Apache Travel Trailer
Vesely Manufacturing Company (Apache)
The Vesely Manufacturing Company was located in Lapeer, Michigan and were the makers of the very popular Apache camping trailer line. Apache enthusiasts are still around and have their own community on the web. If you have an Apache Camper or just want to know more visit ApacheOwners.com. It’s a great place to get started on your Apache Adventure! There you can find owner’s manuals, tips, user forum, and much more. The site’s owner, Jim, has been both supportive of, and contriubuted to, this web site.
In 1948 Eugene Lewis Vesely founded a construction firm in Detroit. It was moved to Lapeer, Michigan in 1950 where both Eugene and his wife, Anabel Millie, grew up. It was with this company that he started to build camping trailers. Vesely’s story can be traced back to 1955 when he designed and built a collapsilbe tent on top of a boat trailer for an Alaskan family adventure which never materialized. At the time the only affordable camping trailer he could find was one built as a single wheel unit bolted to the rear bumper (most likely a Heilite trailer). Eugene did not like this design and decided to build is own. Before long he was duplicating his efforts for friends and fellow sportsmen. That is when he got the idea to produce camping trailers commercially. It was the perfect time to enter this market. He started making wooden boxed chiefs at an old cement plant in 1956. In 1957 the Vesely Manufacturing Company was founded as a recreational vehicle business.
The first camping trailers were manufactured in a 4000 sq. ft.truck garage in Lapeer. As demand grew so did Vesely’s need for greater manufacturing space. By 1959 Vesely Manufacturing Co. had become the world’s largest manufacturer of camping trailers. During these early years Vesely produced campers for Sears (Ted Williams brand) as well. Some 35,000 sq. ft. on the east edge of Lapeer was now dedicated to the task. Business continued to grow and in 1961 Vesely Mfg. Co. purchased 20 acres just north of Lapeer. A new factory was completed in December with over 70,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space.
The 1961 Apache model lineup included the Eagle, Chief and Scout. The Eagle weighed 425 lbs and was priced at $645, or $4,500 in 2007 dollars. It featured two beds that pulled out to either side. The Chief weighed 340 lbs and was more of a hybrid trailer and tent. The tent pulled over to one side. The trailer served as the off-the-ground bed while the tent, with its enclosed canvas floor, served as the living area where additional sleeping cots and tables could be placed. It was priced at $525. The Chief was redesinged in 1962, giving it a much more stylish look. The Scout was the low-end of the model lineup weighing in at 250 lbs. It functioned the same as the Chief and could be bought for $325, or $2,250 in 2007 dollars. All were tent trailers with soft tops. In 1962 the Apache camping trailer was named Michigan’s Consumer Product of the Year.
Vesely Mfg. Co. introduced a fourth moded in the lineup in 1963, the Raven. Priced at $450, or $3,000 in 2007 dollars, the Raven featured 2 beds the slid out to the sides and a tent top. It weighed 425 lbs. The Raven and Scout models were the economy models of the Chief and Eagle. The Scout’s body was redesigned as well matching the others and was priced at $395. The Eagle and Cheif models also sported a polymer travel cover (plastic cover) which was removed for setup.
In 1964 the Golden Eagle was introduced as the top of the model lineup. Priced at $745, or $4,930 in 2007 dollars, it included the Apache Camp-Mate (a removable travel-trunk-table combo). It was the largest trailer manufactured to-date weighing in at 625 lbs. When erected it measured 14 feet 1 inch by 7 feet with 35 sq ft of floor space. Two full-sized beds pulled out to the sided. The polymer travel cover was now hinged allowing the two pieces to simply flip open and be used as off-the-ground storage compartments. (You can see the evolution of the soft-top pop-up camper here moving towards the hard-top). The Golden Eagle was a good-looking camping trailer! Next in the lineup was the new Silver Eagle priced at $645. It was almost identical to the Golden Eagle even measuring the same. But it did not feature the polymer travel cover with its storage and did not include the Apache Camp-Mate. It weighed 600 lbs. Rounding out the lineup was the Raven, now weighing 500 lbs and priced at $495, and the Chief priced at $525.
Vesely Mfg. Co. first went public in 1964, filing with the SEC on May 6th for sale of 140,000 shares at 8 3/8. Up to that time the company’s 700,000 shares of outstanding stock were equally owned between Eugene and his wife, Millie. It was during this time the company changed its name from Vesely Manufacturing Company to just Vesely Company. Between 1964 and May 1966 small dividends were paid out. During this time the company incurred substantial overhead costs preparing for a big increase in volume that didn’t materialize and in the development of a new camping trailer, Madero, which didn’t sell. The company also incurred losses in its new European subsidiary, which ended up being liquidated in fiscal year 1967 with a write-off of $16,000 (equivilent to $104,627 in 2009 dollars). The company earned $653,000 or 71 cents a share of $6,600,000 sales in the September 1964 year but the next year, despite higher sales, profits from operations were down to 53 cents a share and fiscal 1966 brought a $237,000 loss. When asked about it in a 1969 interview Eugene stated, “That’s the year we realized that we were not a little industry. There were tremendous money needs. We rolled up our shirts and changed management philosophy.”
1965 marks the year Apache made the transition from soft-top to hard-top camping trailers for their top-of-the-line models. The Golden Buffalo holds the title as Apache’s first hard-top camping trailer. Compared to prior year’s models it came loaded with features. Two beds slid out from the front and the back while the top raised up to form the roof. This camping trailer had many features that one would recognize today, a 3-range stove, sink, dinette table that converted into a bed, an icebox (used a 25 lb ice block typical for the day), and an 8000 BTU furnance. And it also included a self-contained toilet tucked in the corner with its own privacy curtain. As an added touch of luxury there was carpet on the floor (not sure this was such a good idea in a camping trailer though). The trailer’s net weight was 785 lbs and it was priced at $895, or $5,825 in 2007 dollars (price did not include the built-in accessories). The shape of the windows were distinctively Apache. One shortcoming, there was no screen door, just a cut in the canvas. Apache quickly changed that design on following year’s models. Next in the lineup was last year’s leader, the Golden Eagle priced at $795. Following was another new model, the Silver Eagle. Like the Golden Buffalo the beds slid out from the front and back and it featured a soft-top much like prior years models. The trailer included no built-in accessories. It weighed 750 lbs and was priced at $745, or $4,850 in 2007 dollars. Rounding out 1965’s model lineup was the Raven and Chief priced at $525 and $445 respectively.
Leading 1966 was the Buffalo Mesa priced at $875. It was basically a restyle version of the Golden Buffalo but now offered a screen door as an option. As you slide the beds out the roof raised up. That feature may have been new for 1966. The self-contained toilet was removed as well. Next was the Buffalo priced at $745. It closely resemble the Silver Buffalo from the prior year but with larger fiberglass screened windows. Finishing out 66’s lineup was the three lightly restyled camping trailers Eagle, Raven and Chief priced at $710, $590, and $485 respectively. All three featured larger fiberglass screened windows.
It was during 1966 that Vesely Co. came out with an interesting new trailer, the Madero, featuring hard sides like a travel trailer, bed ends that pulled out like a tent trailer, with the entire outfit collapsible like a tent trailer. Included were wind resistant boot covers for the canvas bed ends allowing the camper to be used in cold weather. No doubt this camper was the parent of the very popular solid state campers Apache introduced in 1970. Despite later success with the concept of solid state this trailer did not fare very well. The cost to develop the camping trailer was one of the primary reasons for the company’s profit loss of 1966.
1967 brought a BIG change, the super-sized Ramada model that is! Apache now had a luxury camping trailer that would make the competition nervous. This marked the Vesely Company’s 10th anniversary. Many new features were introduced with this model. See US Patent 3,506,299. Most notably was the crank system that both raised the hard-top and slid out the beds. It came with a self-storing screen door with the door in the body flipping down to make a step. It featured a 3 burner range, sink, icebox, large dinette table that doubled as a bed, a couch that also doubled as a bed, and electric brakes. No doubt the price was luxury too, $1,495 or $9,300 in 2007 dollars. Opened up it was 21 feet long with 125 sq ft living space. It weighed 1,400 lbs with a max carrying weight of 400 lbs. Coming in a distant second place was the Mesa, weighing in at 825 lbs and priced at $895. It featured the new crank-up and out system as well as a hard-top. Next was the Buffalo weighing 750 lbs. Mostly the same as last year with some slight restyling. Rounding out 1967’s was the Eagle, Falcon, and Chief priced $745, $645, and $495 respectively. The Falcon model replaced the Raven and weighed 575 lbs. Vesely was again profitable, the 1967 fiscal year brought profits of 61 cents a share.
Apache’s lineup for 1968 remained the same as 1967. Prices were increased due to inflation with the Ramada now selling for $1,595, or $9,400. The remaining models were priced the following, Mesa – $995, Buffalo – $875, Eagle – $795, Falcon – $675, and the Chief holding steady at $495. The 1968 fiscal year brought profits of 91 cents a share on sales of $13,700,000 with a net income of $850,000. Camping trailers were still the mainstay of Vesely’s business, accounting for 95% of all sales in 1968. But things were about to change again for Apache.
For 1969 the Ramada featured a new floor plan with Hard Rock Maple tone cabinetry. It was one very sharp camper now priced at $1,675. The Mesa now came in three options, Mesa I, II, and III priced $1,045, $1,155, and 1,420. Each offered progressively more features and was priced accordingly. Next in line was the Buffalo II priced at $985. The next three models were the Eagle – $795, Falcon – $645, and the Chief $495. The Eagle model featured a new dinette table that dropped to make a kid’s bed. Rounding out 1969 Apache introduced a new economy model, the Scout. Selling for $495 this trailer was a traditional tent top with 2 beds that flipped out to the side. It functioned and looked much like the Falcon model. Apache ended the decade with at least one model camper offered for each of the distinctive camper styles that had emerged during this decade. The Ramada would resemble more of what the future would look like while the Chief was the original camping trailer Apache offered.
Vesely Company filed again with the SEC on December 9, 1969 for the sale of 150,000 shares of common stock, of which 50,000 were offered for public sale and 100,000 (being outstanding) for the present holders. At the time of the filing the company had 951,907 common shares outstanding, which Eugene owned 39.1% and Millie owned 39%. $300,000 was earmarked and used for constructing and equipping a travel trailer and pickup camper production facility near Jonestown, PA. Another $350,000 towards another facility located in the Midwest (to be determined). The balance of the proceeds was added to working capital and used for general corporate purposes. In 1969 Vesely Company expanded into another leisure field market. Offered for sale was the Sierra. It was a GAV (Go-Anywhere Vehicle) that featured six-wheels. It sold for $1,495.
Though it was in 1970 Vesely revealed his biggest supprise. 1970 marks the year the solid state pop-up camper made its debut. A ledgend was born! It was a sharp looking camper that sported solid side walls that raised into place as the insulated roof was cranked up. The windows were aluminum-framed and tilted outward when opened. The bed ends featured a solid roof over them, but were still wrapped in canvas sides with zippered windows. The door was one-piece and both it and the walls were molded of ABS thermoplastic. Top of the Apache line was the Ramada I and II selling for $1,695 or $9,261 in 2009 dollars. There was no price increase from 1969. They were effectively the same trailer with a different configuration on the inside. One featured two dinette tables that both converted to beds while the other featured only one dinette table, a wardrobe chest and hideaway cabinet for a porta-potti. The Mesa III and II were next in the model lineup. They featured the same solid-state side walls and windows but were smaller trailers sleeping only six. They were price $1,395 and $1,095 respectively. And finishing out the model lineup for 1970 was the Eagle priced at $795. It was still the same trailer as it was when first introduced in 1964, all canvas with beds that flipped out to the sides.
1971 and onwards…..
1955 – 1986
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