The Rocinante Truck Camper

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Rocinante is the truck author John Steinbeck drove across the United States in 1960. He recounts the journey in Travels with Charley, a bestseller that initially sold more volumes than any of Steinbeck's other books and won the 1963 Paperback-of-the-Year Award. Steinbeck chose a truck because it is mobile yet self-contained, and it "is a respectable and respected working instrument."

The truck Steinbeck commissioned was a new model with a V6 engine, an automatic transmission, and an oversized generator. The camper was provided by the Wolverine Camper Company of Glaswin, Michigan.

Steinbeck called the truck Rocinante, after Quixote's horse because his friends called his trip quixotic. Shirley Fisher of McIntosh and Otis painted the name in early Spanish script on the camper's side. When the hurricane that initially postponed Steinbeck trip wore away the letters, she repainted it.

Steinbeck mentions Rocinante occasionally but affectionately in his book, calling her "a beautiful thing, powerful and lithe," almost as easy to handle as a passenger car. There were a few mishaps along the way. Having equipped the camper with about "four times too much of everything," two tires gave out on a lonely road in Oregon, and Steinbeck had to replace the overloaded loaded springs in California.

However, Steinbeck maintained that Rocinante was not "mean" or "ugly-natured" like some cars he'd owned. Indeed, because of her "purring motor and perfect performance," "because of her ready goodness," he treated "her like the honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife," and except for meticulous routine maintenance, he ignored her.

After Steinbeck's trek, Rocinante was put up for sale in New York where she was purchased by Mr. William Plate for light work on Maiden Point Farm on the Maryland coast. In the late sixties, the truck just missed playing a major role in the NBC production of Travels with Charley. Instead, GMC and Wolverine Camper provided a newer, younger truck for the part.

In February of 1990, the Plates generously offered to donate Rocinante to the National Steinbeck Center. The truck was shipped to Salinas and has been in storage. Rocinante was lovingly restored to its original glory by Gene Cochetti and on April 1, 1998, Rocinante was moved into its new home in the Main Exhibit Gallery of the Center. Click here to see photos of this historic day.

A number of Salinas business persons have assisted in moving, preserving, storing and displaying this historic vehicle. Thanks are due to Mark Scarr, Scarr Moving and Storage; Gene Cochetti, Body Shop by Gene Cochetti; Sam Eastman Monterey County Petroleum; Lamar Brothers Tire Service; Louie Garcia, Salinas Valley Public Warehouse at Firestone Business Park; Carl and Shirley Hansen. A very special thanks goes to Leo Piper of Harvest Buick Pontiac-GMC Trucks, Inc.

Note: Article published in Motorhome Monthly, Britain's former number one motorhome magazine, by Chris Burlace, now an author at Motorhome and Campervan Magazine.

Did You Know?

Canada'a first traffic accident occured in June 24, 1866, Father Antoine Belcourt, parish priest at South Rustico, purchased a steam powered automobile from the USA. Belcourt undertook to demonstrate the machine on the occasion of the parish picnic on June 24, 1866. The machine went out of control, ran off the road, went through a fence, and rolled over, thus creating what we have called the first traffic accident in Canada.

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