When severe weather strikes while camping

Consider this another friendly reminder from one camper to another to have a plan in place should severe weather strike while camping. Yesterday an EF-1 tornado hit the southwest side of Indianapolis and was on the ground for approximately 2 miles. As some of you may know, I reside on the west side of Indianapolis and had a helpless feeling as I was able to watch from the 5th floor of my downtown Indianapolis office as the storm tracked to the northeast. I felt a little more than helpless as I read tweets of the tornado being “a mile wide” and “on the ground in Speedway”, which is the town I live in. Fortunately those reports were false, as the tornado had lifted prior to reaching the Town of Speedway. However, this photo taken from an employee at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway shows the super cell the tornado had been in as it traveled to the west side of the famed oval. 10447080_10152470311436421_1996721419448350952_n

However, prior to it lifting, one gentleman’s travel trailer and his neighbor’s house weren’t so fortunate in nearby Plainfield. The trailer had been parked in his driveway next to his house when it was lifted a few hundred feet, landing on his next door neighbor’s roof. Here’s the story from WTHR in Indianapolis:

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Fortunately no one was injured, but it still should raise awareness to all campers that they stand little chance of surviving when a tornado attacks while you’re in a camper, trailer, or motorhome. And even though when you haul out on a sunny Friday for a weekend of camping, powerful storms can quickly pop up out of nowhere. Always have a plan in place when camping, know where the nearest shelter is, and by all means have some sort of weather alerting device on hand. Here’s a little lighthearted video from Mount Comfort RV showing what to do and what not to do when severe weather strikes.

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3rd Annual Vintage RV Show set for this weekend

This weekend marks the 3rd Annual Vintage RV Show at the S&H Campground near Greenfield, Indiana. Sponsored by one of Indiana’s largest RV dealers, Mount Comfort RV, the show is open to pre-1988 campers, travel trailers, and motorhomes. The show starts Friday, May 9 and runs through Sunday, May 11.

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Activities throughout the weekend include an RV parts swap meet, hot dog roast, hayrides, inflatable playground for the kids a lot more. A full schedule can be found here.

 

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S & H Campground is located 20 miles east of downtown Indianapolis. For more information, contact the campground office at (317)326-3208 or e-mail at reservations@sandhcampground.com. You can find out more about the campground at http://www.sandhcampground.com.

Photos courtesy S & H Campground

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The (really) Small Trailer Enthusiast

When 50 year old Dennis Grindle first built a model of a 1960′s Aristocrat travel trailer eight months ago, little did he know what a niche little enterprise he started for himself.

1483440_10151868626058985_1852783308_n“I have always been a model car builder since being a teenager. I just wanted to build something different. I have done wooden boats and there was nothing really different on the market so I started building my campers.”

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“The first model I did was an Aristocrat  60′s model. From then I just started building my collection and posting my pictures. From then a person contacted me on Facebook asking me to build her one. I had noticed that people have a love for their Glampers, as they call them, and by word of mouth they took off.” Through that word of mouth (mainly on Facebook), Dennis has built several classic Serro Scotties, Shastas,  an Airfloat, and even a 5th wheel.

1964866_10152023383178985_1783747191_nDennis’ models are built with balsa and basswood and are generally in the 8″ X 5″ size range. You can have your own camper made as well…unless you have an Airstream. “I prefer to do replicas of peoples’ actual campers. I don’t do Airstreams. Not saying I can’t, but with the shape the effort is not worth the price.”

1499624_10151897575468985_1647512390_nDennis doesn’t have a website, but you can view more of his work on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/dennis.grindle. To inquire about having your own camper built, you can contact Dennis via e-mail at bearbutt40@yahoo.com Cost of his models are $40 plus $10 shipping.

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A look at the numbers: Small trailer production

I’ve often wondered how small trailers figure into the overall production numbers of manufacturers. That same question was posed to me recently by Russ Forney, who along with his mate Cinderella, resides in Wyoming. Unfortunately I didn’t have an answer, but Russ did some investigative work for a magazine article he’s working on.

The results were provided by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), and were for production during the 2011 and 2012 manufacturing years. The data provided was for travel trailers less than 20′ in length that were shipped by the manufacturers, but not actual units sold by dealers.  2013 numbers were not yet available, but in 2012, of the 176,900 travel trailers shipped to dealers, 13,620 fell below the 20′ mark. That represents 7.7% of all trailers shipped. The RVIA reported the same 7.7% for 2011 production.

To further expand on the numbers Russ provided, the analyst firm Robert W. Baird, citing data from Statistical Surveys, reports that total towable sales increased some 17% in 2013. It could be assumed that 2013 small trailer numbers were likely in the ballpark as they were in 2011 and 2012, so with that theory in mind, total small trailer sales in 2013 were likely pushing 16,000 units.

One thing to note, the RVIA did not provide any breakdown of the trailers less than 20′. That said, we don’t know what percentage of those were pop-ups, hybrids, and traditional travel trailers.

(Hat tip to Russ Forney and RV Pro magazine)

 

 

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News & notes…

Not a lot of news going on right now, but here are a couple of tidbits…

–The Comet Camper has a nicely redesigned website: http://cometcamper.com. I first told you of the COMET Camper Project and its owner, Mariah Pastell, in June of 2013. Her updated website features a blog, e-courses designed to help with your downsizing process, information on consulting, photos, and a lot more. Be sure to check it out.

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– I came across a new weather website recently that caters to campers, http://www.campersweather.com. However, after reviewing the site, I still can’t quite figure out how it is any different than any other website any camper or non-camper could get their weather from. Take a look and if I’m missing something let me know.

However, as spring time approaches, it’s a good time to consider safety measures while camping. There are very good means of weather notifications while camping, including various smart phone apps as well as weather radios. But whatever means you choose, CHOOSE SOMETHING. I couldn’t think of camping again without some sort of access to weather information. That was magnified last November when I came across a story from an owner of a vintage Serro Scotty camper that met its fate thanks to a tornado that swept through parts of north-central Indiana. The owners weren’t camping in it at the time, as it was parked on their property. But as you can see from the pictures of the wreckage below, no one would’ve survived. So before you hitch up this camping season, set yourself up with a device that’ll give you the alerts that’ll prevent disaster.

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The aftermath of my RV sales “career”…

When I last wrote in late December, I talked about my upcoming venture into a temporary job as an RV salesman for Braun’s Fun Time Campers at the annual Indy RV Expo in Indianapolis. That nine day show has since come & gone, so here’s the recap.

First off, I thought I was fairly well versed on trailers and their workings, but boy was I blindsided early the first Saturday of the show by a gent wanted to know more than I knew about the water fills on one of the Winnebago Minnies we carried. After I fumbled my way through an answer, the rest of the show got much better for me from a comfort standpoint. Being at the show and around the trailers helped me become more familiar with our inventory than studying floor plans online ever could.

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The first weekend was quite the flurry of activity. We had factory reps to help us out from KZ, Gulf Stream, Riverside RV, and Winnebago. I made some good contacts that first day, although no sales for me were to be had. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed a couple who all but committed verbally to a new KZ Spree Connect haven’t changed their minds while on vacation. However, traffic Saturday evening dwindled as the night wore on, thanks in part to the Indianapolis Colts playoff game that evening. Sunday proved to be more of the same, but I still was able to hone my “craft” and take some notes from the guys that do this for a living.

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I didn’t make it back to the show until the following Friday night, due to my regular day job. I worked the rest of the weekend from open to close to the end of the show Sunday afternoon. To my surprise, the entire pavilion where the show was held had to be emptied by the end of the night…meaning a systematic evacuation of 200+ motorhomes, travel trailers, and 5th wheels in the span of a few hours. But Sunday was a pretty good day with a lot of folks coming through our display. I made some more good contacts and spent some time with a few more customers, but nothing materialized in the form of a sale. Until Monday.

One couple I talked with Sunday were interested in a used KZ Sportsmen Classic 13FK that wasn’t at the show, but out at the lot. They were trailerless, but had an r-Pod that was just a little bit too heavy for their tow vehicle. I had gone through some of the models that were on the lot, but since the lot was closed on Sunday (and everyone was working at the show anyway), they had to wait to see them until this week. I learned from the show not to get too optimistic if someone seems interested and then you don’t hear back from them. Since I had to go back to my day job Monday morning, I was starting to wean myself from the fun I had working at the show and getting back into my routine. Then I got an e-mail from Fun Time Campers owner Matt Braun mid afternoon that brought a really big smile to my face and a little self satisfaction that I could do it.

Pat,

Congratulations. You sold your first trailer. The Morgans came out and liked the 2011 Amerilite 15 FD. Test pulled it. We are demonstrating it and they are taking it home with them.

Matt

 

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So I finally bagged one. My only regret is that I couldn’t have been at the lot to see them off with their new trailer. But it at least proved that I could do this for a living if I wanted to, although there’s a lot more to learn. The Morgans may be the first and last I ever sell a trailer to, but it was fitting that they bought a 15 foot trailer…the epitome of  the very size this website embraces. And it was because of the very existence of this website that gave me the opportunity to work for Braun’s Fun Time Campers to begin with, so things seem to have come full circle.

As always, thanks for reading….

 

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And now for a little shameless plugging…

For those of you who’ve read the “About Me” section of this site, you’ll know the second paragraph starts out with this sentence: “I’m not someone employed by the RV industry.” Well, two weeks from today, that’ll all change….at least for nine days as I do my best to get as many people as I can to sign on the dotted line to buy a new travel trailer or fifth wheel from a local RV dealer at the Indy RV Expo at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.

IndyRVExpologoTo give you a little background on how all this came about, we must first backtrack well over a year ago to October of 2012. After realizing I was stuck in a dead end job with no satisfaction other than a paycheck every two weeks, I thought I’d try to venture out and do something that I love for a living. The e-mails I got from some of you thanking me for starting and maintaining this site dedicated to small travel trailers are a big part of what helped me realize I needed to be working in a field that I loved, and that’s when I decided I’d see what the RV industry had to offer. I updated my resume and put together a cover letter that I sent to several RV dealers in and around the Indianapolis area, although that resume was void of any RV background. It was the cover letter and this website that had to sell on my behalf. All I mustered out of it was a two hour sit-down with one of those dealers for a position that they were mulling over that didn’t exist, although I was very intrigued by the possibilities of it and thought it’d be an excellent and fun way to get my foot in the door without having to go the sales route, which is something I wasn’t really interested in doing. But, for whatever reason, it didn’t materialize and I decided that I’d close the book on the idea of getting a job in the RV industry and just stick with this site as my RV “fix”. Then last month, that book opened up again.

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I received a voice mail out of the blue from Matt Braun, owner of Braun’s Fun Time Campers on the northeast side of Indianapolis. Matt said in the voice mail one of his three salesmen was retiring, and he was impressed with the letter I sent to them over a year ago and wanted to know if I was interested. I called him back as a courtesy a few days later, even though I still wasn’t really interested in working commission for a living. When I called him back, we talked for 30 minutes or so. I had mentioned in our call that this site seemed to present a conflict of interest with that other RV dealer I dealt with in 2012, but Matt said he didn’t see it as a threat, which made me realize that I should keep a dialogue going with him. Understanding my apprehension, he offered me a chance to get a feel for selling RVs by helping out at the upcoming Indy RV Expo in January. It’d give me a taste of it to see if selling RVs for a living is something that I could do. I pretty much had nothing to lose by accepting the chance and a lot to gain. We met in person early this month for nearly 3 hours just talking the business of the RV industry. Even though I haven’t approached one customer yet, I feel like I’ve been welcomed into their family. And family owned business is what Braun’s is about. The dealership was started in the late 1970′s by Matt’s late father, Dick Braun, before he purchased it in the mid 1990′s. Matt’s brother Nick is a salesman as is Matt’s son Austin, who he hopes will some day take over the reigns of the business.

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Matt Braun, owner, Braun’s Fun Time Campers

So this leads us up to the Indy RV Expo starting on January 11. I’m sure the burning question is, “Are you going to sell your soul and try to sell things over 20′ long?” I’m amazed that some of you might think that. Well, the answer is: Absolutely! However, Braun’s carries some units that I’ll be very comfortable talking up, although fifth wheels will be foreign to me. There will be nearly 40 travel trailers, fifth wheels, and hybrids at the Braun’s corral at the show, and something for just about every budget. They’ve been a loyal KZ RV dealer for many years, and a big part of their display will be heavy with KZ products. However, there’s a buzz at Fun Time Campers right now with the recent additions to their inventory of Riverside Retro, Gulf Stream Vista Cruiser, and the Winnebago Minnie, all of which will be on display at the show.

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Riverside Retro 155

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Gulf Stream Vista Cruiser 19RBS

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Winnebago Minnie 1801FB

Leading up to the show, I’ve been at the dealership a couple of times to listen to the factory reps from KZ and Winnebago go over some of the features of their respective brands. Thus far it has been a really good learning experience for me not only as someone who’s going to try to sell you on a trailer, but as an RV owner myself and one who’ll one day be looking for that retirement trailer that my wife & I will cruise the USA with.

I’m really looking forward to this show and even more looking forward to talking to those who’ll come through who I hope to relate to better than most salesmen we all encounter at these shows. I think we all have been able to spot the guys who are RVers selling RVs and those guys who were selling spas two weeks earlier. My approach will be low pressure and just point out the various features for those of you who want to listen to me talk. If you don’t want to talk, you can expect nothing more from me than “Let me know if I can answer any questions & enjoy the show”. I’ll give the customers what I would want in a salesman. Just let me know what  features you need in a trailer and your budget and I’ll steer you in your direction and not mine! And if you do buy from Braun’s, be it through me or someone else there, you can rest assured you’ll be creating a relationship with a small, mom & pop dealer with integrity, which is one of the reasons I chose to join them for this nine day venture.

The Indy RV Expo runs from Saturday, January 11 through Sunday, January 19 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis: http://indyrvexpo.com.  I’ll be there on all the weekends and a few weeknights if my day job permits. So even if you’re not in the market to buy and you just want to head to the show to see what’s new, do stop by and hunt me (Pat) down and say hi. I’d love to meet you…or better yet, sell you!

You can check out the inventory at Braun’s Fun Time Campers at: http://funtimecampers.com. You can also follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brauns-Fun-Time-Campers/207514189273698 and also on Twitter: https://twitter.com/FunTimeCampers

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51st Annual RVIA Trade Show recap

The 51st annual RVIA trade show has come & gone for another year. While yet again the majority of manufacturers showed up with little for us small trailer enthusiasts to view, all was made right by the quality of the small campers that were on display. I’ll just focus on some of the newer models that were at the show.

First off, Starcraft is venturing into the hardsided pop-up camper market with the new Comet Hardside. It comes in four different floorplans ranging from 16 to 22 feet, with the 22 footer having a 63″ X 84″ storage deck on the front end. Starcraft has a loyal following of pop-up owners, and with the addition of a hardsided pop-up model, they should see a migration over to the “hard side”. Aliner has the reputation as the standard bearer for hardsided campers, but the competition not only includes now Starcraft, but also Chalet, Rockwood, and Flagstaff.

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When the Palomino PaloMini was first introduced earlier this year, it made its debut with just a few floorplans and none of which had a toilet or wetbath. This drew the ire of some when I posted a link to this on our Facebook page. However, we were told then by Mount Comfort RV that wetbath floorplans were in the works, and that turned out to be more than true. The PaloMini now features an impressive eight floorplans, five of which indeed have a wetbath. The eight models range from 16’10″ to 21’8″ in length and weights from 1813 lbs to 2945 lbs. I really liked this new addition to the small trailer market. I’d venture to guess the PaloMini will be competition for Forest River’s r-pod.

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Little Guy Worldwide was in attendance with the usual arsenal of teardrop trailers, but they also brought the two new additions to the family: The T@G and the myPod. The T@G can best be described as an undersized T@B Clamshell. There are no specs yet on the Little Guy website, but the T@G weighs in just over 900 lbs. You can view some interior photos of the T@G at their website here.

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The myPod is a single piece, fiberglass sleeper that weighs between 515-600 lbs, depending on options. The total length of the myPod is 11′ , cabin length is 100″, and interior cabin width is just under 5 feet.  In the interior, the floor, walls, and ceiling are covered in carpet, and includes a Fantastic Fan, and optional air conditioner and optional 19″ TV & entertainment center. You can get one in white, red, blue, silver, and black, with also the option of providing your own paint code for a custom color.  And if you were curious, no, the myPod does not have a cooking area. It’s strictly a sleeper.

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Before I write on another trio of trailers I saw, I need to do a little more research on who actually builds them. That would be the Trillium fiberglass trailers. Now, there’s a Trillium built in the U.S. in Arizona, then there are two that are built in Canada. From what I understand, the three that were in Louisville were from Great West Vans from Canada. They were really nice units, regardless of where they were built. I’ll do some more research and may end up doing a separate blog post in the future about the Trillium.

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And for my last review from the show, Riverside RV. When I first laid my eyes on a Riverside Retro model at the 2011 show, I was quite disappointed. that review can be found in the tail end of this post: http://smalltrailerenthusiast.com/2011/12/03/a-day-at-the-rvia-show-part-2/  I can honestly say, I’ve now changed my tune with Riverside. Gone is the sloppy caulking and uneven walls. They had several units at the show and I checked several for the flaws I wrote about in 2011. I won’t say that someone there read my critique and made changes, but they made the necessary improvements in quality to get me on board. I talked with Riverside owner Bob Taulbee at length at the show. He admitted that increased production is what has helped the improvement of his trailers from two years ago when just a handful a month were produced. Now, that handful has grown to about 1,000 units a year. As he told me, the increased repetition has helped his workers build a better product. I would have to agree.

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Riverside has some new floorplans of their popular Retro model now. Hot off the line is the Retro, Jr, which is an oversized teardrop trailer, similar in size to the T@G. The Retro, Jr. weighs in at just over 900 lbs and fits to its Retro name with the white and turquoise paint scheme and baby moon hubcaps. Other color options are available, but this particular paint scheme really has it all going.

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The Retro model 155 is their first Retro model that was introduced in 2011. Like the Retro, Jr, the white & turquoise paint scheme is new in 2013, and is a big improvement over the silver & red combination. The 155 is 14’9″ and comes with a rear bed, front dinette, wet bath, microwave, air conditioner, and can come with either  a drop floor or flat floor, which raises the overall height of the trailer. However, as I mentioned in that 2011 post, that street side of the trailer still has the same “busy” look as I mentioned, but I could learn to live with it.

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The model I really liked in the Riverside stable was the 177 floorplan. It’s similar to the 155, but it’s taller, longer, and has a really nice rear island bed. The 177 is 18’6″, just over 2500 lbs, and 9 1/2′ tall. The plumbing includes a 20 gallon fresh water tank, 32 gallon gray water tank, and a 10 gallon black water tank. If I was in the market for something right now, I’d give strong consideration to the 177. Of course I’m all for anything that’s retro and nostalgic, so this would be a pretty easy choice for me.

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So there you have it, folks. Overall, I was happy with what I saw in terms of options available to those of us interested in the small stuff. If you’re going to be in the market for a new trailer in 2014, you’re going to have all sorts of options to choose from. And I hope you’ll remember to use the “Manufacturers” link at the top of every page on the site to browse and compare trailers. But like I stress, whenever you research trailers, do all your homework. Compare features, join online forums to get the opinions of current owners, and make a decision you’re comfortable with!

All photos except for the Comet were provided by Jennifer Bremer, who was along for this trip. For more pictures from Louisville, be sure to visit her Flickr page:

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As always, thanks for reading and get ready for those winter RV shows!

 

 

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It’s RVIA trade show time!

Just a quick note that the annual Recreational Vehicle Industry Association national trade show is next week at the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville. I’ll be there bright & early Tuesday morning, December 3, scouring the 700,000-plus square feet of manufacturer and parts supplier booths. I hope to do a little more tweeting this year from the event to show you what’s new & different with the small trailer selections for 2014. Ultimately I’ll write a recap post of the day with plenty of pics. If you’d like to follow along on Twitter or Facebook, here are the links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Small_Trailers

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Small-Trailer-Enthusiast/269125426471703

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A look at the Bowlus Road Chief

The Bowlus Road Chief. In the history of travel trailers, the Road Chief might possibly be one of the most iconic trailers ever built. Built by Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” Superintendent of Construction, Hawley Bowlus, the Road Chief had much of the same construction methods of airplanes of the early part of the 20th century when it first debuted in 1934. However, it took Wally Byam to take control of Bowlus’ struggling company, and in 1936 rename the Road Chief the Airstream Clipper, which ultimately put Byam’s Airstream on the map for generations to come.

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Now in 2013, a new version of the Road Chief is back in production. Owner and designer John Long started building the Road Chief in 2013 after a 10 year restoration of his own 1935 Road Chief.  The new Road Chief looks as vintage as it gets on the outside, but the interior is anything but that. Creature comforts on the inside include a private “stateroom” in the rear of the trailer that features a king bed that converts to two twin beds, a full size 6 foot sofa with storage drawers underneath, birch interior, 120 watt portable solar panel, separate dinette, 3′ X 5′ bathroom with shower & cassette toilet, 2-burner stove, 3 cubic foot refrigerator, microwave, and as they say “much, much more”.

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However, the exterior is as close to the original version as it could get. Like the original Road Chiefs, the 2013 version also boasts aircraft grade aluminum that is riveted and bonded. And of course it wouldn’t be a Road Chief if it didn’t have its distinctive front entry door (with screen door) on the front of the trailer.

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The 2013 Road Chief checks in at 2800 lbs and just over 23′ long. However, the hitch and bumper are removable, which makes it possible to store one in a 20′ garage, although the 7’10″ height would require a minimum 8′ door. The 6’4″ interior head room also makes it comfortable for most.

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Built in Ventura County, California, the Road Chief isn’t for every pocketbook. There is no dealer network and the $1500 reserve is just a fraction of the $100,000 price tag. However, for those with the means, the Bowlus Road Chief is a trailer that will garner the attention of everyone at the campground, and one that will send you back in time.

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To find out more about the Road Chief, visit their website at http://bowlusroadchief.com, or their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BowlusRoadChief

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