- Written by Todd Moning
Thanks to a New Jersey shutterbug, FMCA has photographic evidence that dinosaurs roamed the land at FMCA’s earliest conventions.
The creatures had names like Brill, Condor, Norris, ReVella, Beechwood and Streamline. Some were mammoth in size; others barely the length of an ice cream truck.
Frederick Weiss, an FMCA member for more than 30 years, photographed them in the 1960s. He had a darkroom in the basement of his Summit, N.J., home, where he processed film and made his own prints.
Mr. Weiss passed away in May 2000 at age 92. His wife, Charlotte, disfcovered the black-and-white photos of old motorhomes. She excavated several hundred of them from the drawers of a baby dresser in a closet den.
Stored with care
Mr. Weiss’ 4½ x 3½-inch photos showed motorhomes at FMCA conventions in the 1960s — full-body shots of coach conversions and manufactured coaches owned by convention attendees.
The photos had been stacked neatly into yellow Kodak Photographic Paper boxes. Many were grouped by year and tucked into waxed paper sleeves.
Mr. Weiss’ pencil notations on the back side of the photos indicate the years taken. The dates coincide with FMCA’s third, fourth and fifth national conventions in 1966, 1967 and 1968.
Bumper stickers that say “National Convention — Bowling Green” are visible in some photos, indicating they were taken at FMCA’s fourth and fifth conventions at Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green, Ky.
Some photos appear to be from 1966 at the association’s third summer convention, held at the Chalet Campsite Recreation Area, Glenwood, Minn.
‘Just a hobby’
Charlotte Weiss passed away in April 2006. After finding the photos, she had given them to her son, Frederick M. Weiss Jr., 60, who is a former FMCA member himself.
“I must have been in my late teens at the time, and I remember Dad taking pictures of all the motorhomes,” Frederick Jr. said. “It was just a hobby for him.”
In those days FMCA conventions attracted 300 to 400 motorhomes. It’s easy to imagine Mr. Weiss methodically positioning himself, carefully composing each shot, then moving on to the next motorhome.
The resulting photos aren’t unlike those that someone might submit for an ad in a local auto trader publication. Mr. Weiss framed the coaches at a 10- to 20-degree angle, presumably to furnish a full view of the coach without losing much detail. The background is sky, trees or a mix of both.
Maybe he appreciated the contours, shapes and designs of motorhomes in the same way some photographers appreciate the arcane details of nature.
Selections of his motorhome photos appeared in a 1968 issue and a 1969 issue of Family Motor Coaching magazine.
Believe it or not, motorhomes weren’t his favorite subjects to photograph. “His main hobby was taking pictures of steam locomotives,” Frederick Jr. said. “He did that even before he was married.”
Mr. Weiss attended Princeton University (class of 1931), where he studied civil engineering. He worked for the Port Authority of New York as a supervisor of technical manuals and standards. After about 20 years there, he retired in 1971 as an executive engineer.
The Weisses joined FMCA in 1964, becoming the 363rd member family to join. At that time, they owned a Chevrolet Traville motorhome built in Detroit, Mich., in 1962. It was actually a converted Chevrolet Step Van, Frederick Jr. said.
Mr. Weis helped form a local FMCA chapter, the 20th Century Wagontrainers, in March 1966. He served as the chapter’s first president.
His next motorhome was a Dodge, built in 1967 in Brown City, Mich. “It was only three or four months old when he bought it, from a Travco dealer in New Jersey who happened to be a Dodge dealer as well,” Frederick Jr. said. “They told him it previously belonged to a New Jersey state trooper.”
In the early 1990s he sold the Dodge and bought his last motorhome, a 23-foot 1987 Winnebago.
Mr. Weiss’ photos ensured that many old motorhomes won’t be forgotten, at least from his perspective. The pictures may be black-and-white, but they’re not colorless. In fact, the monochrome images and years gone by give rise to musings about each motorhome, its owner or owners, and where it’s been.
Every picture tells a story, right? Well, every motorhome has one. Maybe that's what Frederick Weiss Sr. had in mind all those years ago.