A Look Back: Camping Trailers Were Once Made in Grand Rapids
This weekend it is the Camper, Trailer & RV Show at DeVos Convention Center with more than 100 RV lines. Did you know there was a time that camping trailers were made in Grand Rapids?
I always love when I find that something used by a lot of people is -- or was -- manufactured somewhere in our own backyard.
Just recently it was brought to my attention that camping trailers were once made in Grand Rapids. They were called the "Little Gem" and it was manufactured at Schiebout Manufacturing Company on South Division (near 76th Street). The building still remains at 7680 S. Division and part of it is home to B & D Trucks and Parts. Herman Schiebout Sr. was the founder of the company. He started Little Gem because there was a huge housing shortage as men returned home from the war. People kept knocking on the door looking for a room to rent. All the rooms he had available were full, so he decided to start converting old buses and then renting out a bed until he could find something better. It didn't take long and the Little Gem trailer was born.
From information I can find on the tincantourists.com website, the Schiebout's built their first trailers in 1941. They started their manufacturing company six years later, in 1947. They incorporated in 1966 to become Gem Industries Inc. Along with being one of the most popular camping trailers in the United States, they were also the number one selling trailer in Michigan. The company remained in business until the mid-70s. One review said:
Schiebout built very good units and was a small family run business. Their trailers were hand assembled and family members inspected each unit before letting it out.
The brochure described the trailers this way...
Gem opens the door to a new, richer atmosphere of life with a variety of pleasures for every season. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter -- These are the seasons of variety when you own a Gem. From the trailless routes of the country to the main thorofares of the large city, you are king of the finest estate, a self-contained Gem, royalty come to earth, Plan Gem-days: Fishing - Hunting - Skiing - Visiting - Touring - Plan them all, for now you are King.
Just a quick note: I'm not sure "traillless" is a word and they also included an interesting spelling of thoroughfares.
Little Gem Models
Up until 1966 the company manufactured the square sided "Canned-Ham" model. It was a wooded framed trailer with aluminum skin. In 1966, the company introduced a new model with rounded corners that was referred to as the "Bread Box". They also had smaller models called "The Bug", "State Park", and a 17' model named "Tel Star".
Little Gem Trailer Features
For their time, the Little Gem trailers featured a lot of creature comforts...
There was a couch that could be expanded into a bed that could sleep two adults. There was also an upper bunk for one adult or two kids and a dinette that converted to sleep an additional two adults. So the trailer could accommodate up to five adults.
Other features included:
- Gas/Electric Refrigerator
- Kitchen Sink
- Enclosed Toilet
- Pressurized Water Tank for Fresh Water
- Waste Water Storage
- Electric Brakes
Does anyone still have one of these travel trailers? We'd love to see your pictures! You can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Herman Scheibout Sr.'s grandaughter, Tracey Croskery, sent me the following pictures that she had of her grandfather's company and the trailers they manufactured:
Here is the 1957 model...
This is their location on S. Division...
A new shiny trailer...
It might have been a little chilly camping in the winter with the doors and windows open!
Radio station WKMH used a Little Gem trailer for a mobile studio...
Children looking forward to their first camping trip in the family's new Little Gem trailer.
Little Gem also made campers for the back of pickup trucks...
Camp without the need to haul a trailer behind you...
Some of the original Little Gem trailers are still in use...
A publicity photo for the Little Gem trailer...
A few years ago, there was also a company manufacturing fiberglass campers in Grandville. It was call the Egg Camper. Their website indicates they were going to start manufacturing again soon, but the website hasn't been updated since 2020.