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Elkhart Open House – Part 1

This was the first year I’ve made the trek up to Elkhart, Indiana for the annual manufacturers open house throughout the region. I was able to hit most of the big manufacturers, with the exception of anything under the Forest River umbrella. The gatekeeper decided to flex his muscles instead of letting me come in and (gasp!) promote their products on this website. Their loss. That said, a huge thank you goes out to Thor Industries for supplying me a media pass that allowed me to roam around to look at their selections including Airstream, KZ, Camp Lite, Heartland, and Jayco. I also made a side trip to visit Winnebago, Gulf Stream, Liberty Outdoors, inTech RV, Holiday House, Taxa, Riverside RV, Lance, Sunset Park RV, Travel Lite, and nuCamp. So as you can guess, I packed a lot in a 10 hour period. So I’ll briefly post some pics below with a few comments. I didn’t get pics of everything, but hopefully enough to pique your interest for the upcoming RV buying season.

First off is the KZ Escape Mini. This is in the same class as whatever you what to call the R-pod. Five floorplans at your choosing with all five 20’9″ long and weighing anywhere from 2800-2900 lbs. You can view the Escape Mini floorplans by clicking here.

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I still contend Livin’ Lite’s Camp Lite travel trailers are near the top of the best constructed conventional trailers on the market. Six sided aluminum cage construction with Azdel sidewalls give you all the assurance you’d need that these will last you for a long, long, time. There are nine floorplans of the Camp Lite, start at a mere 15’7″ and 2430 lbs. To view the Camp Lite floorplans, click here.

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Last year, Heartland RV debuted the Terry Classic V21. Styled after the early 1960’s Holiday House, the Terry Classic was met with a cool reception, due in part to its weight of around 4400 lbs, which for a single axle is somewhat on the heavy side. This year, they have come out with a much better floorplan in the V22. The front kitchen, rear bedroom offers a much more open floorplan than the V21. However, the V22 is even heavier, as the unit on display weighed a robust 4700 lbs. While still half ton towable, it far exceeds the capability of the 3500 lbs mini van tow capacity, which many retro styled trailers of today are geared for. More on the Terry Classic can be found by clicking here.

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Gulf Stream has introduced what best can be described as a fancy entry level in the new Capri. If you like a retro flair in a basic stick and tin trailer, the Capri may be up your alley. With a white exterior base and mint green trim with the same interior accents, the Capri has a very refreshing look, as entry level units go. It’s basically the same thing as Gulf Stream’s Ameri-Lite with the mint green giving it a much more desirable look than the typical browns. I’d suspect you’ll find these in the low to mid teens price range. There were only two on display, a bunkhouse and a couple’s floorplan. I would suspect they’ll have more on their website in the coming months, but to view what Ameri-Lite has to offer for a rough idea what you’re in for, click here.

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My next stop was at Liberty Outdoors, the parent company of Little Guy, Serro Scotty, and ParkLiner. On hand here were the recently released Little Guy Max. Sales have been brisk with the Max over the first couple of months of production, and the debut of the prototype Little Guy Plus should likely create the same buzz as the Max. The Plus is in the early stages and there are more changes to be made on it. But the overall concept is that it will have a traditional rear galley and also an interior galley with a U-shaped dinette that converts into a sizable bed and a wet bath along with it. Weight on this should be right around 2,000 lbs once production gets going.

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As for the ParkLiner, it still has a few months to go. Taking consideration that it is a prototype that was on display, I keep that in mind, but some of the cabinet push buttons were on the clunky side. However, the physical construction of the unit as a whole was put together really well. The double hull fiberglass construction of the ParkLiner is a huge, yet hidden, feature of it. Stay tuned as this one is a work in progress. For more info on the ParkLiner, click here.

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The Little Guy Max was well represented at Liberty Outdoors. The standard units as well as an off road model were there. The off road model adds about 4″ in axle height. Also on display was a unit with the optional darker interior wood. For more info on the Max, click here.

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About halfway through this post, I realized it’s going to be big and with my work and home schedule, it’s going to take a while before I’d get it done. I then decided it’d be best if I break this up into two posts and get this first one out there for you instead of making one big post that would get done next week. So stay tuned for part two hopefully sometime next week.

 

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A Look at the Riverside Retro, Jr

Some ten plus years ago before I ever became an RVer, my wife and I pondered how cool it’d be to get a teardrop trailer one day. I remember many nights scoping out the various teardrop websites and thinking of how cool it’d be to own the Airstream of teardrops, a Camp-Inn.

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But reality always set in and that dream kept getting put off until it was virtually forgotten. However, things changed in September of 2009 when over the span of a weekend in Missouri we saw a great looking Route 66 inspired Pleasant Valley teardrop and a Dutchmen T@B.

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After having the luxury of comparing both a traditional teardrop to a T@B over the same weekend, we discussed the pros and cons of both on our drive back home to Indiana. We decided if we were going to do this, it’d be a T@B, and the following weekend sure enough we had our own T@B sitting in our driveway after a purchase from a dealer in Elkhart, Indiana.

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As newbies to the RV lifestyle, we soon realized that despite the coolness of the T@B, we needed a little more space…and a toilet. Seven months later, enter a 2010 Serro Scotty HiLander, just about the same size, but with a wet bath and a smidge more space.

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But as some of you have followed our story over the years, you’ll know that once grandson 2.0 came along, even the Scotty became too small, as we wanted to make sure both of the boys had a chance to have childhood memories of camping with us. So now we call our 2016 Shasta Oasis 18BH our RV of choice.

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The Shasta has given us a good family camper with a couple of bunks, bathroom, queen bed…and a vanilla, generic look compared to the T@B and Scotty we had before it. Gone were the days when it’d take me 45 minutes setting up our campsite, as 35 of those minutes were spent talking to a passerby about the T@B or Scotty. No one’s given a second look at the Shasta. I’ve realized that socialization at campgrounds over the trailer I had was a big part of my camping experience, and one I missed. And after my birthday this past June, one which is taking me closer to 50 and farther away from 40, I realized mid-life crisis was in full effect. I had to do something to tame it. And so with my wife’s blessing, we did.

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We put an order in on a 2017 Riverside RV Retro, Jr 509 back in late June. I know a few teardrop builders in the industry, and as you can see on our Manufacturers Page, there are a lot of them throughout the country. And make no bones about it, they build some excellent products. However, I’ve had a previous working relationship with Braun’s Fun Time Campers in Indianapolis, a Riverside dealer. After inspecting some at their dealership, we soon realized the Retro, Jr gave us what we wanted at an excellent price point.

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Riverside offers a few color schemes to choose from, but after going back and forth on what we wanted, we realized we needed to go with the white with aqua trim with baby moon hubcaps to pay homage to our former Scotty. But on our first camping trip a couple of days after we took possession, it was like old times. At a busy Starve Hollow campground, it got its share of looks and even some pictures. And once we start taking it out more next year, I’m sure I’ll be speaking of its virtues to any fellow camper interested.

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Now for the nuts and bolts of the Retro, Jr. Total length is 13’9″ and dry weight fully optioned is 1,023 lbs. Those options we ordered are air conditioning, sink/stove combo, spare tire package, electric brakes, and a few other minor ones, including a USB/12 volt charging port and solar prep. One thing I did get on my own was a mountable jockey wheel at Menards for about $25 that swings up or down, depending on whether you’re hauling or ready to move it by hand.

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The interior bed dimensions are a nice 60″ wide and 76″ long, more than ample enough for two average sized adults. We added a 2″ memory foam mattress topper from Walmart for some extra comfort.  There are also storage cabinets on the front and rear interior walls, with the rear cabinets a little bit longer than the front, but both sides large enough to handle your typical bags for clothes you’d bring on a weekend camping trip. dsc_1123-2

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The Retro, Jr is now decked out with all LED lighting, inside and out with the exception of the over the door exterior light. There are two main overhead lights as well as two reading lights underneath the front cabinet that are on either side of the USB/12 volt charging station.

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The air conditioning unit is more than adequate for anyone in just about any climate. It was about the time we ordered ours in June when we were informed that Riverside had done away with the interior window-unit style air conditioner in favor of an 11,000 BTU roof mounted Dometic unit. It should be interesting next summer to see how it does in really hot weather.

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Moving to the rear kitchen area. With going with the sink/stove combo option, that also meant we’d have to have a 5 gallon propane tank on the front, and in the rear hatch, we’d need the 17 gallon fresh water tank as well as water pump. But should you decide not to get the sink/stove combo, the entire rear storage area is yours, as the fresh water tank and water pump wouldn’t be included.

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The rear kitchen area offers ample counter space, an electrical outlet for a microwave, coffee maker, or any other electric kitchen device, as well as a decent sized cabinet for utensils and other small cookware. Also included is an LED light for those late night cooking ventures.

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Now one important upgrade that we went with makes our Retro, Jr…as far as I can tell…a one of a kind (for now). And that is the interior Retro package that we asked for. And that is the wood grain interior and kitchen area finish as well as the black & white checkered flooring. This is typically something that does not come on a Retro, Jr and isn’t listed as an option. I’ve scoured every photo and ad for these for the past 5 months and I’ve not seen one with this option. So a typical Retro, Jr interior would look like this:

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(courtesy Curtis Trailers)

Kind of a no brainer to go with the wood grain/checker board look for about $300, don’t you think?

Now back to some specs, the Retro, Jr sits on a 1500 lbs axle, supported by two 13″ wheels. The underside is enclosed by the usual black Darco material to keep out moisture. The 30 amp power cord could be a little longer to suit me, so be prepared to purchase an extension for it as it’s probably about 15′ long.

Construction-wise it appears to be built pretty well. It’s got an aluminum cage with a steel frame, aluminum sidewalls and a fiberglass roof. It tows extremely well and at just 1,023 lbs, can be towed by a lot of vehicles. As you can tell, this is a teardrop with doors on each side, which isn’t always the case with some manufacturers. Each door has a deep tented, vertical sliding window for some good cross ventilation and are draped with color coordinated shades for privacy. The one drawback with going with the rooftop air conditioner is that it eliminates the possibility to have an A/C as well as a roof top vent fan. However, a Fantastic Fan is standard if you don’t order the A/C. And one other request I wish I would’ve made is to have an exterior porch light over each door, as they only put the one over the curbside door.

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But overall, it appears to be a solid trailer with a good build quality. And coming from me, that says something, as I was rather critical of Riverside’s sloppiness on their Retros when I first saw them at the RVIA trade show in Louisville in 2011. However, in subsequent years, I commented on how they seemed to have got their act together on fit & finish for this price point, and the fact that I’m buying from them should show how much I believe in how they’ve improved.

Depending on where you are in the U.S., you can likely expect to see a Retro, Jr fetch an MSRP starting in the $9,000’s, but your results may vary. I’ll keep you all posted on how things are going on it in the near future. And if you’re wondering, yes, we are a two-trailer family. We’ll be keeping our Shasta for when we take family trips with the grandboys. But the Retro, Jr is for me, or me and my wife to play with. I kind of liken it to this: The Shasta is kind of like a minivan that a guy has to drive throughout the week. And the Retro, Jr is that guy’s sportscar that he drives on the weekends. Hope you follow that analogy!

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I’ve put together a walk around video of it that you can find below. Feel free to shoot me any comments or questions either below this post or on the YouTube video. As always, thanks for reading.

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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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49th Annual RVIA Trade Show

November 29-December 1 marks the RVIA’s 49th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky. Over 60 manufacturers and over 200 suppliers will be on hand for three days of product debuts and exhibition. I was fortunate enough for the RVIA to offer me an invitation to attend…and attend I will!

Most of the nation’s leading recreational vehicle manufacturers will be on hand, as well as many of those who produce small travel trailers, such as Little Guy Worldwide, Livin’ Lite, Riverside RV, and the bigger manufacturers such as Gulf Stream and Forest River. One booth I’m interested in visiting is that of Travel Lite. They’re a truck camper company, but will be debuting their first endeavor in the travel trailer arena with the new Idea travel trailer, which will come in lengths from 16 to 18 feet. Travel Lite has plans to donate a portion of each Idea sale to Habitat for Humanity.

The annual Louisville trade show has always been a showcase where new models are debuted. Last year, Riverside’s Bob Taulbee introduced the world to the Riverside Retro, which is in production today with a new floor plan soon to come off the line.

(photo courtesy the Goshen News)

However, not all units that debut in Louisville ever see the light of production. Case in point, in 2008, Airstream debuted the Scout concept trailer. Highly retro in design, but for whatever reason never made it to production.

What other new trailers that will debut at this year’s RVIA trade show will be answered in the coming days. Stay tuned, as  I’ll have plenty to update you on.

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