Have you ever wanted to know the story about Australia’s first motor home?
The Birth of the Australia’s First Motorhome
In 1928, South Australian Gerhard “Pops” Kaesler, Nurioopta’s blacksmith and go-to problem solver went on a camping trip with his wife and their five children. Arriving at McLarenvale, the Kaeslers soon discovered there was no room at the inn. They had to sleep in a shed. And despite the poor bedding, draughts and dismal standards, they still had to pay the same as the other guests.
Dissatisfied with their treatment, Pops was set on finding a better way to holiday. This was a man who was always finding better solutions. He lit his family home using his own water-powered generator well before anybody else in The Barossa even had electricity. He built his wife a water-powered washing machine and built what was essentially a Hills Hoist twenty years before they were officially invented. If anybody could come up with a way to guarantee holiday accommodation wherever they went, the man to do it would be Pops Kaesler.
The next year, the Kaesler clan were ready. They took their first holiday in what would be Australia’s first motorhome, Pops’ new “Home From Home”.
The Home From Home
To build it, Pops took the chassis from an old 1924 Dodge Tourer. On top of this, he built a house. The first motorhome was just that: a motorised home; a house on wheels. The “Home From Home” had a pitched roof, panelled walls, double-paned windows and a real front door. It just also happened to have a car coming out of the front.
The “Home From Home” wouldn’t be the Kaesler’s home for long. Mr and Mrs Kaesler and four of their five kids, the youngest 5 year-old twins, would set out that Easter in the first Australian but they would return a few weeks later by train…
Returning Home by Train
The Kaeslers were from Nuriootpa, a small town in South Australia’s Barossa region. In 1931, they decided that their Easter holiday was going to be a beachside holiday and so they drove the 158km to Goolwa. They would leave shortly after, but without Australia’s first motorhome. In fact, the Home From Home is still in Goolwa today.
Nobody knew what to make of the motorhome. Not being a tent, the SA police didn’t know what to charge the Kaeslers for camping on the beach – typical campers were charged 2’6 those days, but this was not a tent and the Kaeslers were not typical campers. They were in their own home, cooking in a kitchen.
People were fascinated by Australia’s first motorhome. So much so, in fact, that when the Kaeslers reached Goolwa, they were met by the mayor, Percy Wells. Wells loved the machine and asked Pops to build him one using his old Buick. For whatever reason, possibly because the family were only holidaying in Goolwa, Pops declined. Haggling ensued. By the end of the holiday, Wells won out and Pops sold the “Home From Home”. The Kaeslers, possessions and all, went home on the train.
Australia’s first motorhome can be found in Goolwa to this day. In 2000, it was semi-restored. It now sits behind glass in the town’s museum.
Life After the First Motorhome
And what happened to the Kaeslers? They kept motorhoming. Two years later, Pops had built a bigger and better RV, known as the “House on Wheels” or “The Cottage”. The family took it out for Mr and Mrs Kaesler’s silver wedding anniversary, their 25th.
Kaesler’s Home on Wheels
This time, Pop used a truck chassis, which he lengthened. He reinforced the wheels. He added a second petrol tank. He added two 45L water tanks. They kept the cooker from the “Home From Home”, only this time, it was securely, permanently installed and fuelled by shellite. For exhaust, there was a chimney. No longer was storage limited to the roof, with cupboards and small compartments fitted everywhere. There was a wardrobe, a hinged mirror and a tight first aid compartment by the driver.
The original drive for the motorhome, the bedding, was also upgraded. The four of the five Kaesler kids — the eldest, now 24, stayed at home — slept in bunk beds. Pops and Ma Kaesler enjoyed a pull-out double sofa bed. During the day, the bedding was stored overhead in the roof.
The Adventures of the Home on Wheels
Pop Kaesler took his second motorhome all around Australia’s East, and up as far as Gympie in North Queensland. 25 years after its first trip, the “Home on Wheels” took its last major trip to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.
Kaesler’s grandson still drives the “Home on Wheels”. It doesn’t do long trips, just short parades. It lives on display outside the Nuriootpa Caravan Park. Its chimney, tiled roof and mock stone finish lives on in view of its descendants, the metallic and aerodynamic RVs of the 21st century.
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