a year—in August it will be in Minot, ND and in March 2020 it will be in Tucson, AZ. (As a side note, we paid full price for our membership and entrance fee to the Peachy in Perry International Convention. We are not endorsed in any way and are not affiliated with FMCA other than as members)

The organization has gone through a lot of changes, but it still has some of the basic principles that govern the direction of FMCA:

  1. Core purpose: To be the premier organization for RV owners that promotes family, fun, and fellowship
  2. Core Values:
    1. Members are the focus
    2. Family, Fun, & Fellowship
    3. Integrity
    4. Sharing common interests
    5. Volunteerism
    6. Motorhome Safety & Education

Currently, FMCA has 175,000 active members and 2,500 commercial members (dealers, suppliers, manufacturers, campgrounds, service facilities, and other firms servicing the RV owner or the RV industry). There are hundreds of RV clubs to choose from in North America. I suggest doing some exploring and see what best fits your needs (look for those clubs that provide real value for your membership fees).

Good Sam is also a very large RV club and has been a great influence in the market over the years. I got my Good Sam membership for free when I bought my motorhome at Camping World (which now owns Good Sam). The biggest difference between the two is that FMCA is a member-driven association and is governed by volunteer officers who are elected by members. Good Sam is owned by an individual corporation.

Rob and Donna Hill were members of Good Sam for many years. As they saw the changes happening within Good Sam, they decided to move over to FMCA and are currently leading the Energized Chapter at FMCA. The Energized Chapter is focused on organizing the younger members of FMCA, but anyone from FMCA can join. The idea of these chapters is to get like-minded people to meet and have fun—which is exactly what they do! We joined the chapter and look forward to keeping in touch with our new friends.

Below are some of the benefits that you get with your FMCA membership ($50 with the discount code “RVMiles”):

  • Significant discounts on tires (Michelin, Hankook, and Continental)
  • FMCAssist (Emergency medical evacuation and repatriation coverage available to members worldwide as long as you are more than 100 miles from home)
  • Family RVing magazine (Print and digital)
  • FMCA University (Online training with over 750 articles)
  • Costco and Sam’s Club membership discount
  • KOA 10% off daily campground rate
  • Pet Insurance discount

Services offered to FMCA members at an extra cost:

  • Roadside Rescue ($69 per year, but well worth it compared to the free tow service you received when you purchased your RV – check the fine print on your contract!)
  • Wi-Fi hot spot deal from Verizon and Sprint (approx. $50 for unlimited)
  • RV Insurance (Broker for major insurance companies including Progressive)
  • Family Health Plan (We have found this to be a very good deal compared to our current plan)
  • Mail Forwarding

One of the biggest reasons to attend one of the FMCA conventions is the classes. Many of the instructors are members of the vendor community and the instructor for the Tire Safety class was from TireMinder (a device that screws on the end of the tire valve and sends a Bluetooth signal from your tires to your phone while parked or driving. I ended up buying this for our RV to keep us safe on the road).

Here are the classes that Sandra and I attended at Peachy in Perry:

MarkSandra
FMCA Roadside Rescue National Parks of the West
Cummins Generator Ops
and Maintenance
Alaska RV Tour for
FMCA Members
Understanding your RV
Insurance Policy
Full-Time RV Lifestyle
RV Tire SafetyRVing to Alaska
FMCA President’s ForumCanada’s Eastern
Atlantic Provinces
FMCA Member Benefits
and FMCAssist
Secrets to a Great Smoky
Mountain Visit
Boondocking A-ZBoondocking A-Z
Healthcare InsuranceBook Club
(The Cracker Queen)
Stop the Bleed
(Emergency training)
   
Energized Chapter MeetingEnergized Chapter Meeting

Find the complete list here.

Jon Walker, the FMCA President, gave a very candid and informative presentation on the ‘state-of-the-union’ of FMCA. He gave us all of the factual data points about FMCA and could not have been a more humble person when he opened up the seminar for questions from the audience. There were numerous questions about changes to the organization and how the International Conventions could be improved. Jon never reacted defensively (and promised to look into all of the issues that were raised from the members).

Jon’s position is a volunteer one. In fact, over 700 volunteers ran the convention; which absolutely blew me away because this was one of the most organized conventions that I ever attended (and I was in the vendor community for 25 years). The volunteers drove the golf carts that moved people around the fairgrounds. They helped run the seminars, parking, and security for the event. FMCA runs on a shoestring budget because so much of the work is done by the volunteers (that’s not to say that they cut back on the quality of the convention, they are just mindful to keep the costs down). The products from FMCA are offered at an extremely competitive price because so much of the work is done by the volunteers!

I had a chance to talk to Jon after his presentation and he was very focused on how they can attract younger people into FMCA. The main push is with social media but in 2017 they really opened up their membership by allowing towables into the organization. Currently, FMCA has about 4,000 active members that own non-motorized campers. This was a big step for them and is really going to be a huge segment in the future since towables outnumber motorized RVs 10-1. More RVs are now owned by people between the ages of 35 and 54 than any other group, according to a University of Michigan study.

You can find FMCA on the following social media sites:

FMCA has over 400+ chapters divided into 10 areas – 9 geographic plus the International Area (chapters focused on a special interest rather than geography). The chapters are located across the US and Canada and cover many hobbies and interests including knitting/crochet, horses, motorcycles, history, civil war, and so many more. A few of the benefits of belonging to a chapter are the rallies, tours, and caravans. Some caravans are arranged by professional organizations that are responsible for all of the reservations, excursions and some of the dinners. Other rallies are organized by chapter leaders; people meet at a campground then move together as a group from resort to resort with everyone responsible for their own payments, reservations, and meals (pot lucks are very common).

The most memorable part of the convention was meeting so many nice people. If you have stayed in many campgrounds, then you know how many great people are in the RV community. FMCA is no exception. These rallies are also a great source of knowledge as most of the older members have gone through the same cycles of buying and selling RV’s over the years. And all of them have their favorite camping spots across North America. The next time you are in a campground, look for the FMCA plate and introduce yourself. You will find that most of these folks have a wealth of information and are happy to share it! If you need help, most will be happy to lend a hand!


As a side note, I found a new PBS show that is going to be released in 2019 called RVers and according to a press release, the show will feature RV celebrity hosts taking an in-depth look at every aspect of the world of RVing. The show is due to premiere on PBS in the U.S., Bell TV in Canada, and iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Microsoft Xbox, and Vudu digitally in 2019 (https://www.thervers.tv/).

About author

Mark Walker

After 25 years of marriage, Mark and Sandra were done with the burbs in Colorado, so they packed up their bags, sold their house, moved everything into storage (both kids are in college) and bought an RV to travel from 'sea to shining sea' (and maybe Alaska, but definitely not Hawaii). Both quit their jobs and are now happily spending their kid's inheritance on the road. If you see their RV in camp, feel free to stop by and say hello. If it’s happy hour, join us for a beverage and a good chat.

Leave a Reply