James G. Rauch and His House Car

James G. Rauch was one of the earliest persons in Slatington to operate a motor car when in April 1910 he bought his first car, a Thomas Flyer automobile. The Flyer was manufactured by the E. R. Thomas Motor Company of Buffalo, NY. It was a rather short-lived company that lasted from about 1900 to 1919.

1910 Thomas Flyer

1910 Thomas flyer; image credit Wikimedia

A few years later, Rauch built what was commonly referred to as his “house car.” (I have seen other names used such as “house on wheels,” or “house auto.”) This was basically an early recreational vehicle (RV) or a camper in which a “house” was built using a car as a platform. In this regard, I’m sure that Rauch’s carriage-making experience from his upbringing came in handy. While some information about the house car states that Rauch used the chassis of a 1910 Buick for his creation, a closer look at photos shows that the car was more likely a 1915 Buick C25 or C-36 roadster.

House car

House cars on the road; photo credit: Hanagan

I also found mention of Rauch purchasing a second-hand, Ford Model T in 1913 and a six-cylinder Buick in 1914. He Must have really loved cars, as he was a founding member of the Slatington Motor Club in 1911 and actively involved with the fledgling Lehigh Valley Motor Club.

The story goes that in 1923 Rauch turned over active management of The Slatington News to his five sons, and he and his wife set off to explore the United States in their house car. Every winter, after about Thanksgiving, the Rauchs would head off for Florida, and then they would return to Slatington about Easter. One could only imagine the roads that they had to travel in those days. In a kind of weird way, they might be styled the first “snowbirds.” That’s what Floridians call people from the north who descend on Florida every winter. These winter trips to Florida happened pretty much every year until World War II.

These early hand-made RVs (house cars) were actually not uncommon. They are often mentioned in area newspapers, and I have seen ads (“house car for sale”) through the 1920s. The cars were usually equipped with basic living necessities: folding beds and chairs, tables, radio, stove, water tanks, cooking equipment and all kinds of household and camping utensils.

In addition to the annual winter drives south to Florida, Rauch made several other long trips with the house car. In 1928-1929, the Rauchs traveled to the west coast and back. The Slatington News covered their return on 13 September 1929. “Mr. and Mrs. James G. Rauch and Mr. and Mrs. John Heintzelman of Jordans, PA returned Tuesday evening from an automobile trip to the Pacific Coast in which they covered about 12,000 miles. They had been gone exactly one year.” That must have been an impressive undertaking! Then, in the winter 1930 to spring 1931, the Rauchs undertook a “4000-mile auto tour, which covered West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Alabama.” (The Morning Call, 31 March 1931)

Starting in December 1934, Rauch began to publish lengthy accounts of his travels in The Slatington News under the title of “The Open Road.” Publication often would stretch over several issues of the paper and in the accounts, he described sites seen along the way of the journeys. These travelogues were also published in succeeding years such as 1935, 1936, etc.