Ricky Farber’s mouth hung open as he stepped into a gleaming 42-foot motor home.
“Are you a-kiddin’ me?” the oil and gas worker from Springfield said as he sank into an overstuffed leather massage chair, undid the button on his jeans and turned on a big-screen TV. “Hey, Eunice, I think I just found RV heaven.”
Actually, that’s not a bad description for Bartle Hall this weekend, where the Mid-America RV Show continues through Sunday. The show opens at 10 a.m. Tickets are $12 for adults.
“If you like RVs, this is your place,” said Marvin Peters, a retired financial planner from Harrisonville who has driven RVs for two decades. “You can’t swing a 7-iron in here without hitting one.”
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Eleven dealers from Missouri and Kansas packed the place with a dizzying array of motor homes, fifth-wheels, travel trailers, trucks and more. But that wasn’t all. A pop-up bar served beer and mixed drinks, Yogi Bear took pictures with kids, and almost 70 other exhibitors hawked everything from vacuums and vacations to hot tubs and adjustable beds.
The RVs drew most of the attention, though. The big crowd spoke to the dramatic rebound the industry had made since sales bottomed out during the recession.
“Those were rough times,” said Daryn Anderson, general manager of Olathe Ford RV Center in Gardner. “You couldn’t give one of these things away.”
But cheap gas and a healthier economy have helped spark the largest rebound in RV sales since the Reagan administration.
Nationally the $14.5 billion industry has enjoyed double-digit growth over the last three years, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association in Reston, Va.. Sales are up 64 percent since 2009, when the recession pushed the industry to its worst year in two decades. Today, more than 9 million households own an RV, the most on record.
Farber hadn’t been in one since the ’90s.
“I’ll tell ya, they used to be a bucket of bolts on wheels,” he said. “But these things? Dang, buddy, these things are nicer than my house!”
Anderson knows what he means.
“The RVs of yesterday had just the basic essentials,” he said. “Today they’re like walking into a luxury home — especially the larger motor homes. They have tile floors, granite countertops, microwave convection ovens, leather seating with massage chairs with heat, full-sized showers.”
Anderson brought 36 RVs to the show ranging in price from $11,000 to a quarter million. By noon on Saturday he had sold seven motor homes, 10 fifth-wheels and 16 travel trailers.
“One thing we don’t hear anymore is (concern) about fuel prices,” he said. “At a buck sixty-five a gallon, that’s no longer an issue.”
“What’s the MPG on one of those?” a passer-by asked.
“Eight to 10,” said Anderson.
“It’s a great time to be in the RV business,” he said.
Shawn Wiegers, general manager of Liberty RV in Liberty, said his business makes 20 percent of its yearly sales at RV shows. He’s been at this show at Bartle Hall for 14 years.
“At last year’s show we saw record growth, as we sold 90 RVs at the RV show alone,” he said.
Lots of people find RVs at the show, including Steve and Rita Straub of Gardner. The couple liked a 27-foot Salem travel trailer. It might be just thing to use to take their five granddaughters camping.
Then again, they might go with something else.
“It’s great,” Steve said. “You just don’t realize how many styles and floor plans and sizes there are here.”
“Plus you’re indoors,” Rita added. “And out of the cold.”
Mid-America RV Show
Location: Bartle Hall
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $12; children 12 and under get in free
More information: gsevents.com