Functional Art

By Kerry Fores

In the hands of Chet Atkins, Eddie Cochran, or Brian Setzer my Gretsch hollow body electric guitar could move your feet and sway your soul. In my hands it mostly irritates my neighbors. While I can accost it for hours at a time—and experience great satisfaction in doing so—I appreciate its aesthetics as much as its ability to sing a horn-inspired Rockabilly riff, mourn with creamy blues, or wrap country twang around a cold bottle of beer. If I never master Scotty Moore’s “That’s All Right” solo—and I never will—the guitar provides me joy visually and the encouragement to push through those painful bar chords. When frustration dulls my enthusiasm, the guitar’s gloss finish coos from the corner of my living room until I take it back in my hands. It is both functional and art. Had I purchased a typical starter guitar it would have quickly decorated a shelf at Goodwill or functioned only to displace dirt in a landfill.

Let’s pause to define functional art:

Functional Art – noun – a useable object or space that evokes an intellectual, emotional, or spiritual reaction.

“The Piper Cub has endeared itself to generations of pilots, achieving the status of functional art.

Functional art resides in my garage as well. The detritus of a workday dissolves as I roll a Triumph-badged sculpture through the dusty spear of light that slashes through my garage most evenings. I push the mixed-media form into summer’s lengthening shadows where my right thumb converts its feminine curves into transportation. Movement—not just motion—follows. My physical body moves over the road while my spirit moves to places beyond the reach of ordinary vehicles. While I ride the writing portion of my brain outruns the memory portion. Inspiring thoughts and superbly crafted prose live briefly in the synapses of my brain before being consumed by the next. None, however, are wasted. They are nutrients for my spirit—created, consumed, and converted to an improved outlook, better health, and a sense of living, not just life. My 1996 Grand Cherokee, as much as I appreciate it, has never inspired an epiphany.

A British sports car that only marks time under a quilted cover is not functional art—it is a damn shame. I know this because as I push the motorcycle past my Triumph TR6—snuggled under its cover—I think, “That’s a damn shame.” Similarly, a classic motorcycle regarded as cheap transportation is not functional art if it only transports the owner’s body. By my definition functional art does not need to move, but it must move the portion of your body that cannot be weighed, measured, or X-rayed to a place that cannot be plotted on a map. Functional art does more than hang silently on a wall or sit motionless on a shelf awaiting an appreciative glance and the tickle of a feather duster.

A space can be functional art. Great architects know a successful space is not defined by size, materials, or cost, but by the positive effect it has on the people who experience it. I have felt cold and empty in grand spaces of stone and marble: the soaring ceilings and impressive square footage lacked human engagement. I stepped into a Bowlus Road Chief trailer—less than 100 square feet of polished aluminum, stainless steel, and arching, blonde maple—and was immediately transported to the dining car of a 1960’s California Zephyr, the first class cabin of a Lockheed Constellation, and the possibility of living the simple life I dream of. It stimulated every sense and spontaneously ignited my creative urges. The Road Chief moved me while it sat still. When great architecture meets great engineering their child is an object that is both useful and inspiring.

During my teens and twenties purchase decisions were predicated on manufacturer’s specifications as much as budget and need. Stereo speakers (all the better if they were defined as “studio monitors”) were selected on frequency response. Amplifiers were judged by total harmonic distortion. Tires were chosen for their speed rating. The cold numbers gave me bragging rights but had no real value. Today, digital cameras produce 18-megapixel images that are mostly viewed on 5-inch screens. The real value of “things” doesn’t come from engineering specifications but from how we interact with them, and they with us.

During my late twenties and thirties, price dictated purchase decisions. There were careers to build, children to raise and, if we were to participate in the American Dream, ever-larger houses to purchase and remodel. Function trumped form, art bowed to budget. To prove this, I held title to a succession of used vehicles including a Chevy conversion van, Ford Aerostar, Dodge Grand Caravan, and Dodge Dynasty. Speakers were chosen by sale price, amplifiers from my teens remained in service, and tires were often bald. The American Dream to have more had resulted in less. Less time. Less living.

The bulk of my fourth decade was a period of change. I craved less so I could enjoy more. The fewer things I owned, the fewer things owned me. My cameras got more use and my television got less. My computer was used more for writing and less for spreadsheets. Three-string guitars I crafted from cigar boxes displaced original oil paintings from my walls. A stranger’s static brush strokes were no match for my aromatic, handcrafted cigar box guitars that also fill my ears with handcrafted music. I found more joy in creating than acquiring.

As my fifth decade dawns I dream of selling my 900 square foot house and living in a space half that size. Its value won’t come from the architectural specifications or its convenience to shopping and schools, but from the immeasurable impact it has on that thing we call a soul. Maybe my home will be a Bowlus Road Chief with no permanent address. I’ll replace my neighbors at will. I won’t have to wait for October to color, briefly, the static landscape outside a living room window. I will immerse myself in fall color and follow it for weeks as it creeps south. And there, in the south, I may remain, beyond winter’s soul-depleting grasp, living a life stripped bare of things but filled with art that both functions and inspires.


Kerry Fores is living his dream of starving as a writer and photographer. He blogs at and can be found on facebook as Kerry Danger Fores. He considers himself a person of interest.

Front Loading Our Specialty

Occasionally we get a question about the door on the front.  Now we’ve written a few blog entries on aerodynamics and the importance of a small front surface area.  But this blog isn’t about how a front door helps with loading. Dave here is demonstrating the ease of loading a paddle board. Last weekend we did some kayaking and the Road Chief swallowed our gear.


Joshua Trees

The Joshua tree’s life cycle begins with the rare germination of a seed, its survival dependent upon well-timed rains. Look for sprouts growing up from within the protective branches of a shrub. Young sprouts may grow quickly in the first five years, then slow down considerably thereafter. The tallest Joshua tree in the park looms a whopping forty feet high, a grand presence in the Queen Valley forest. Judging the age of a Joshua tree is challenging: these “trees” do not have growth rings like you would find in an oak or pine. You can make a rough estimate based on height, as Joshua trees grow at rates of one-half inch to three inches per year. Some researchers think an average lifespan for a Joshua tree is about 150 years, but some of the parks largest trees may be much older than that.

It is an important part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem, providing habitat for numerous birds, mammals, insects, and lizards. Joshua tree forests tell a story of survival, resilience, and beauty borne through perseverance.

Years ago the Joshua tree was recognized by American Indians for its useful properties: tough leaves were worked into baskets and sandals, and flower buds and raw or roasted seeds made a healthy addition to the diet. The local Cahuilla have long referred to the tree as “hunuvat chiy’a” or “humwichawa;” both names are used by a few elders fluent in the language.

By the mid-19th century, Mormon immigrants had made their way across the Colorado River. Legend has it that these pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure, Joshua, seeing the limbs of the tree as outstretched in supplication, guiding the travelers westward. Concurrent with Mormon settlers, ranchers and miners arrived in the high desert with high hopes of raising cattle and digging for gold. These homesteaders used the Joshua tree’s limbs and trunks for fencing and corrals. Miners found a source of fuel for the steam engines used in processing ore.

The Joshua tree provides a good indicator that you are in the Mojave Desert, but you may also find them growing next to a saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert in western Arizona or mixed with pines in the San Bernardino Mountains.  For more info visit


13785 Paxton Avenue

The Bowlus factory that was located at 13785 Paxton Avenue, San Fernando, California was actually the original Bowlus family ranch.  Hawley’s father, Charles Bowlus, known as CD Bowlus had moved from Ohio to start an orange orchard when Hawley was a child. He later decided to manufacture cabinets so he built a large wood shop on his property.  Hawley’s dad later became the trailer production manager. As a talented metal worker he cast and lathed all the specialized trailer parts.

It is here on the “Ranch” that Hawley built a great number of his famous sailplanes and in 1934 started his trailer business. Hawley and his family moved back to the ranch in 1931, after the death of his first wife, Inez. They lived in the old family home since his father had built a new house on the property.

With four trailers sold by the end of 1934, Hawley decided to expand the production capabilities. in early 1935, offices and drafting rooms were added.  At its peak production in mid 1935, the shop had about 50 employees. The employees were a combination of hired workers, extended family members and sailplane enthusiasts who had worked with Hawley on his various glider projects.

The business was  truly a family affair. Hawley’s brother’s, Glenn and Fred were professional engineers, one civil and the other electrical. The three brothers would collaborate on design and construction plans.  Hawley’s practical experience was augmented by his brothers’ theoretical knowledge. Ruth Bowlus was in charge of the selection of beds, seats, drapes and color schemes, often choosing plaid and striped fabrics. Ruth’s mother, a talented dressmaker helped with the sewing and Ruth’s father, Melvin Scudder helped in the shop.  Hawley employed B. F. Frank Mahoney, to be head of sales. Frank was the ex-owner of Ryan Airlines who built the “Spirit of St. Louis.”  Unfortunately  after selling his company in 1928, Mahoney lost his fortune in the crash of 1929. Despite the depression, travel trailers were enjoying the newly created network of highways.



Marine Quality

One general complain of even high end RV’s is that their finish is well disappointing. Take the lights for instance, they’re usually plastic fixtures of low quality. After all, even the most high-end travel trailer has a life span of 10 to 15 years.

At Bowlus, we are very concerned make that obsessed with the quality of our hardware and fixtures selections. We take so much care crafting our trailers both on the exterior and the interior that it would truly be a shame not to have our hardware and fixtures of the same obsessive quality.

Our lights are a good example, they are marine fixtures that is made for marine weather aka salt air. They are beautifully chromed and functionally they are adjustable in a multiple of positions. We also have LED bulbs in the lights to reduce power usage when off the grid.

Another example is our fridges, which are also marine quality. They use the very high quality German Danfoss compressor which is the best in the industry. Of course our fridge cost considerable more but they are exceptionally well-made and have the highest efficiently for 12V power usage of any fridge manufactured.

Each item we put into the Bowlus has been selected based upon quality, efficiency and weight consideration. It is this attention to detail that you’re interaction with a Bowlus Road Chief a beautiful experience.


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