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A Tour of Riverside RVs

A couple of weeks ago I was able to get a tour set up of the Riverside RV factory in LaGrange, Indiana, thanks to a one of Riverside’s dealers, Austin Braun of Braun’s Fun Time Campers in Indianapolis.

I was interested in checking out their facilities for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve been following Riverside’s steady growth since I first found out about them at the RVIA trade show in 2011. The second reason has to do with an order I made for one of their teardrop trailers. I was hoping to see it in production, but it wasn’t slated to hit the assembly line until August 29. I’ll cover that in a future post, but here’s a sneak peek at what it’ll look like, as there was one on their lot awaiting a trip to a dealer in Sacramento.

My tour was led by Riverside sales manager Bob Taulbee. On the Friday I was up there, they had finished production for the week, so it was just about empty except for a handful of office personnel. Bob told me Riverside consists of about 50 employees, and about 45 of those are local Amish.

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Despite the production having been wrapped up for the week, Bob told me that they’re producing about 40 units a week. That’s some pretty impressive output for a smaller independent RV manufacturer. Right now there are just under 600 Riverside Retros listed on rvtrader.com, so that’s pretty good coverage for anyone looking to buy one from any part of the country.

Ever since 2011 when I first laid eyes on a Retro 155, the quality has vastly improved. One aspect of that better quality is in some of the little things they do. One such example is in leak testing. Each unit that is produced spends about 5 minutes in the shower, where water soaks each trailer from various angles while one person inspects from inside.

When I brought up the topic about Little Guy soon reviving the Serro Scotty line, Bob made no bones about it. “We know they’ll be coming after us”. Despite their market share of retro style trailers facing this pending threat from the coming of Serro Scotty, Bob feels good about where they stand in the market and the continually growing base of Retro owners who seem to be quite satisfied camping in their Retros, according to some of the Riverside Facebook pages out there.

The back lot at the Riverside factory is a nice array of just about every model they have available. These are completed models awaiting shipment to dealers all across the country.

That includes even some of the newer models, such as the new Retro toy hauler that’s just coming out.

One last thing I was intrigued with during my visit there was a new project Riverside is coming out with that will debut in September. And that is a Retro fifth wheel. Granted, it doesn’t fit the criteria of a small trailer, but once I saw it, I was more than wowed by it. It’s the first prototype and was still a work in process when I saw it. They didn’t even know yet what it’ll weigh or the MSRP on it. However, it’ll have the same retro interior and graphics as their other models…plus baby moon hubcaps.

If you’d like to check out more of the Riverside Retro models, you can visit their website at http://riversidervs.net.

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IndyCar manufacturer and RV innovator collaborate on carbon fiber RV line

RV innovator Global Caravan Technologies and IndyCar chassis manufacturer Dallara have announced a collaboration to build the first carbon fiber-constructed line of recreational vehicles. The collaboration includes Dallara’s expertise and advice, which include their decades of building chassis that have been crossing the finish line at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1997. dallara-indycar-conc-19w                                                                                            (photo courtesy trackforum.com)

Called the “CR-1 Carbon”, the line will first include travel trailers and fifth wheels, and then motorhomes and specialty vehicles, according to a press release. The first models will be unveiled in December at the Dallara IndyCar Factory in Speedway, Indiana as part of the Performance Racing Industry’s annual trade show held in Indianapolis that week.

GCT promises new floorplans and options new to the RV industry. The CR-1 Carbon lines will be meant with the luxury minded and long term camper in mind, boasting full height closets, large walk through master baths with oversize showers, washer & dryer, and high end flooring and paneling.

The exterior will apparently open some eyes with patent-pending designs and body lines that will be new to the RV industry. Unique systems will include DryCamp, which is an off-grid power system, and MyControl, a power management system that completely controls the RV’s system wirelessly via an iPad. Due to the light weight of carbon fiber, fuel mileage is expected to improve up to 100% compared to similar sized units.

523a6908e4b002193858945fGCT’s braintrust has a wealth of experience in the RV industry and the business world with CEO Charles Hoefer and President Harrison Ding. Hoefer’s family history includes his father, who was a co-founder of Dutchmen RV and Four Winds RV. Ding’s business experience includes management positions at both Cisco and IBM.

Says Ding, “Our product strategy is tailored for market acceptance in North America, Europe, and Australia, and also capitalizes on the high growth opportunity in China, where RV sales may approach the US in the coming decade.”

Says Hoefer, “Our products meet specific needs, such as remote camping, tailgating, full-timing, high security, and connectivity. We know consumer interests vary, and we can build one-of- a-kind and specific-use products with automotive-level testing and validation.”
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Aside from Dallara, GCT has also partnered with other companies, both from the automotive and aerospace industry.

“For Dallara, helping GCT to design RVs applies our strengths in composites, learned from decades of experience in
racing car competition,” says Dallara USA CEO Stefano DePonti said. “It is fitting that Dallara is lending our advice and expertise to such a transformative project.”
GCT appears to be taking their collaboration with Dallara seriously.  GCT has opened a temporary office directly across the street from the Dallara factory. With my home base being literally just a couple of minutes from the Dallara factory, I hope to be able to view the CR-1 Carbon after it debuts in December.
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Where the actual units will be built is not yet known, as the sign on the GTC door states “temporary”. With the hub of the RV industry being just 3 hours to the north in the Elkhart, Indiana region, that would seem to be the logical location, but I hope to find out that info soon. And although I don’t know what size their trailers will be and thus might not even fit into our theme of 20′ or less, I found this to be some interesting news since 1) I’m a mile away from Dallara, and 2) this very well could be the future of construction methods for RVs of all types.
Oh, and for price? MSRP for all lines will range anywhere from $160,000 to customized units to the tune of half a million dollars. I look to have future posts on this topic, so as always, stay tuned, and as always, thanks for reading.

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Forest River hosts 1st annual FROG Rally August 13-17

Time is running out to partake in the 1st Annual FROG International Rally at the Elkhart County Fairgrounds in Goshen, Indiana, August 13-17, 2012. FROG is the Forest River Owners’ Group, comprised of Forest River as well as owners of Forest River RVs.

Camping fees for four nights for the rally covers factory tours with visits from factory staff, three dinners and four breakfasts, entertainment, and games for the kids. Fees for the event are $295 for two, $220 for one, with children 12 & over $75. Kids under 12 are free. Optional tours (at an additional cost) include visits to northern Indiana’s Amish country, the RV Hall of Fame, a visit to the Notre Dame campus, and much more.

Deadline for registration is July 15 (sorry for the late notice!), but they may grant you admission if you contact them after the deadline. Complete details of the rally as well as registration info can be found on the FROG website.

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Relay For Life review

When we left you last week, we were on the verge of participating in our first Relay For Life. Friday after work, we stopped by the relay venue to get an idea where our team’s site was and where we’d park our Scotty for the weekend. The officers of the Speedway Police Department did a fine job of leaving us a nice spot between the pop-up awnings and tent to park for the weekend. We returned a couple of hours later to set up shop. There was one other participant there for the evening who was providing security for the venue, since most of the 35+ teams had a tent and/or awnings set up, but no one else was camped out Friday night.

With nothing much to do after getting our site set up, we decided to head down to Sam’s Club to pick up a memory foam mattress topper for the Scotty, since we had a little extra in our camping budget and have meant to get one for a while. Wow, what a difference that 2 1/2″ of foam did for my sleep! Look for a “Gadget Review” on that later. After a late night walk over to Speedway’s Main Street for some frozen yogurt at Yogulatte, we called it a night, as we knew we’d need a lot of rest prior to the Relay.

At 6am, we were up & ready to go. Speedway officer Rod Ferguson was the first to show up with some ice for the massive coolers holding a massive amount of liquids for our team and for those participants wishing to buy for a small donation to the Relay. Officer Ferguson was quite impressed with the Scotty and after giving him the grand tour, he was more than happy to oblige with a small request I had for a photo…

The Relay began shortly after 10am Saturday and that’s when the fun began. I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up with my wife to do this, but I’m sure glad I did. It had a festival atmosphere to it, and with Speedway being a town of just over 12,000 residents, it wasn’t often you didn’t see someone you knew. The Speedway PD team poked a little fun at themselves with the name of their tent where we served up some milk and legendary Long’s donuts in the morning and some grillable meats in the afternoon.

 Every hour there was something going on while the hundreds of walkers were mobile. Our group was busy selling food & drink, as well as “arresting” unsuspecting participants who were issued “warrants” for $5 by friends & family members. As each criminal was found, they were brought back to our site in handcuffs by one of Speedway’s finest and thrown in the Speedway Town Jail where they stayed until $5 bail was posted. It was a HUGE hit and our officers couldn’t keep up with the number of warrants issued.

As sunlight diminished for the day, the number of walkers didn’t. It created a rush of diners looking for more hotdogs, burgers, and brats we had on the grill. Luminarias were lit in memory of loved ones who either lost their fight to cancer or were fighting it. The hundreds of luminarias along the 2 tenths of a mile course had the names of those loved ones on them, as well as personal messages to them. There were a lot of emotional moments Saturday night, from the lap the cancer survivors took together to the solemn end of the Luminaria Ceremony where everyone shut down their campsite lights and watched as hundreds walked along the path of luminarias as a bagpipe player played “Amazing Grace”.

I managed to stay up the whole night. Everyone on our team either went home for a few hours of sleep, or in my wife’s case, found slumber in the Scotty. I found I needed a shot of 5 Hour Energy around 2:30am to keep me awake, which was my goal,  in honor of those who are in a fight for their lives who know that cancer never sleeps. I ended up walking nearly 2 hours off & on throughout the night (a little less than 4 miles), and decided to call it quits just before sunrise.

We started packing up shortly after 8am and after the closing ceremonies at 9am, we were on our way for the long one mile trek back home. The Speedway Relay For Life (at last count) brought in over $65,000, which was a record for this event. I can’t tell you what a fulfilling experience it was to participate in the Relay. As my father has battled prostate and bladder cancer for the past 10 years (doing well right now!), this event was personal for me, as it was for my wife, whose mother has battled breast cancer over the years. Any of you reading this who’ve participated in a Relay For Life know firsthand what an emotional event it is. And if you’ve never participated, I highly encourage you to check out the Relay For Life website and join a team or start one of your own in your area. You’ll walk away from it with a whole new perspective on life.

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Relay For Life

This weekend marks the annual American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life in the Town of Speedway, Indiana. This will mark the first time my wife and I will participate in this rapidly growing event.

As members of the Speedway Police Department‘s citizens academy, we’re joining the relay team consisting of officers of the department. Since the relay is a 24 hour walk at a local park, the various teams set up campsites on the grounds, meant to serve as a home base where they can sit, sleep, eat, and socialize with their fellow teammates. As residents of Speedway grateful to our teammates who put their lives on the line every day for us, we’re upgrading their campsite this year by offering up our Serro Scotty as home base for the department’s team. So instead of the pop-up tents and sleeping bags, they’ll have an air conditioned oasis to crash for what is expected to be a warm weekend in the mid 80’s.

This promises to be one of the best camping trips we’ve had, although our campsite is just a mile away from home. Cancer is a 400lbs gorilla that has likely affected all of us in one way or another. If you’d like to participate by a modest donation to our team, we’d really appreciate the gesture. Donations big or small can be made even after the event. Just follow the link here to our team’s page. I’ll have a full report later this weekend following the event.

Thanks for your support of this event and as always, your support of The Small Trailer Enthusiast.

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A Look at Whetzel Trace Travelers…

It was January 2010 when I first met Dan Sutton. I was a relatively new owner of a T@B and  heard some local teardrop trailer owners were gathering at Mounds State Park in Anderson, Indiana for a weekend camping event affectionately known as “Shiveree”.  For those who aren’t too familiar with the climate of central Indiana in the middle of January, things can get downright cold….ice cold!

My better half would not entertain the notion of cold weather camping, so I made this trip solo. Upon my arrival and set-up, Dan was the first “regular” to make his way over to introduce himself. It was a good “ice breaker” for me, as I had not camped with any of these folks before. My only interaction with them was through an online forum for teardrops & tiny trailers.

It wasn’t long into our conversation that I found out that Dan was not only a teardrop enthusiast, but he was also a builder. Dan’s trailer for the weekend was a relatively new 2009 teardrop that he had built, checking in at 5′ X 9′.

Since I’m the kind of guy that could put all of my skill of building a trailer in a thimble, it wasn’t hard for me to be impressed with Dan’s work. Plus, his Route 66 themed curtains were made of the same material as a shirt I had, so that scored big points with me. That, coupled with a turquoise boomerang Formica counter top in the galley, made this teardrop one worth having.

Dan’s been an outdoorsman practically all of his life, thanks to parents that introduced him to camping at a young age and then progressing through scouts. It was his time in the scouts where Dan got the inspiration for the name of his trailer business: Whetzel Trace Travelers. Jacob Whetzel was a pioneer in Indiana in the early 1800s and cut a trail across south central Indiana, later known as Whetzel’s Trace. Dan’s scout troop was part of the Whetzel Trace district, so as a tribute to his scouting days and to Jacob Whetzel,  he incorporated the name in his business in Greenwood, Indiana.

Ironically, Dan has a floundering economy to thank for becoming a full time teardrop trailer builder and vintage trailer repair specialist. “It was a hobby at first, but as the economy faltered, so did my primary business of home repair. But my campers started selling and it became full time”. It was at an outdoor show when he first saw a teardrop trailer at a display. “I knew I would somehow end up with one. After building my first one, many friends and family members asked for me to build them one as well”, Dan tells us. That was in 2004 and 16 trailers ago.

Dan still has plans to gradually expand his business. “Growth plans are in flux, as I have been getting a lot of calls regarding restored vintage campers, which I do also. But, I currently still work out of a small shop, and as most business’ needs grow, I too am looking for a larger shop and maybe even a store front”.

One of the advantages Dan has as a “mom & pop” trailer business is that he’s able to offer several designs, most to suit customer needs. And to ensure each trailer he builds gets the attention it deserves, he only works on one trailer at a time and doesn’t start another one until his current build is completed.

His designs vary quite a bit from each other. Contrasting his black 2009 (which has since been sold) is probably his signature trailer: The 2007 “Touring Lodge”, built of redwood and cedar…and a few antlers:

But the options don’t stop there. Dan is especially fond of the Kit Manufacturing teardrops, and has restored vintage Kits from the 1940’s…

and has built Kit clones as well:

Dan’s work as a trailer builder hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2010, the Touring Lodge was voted Best Custom Built Teardrop at the East Coast Nationals in Virginia. But as good as his work as a builder is, his abilities in restoration are just as impressive, as evidenced by the before & after photos of this 1970 Yukon:

Here’s a brief TV segment from WTIU in Bloomington, Indiana, featuring Dan starting at the 3:40 mark, discussing the 1947 Kit, as well as another homebuilt model owned by Kurt Schlesselman:

Dan’s skills, as well as his flexibilities in customer needs, make him a rare commodity in the teardrop & small trailer business. Whether you want a modern style teardrop built, a vintage style teardrop built, or have a vintage teardrop or smaller trailer (pre-1975)  that needs restoration, Whetzel Trace Travelers can handle the job. Scout’s honor!

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Cruiser RV Plans Production Increase

Howe, Indiana based Cruiser RV recently announced it’s expanding operations to a new facility in LaGrange, Indiana, which ultimately will create up to 200 additional jobs to a company currently employing 140, according to a report by kpcnews.com. Cruiser currently has the Shadow Cruiser, Fun Finder, and View Finder among their line-up.

 

“This is a very big step for us. We’re a family-owned company and are very conservative in what we do,” said Jeff Fought, president of Cruiser RV.

The company will invest more than $850,000 to lease a 140,000-square-foot LaGrange plant, add machinery for a new production line and make infrastructure improvements.

“We simply were busting at the seams in our current Howe facility and faced making a big decision,” Fought said. “We’ve been a single-plant organization since our inception, but we feel this is the logical next step for us. The LaGrange plant will give us the needed flexibility to expand our current product offering, while reducing our lead time during the peak selling season and improving overall product quality. We’re proud to be expanding in LaGrange County.”

The announcement by Cruiser is more validation the lightweight RV market continues to gain in popularity, as RV owners search for better fuel economy as gas prices increase. And it’s also good news for the entire Elkhart, Indiana area where the recession has hit the area hard.

 

 

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Serro Scotty Worldwide Reorganizes Lineup

When Bill Kerola brought the Serro Scotty brand back to the market in 2006, he contracted with Pleasant Valley Trailers to construct the 2007 HiLander and Sportsman.

Serro Scotty’s involvement with Pleasant Valley lasted just that first model year before manufacturing duties were moved to the Elkhart, Indiana area with custom horse trailer conversion specialists, Sierra Motor Corp.  The variety of Scottys put out by Sierra was impressive. There was the Tonga, which there were a total of 3 built, forcing the model to be discontinued following the 2009 models,

then the Scotty Pup,

then the Silver Pup,

the 13′ Sportsman,

the Silver Sportsman,

and the popular HiLander.

All seemed to be going well between Sierra & Serro Scotty until early 2011 when Sierra decided to get out of the travel trailer building business and stick with their bread & butter: horse trailer conversions. This left Kerola to find a new manufacturer, and that he did in Cozy Travler  from Goshen, Indiana. With the change in manufacturers, Serro Scotty also has faced a streamlining in their lineup. Gone are the Silver Series trailers and the Pup. The Sportsman is facing an overhaul in its design, and a new entry level model, the Scotty Lite, was introduced to the public in July 2011 at the Crossroads of America Tearjerkers Rally in Indiana.

The Scotty Lite is built by teardrop trailer manufacturer Trekker Trailers in Central Florida. It boasts a weight of less than 1,000 lbs, meaning it can be towed by many small cars. With its rather spartan amenities, its only options are air conditioning and electric brakes. One decked out will fetch a price of around $9300.

The HiLander (built by Cozy Traveler if you’re keeping score), remains essentially the same, with the exception of a few minor cosmetic changes, both in the interior and exterior. And good news for the consumer, they were able to hold the price for the 2012 models as the 2011 models.

As for the Scotty Sportsman, the Serro Scotty website tells us the new model will be coming out sometime in 2012. So as of now, the only new models being produced are the HiLander and the Lite. The redesigned Sportsman will fit somewhere in between the two in size. And when it comes out, we’ll let you know!

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