“David Peterson’s address to ULTRA Van get-together in Fredricksburg, Texas.”

Transcribed from WOW 1986-4

(The following letter was read at the gathering by Christy Barden in lieu of David Peterson being there himself.)

I’m terribly sorry to have to miss this twentieth anniversary of the founding of the ULTRA Van Club. Two business deals developed problems, one that has been lingering, past due, for over eight years, has been in bankruptcy for nearly four years. It now appears it will finally be paid sometime during this week and the sixth and tenth.

I first want to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who have contributed so much to keep the ULTRA Van alive for these 20 years. I won’t attempt to go through the list because, sorry to say, I haven’t kept close enough to know them all, but I especially want to thank the two couples I think have contributed most.

Without Ernie and Edna Newhouse, I doubt if the ULTRA Club would have prospered as it has. In addition to the social and educational value the club has offered the incentive to keep our ULTRA Vans in good running condition and looking good. Without an incentive it is so easy to let the little things go. The paint job, the upholstery and draperies deteriorate so gradually that you really don’t notice until you think of who may see it at the next rally. The 100,000 mile plaque, I’m sure has encouraged many to show off how well they have maintained their coach for so many miles.

Without Len and Edy Ryerson, we wouldn’t have the maintenance manual and many would have given up due to maintenance problems. If you are on the road with problems especially when you need help from a mechanic not familiar with ULTRA Van or need a part or if you call me, the manual makes it so much easier to communicate. Let’s have a good round of applause for these two dedicated couples. I think they deserve a standing ovation.

I, of course, am proud of the ULTRA Van and the fact it has stood up so well without an major basic structural problems, even though the empty weight has skyrocketed from my original specifications, with the use of foam in place of spun glass for insulation and the structure carrying the V8 engine are two big ones. The turn buckles on the A frames added a lot of weight and actually are not as strong as a tube, due to deep cut threads.

When I designed the ULTRA Van, I didn’t plan it for more than our own use. We have never enjoyed air conditioning so I have not been an advocate of air conditioning and the required AUX power in the motor home. I do realize, however, that air conditioning is absolutely necessary in some parts of the country. Many people are carrying much more in provisions and spare parts than I ever considered. I designed the ULTRA Van to gross at 4,600 lbs, and there are many that weigh more than that empty. Anyway, the bottom line is that it has stood up to a lot of punishment.

Incidently, for those that are carrying lots of weight, I highly recommend you get rid of the turnbuckles and if you still have the cast beam above the front coil springs, you should replace it with the I beam, same as in the rear over the springs. It is not a real difficult job and is covered very well in the Ryerson manual, Section 9. If you replace the turnbuckles you should be sure that the attach points have the slots and cam washers so that you have an adjustment. If, due to errors in the rear, you run out of adjustment, using the cam washers you can add shims between the bearing housing and where it fastens to the A frame with the four bolts, to gain additional adjustment. Another point to wrench, if you are running with a gross over 4,600 lbs., is where the ball joints fasten to the lower front A frame, I used SAE “fine thread” bolts, Hutchingson used US Standard cap screws threaded into the aluminum casting, Len Ryerson, covers this point very well. I’m sending a page from Len’s manual shows a tube connecting the trunnion points at the base of the rear A frame. I am not sure what serial numbers do not already have it. I had it on the units that were delivered from Hutchinson in mid 1966.

That fact that pleases me most is the ULTRA Van owners are such knowledgeable people. Everytime I talk to an owner for the first time, I just have to ask them what their line of work has been. I’m real proud to have this type of person choose the ULTRA Van.

Now I understand I’m to concentrate on how the ULTRA Van project got started.

I have to go back to Blackwell, a little town in Oklahoma where I went to high school. My family moved to Blackwell to get away from the 50 degrees below zero in Wisconsin. Blackwell had an airport and two World War 1 airplanes. It was my first opportunity to see airplanes up close.

Since I was exceptionally talented working with wood, I not only realized the structures being used would be simple to repair, but also simple to duplicate. Hardly a year had gone by until I was making repairs on planes and of course wanted to learn to fly. There was hardly enough work to trade for enough flying time to learn by hands on flying so I decided to build a glider. The glider was a great success, about thirty young men learned to fly it, some went on to flying careers.

Airplanes have always been my major interest ever since and the expertise I learned from the aircraft industry is what made it possible to do the lightweight streamlined motor home project.

We will skip the details on the 30 years between Blackwell and the ULTRA Van project, except to say that I got a great amount of aircraft experience. During WW 2, I was superintendent of final assembly of the 29. This experience was responsible for the light weight streamlined concept if the ULTRA Van. I actually did not have experience to make it any other way. In 1963 the Chairman of the Board for Clark Equipment Company paid me well to go to Lansing, Michigan so their engineers could see the ULTRA Van. He then wanted to hire me to help them reduce the weight of the Cortez. I told him I would not know where to start or how to proceed on their design.

It is now 1960, 26 years ago. I’ve been deep into airplanes for 30 years. I have sold an airplane3 project to people in California who were planning large scale production. I had agreed to go to California to transfer my knowledge and expertise by working for the purchaser for a reasonable time.

After completing my agreement with them, I had a rather good income from the airplane project. I made some investments and half way retired to play with my toys in California. I had a ski boat, had learned to sail. I really loved all sorts of water sports, was a pretty good snow skier and really enjoyed the mild climate of Oakland, winter and summer.

One of my toys was a Spartan trailer which was about midway in size between what we now call a travel trailer and a mobile home. How nice it would be if I could drive the unit instead of towing it with a car and be able to tow a boat. I would save nearly half the weight. I started converting the Spartan, planning to put an engine in the front and leave the rest of it pretty much as it was. I couldn’t find and engine a drive system.

It’s a good thing the Olds Toronado was not available or I would have been able to carry out the original plan and the ULTRA Van would probably not have been born. In the process of looking for a suitable power plant, I looked at the Corvair. The concept was so perfect except the amount of power available would not handle the Spartan. I decided I could start with a whole new design, strictly from my airplane experience and build a unit with nearly as much space and cut the weight in half again.

I rented a building and started construction September 1, 1960. January 2, 1961, I got the vehicle license, they were issued on an annual basis at the time and started driving it. The empty weight was less than 1,800 lbs, 24 feet long, full eight feet wide, 75” tall inside. Five times the cube of the VW Van and 400 lbs lighter. Even before the interior was finished, I took it to the mountains to test it’s sustained climbing ability and the project was on the way.

The reason that the light weight and streamlined shape was so easy for me was overall aircraft experience, plus the static test program that I just completed on the airplane project. It is really amazing how a box carries a load. I like to go through the shoe box demonstration to get people thinking. You see how flexible it is without the lid. With the lid on it is very strong and in fact you can some pretty big holes in it and it is still very strong. You must, however, leave a good beam at the top or bottom or you lose it all. Most motor homes, built on a truck chassis, have a load carrying door latch so that the door is part of the structure. Due to the relatively heavy weight of the chassis that is torsionally very flexible. This concept requires an even stronger box than if it didn’t have the chassis. The problem here is you can’t open or close the door unless you are on a relatively level surface.

I had planned to have a question and answer period at this time so if someone will write down the questions from the audience and mail them to me, I’ll try to get the answers into the next newsletter.

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