Going Upscale

The company’s history can be traced to Bob Barth, who owned the Beeline Trailer Company. In 1963, Barth left Beeline to form the Barth Trailer Company, which was founded on the principle of building quality all-aluminum travel trailers. At the time, many travel trailers and almost all mobile homes used a wood frame with aluminum sheathing. Barth produced his all-aluminum trailers in his Milford, Indiana, factory from 1963 until 1968, when he sold the company to Mike Umbaugh.

Umbaugh, whose business experience was in banking and not RVs, saw the Barth Company as a solid investment opportunity. Immediately after acquiring the company, Umbaugh changed the focus from travel trailers (which he eventually phased out in 1970) to the growing motorhome market. Rather than try to compete with companies like Winnebago and GMC that sold a relatively affordable product, Umbaugh decided to produce a high-end motorhome for upscale buyers.

The Barth Company never produced more than 300 units per year, many of which were custom designed for the owners. Barth’s sales plummeted during and after the 1973 energy crisis as did the sales of all motorhomes. The company emerged from the crisis and altered its long-term vision by dedicating itself to manufacturing custom coaches designed for commercial purposes like mobile offices, medical support vehicles, dental labs, libraries, and remote TV production units. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, Barth continued to manufacture motorhomes and specialized motor coaches but eventually ceased operations.

In 1998, the company’s assets were sold to Keith Leatherman, owner of Leatherman Construction, who intended to revive the company. Leatherman spent approximately half a million dollars retooling manufacturing equipment and making plans to move the factory to Albion, Indiana, but due to a lack of orders, he officially pulled the plug on February 13, 2001.

Thanks to Barth champion David R. Bowers, a wealth of Barth information can be found at www.barthmobile.com. A club for loyal Barth owners, the Barth Rangers, meets from time to time.

Pictured is a 1974 30-foot model with the distinctive Victoria trunk. It sports a hearty 454-cubic-inch gasoline engine that ingests a copious quantity of fuel from its 120-gallon tank. Amenities include a 6-kilowatt generator, rear stateroom, Pergo flooring, radar detector, customized roof package and air horns. The entire ensemble rests on a Chevrolet/GMC chassis. The Barth is towing a 1937 Halsco Land Yacht, a magnificently intact unit from the golden age of the travel trailer. Jeff Hammers owns the duet, which was photographed at the Deming Log Show Grounds in Bellingham, Washington.

Douglas Keister’s new book, Mobile Mansions, will be published by Gibbs Smith Publisher in the spring of 2006. If you have a unique motorhome, e-mail a photo to doug@keisterphoto.com. Doug is also the author of Ready to Roll: A Celebration of the Classic American Travel Trailer and Silver Palaces: America’s Streamline Trailers. Personalized autographed copies are available from Doug. You can reach him at the e-mail address above.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *