By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Bumper stickers. Window decals. License plate holders.
When it comes to vehicles, that’s how most fans show support for their favorite school or sports team.
Of course, none of them stand out like Sherry Morrow.
The Kearney State College graduate and former University of Nebraska at Kearney faculty member definitely isn’t afraid to display her Loper pride.
With a blue-and-gold paint scheme and graphics celebrating two different eras of her alma mater, her 1968 Corvair Ultra Van certainly turns heads around town.
“A lot of people’s reaction is, ‘What is this?’ That’s exactly the way they say it,” Morrow explained while conveying a combination of excitement and intrigue. “When I’m driving down the street, I always have people waving or giving a thumbs-up.”
The 22-foot-long motorhome is easily one of the most recognizable vehicles in Kearney, but that wasn’t necessarily her intention when Morrow purchased this classic cruiser in 2005.
‘WHALE’ OF A DEAL
An Ainsworth native, Morrow came to Kearney State in 1971 to study teacher education. That led to a 38-year career with the Nebraska Safety Center and UNK Department of Industrial Technology, where she trained driver education instructors and taught other safety courses.
The former assistant professor was also a founding member of the Loper Cats group, which cares for the feral cat population on campus. So it’s no surprise when she says, “Cats and cars are my hobby.”
“I had a friend who had a ’67 GTO convertible that we cruised around and had a lot of fun in,” Morrow explained. “And I thought, ‘I want to get a convertible.’”
Morrow purchased her first Corvair convertible in 1993 and later added four more. She also owns a Corvair station wagon and rampside pickup.
“I’m not like a gearhead where I spend a lot of time working on them,” she said. “I bought them because I want to have fun and enjoy them.”
That brings us back to the 1968 Ultra Van – a vehicle she “really wasn’t looking for.”
Morrow was vacationing in Hawaii when she received multiple phone calls from people who knew she’d be interested in an upcoming estate sale. Raymond Massey, a Corvair collector from Holbrook, passed away the previous year and his family was selling the vehicles.
“I went down there to look at a couple cars, convertibles specifically, because that’s what I was collecting,” Morrow said.
Then Massey’s brother mentioned the Ultra Van.
“What’s that?” Morrow didn’t even know Corvair motorhomes existed, but she was willing to check it out.
“I took one look at it and said, ‘I’m going to own this,’” she recalled.
Morrow wasn’t able to attend the auction, so she called ahead and made sure she could bid by phone. The final price was $4,500 – “a really good deal” for this rarity.
The Ultra Van is the brainchild of David Peterson, a professional aircraft designer and outdoor enthusiast looking for a way to bring his boat and travel trailer on the same trips. He considered the idea of motorizing the travel trailer and towing the boat before a new Chevrolet model inspired him to build his own vehicle – a full-size motorhome weighing about 3,000 pounds and powered by an air-cooled Corvair engine mounted in the rear. The motorhome is built like an airplane, with aluminum ribs riveted to an aluminum and fiberglass body.
“It’s very lightweight,” Morrow said. “I mean, it really flies down the road. All you have to do is put wings on it and you’d be taking off.”
Despite its ahead-of-the-times design, the Ultra Van was a commercial failure, largely because it cost nearly $10,000. Fewer than 400 were produced, with most of them coming from a plant in Hutchinson, Kansas.
“This is the only one in Nebraska that we’re aware of,” said Morrow, a member of the Corvair Society of America.
Often referred to as “whales,” the Ultra Van features a queen-size bed, bathroom/shower, three-burner stove, sink, refrigerator, folding table and plenty of storage, making it perfect for long trips into the wilderness.
Or other purposes.
“First of all, you’ve got to understand, I don’t like camping,” Morrow said. “So I didn’t buy it to camp. I didn’t know what I was going to use it for, but I didn’t buy it to camp.”
Tailgating. It’d be a fun vehicle to use for tailgating. That’s the idea Morrow came up with.
“Then I decided I needed to go blue and gold,” she said.
A local body shop repainted the motorhome in 2006 – it was originally a yellowish-gray with blond trim – and added the logos. One side represents Kearney State College, the school’s name from 1963-91, and the other is UNK.
“When I repainted it, I did get permission to use the logos,” Morrow said with a smile.
The Ultra Van still has the original green-and-gold interior, but Morrow replaced the shag carpet with wood and added custom blue-and-gold curtains. There’s a Kearney State spare tire cover, too.
When it’s parked, two vintage flags are attached to the sides and the UNK chairs come out. Morrow also has Kearney State bean bag chairs, old photos and other treasures that came from garage sales and friends over the years.
For most home football games, she can be found on the east side of Cope Stadium, near the Nebraskan Student Union. That’s been her preferred tailgate spot for years.
“It’s always an attraction for the visiting fans,” Morrow said of her mobile museum. “They come over and want to know about it, and that’s always fun. Little kids really love it when they see it.”
Resembling the Wienermobile “without the hot dog sticking out of both ends,” the Ultra Van also makes regular appearances in the UNK homecoming parade. It’s one of five vehicles from Morrow featured in Saturday’s event, scheduled for 10 a.m. in downtown Kearney.
“It does have to be toward the front of the parade because all of the Corvairs are air-cooled, so the air has to keep going through to keep the motor cool,” she noted.
Although she retired from UNK in 2018, giving her more time to travel, Morrow doesn’t make many out-of-towns trips with the motorhome. Friends have taken it camping a few times and Morrow drove it to Ainsworth for a class reunion.
Since she lives about two blocks from campus, she’s only put about 8,000 miles on the vehicle, taking the odometer to 68,200. She replaced the 140-horsepower, flat-six engine last year, but other than that, “I really haven’t had a lot of issues with it,” she said.
And Loper fans young and old still love it.
Morrow, who also volunteers as a scoreboard operator during UNK volleyball and basketball games, was parked outside Cope Stadium on a recent Wednesday evening when an assistant football coach stopped by after practice.
“I saw it out the window and I had to come down and take a look,” he said. “This thing is awesome.”
The proud Kearney State alumna responded the same way she always does.
“Come on in, look around. You’re welcome to.”