The Oregon Trail

A light industrial center, once famous for producing over half the brass-band instruments made in America, Elkhart was founded in the 1830s along the banks of the St. Joseph River and now makes RVs, Humvees, and pharmaceutical products. Drug giant Miles Laboratories was founded here in 1884 and still has a major presence as the American HQ of its parent company, Bayer. In many ways Elkhart is a quintessential sleepy Midwest town, with an abundance of pleasant parks lining the riverbanks and a historic downtown hosting the energetic little Midwest Museum of American Art (429 S. Main St., 574/293-6660, Tues.-Sun., $10). There’s also an appreciation of the industrial heritage, on display at the National New York Central Railroad Museum (721 South Main St., 574/294-3001), where model train layouts and a number of full-size locomotives are displayed around what was once the largest rail yard east of the Mississippi River.

Northern Indiana is one of the country’s main centers for the manufacture of recreational vehicles, so don’t be surprised to find that Elkhart is home to the RV/MH Hall of Fame (574/293-2344 or 800/378-8694, daily, $10), located east of Elkhart off I-90. If you like old machines, it’s definitely worth an hour or more, if only for the chance to admire Mae West’s deep blue 1930s Chevrolet Housecar, the 1950s “canned ham” trailers, the first Winnebago motor home (circa 1967), and the creativity and ingenuity of early handmade conversions.