Forty years ago, Clara and Paul Roy took to the road with their six children in a converted school bus. Paul Roy built bunk beds in the back for the boys; the girls occupied fold-down beds at night in the installed dinette.
Their destinations from Maine were visits to various relatives. And with such a big family, they needed to take their beds with them.
"You hardly see a conversion anymore," said Clara. "Back then, you either bought a school bus or a regular bus." And improvised.
RV luxury has come a long way. Witness the 45-foot yachts-on-wheels being promoted at the Southeast Area Rally of the Family Motor Coach Association through Saturday at the Hernando County Airport.
Since most of those at the rally already own a highway home, they're looking for upgrades, said Richard Carmichael with North Trail RV Center.
Top-of-the-line models in North Trail's rally stable offer solar panels for water heating, whirlpool tubs, dishwashers, "all the amenities of a five-star hotel," Carmichael said.
Used models on display, 45-footers, carry price tags of $100,000 to $350,000. New models back at the firm's Fort Myers headquarters range from $600,000 to $900,000.
Lazydays RV Sales and Center of Seffner is touting a 45-foot Country Coach Magnet at $700,000 to $800,000. "It does everything," maintains salesman Patrick Overby, "hot and cold running maids."
The price difference is "how you trick them out," he said.
Instead of a mere granite floor, the ultimate is floored with imported Italian granite, gold or copper inlaid handmade sinks.
"They're like a million-dollar home, same appointments," he said. Buyers of these "like to travel in the style to which they have become accustomed.".
John Bleakley Motor Homes, hailing from three sites in Georgia, has brochures promoting the amenities of 45-footers from $100,000 to $1.5-million on lots back home. On site at the rally, the firm's highest-priced coach is a used behemoth for $400,000. It boasts leather upholstery, side-by-side, mirrored-door refrigerator-freezer with ice and cold water dispenser, granite covers for the kitchen sink, built-in microwave oven, wineglass rack, sink and vanity in the master bedroom in addition to an adjacent full bath.
Harborson RV of Holiday is featuring its Mandalay models - $250,000 and up - built by Thor of Elkhart, Ind., the largest manufacturer in the country, said salesman Harry Rosenburg.
The Mandalays boast of "tag axles," meaning dual rear axles. "That's important," Rosenburg said. And they're $50,000 to $100,000 below the competition, he noted.
A stunner on the Mandalay is a 40-inch screen TV on the outside, for outdoor entertainment.
Then Rosenburg strolled over to a seemingly modest 35-foot model, the Hurricane, built by Four Winds. Unique is the RV's "toy hauler." It's a 10-foot long by 8-foot wide rear unit that can accommodate ATVs, motorcycles, a golf cart, even one of the new smallest compact cars.
"It's the No. 1 seller in America," he proclaimed.
It contains a full living room, bath, dinette, three-burner stove and microwave. With the push of a button, the bed mattress descends from the ceiling of the toy space. The driving compartment is plushly carpeted.
For shoppers and browsers not looking for a new or upgraded RV, vendors promote such things as window sunscreens with "no more snaps, no more climbing and drilling," custom chassis with choices of horsepower and clear coating for an outside gleam and weather resistance.
It's not all kicking tires and mechanical and amenities talk. The 200 vendors also include those selling hand-blown glass jewelry, "popcorn" blouses and cardigans woven of ribbon, kitchen gadgets, Egyptian cotton bed linens, RV insurance and resort properties.
Of course, there's a food court, and new this year is the Humane Society Cafe of the North Suncoast Humane Society of Brooksville. Its fare, not duplicated by any other vendor, consists of espresso, cappuccino or hot and frozen lattes. The cafe trailer is sponsored by County Commissioner Diane Rowden and her husband, Jay Rowden.
Alisa Marsh, volunteer event coordinator for the society, said she didn't know what to expect in sales. Chimed in her fellow volunteer, Mary Howerton, "A million dollars sounds good." The cafe also is accepting donations for animal rescue and care.
As usual during its 10-year stint at the rally, Little Richard's food stand's biggest demand is for Philly cheese steak sandwiches.
"We're from north of Philly, so it's real," said Clint Yoder, sliding meat, onions and peppers across the grill. Other items in high demand, he said, include "lots of Italian sausage, fresh pork barbecue, grilled chicken and the ever popular Texas turkey leg."
Nearby, Shockley's Food Service of Nashville, Tenn., offered roast beef sandwiches, cut roasts encrusted with seasonings, and huge burgers. Owner Kathey Shockley, her first year at the rally, showed the back of her T-shirt: "Anything else is a bum steer."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: Southeast Area Rally, Family Motor Coach Association.
Where: Hernando County Airport, south entrance off U.S. 41.
When: Public admission for nonmembers: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Admission: $6 for one day, $10 for multiple days.