One time, Jack and Trent Sisemore were driving around Amarillo when they saw a rare 1953 Fleetwood trailer pulling into a gas station.
“We went up and asked the owner if she was interested in selling her trailer,” Trent recalled. “She was 84 years old and living in it. But she said, ‘I think it’s time to quit.’ We bought it on the spot.”
Then, father Jack and son Trent spent thousands of hours restoring the old trailer. Today, that Fleetwood is one of many treasures visitors can see at Sisemore Traveland RV Museum near historic Route 66 in Amarillo.
“The museum is more than just a collection of RVs. It’s about the freedom of the open road, the history of what that has meant to America,” Trent said. “It brings back memories. All the time, we hear people say, ‘I used to have one of those,’ or ‘Remember when we camped as kids in something like that?’”
Jack started it all by opening a Chevron gas station in 1963.
“I had to borrow money from my grandmother to do it,” he said, adding he began renting recreational vehicles from the gas station for extra income.
That lead to the huge Jack Sisemore Traveland, established in 1974, which rents, sells and services RVs and campers. As for those historic RVs, Jack got hooked after restoring a 1946 Tear Drop Kit trailer. The unique beauty was built as a kit from war surplus.
“The founder of Kit, Dan Polkapaila, gave us his last set of fenders for this restoration,” Jack said. “Many of the wheels on these Tear Drops had to have the bullet holes repaired from World War II to be used in the kit.”
During the years, as they collected more vintage RVs, the Sisemores decided to share their collection with the public. Opened in 2012, the free museum is located in a massive climate-controlled building behind Traveland.
Perhaps the rarest of the collection is the first Itasca Motor Home ever built, a 1975 factory prototype designated serial No. 1. Then, there’s the 1941 Westcraft trailer originally owned by a World War II defense worker. Inside the Westcraft is a folded American flag and a photograph of the USS Sigourney battleship signed by 17 U.S. presidents.
A 1936 Alma was found in a barn where it had been parked in 1955.
“It is all original, never been restored, and it looks like new,” Jack said.
A 1948 Flxible Bus named “Happy Max” that was in the Robin Williams’ 2006 movie “RV” is a popular photo stop for visitors. Nearby is a luxurious 1976 FMC motor home once owned by cosmetics tycoon Max Factor Jr. There’s also a 1937 Kozy Kamp tent trailer, one of the first built.
The most prized treasure might be the Airstream Tornado. Built in 1935, it is the oldest existing Airstream trailer in the world. Airstream trailers were so popular developer Wally Byam couldn’t keep up with buyer demand, so he sold the plans to people to build their own.
“A young medical student named Norman Holman bought the plans for $5 and built this one,” Trent said. “It took a lot of love and care to build this. I don’t know many people today who could build something of this design and this quality.”
In addition to all the historic RVs and trailers, the Sisemores also have set up vignettes of antique cameras, games, camping equipment, cooking utensils and other items that campers would have used in times past. Visitors are invited to step inside the RVs and enjoy a blast from the past in the self-contained time capsules. The settings look as though campers have just stepped away for a dip in the lake.
“We don’t just want you to see an RV but to see the fishing pole and the cookie jar that went with it,” Trent said. “When I go RVing, I go to garage sales, yard sales, junk stores looking for old toys and games and books, things that go along with the years these RVs were used.”
A game of dominoes waits on a Formica tabletop. A transistor radio stands nearby. A guitar leans against a 1967 hippie VW bus.
“Think how many young people started their camping in one of these,” Trent said.
Be sure to look up after being awed by the RVs. Along the ceiling is where Jack hangs his prized collection of motorcycles, including Harley Davidson, Yamaha, Triumph and Bultacos. At the back of the museum is a recreation of the Standard Oil gas station that started the family business more than half a century ago.
“It’s been a real joy to do this,” Jack said. “It’s become a museum of America and the road, the thrill of traveling in an RV.”