The Story of Bowlus Road Chief®
Hawley Bowlus – Innovative Engineer
The Bowlus Road Chief’s history stretches back almost 90 years, with fascinating origins as the brainchild of designer, engineer and aircraft builder Hawley Bowlus. Best known for his role in building the famed aircraft Spirit of St. Louis and training many of the first glider pilots in the world, including Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Bowlus was determined to design and build a lightweight travel trailer that could transport flight crews to remote takeoff locations. As Bowlus began working on the prototype for what was to become the first travel trailer in the world, he added bunks to better accommodate overnight trips and evolved the innovative design to reflect his profound understanding of aerodynamics.
The Original Aluminum Travel Trailer
In 1934, Bowlus completed construction on his first aluminum riveted travel trailer at the family ranch in San Fernando, California. The Bowlus Road Chief was born. Weighing in at 1,100 pounds, the Road Chief was considered revolutionary for its advanced engineering, even boasting an intercom system to connect the driver with Road Chief riders. Soon, Bowlus and his team produced a number of models including the Papoose, Trail-Ur-Boat and the Motor Chief. His designs quickly found both admirers and would-be copycats, including Wally Byam of Airstream, who attempted to duplicate his work.
The mid-1930s were a busy time for the fledgling travel trailer company with deep California roots. A Road Chief appeared in the 1935 Hollywood movie Red Salute starring Cliff Edwards and Barbara Stanwyck. In 1936, Popular Mechanics covered the Road Chief widely, while Sunset Magazine ran two long-form stories chronicling the West family’s Road Chief adventures. Clark Gable and Carol Lombard ordered a Road Chief, as did Merle Norman, the cosmetic queen. Another two served in the California Highway Patrol. Almost a decade after the first Road Chief had hit the road, Lois Neidermeyer of Arizona drove a Road Chief up the Alaska Highway.
Sought by Collectors
At the Road Chief’s peak popularity, Bowlus produced an estimated eighty travel trailers in assorted designs before he returned full-time to the aircraft industry in 1937. But Bowlus had chosen his building materials to last, and they did: over half of the original Bowlus Road Chiefs built in the 1930s are still around today, often held in private collections. The last one publicly traded hands in 2011 at the Gooding & Co Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona for $187,000.
A Love For Adventure
Raised in an adventure-loving family with entrepreneurial grit and deep roots in tech, Bowlus Road Chief CEO Geneva Long was inspired to explore the limits of technology and innovation by revolutionizing the Bowlus Road Chief for the 21st century. Her first encounter with a Bowlus Road Chief occurred when the family sought a travel trailer after the completion of a 3,000-mile family road trip that dipped a tire of their 1947 Tatra into the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans.
The family later acquired a vintage 1935 Road Chief sitting forlornly in a field in Washington. The Road Chief had served as the headquarters of a local club and was in need of a complete overhaul. An extensive frame-up restoration of the Road Chief was celebrated with a cross-country adventure. It was no surprise that this adventure inspired the dream to design and build a modern day Road Chief with a user focused experience. Soon after, the contemporary Bowlus Road Chief was born.
Serving Modern Adventurers
“We are guided by simplicity and reductive design principles that better connect people to what they love. We are known for many technological firsts including heated floors, charging stations for devices, flexible space options and clever lithium power management systems that extend the Road Chief experience off-grid. The Bowlus Road Chief design rests on the foundation of an intuitive user experience, fully capable of creating life enhancing adventures." - Geneva Long, Bowlus Road Chief CEO
An Icon Leads Again
At Bowlus Road Chief, we promise to stay true to our design DNA with a philosophy that reflects our passion for adventure and innovation paired with our deep love of America. We’re certain that Hawley Bowlus would be proud to see the Road Chief ride again today as the most advanced travel trailer in the world.