Bethany Fellowship, Inc.

Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota Bethany Fellowship, now known as Bethany International, manufactured pop-up campers from 1958 until 1980 when they sold the buisness to Texson Trailer Company of Waterloo, Iowa with the rights to use Bethany's name for 2 years following the sale. Texson continued manufacturing the camping trailer until 1987. This company is of particular interest to myself. My family owned a 1971 Bethany Citation 88 while I was growing up. So this is where it all started for me and why today I take the time to build such a web site. Also I am a member of the Yahoo Bethany Campers Group and much of this material has been posted there as well. Many of the group's members have posted photos of their vintage campers.

Unlike other companies, the manufacturing of pop-up campers was not Bethany's main focus. It was only a means to support their mission. Bethany International’s mission is to mobilize disciples of Jesus and the church for the increase of God’s Kingdom. Bethany was founded in 1945. Bethany's story is a fascinating one and they have done a super job of documenting their purpose and their history, follow the link above then click on "About Us" for much more information.

Bethany got its first taste in the trailer business shortly after they formed in the late 1940's. They manufactured 4 Tear Drop trailers and 15 House trailers. But it was decided not to pursue trailer manufacturing as a business venture. This idea was picked up again on in late 1957 when Paul L. Kindschi and Ted Hegre sensed opportunity in the camping field market. The design they came up with was different for the time. All pop-up campers manufactured at that time had canvas tops. Their design featured a light, but strong top made from fiber-glass. They named this first model the The Bethany Vacationeer. Click the link to see the 1958 first year brochure. This first camper weighed 450 lbs and came with fins! Norman Carlson supervised the construction. They sold 48 trailers this first year and learned as they went along.

Improvements were made to the trailer in 1959. A side pull-out bed was added and canvas replaced that section of the roof. This gave the camper much more head room. Another model was introduced, the Chief. This camper featured two pull-out beds on either side and the fiber-glass roof overhead. With the dinette table dropped it could sleep 6 adults. Trailer sales begin to rise, especially since many dealers rented as well as sold. The following table shows how many units sold for the first 11 years and their best year's sales.

Units Sold

Soon a third model was added, the Big Chief. This was the largest trailer in the lineup but differed from the others since it did not feature the fiber-glass hard-top. Instead it featured a canvas top. This trailer remained in Bethany's lineup until the end of 1964.

On May 7, 1965 Norman Carlson filed for a patent on the Travelling Teepee trailer with Bethany Fellowship as the Assignor. US Patent 3,325,206 was granted on June 13, 1967. Two new models were introduced into Bethany's lineup in 1965. The Coralette was the econmomy model featuring a fiber-glass body and top that became the undersides of the two beds that unfolded with the trailer. It had a canvas top and could sleep from 4 to 6. The Travelette featured an aluminum body and fiber-glass roof. No beds folded out, canvas simply hung from the fiber-glass roof to the trailer body. The inside was configured according to the available space. This trailer weighed 800 lbs and could only sleep 4. It sold for $845 f.o.b. Minneapolis, or $5,500 in 2007 dollars.

In 1966 Bethany introduced its first large pop-up camper that featured a hard-top with slide-out beds on the front and back. Bethany called this new model the Citation. It featured an aluminum top with aluminum coral colored baked-on enamel body. (I always wondered what one could call that color...) It could sleep 8 easily with its pull out gaucho (couch) and dinette table that dropped to form another bed. It measured 18 1/2 x 6 1/2 feet and came loaded with all the kitchen features.

Improvements were made to the Citation for 1967 and renamed the Citation VIII. The new trailer featured a fiber-glass roof instead of an aluminum one. The Travelette was dropped from the lineup and the Citation IV was introduced for a total of 5 models offered (Coralette, Teepee, Chief Citation IV, Citation VIII). The Citation IV was basically the Citation VIII without the slide-out beds on the front and back. It sold for $1,495 f.o.b. Minneapolis, or $9,200 in 2007 dollars.

Sometime between 1967 and 1968 Bethany introduced a new spring-loaded counter-balanced easy-lift mechanism for raising and lowering the top. It's the butter-smooth one as the brochure would proclaim. I remember this lift system, it was both easy to lift and strong. The heavy-duty springs would stretch and pop as the top was lifted or shut. It became a very recognizable trademark on all of Bethany's pop-up campers going forward. As clever as the system was it was developed by 3 men with only high school educations in 10 days time.

By 1969 Bethany had been in the pop-up camper business over 10 years and their experience was beginning to show. Their 1969 lineup started with the Citation 800. It featured 135 square feet of living space, sleep space for 8 adults, 3-burner gas range with oven and standard built in 32 inch counters. It weighed 1,500 lbs. Next was the Citation 600 weighing in at 1,300 lbs. With its 120 square feet of living space it could sleep 6 adults. It featured Bethany's exclusive "Hi-Rise" kitchen with oven that cranked up to 34 inches that was an industry first. Both models had vinyl and screen windows by this time. At the lower end of the lineup was the familiar Chief and Teepee models that Bethany was famous for.

Around 1970 Bethany changed the color of the camper body from coral to a sort of mustard yellow. The decor was updated accordingly as well. And yes, I remember this decor. It was a brown-orange-green-yellow floral pattern design on the seat and bed cusions, very typical of the 1970's and VERY hard to forget. By now Bethany's reputation for quality and care was firmly established. So much so that in February of 1972 Better Camping magazine featured an article on the Citation 86. In the article The Bethany Citation 86 Jake and Gen Turk take the trailer for a test run. These veteren tent-trailerites had performed many of these test and were not easy to please. But the Citation received raving reviews, so much so that Better Camping featured it on the cover of their May 1972 issue.

In 1973 America faced an energy crisis as the Arab nations of the Middle East declared an embargo against America for resupplying Israel in the Yom Kippur War. The price of gas skyrocketed as resources dwindled. This had an immidiate impact on the RV Industry as Americans stopped buying. Bethany's sales dropped by 34% in 1974. After the embargo gas prices dropped and sales rebounded for Bethany. Several other pop-up camper manufacturers did not make it. In response to this crisis Bethany introduced a compact line of camping trailers, in addition to its regular line, which you can see in the 1975 brochure. These pop-up campers could be towed with a much smaller car. Bethany also started manufacturing pick-up truck campers.

In 1978 Bethany experienced their best year yet selling 1,946 pop-up campers. They had 75 dealers in 37 states. Then it had to happen. America experienced another energy crisis when Iran was taken over by Muslim fanatics, which remains the case to this very day. Oil imports were cut off from both Iran and Iraq. Speculators sent the price of oil skyrocketing again. (Doesn't this sound a lot like 2008? I don't think America has learned its lesson yet about depending upon foreign governments for its energy). Bethany did not fare so well this time around. Sales dropped to 1,391 in 1979 and then to 657 in 1980. Bethany decided to look for its next opportunity to support its mission. In October of 1980 Bethany sold the trailer manufacturing to Texson Trailer Company. Between the years 1958 and 1979 Bethany sold 22,916 pop-up campers. Thanks Bethany for the memories!


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