The first motor home started here!

Sometime before my favourite country singer, the late Johnny Horton, made his fortune doing tunes like “North to Alaska” and “The Battle of New Orleans,” a local group decided to make its mark, too.
They would take a ride down the mighty Mississippi and see its southern terminus to try and attract more widespread attention for our new Atlantis.
This group, practically the nucleus of our local Kiwanis Club, was led by one of a pair of popular local brothers outstanding for originality here right along. This was the Smith Brothers, who just may have been related to the famed cough drop kings (nobody is quite sure), but each had ways all his own.
It was Wellington Smith who organized the expedition down the Great River Road, which was receiving generous publicity around Canada as a fresh route for tourism. Wellington, of course, with his ingenuity, had to travel with a flourish.
While his brother, Dwight Smith, might have insisted on an old-fashioned riverboat voyage down to Louisiana, Wellington figured his own idea would arouse more excitement.
He would test that brand new “Mississippi Parkway” with his brand new limousine.
Only, he called his new conveyance a “travel coach” and, wouldn’t you know it, he had created the first of its kind and built it so well he was forced to suspend production.
Else he wouldn’t have had the time for some of his other ideas, such as that Nelson Street apartment building later called the Cotton Block, or for pursuing such extra branches of commerce as his lumber and hardware store.
After all, Wellington was son-in-law to John East, the local builder of schools and streets and whatever was needed next here in early days.
So out they went, about six of our fellows, flaunting a small, live-in bus that you drove from your front room. And ever after, other homes on wheels would be driven through here from the U.S. whereas nobody had imagined such a thing before.
Living by the International bridge, we soon saw the knock-offs coming over afterwards in fleets and then parades, and so many caravans of them headed north to Alaska. Singer Horton would have been proud.
They soon linked the entire depth of North America—and it’s still going on.
From travel coach, though, the name became “motor home” and they’re everywhere today.
Wellington went ahead with two or three copies before he laid down his wrenches. He got a local priest sold on one as a way of visiting the Indian reserves and his other travel coaches found other trails.
He would take a Chevy pickup frame, and stretch it maybe five feet. The finished and furnished product attracted admiration.
I doubt that his 1950’s model has been altered much to this day. And I never heard much criticism from a grateful travelling public.
On that first trip south, the Kiwanians were saluted as the right kind of neighbours all the way from the Mississippi headwaters in Itasca state park, Minnesota, down river to New Orleans and back again.
It was probably this trip, as much as anything, that put the travel coach in the American eye to stay because, sure as shooting, they wasted no time in building their own motor homes although I never heard they paid any royalties to Wellington on his invention.
This seems merely to confirm the old saying that the best things in life are free!
Dwight Smith kept on showing us around Rainy Lake for years in his big double excursion boat, the “Sara A,” and he rivalled his brother in popularity. Except for the old workhorse, the “Hallett,” now on display at Pither’s Point Park, the “Sara A” was the largest craft afloat here.
Having some knowledge of the Smiths and their convivial ways, I suggested to Dwight that we get together and run moonlight trips up the North Arm a short way to Camp Ontario.
That resort for boys was up for sale with a big basketball floor under the trees and this would have been ideal for dancing.
Carl Gray, then owner of Rainy Lake Hotel, was quickly sold on the plan as a way of providing extra hospitality for his guests. Then Carl had to move to Kenora where his mother had died, leaving him to operate her big Kenricia hotel.
Dwight was as disappointed as I was because we had lost a sponsor and I never got involved in any lake business after all.
But Dwight was a great host and everyone enjoyed him as much as his brother. It can grow on you why the quality of people we always had among us was right for our version of Atlantis.
• • •
And if it continues getting warmer here this winter, we’ll probably have more robins flying around town than one brave little guy seen making friends on Fifth Street a week ago.
Keith Gate told Doug Jenson about him and now I want to know what’s next? Or is Atlantis-type weather here to stay?
• • •
The kids everywhere love the Harry Potter books by a lady in England, but I’m advised by a granddaughter in Milwaukee that some teachers there are not pleased.
The criticism is growing here, too, with Saskatoon teachers taking a stand against the popular, multi-million dollar effort that has swept the world.
The knockers want you to know the books are so entertaining because they are full of witchcraft and sorcery stuff, and not fit for young minds. As one teacher put it, the books are a “crash course in witchcraft!”
Of course, this attitude will promote greater sales.
I received the first three Harry Potter books as a Christmas gift but I must apologize that I’ve not got started reading them yet!
• • •
As an honourary member of Fort Frances Rotary Club of around 20 years’ standing, I deeply regret the loss of that wonderful service club here.
I also lost out when the Jaycees packed it up, but the oldest club of all, the Kiwanis, is still very much alive with their good works! Wish them well!

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