Class a motor home: keeping up with the hillbillies is a full-time, fun job.
The motivation, Lester says tongue in cheek, was economy. "Grandma said, 'I want a motor home," Lester explains. "Grandpa said, 'We can't afford one. I'll just build one." And so he did.
'Two warped minds'
Old iron is literally the heart of the hillbilly motor home. Lester bought a 1947 John Deere Model A at an auction and built an 8-by-18-1/2-by-9-foot shell around it. "I had to look quite a while to find a tractor that looked awful but ran well," he allows. The Model A was in good running condition when he got it but the clutch needed a little work. "After I bought it, I told them, 'Now don't you scrape any dirt off this tractor. I want it to be natural.' It just kind of metastasized from there."
The choice of a '47 Model A may have actually simplified the design phase. "I always wanted to put it on a Roll-a-matic but this tractor was built just before that came out," Lester says. "If I could have done that, I think I'd put it on one big tire and one small tire."
It's hard to say whether the motor home caused sleepless nights or merely fueled the fire. "Lester would lay awake at night, thinking of things to put on there," Linda says. "Meanwhile, my brother would go to auctions and help look for specific things Lester needed." Launched on April 1, 2004 (yes, really), the project looks complete today but Lester says otherwise. "Something like this never ends," he says. "I still have some more ideas. And we get a lot of suggestions. Some you can use; some you can't."
On a rig that has a clearly marked "road-kill processing department," a one-hole outhouse marked "men" on one side and "ladies" on the other and a "lizard" on a rotisserie that turns when the tractor moves forward, it's hard to imagine what, exactly, would constitute an unusable idea. "Sometimes we get a little carried away," Linda says with a smile. "I'm the chief instigator and enabler, but basically, we're two warped minds."
Where there's smoke, there's fire
Framed with old barn boards, the cabin includes the driver's seat (surrounded by a complex system of horns that produces a veritable cacophony of sound) and a compact living space with bed, shelving and wood stove. "I have built a fire in the stove so we'd have smoke when we run it in a parade," Lester admits.
A magazine rack holds copies of National Geographic dating to the 1950s. Curtains blow through open windows; shelves hold an assortment of curiosities, including a can labeled "possum farts." In small picture frames, photos show the couple's grandparents, gazing in what must surely be disbelief. "Dear Lord," a hand-painted sign implores, "bless this mess."
The main part of the motor home is supported by a rollbar over the driver's seat; metal rods extend down to the framework that holds the floor. "The shell fastens to the tractor's back axles," Lester says. "Truss rods support it, kind of like a support bridge."
Trailing behind the motor home is an elaborate complex - outhouse, roadkill processing kitchen, rotisserie, boat, motor, fishing equipment and more - rising from a John Deere Model L manure spreader dating to the early 1950s, another auction find. The boat does not look exactly seaworthy. "It has a hole but it could be fixed," Lester says with optimism. "With a giant cork," suggests granddaughter LeAnn Ripley. Painted on the boat's side is its name: Lovely Linda. Were the boat to float, however, right side up, its name would be upside down. On this rig, that seems entirely appropriate.
Welcome to the wild kingdom
A farmer's interest in wildlife is evident throughout. The hillbilly motor home is adorned with a coyote hide, a bear trap Lester built (cheaper, he notes, than buying a piece now considered a collectible), a snapping turtle's shell, a possum pelt, ram's horns, wire minnow trap, buffalo horn, pronghorn sheep horns, block and tackle to lift the big ones and, naturally, a set of deer's hooves. "I have a bad habit of going to auctions," Lester says. "That's how I got the deer feet." In the outhouse, a mount that looks more like a hyena than the fox it is grins menacingly over the throne.
Elsewhere wildlife is the source of gags. "Possum: It's what's for supper," one sign reads. An old relic is identified as a "squirrel tail/dog food grinder." A burlap bag holds a possum; a mailbox door falls open to reveal a skunk on full alert. An artificial robin presides over the birdbath. "We restore tractors," Linda says, "so we can laugh at ourselves."
'There's nothing like it'
LeAnn and her sister, Paige, routinely invoke squatter's rights on the motor home, confident in the knowledge that they have The Coolest Grandparents of all Time. Grandma even provided authentic hillbilly costuming. "We play in it all the time," Paige says. "We act like we are hillbillies in our new home. There's nothing like it!"
Now in its second decade, the motor home is a bona fide fun machine, whether you're 6 or 60. Smiles spread across the couple's faces as they talk about one enhancement or another. "The rain cap on the exhaust," Linda says. "I just laughed and laughed when I saw that." In a design Rube Goldberg would have admired, a rain cap is lifted from the exhaust pipe by a rotating bicycle chain (minus the pedals, which had been sawed off). For Lester, the barbecue rotisserie that rotates when the tractor advances still generates a chuckle.
The motor home is a regular on the local parade circuit. For a hillbilly parade with a "Christmas in July" theme, the couple planted a big red ball on the cow skull on the front of the tractor - making it a red-nosed (John) rein-Deere - and Lester was decked out in a Santa suit. But the rig really shines at antique tractor shows.
"We need people who understand farm life and tractors and old junk," Lester says. "Young people just kind of walk by. But old farmers like me, they find it pretty humorous." "One guy circled it for 45 minutes," Linda says, "just laughing and laughing."
For the Peters', that's what it's all about.
Caption: 1. Linda and Lester Peters in official garb. On the motor home a sign reads, "Don't worry what people think. They don't do it very often."
Caption: 2. The hillbilly motor home's restroom facilities, complete with a deranged fox mount.
Caption: 3. A bicycle chain lifts the custom-made Folger's rain cap from the muffler on the John Deere Model A tractor. At top right: A weather vane catches the breeze in hollow baseball halves.
Caption: 4. Front view of the motor home: Hand washing station, spare seating, laundry on the line and a dinner bell.
Caption: 5. One side of the rig's trailer, complete with a privy. The outhouse is equipped with reading material and a plunger. "Just don't flush in town," the Peters' granddaughter, Paige, admonishes.
Caption: 6. In case you were wondering about the next meal ...
Caption: 7. The motor home's outdoor dining area and "nursery." The cradle is rocked by motion from the tractor's PTO shaft. Each stroke ends with a jarring jolt that inevitably draws a gasp from onlookers but seems not to bother the "baby" at all.
Caption: Above: From head to tail, the hillbilly motor home measures 34-1 /2 feet long.
Caption: Right: From the Peters family photo album: In an operation fueled by a strong sense of humor (and Photoshop), Lester and Linda Peters with their hillbilly motor home "in front of" Mt. Rushmore. Other photos in their album suggest an itinerary that includes Daytona, Disneyland, Mt. McKinley, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and even a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.
Caption: Far Right: Lester and Linda's granddaughters: LeAnn Ripley, 10, and Paige Ripley, 9.
For more information: Lester and Linda Peters, 12753 Butler Ave., Plainfield, IA 50666.
Leslie McManus is the editor of Farm Collector. Contact her at Lmcmanus@ogdenpubs.com.
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|Author:||McManus, Leslie C.|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2014|
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