Archive for apocalyptic

Rogue States! The Mexican Secessions

Posted in secessionist states, Southwest history with tags , , on July 25, 2014 by David N. Brown

Mapa_Mexico_(1836-1846)_Republica_Centralista

As a continuation of my return to blogging, I’m writing an installment for what could turn into series on a subject that I have been researching a great deal since the last time I posted: Proposals for partition and secession in North America. For the first trial installment, I will be covering several potential entries in one go, the various attempts by states of present-day Mexico to secede into new and independent nations.

Convention would dictate that an account of attempts to secede from Mexico with an overview of the Mexico itself. I believe two fairly peculiar features are worth noting. First, there is Mexico City, a regional power center going back to the days of the Aztecs, which currently holds almost 8% of Mexico’s population in less than 0.01% of its land area- an arrangement roughly equivalent to putting the population of Texas in the state of Delaware. Second, there are the internal borders of Mexico’s states, for the most part corresponding at least recognizably to Spanish colonies of the 1500s, which by any standard are quite ridiculously convoluted. Among the more egregious examples is the north-central state of Zacatecas, with about four near-enclaves intruding into the neighboring states of Jalisco and Nayarit, protuberances of Durango and San Luis de Potosi pressing against its northern borders, and the miniscule state of Aguas Calientes tucked into the southeast. Such insane contortions in intra-national boundaries can scarcely be regarding as anything short of a direct obstacle to effective local government and mutual self-defense, which, given Mexico’s history, could have been precisely the idea. To state the obvious rather mildly, the conquistadores who carved out future Mexico for God, gold and glory had no intention of laying the foundation of a unified nation-state. What they created was a jumble of feudal territories for convenient and generally short-term exploitation. We should therefore not be surprised that Mexico has experienced more than a fair share of instability. If anything, we should be impressed that it has survived at all. A study of attempts to secede from Mexico just might give us some answers to how Mexico stayed Mexico.

Republic of Texas
Area: 389,166 mi^2
Active: 1835-1845
Status: Annexed by United States of America

In making selections, my inclination was to avoid Mexican territories that joined or tried to join other nations, which meant paring away several good entries. But I decided this essay wouldn’t be complete or coherent without covering the Republic of Texas. The events of will need little introduction: In 1835-1836, settlers from the United States staged a rebellion in the Mexican territory of Tejas and declared an independent Republic of Texas, about half again the size of the present day state (which in turn is about twice the size of the original Tejas). While the revolution and the formation of the Republic were carried out almost entirely by settlers from the United States with extensive further support from the US, Texas did not formally join the United States until mid-1845, in the face of growing tensions with Mexico that would culminate in the Mexican-American War.

Strictly speaking, given the prominent role of the United States, the Texas secession has little place in a list of Mexican revolutionary movements. However, the Republic of Texas remained at least nominally independent for a full decade, enough to establish the partition of Mexican territory into new nations as a viable option. It is also only fair to note that Mexico relied very heavily on aid from European colonial powers, including Spain, with an obvious interest in containing the spread of United States territory and influence. For discontented Mexicans caught in the middle, following the example of Texas and breaking up their own country would have presented, at worst, one of the lesser of multiple evils. As we shall see, it was precisely during the window of Texas’ independent existence that revolutionary movements in Mexico would most actively pursue the goal of secession.

“Republic” of Zacatecas
Area: 31,235 mi^2
Active: 1835
Status: Dissolved into Zacatecas and Aguas Calientes

The second of our rogue states is the above-mentioned state of Zacatecas, historically including Aguas Calientes, a geographically transitional region best known (if at all) for containing literally the most productive silver mines in the world. From the earliest days of independent Mexico, Zacatecas was outspoken for autonomy for individual states and the preservation of of Mexico’s 1824 Federalist constitution. Steady resistance and occasional rebellions peaked when recurring Centralist President Santa Anna revoked the 1824 constitution in 1835, at which point Zacatecas staged a revolt nearly simultaneously with the Texas revolution. Some accounts mentions a declaration of independence from the national government or an actual Republic of Zacatecas, but details of the rebels’ objectives are difficult to find (let alone verify!). If Zacatecas had achieved even moderate success in its drive for autonomy, it could very well have reshaped the political and cultural landscape of Mexico, perhaps acting as a neutral Switzerland between other emergent republics.

The problem with such a scenario is that Mexico’s political factions have not been greatly constrained by geography. In the Reform War of 1857-1861, for example, the neighboring states of Durango and San Luis Potosi both sided with the ruling Conservatives. Even more tellingly, the Zacatecans themselves quite actively aided the Liberal rebels, even though their stated goal of sweeping national reforms was a far cry from the Federalist ideal of local self-government. Thus, whether or not the Zacatecas rebellion is counted as separatist per se, it is very representative of the prospects for secession: In the earlier years of Mexico, the partition of the country into new nations or otherwise autonomous entities could at least have won support from significant segments of the public. By the middle of the century, the politics and culture of Mexico had evolved too far for secession to be either acceptable or viable. If the “what if” of the division of Mexico into new countries were going to happen by the Mexicans’ consent, it would have had to be in a relatively narrow window of time.

Republic of Rio Grande
Area: 115,831 mi^2
Active: 1840
Status: Unrealized

After Texas, this is the most famous of Mexican secession movements, and perhaps even more than the Texas Republic, it is necessary to get through a good deal of uncritical legendry to get to a realistic picture of historical fact. Various appraisals of the “Republic” have been as disparate as an internal Mexican secessionist movement, a barely-veiled expansion scheme by Texas, or even an intended base of operations for a Federalist coup. (A page at Flags of the World gives a good appraisal of controversies, including a little-known dispute over the colors of the frequently-reprinted flag.) Ironically, the one thing almost all serious accounts agree on is that the short-lived “Republic” had little or no chance of long-term success.

The hard facts are that it 1840, Mexican governor Jesus Cardenas of Tamaulipas governor and other notables met in Laredo, Texas to plan the partition of a second Republic with Texas’ aid. The core territory of the proposed republic were states with territory already disputed between Texas and Mexico: Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and potentially Chihuahua. The inclusion of Zacatecas, Durango and some or all of the territory of New Mexico was also proposed. The rebels were able to muster a mixed force of several hundred Mexicans, Texans and Native Americans for a series of incursions into the projected Republic, including the unopposed capture of Tamaulipas capitol Ciudad Victoria. However, there are no indications of significant progress in setting up a local government, and several recorded engagements with the Mexican army (which staged operations from neighboring San Luis Potosi) all ended in defeat for the rebels. The would-be republic was dissolved after Cardenas and other leaders made terms with the Mexican government. In 1851, former council secretary Jose Maria Jesus Carbajal led another bid for secession, this time dubbed the Republic of Sierra Madre, only to be defeated in part by former commander-in-chief Antonio Canales Rosillo.

Despite the poor showing of the Rebellion, the Republic of Rio Grande presents a tantalizingly viable alternate-history scenario, with implications as profound as averting the Mexican-American War. The states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila form (for once!) a cohesive geographic region with further unifying sociopolitical similarities. For example, during the War of Reform all three states aligned with the Liberals the War of Reform in an otherwise Conservative North. However, these strengths are an equally clear warning that we are dealing with an unusual case, a fact which more ambitious plans for the Republic’s territory clearly did not take into account. But the greatest weakness of the plan is one which must have been clear enough at the time: the perennially loyalist state of San Luis de Potosi directly adjoining Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. Without this obviously strategic state, any nominal Rio Grande nation would have remained effectively under the dominion of Mexico (a potentially advantageous arrangement for the Mexicans!). Almost worse, annexing the state (or for that matter Zacatecas) would necessarily have extended the Republic’s sphere of influence into the same morass of entangled territories and radical politics that kept Mexico in near-anarchy for generations afterward. It thus becomes quite evident that, even under the most ideal conditions, it is quite simply even harder to separate from Mexico than to rule it.

Republic of Yucatan
Area: 53,833 mi^2
Active: 1841-1848
Status: Failed

The final entry in this rogues’ gallery, and by almost any standard the most successful, is the improbable Republic of Yucatan, which has the distinction of applying for membership in the United States. The original state of Yucatan, now subdivided into a northern state of the same name plus Campeche and Quintana Roo, covered almost all of the peninsula of the Yucatan Peninsula, and represented the furthest extremity of Mexico: Bordered mainly by Guatemala and present-day Belize (then a British colony), Yucatan’s only land connections with the rest of Mexico are through the state of Tobasco, which in turn is nearly trisected by the notoriously troubled state of Chiapas. In 1839-1840, Federalists in Yucatan and Tobasco staged a renewed rebellion against the Centralist government, coinciding with an escalation of international border disputes over Texas and Chiapas. In 1841, the state of Yucatan formally seceded from Mexico and quickly established a constitution, a local government based in present-day Yucatan’s capitol of Merida and diplomatic relations with the Republic of Texas. Initial reactions from Mexico were so mild as to border on tacit consent, though it is safe to assume that the government was primarily concerned with dealing with more pressing problems first.

The Mexican campaign to regain Yucatan did not begin until Santa Anna made another of his impressively frequent returns to power in October 1841. Even then, diplomatic overtures prevailed over displays and threats of military force. Mutual negotiation preceded as far as preliminary reunification by 1844, which failed after Mexico belatedly rejected Yucatan’s demands for continuing self-government and freedoms granted under its constitution. Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, the Republic was plagued by internal dissension, including a rival government in Campeche and brewing discontent among the native Maya peasantry centered in the eastern region of present-day Quintana Roo. Then 1846 brought the crisis of open war between the US and Mexico.

The bizarre finale of the saga of Yucatan came in early 1847, when the US navy blockaded or seized several of its ports despite the Republic’s appeals for recognition as a neutral entity. Shortly after, a revolt broke out among the Maya, who overran large portions of the country. In the ensuing crisis, the nominal government went so far as to offer voluntary annexation as a United States territory. This most intriguing of secession bids resulted in a “Yucatan Bill” that got as far as a vote in the United States Senate. Despite endorsement from James Polk, the bill was defeated, and Yucatan and Mexico (or whatever was left of the respective entities!) formally reunited in 1848. Reunification was followed by crackdowns against the Maya, and the states of the former Republic, like Chiapas, would stay on the Conservative side of the Reform War, probably in large part because the Liberals’ aims of anti-clerical land reforms also adversely affected native communities. In a final twist, Quintana Roo remained under effective Mayan control well into the 20th century, leading some to speak of a de facto entity of Chan Santa Cruz.

The Yucatan Republic clearly demonstrates that the unity of Mexico, while deceptively tight in light of its troubled history, was not unbreakable. It is virtually indisputable that Yucatan could have been lost to Mexico, whether as an independent Republic, a holding of the United States, an ethnic indigenous dominion of the Maya, or even a reconquest of Spain, and Tabasco and Chiapas could easily have followed. It is not hard to imagine ways the rest of the country could have unraveled from there: Renewed separatist activity in the northeast, possibly spreading into the Gulf coast. Further expansion by the U.S. New indigenous insurrections within the famous native communities of Oaxaca and other southern and central states. The loss of trade with ceded ports and the diversion of goods to same. Socially-aggravated famine, plague and/or natural disaster in Mexico City. Simple logic would dictate that, beyond some critical mass of resources, population and territory, Mexico would cease to exist as a viable entity or at least be transformed beyond ready recognition. Then again, a look at Mexico’s actual history will show that it can and has come apart into more pieces than any secession scheme ever envisioned. Yet, like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2, the pieces have a way of somehow coming back together into more or less the same shape.

On reviewing these most prominent of Mexican separatist movements, one thing which is absolutely clear that the time for partitioning Mexico, if viable at all, passed relatively quickly. In the aftermath of the Mexican-American War of 1846, secessionist and separatist movements disappear, except for quite blatant (and consistently disastrous) intrusions by “fillibustero” adventurers mainly from the United States (which will be quite sufficient for another installment). An obvious factor is the disastrous territorial losses imposed after war with the US (literally larger than present-day Mexico), which could easily have destroyed any lingering appeal of secession to the Mexican people. Another clearly important issue is that, as already discussed, the dominant political factions of the mid-19th century onward were not separatist in their objectives and in any case would not have been able to divide their support bases into well-defined states.

One more intriguing lesson to be learned from history is that our game of “what if” was played just as freely in the mid-1800s, and more than one guess was quite spectacularly wrong. Well into the 1850’s, US observers such as James Gadsden (of “Purchase” fame) were predicting secessions from Mexico, particularly by the northern states, which in 20-20 hindsight was an almost direct reversal of the developing state of affairs. The most obvious factor in these miscalculations was that, as other contemporaries readily recognized, those making and circulating such “predictions” were mostly the same people who not only advocated claiming more Mexican territory for the United States but were equally openly contemplating secession from the US. Yet, it would not have taken thinly rationalized ambitions for these errant prophecies to make at least a measure of sense. There had been separatist rebellions within Mexico, there would be a Mexican civil war by the end of the decade, and ultimately, whether any of these developments ever could have led to one or more viable secessionist states is hard enough to judge long after the fact. The “what if” game will always be played against the odds, no matter which end of history one is on, but that never stops people from playing.

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RVs of the Apocalypse! 1976 Travco Motorhome

Posted in Cars with tags , on September 25, 2013 by David N. Brown

travcoC
Because, judging from traffic, I might as well change the name of this site to “Weird RVs” (if that wasn’t already taken), it’s time for the 10th installment of “RVs of the Apocalypse!” This time, the featured RV comes courtesy of dodgetravcos.com, and reportedly belongs to one Jolene Sloniker. This specimen is a Class C motorhome and appears to be based on a Dodge B300 van, the successor to the previously-featured A100. As noted by the “Dodge Travco” writer, the Class C configuration is unusual for a Travco, though it is worth keeping in mind that, without the readily recognizeable “Family Wagon” legend, this van and any other like it would be hard to distinguish from many other professional and “homebuilt” versions. But surely the most noteworthy feature of the post is closeups of the bathroom!
Travco_toilet

Here we see a closeup of one of Travco’s most notorious innovations, the folding toilet! The compact commode drops down from under a sink, and the bathroom also features a shower head. I have seen this radical space-saving feature mentioned a number of times, but this is the only photo to come to my attention. Based on my research, I believe that these toilets were not used in Travco’s Class A motorhomes.

While I’m at it, I am going to make a correction to a previous post. I previously presented it as a matter of uncertainty where Travco built hardtop “Family Wagons” based on the A108. I am now entirely satisfied that this was not only done, but that the A108 was the STANDARD chassis for this version of the Family Wagon. I won’t say I shouldn’t have caught this before, but in my defense, the differences between the A100 and A108 are less obvious with the side doors fully open, as they often are to show off features of the camper interior. I am also satisfied that Travco did build Family Wagons with retractable roofs based on the original A100 as well as A108. On further review of vintage literature, I think it is likely that Travco phased out the A100 in favor of the A108 by around 1967. In the meantime, there were certainly A100/A108 camper vans built of less certain provenance, including Class C variations. Two examples are featured at this page. Especially interesting is one with a cabover streamlined shell that appears to be made of fiberglass. This suggests either an especially skilled homebuild or truly professional work; unfortunately, the source site offers no useful information.

RVs of the Apocalypse! Class C Flatbed Mystery Motorhome

Posted in Cars with tags , , , , on September 11, 2013 by David N. Brown

I’m back from a summer hiatus, and I decided it was time to do a piece I’ve been wanting to do for a while. There’s a personal story behind this: One night last December, I was meeting up with a friend at a local fast food restaurant (I got there on public transportation because I don’t drive, which makes my interest in this subject highly ironic) when I noticed a motorhome I thought was quite strange in the parking lot. From the brief sighting, I decided it was probably a 1970s Dodge van chassis, and the rest was evidently home-built. Some time later, I decided to see if there was any documentation of this or similar RVs. A few searches led me to this at the website Weird RVs:
ClassC_flat
Source Weird RVs: “Something is missing here”

As can be seen, this van follows the lines of a cab-over Class C RV, with the drastic difference that the camper body is too short to cover most of the exposed van bed. The end result converges on the design of a “sleeper” semi truck. The camper hull clearly provides a bed over the cab, and it would be feasible to fit a kitchen, lavatory or even a shower in the remaining space with no more than moderate ingenuity (though all of the above would be tricky indeed!) The remainder of the bed is open to a variety of uses. such as motor bikes, light watercraft, or a hitch for a fifth-wheel trailer home. The last application, while redundant at face value, would clearly be of some convenience if two people were in the van. In particular, it would allow the occupants to take turns driving and using the facilities without stopping or violating laws against having occupants in a moving trailer. The specimen I sighted was loaded with a mix of loose goods, and to my recollection there was some lining around the sides of the bed, which I suspect may have been a later modification. All in all, this type of RV is one of the more impressive examples of home-builder ingenuity, and an especially convenient way to flee civilization with as much of one’s worldly goods as possible!

RVs of the Apocalypse, Part 8: The Ultra Van!

Posted in Cars with tags , on July 17, 2013 by David N. Brown

Ultra Van
While the annals of motorhome history are full of minor or short-lived brands that achieved some measure of fame and/or notoriety (as in the Daystar saga), very few can be said to have inspired the enthusiastic loyalty of a true “cult following”. One vehicle that surely meets this description is the Ultra Van. The story of this odd motorhome reportedly began with an aircraft designer named Dave Peterson being frustrated by having to choose between towing a Spartan trailer or a boat on his outdoor excursions. In 1960, he hit upon the solution of a custom-built creation on the then-new Chevrolet Corvair chassis. The design saw production of fifteen units through 1963, and then was licensed out to the Prescolite Corporation, a manufacturer of fiberglass. Rechristened the Ultra Van, the vehicle was manufactured in modest numbers from 1964 to 1970. Peterson tried to revive the brand in 1972-1973. While often characterized as a camper van, the Ultra Van’s entirely original body fully warrants the description of a true, purpose-built motorhome. The ovoid hull and aluminum and fiberglass construction converged strikingly with the Dodge Travco, and even its 22-foot length was competitive with contemporary motorhomes. The vehicle’s most unique features were a heating system that reused thermal energy from the rear engine and a mindboggling gas mileage of 15 to 17 mpg, a still-impressive figure that for its time was 50% better than competitors and comparable to a standard car.

Ultra Van’s estimated production run was 370 units, of which more than 200 survive. The impressive number of extant specimens is surely a testimony to the loyalty of owners, a number of whom have reportedly collected multiple units. Unsurprisingly, the legendry of the vehicle includes efforts to assign blame for its demise, mainly to some combination of the discontinuation of the Corvair and the energy crisis of the 1970s. In my opinion, the controversies surrounding the Corvair (itself surrounded by energetic loyalists) can be discounted as a red herring: The use of the Corvair in the first place was by all accounts dictated by what was available at the time, and several alternatives were tested. Dave Peterson himself reportedly held variants using the engine of an Oldsmobile Toronado to be far superior to the original Corvair-based design. The role of the energy crisis, which certainly devastated the RV industry as a whole, also appears to be a red herring: While oil supplies were undoubtedly strained throughout the early ’70s, the outright shortages that defined the “crisis” did not occur until late 1973. The truly obvious culprit in the demise of the Ultra Van is its price tag, which consistently approached $10,000 at a time when Winnebagos were being offered for $5,000. The culminating irony of the Ultra Van story is that the energy crisis was, if anything, the one thing that could have turned the vehicle’s fortunes around if it had survived. Instead, the brand was decisively defunct at precisely the time when consumers might have considered its unique fuel economy as enough to make up for its price tag.

Image (rear interior) and information courtesy of The Ultra Van Page.

RVs of the Apocalypse, Part 7: House Trucks!

Posted in Cars with tags , on June 5, 2013 by David N. Brown

vardo_truck
So far in this feature, we’ve plumbed the history of motorhomes back to the 1950’s, but one key piece of the evolution of the RV has so far gone unmentioned: The house truck. Before commercial RVs, before their custom precursors, even before the advent of aluminum trailers, people were mixing automotive engineering and carpentry to build antediluvian motorhomes that were literally houses (or at any rate shacks) on wheels. Part Class C motorhomes, part wood shop projects, these improbable experiments are the subject of my all-time favorite RV-related site, housetrucks.com.

The evolution of the house truck undoubtedly began in the earliest days of the automobile itself, when a fair number of people took advantage of the modular, wood-intensive nature of early designs to produce customized camping cars. As a rule, however, camp cars did not differ radically from the stylings of more conventional, contemporary vehicles, probably because they were primarily professional creations and also truly designed for short-term camping trips. It was with the advent of larger, all-metal vehicles and (over)ambitious homebuilders that the house truck came into its full, incongruous glory. Predictably, the provenance of a house truck is especially hard to nail down, but typical specimens are built on trucks from the 1940s and 1950s, and it seems likely that this was indeed the historic peak of production. Interest clearly continued through the 1960s and 1970s, as attested by a specimen based on the iconic VW Bus. Given the predictable problems of preserving their wood construction, it is fairly probable that many if not most extant house trucks were built in the 1960s or later, even if the chassis is of an earlier date.

House trucks were equally predictably a mixed bag of styles and techniques. The least technically ambitious appear to fit the description of a slide-in camper better than a motorhome. Some of the most visually interesting appear to be influenced by gypsy wagon design. The example pictured here, for example (courtesy housetrucks.com), is clearly based on a bowtop vardo. Undoubtedly the most significant vehicle of the house truck description is one built in (ca.) 1952 by Wendell and Edna Turner, credibly nominated as the “first RV”. The “Turner motorhome” is certainly among the oldest whose history can readily be ascertained, and the complete conversion of the chassis to a custom hull fully satisfies the retrospective description of a Class A motorhome. At the same time, the methods, materials and especially the overall design clearly place it in the line of the house trucks. It is, in fact, the perfect blending of the motorhome and house truck, a true “missing link” in the evolution of the RV.

RVs of the Apocalypse Part 6: Spartan motorhomes

Posted in Cars with tags , on May 16, 2013 by David N. Brown

Spartan

The history of the commercial motorhome is unanimously agreed to begin in 1961, when Chrysler acquired Frank Motorhomes, a manufacturer of custom motorhomes based on Dodge trucks.  The new division became Dodge Travco, and within a few years its products were transformed from “one-off” truck conversions to purpose-built, mass-produced designs. As the backstory of Frank/ Travco makes clear, however, even this clear-cut breakthrough was proceeded by a more complex prehistory, in which any number of ambitious individuals and organizations were trying to make the self-propelled mobile home a reality.  Unfortunately, there is no way to know after the fact which homebuilder or start-up shop first produced what we would call a motorhome.  But one product can certainly be considered characteristic of the period, a range of motorhomes based on Spartan trailers.

As recounted at the website Spartan Aircraft Trailercoaches (source for the image above), Spartan trailers were introduced immediately after World War 2 by the Spartan Aircraft Company. Spartan’s product was most recognizable for its forward-sloping front (which I have been told would actually have increased air resistance) and wrap-around windshield. Though remembered as a competitor of Airstream, Spartan trailers can be justifiably said to have reached the market first:  While Walter “Wally” Byam founded the original Airstream company and built its characteristic aluminum “streamlined” trailers in the mid- to late 1930s, his company and all manufacture of aluminum trailers was shut down as the materials and manufacturing facilities were directed exclusively to wartime aircraft manufacturing.  (Ironically, this meant that the military and factories had to house their own personnel in notoriously poor plywood and Masonite trailers!) The Spartan company presumably foresaw that the end of the war would put the shoe on the other foot, and turned to trailer manufacturing by 1946, about a year before Byam revived Airstream.  In the emerging marketplace, the two manufacturers were not so much rivals as diverging lines of development and marketing:  Where Airstream made inexpensive travel trailers, Spartan not only focused on higher-quality and more expensive trailers, but increasingly on larger units that better fit the “house trailer” description.  Models produced in Spartan’s final years exceeded 50 feet in length.

At some point in Spartan’s history, someone thought of using Spartan trailers as the basis for what would now be considered motorhomes.  Just when this occurred, and how, has intriguing implications for the history of RVs.  In my opinion, it is at least conceivable that this was first done in the early 1950s or even in the late 1940s.  There are certainly extant examples where trailer and chassis date from before 1950, such as the pictured example, identified as a 1946 Spartan on an International Harvester Metro chassis, which has ovoid headlights appears consistent with a “teardrop” shape reportedly used only until 1940.  In many ways more interesting is the impressive number of Spartan conversions made on Dodge trucks, as notably compiled at dodgetravcos.com.  The use of Dodge trucks clearly parallels the evolution of the Frank/ Travco design, and some mutual influence is conceivable.  Even more intriguingly, the labor presumably involved and the self-evident quality of the final product is clearly well above the skills and resources of a typical homebuilder, and raises the possibility that some who made such conversions took the further step of offering them to order on a commercial basis.  The various Spartan motorhomes certainly represent an intriguing chapter in the evolution of the RV, and an especially worthwhile area of further study for collectors and scholars.

RVs of the Apocalypse, Part 5: Daystar

Posted in Cars with tags , on May 9, 2013 by David N. Brown

1975_Daystar_3

As documented in previous posts, the 1970’s were clearly a high point of motorhome production, including a fair number of start-up manufacturers.  The subject of this post is among the more notorious products of the 1970’s boom, and while its merits and overall weirdness are debatable, it certainly has one of the strangest backstories of the period.  The basics of the saga, as recorded in the book Mobile Mansions and various websites, are as follows:  In 1975, a startup company in Texas offered luxury RVs under the name of Daystar.  The name was inspired by Christian legends about the Star of Bethlehem, which claimed that it could be seen even in broad daylight, and is thought to reflect a religious orientation by the manufacturer and/or the target customers.  Manufacturing was a joint venture with Taiwanese businessmen, and reportedly included the manufacture of pre-fabricated teak interiors  in Asia (at a time when commercial motorhome manufacturers had long since shifted to particleboard for any wood furnishings!) which were imported to the States and inserted into the mobile home bodies, which were designed on a Dodge chassis.  Unsurprisingly, the finished products were expensive, with $70,000 being the reported “standard” price, and it is not improbable that actual sale prices went even higher for customers who customized their units. All accounts report that only 16 units were built before the company shut down, evidently under allegations of involvement in money-laundering.  Online photos appear to represent about six different units.  The one pictured above is subject of a page at the Atlas Mobile Directory, which includes shots of the interior.  I believe the same specimen was photographed for Mobile Mansions, which shows only a close-up of the Daystar mark and the even more recognizable ovoid grill and ornamental star.

Mysteries  abound regarding the Daystar. Details of its production are the subject of much hearsay and conjecture, such as accounts of luxury features such as gold and marble bathroom fittings and a custom unit furnished in “buckskin” leather. Unfortunately, no photos are available to substantiate these reports, or even to establish the basic layout of the interior (assuming there was one!) In my view, even the total production run can be approached as a minor mystery:  Given the  circumstances, it’s at least conceivable that some “lost” units were completed without documentation, or conversely that some units reportedly manufactured were in fact left incomplete or never built at all. Then there are a few anomalies I have noticed in photos, without encountering explanations or even comment. Some photos show a different shape and position of the front door than the one above, but since these are consistently taken from the left where others are taken from the right, it is unclear if this represents asymmetry in the design or a production variant.  Photos from the left also show a set of vents on one side of the windowless midsection.  My best guess is that these are for air conditioning; the other obvious possibility is that the motorhome had a rear engine.

Overall, I like the Daystar.  I find the styling of the front to be quite appealing, especially in comparison to the increasingly angular shapes of the period.  It can, in fact, be considered a “throwback” to the “streamlined” designs of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  The one disappointing aspect of the design is the tail, which always struck me as giving it a sawed-off look.  In incorporating a Daystar into the Re-Deanimator alternate universe, I was happy to rectify that shortcoming by assuming an alternate design where the styling is more consistent.  I was very interested to make the subsequent discovery that the Daystar was designed by  W.E. Miller, a prominent automotive designer of the 1930’s whose work included quite advanced examples of the “streamlined” style.  In a truly ironic twist, these included a tank truck that not only bears a striking resemblance to the Daystar but has about the same profile I assumed in refashioning the design.  Could it be that this was the way Miller wanted his motorhome to look?  Is there a chance that something like it was built, and slipped through the cracks?  One can always dream…