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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Manufacturer Visits

Tuesday we went to see the Carriage RV plant and see how they build the Carriage brand RVs, http://www.carriageinc.com/. They give tours Monday – Thursday at 9:30 am, you gather at the tour center located by their RV park. The RV park has about twenty sites, FHU, and you stay free the night before the tour. The tour was good in that you got a glimpse of how they build the campers but you don’t get to get up close and talk with the employees. In fact only one plant we went to allow this, two if we count Excel when we toured their plant. The Carriage plant is currently building 4-5 units per week, I don’t know if this is the number they maintain all the time or it is due to the economic times, I forgot to ask. All in all it is a good tour even though you don’t get up close, until the end of the tour, you do get a feel for the quality that goes into the units. Carriage does build their own frames, something I like. As with all the plants we toured they employ a number of Amish folks. We also toured the building where they make all their own seats, pillows etc. This building was air conditioned and big. They do all the upholstery work for all their divisions. It was interesting to see how fast the sewing machines could go and watching the ladies run the machines. I am sure I would be sewing my fingers to the fabric and I would not be able to keep up with the quota requirements.

Wednesday we went to the Jayco plant, http://www.jayco.com/php/products/fifth.wheels/trailer.php?id=248, this company was the biggest manufacturer we visited, They have a number of plants producing different makes in this one area, we toured the Pinnacle line. The  Pinnacle is Jayco’s high end fifth wheel, they have discontinued the Designer line of campers. This company has the nicest tour center, they even sell Jayco shirts, jackets and hats. They have a few of the camper models sitting at the center so you get an idea of what they make and the differences in them. You get on a tour bus and ride out to the plant, we were going to see the Pinnacle being made, they make one model at a time. Jayco’s frames are made at another company which is owned by the family who owns Jayco, they are brought in on a just in time basis. The company has enough components at the plant to build the units on the line for that day. The plant quota is to build seven campers per day and my understanding is the employee bonus is predicated on meeting this goal. I don’t much care for the incentive or piece work compensation when building a “high” end fifth wheel. We were able to go through the final product and it was nice but so far the Carriage was better.

I called a company called Forks RV in Shipshewana, http://forksrv.com/continental/, to see if they gave tours and the message said they were closed due to a death in the family. So I sent them an email asking if they gave tours and I received an answer this morning saying they do anytime between 10 and 2, so we headed over to see them. From their website I knew they build high end units and they build for overseas delivery also. We met with Jay Troyer, he is in sales and marketing, he gave us a nice overview of the company and then we went out to see the production. It takes them approximately 50 days to build a unit depending on the specifications. The model we looked at was the Continental Express, this is the entry level fifth wheel but beat all the others we had seen since being here. In all my research to find our fifth wheel I did not come across this company but they are worth a look at if you are looking for a well built unit. They will take your ideas and/or floorplans and put engineer them into a livable unit, within all safety standards. They had three units, two fifth wheels and a travel trailer, being built with the entry door on the left side of the camper, these units were going to England. The workmanship and quality in these units was very noticeable. They are updating their website soon to show more of the fifth wheel line for 2012. It was a good visit and I thank Jay for the tour and time he took to visit with us. If you are looking for a high end unit built with quality and class, this is the company. They are not cheap and the units reflect that throughout, here are pictures of what they build, go to the web site for more pictures and information:


Thursday, after our tour of Forks RV we got something to eat and then went to see how Heartland builds their units. Of course the GPS put us at the wrong building but after looking around we found the correct building. A nice young lady greeted us and we gave them our name etc. and had a seat. At three we, five of us, began the tour with a guy from marketing, I don’t remember his name. With the temperatures today in the 90s and heat index above a hundred they let the employees go home so the tour was sans noise but in some cases not much lighting either. It wasn’t the best tour I have ever been on. The Big Horn was the unit that was being built so we did get to see the different steps in the building process. It was interesting to see what goes into this process, it seemed to be better than the Jayco and about the same as the Carriage but far below the Continental’s process.

So after seeing these plants I would have to say if I were looking to buy now I would definitely look at the Continental, they have the quality and the care in the building process I looked for in a well built camper.

We are here for another week, leaving on the 31st.

Remember – Dreams Do Come True

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Still in Elkhart, IN

We have been here a whole week and have accomplished quite a bit. If you are ever in Elkhart we recommend the Elkhart Campground, it is fairly reasonable about $28 per night FHU. I looked for lower rates and did find a couple but if you take into account the distance we would have to travel to our appointments etc. then this was the best fit for us.

Last Tuesday we took the camper into MOR/ryde and they did their thing and we were out Wednesday afternoon with a MOR/ryde IS suspension. The drive to the campground didn’t show me if the suspension is that great but we’ll see once we get on the road. We did have some pictures we left standing behind the couch and they did not fall over so that is a good sign.

DSCN2788The front of the offices at MOR/ryde

DSCN2789This is the area you stay in the night before your unit is worked on, 30 amp only.

DSCN2790This is where we parked the truck while the unit was in the shop. The building has back in bays backed up to each other, our camper was on the other side of the building.DSCN2791I tried to get a picture of our camper but the fence blocks it a little bit.DSCN2792Our camper is in the second bay.


The folks here were very nice, they have muffins and pastries in the morning, the individual coffee do higgies, water, soda and tea, plus chips etc. They give you a choice of three restaurants to choose lunch from and they go get it and pay for it. We stayed in the camper Tuesday night with 30 amp and cable TV. We were very impressed by the desire to take care of the customer.

Wednesday we headed for the Elkhart Campground and our home for the next two weeks. We have a grass site they are all grass sites except for a couple of permanent sites and those folks probably had the pad poured themselves, that is probably 35’ wide and 70+’ long. The sites are grass and we have full hookups with 50 amp electric. The electric is being stretched quite a bit with this hot weather, my monitor is right on the green if not a bit of red, but in the morning I am in the middle of the green. All in all we are fine with it. We are within 15 minutes of our appointments and that is what I was looking for.

Yesterday we went to Pinnacle RV Service at 1011 Herman St, 574-522-2636, Jason Miller is the service manager. I include all of this information because if you are ever in Elkhart and need work done on your unit call Jason. He went out of his way to help us with our inverter/charger problem. I had called Xantrex, the maker of our inverter, and I was told to call Pinnacle, they handle all of Monaco’s inverter installations of the Xantrex inverter. Jason worked us in yesterday even with two employees out west at the Monaco Rally, in fact he handle our problem himself. He took the inverter out, took it to Xantrex and picked it up and reinstalled it in the camper. We were there a total of three hours. Excellent service from these folks call them if you need service in the Elkhart area.

One of the items Pinnacle installs are new seats and Jason was telling me about a new sofa they are going to be manufacturing. It is a hidabed couch that has a bunk bed attached to it. My understanding is the bunk is stored under the couch and is pulled out and goes above the couch and locked into place so the couch sleeps two and the bunk one. Interesting concept, Forest River is testing the idea in some of their campers.

Today we went to the Carriage RV plant. Carriage was one of the units I was looking at during my research. I dismissed them because the units we looked at had the entry door blocking the basement door, I didn’t like that. It was a very enlightening visit/tour. There were some interesting things they do to their units, a storage compartment in the rear of the camper, the roof is not rubber or fiberglass but another material which looked to me to be a big improvement over the rubber roof. However, I didn’t find anything to tell me I bought from the wrong manufacturer. Sarah and I both came away believing we made the right decision for us.

They we went to the Shipshewana Flea Market, there are over a thousand vendors at this thing. It is open Tuesday and Wednesday only, a three dollar charge to get in but when we left about two no one was taking money so I guess go later and save. We had lunch at the Auction Barn restaurant and it was delicious. Sarah wanted to see if she could find some beads and I was looking for a good leather belt and wallet but nothing jumped out at me nor did Sarah find anything to entice her to buy. So we went to the grocery store and picked up a few things and back to the camper. It is ninety degrees outside with a heat index of 150 trillion degrees or so it seems, we are inside and not wanting to go out.

We did go see the movie Larry Crowne with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, it is not Oscar caliber but a good movie never the less. As always the popcorn and large soda cost more than the admission.

Thursday we are going to the Jayco plant and see what there process looks like. I am hoping to see their new fifth wheel and see if I like it or not. We’ll see what other plants we get to next week.

I have been working on detailing the truck, I have the wheels and bed to do yet. I also have the sides of the camper to work on and hope to get to them next week or after we get to Wisconsin. I am very impressed with the Dri Wash product.

Until later remember – Dreams Do Come True.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Elkhart, IN

We left Mt. Pleasant last Sunday the 10th and had an uneventful drive to Joliet, IL, we camped at the Hollywood Casino RV park, more on that in a minute.

We had a great time in Mt. Pleasant, we were with Dave and Shari Frantz, the camp hosts. We have known them for over 35 years. It was fun being with them. I am not much of a dog or cat lover but Sarah got this picture of me and Moe, Dave & Shari’s dog.



I thought I better put a couple of pictures of Dave in also.

Larry & Kathy came out to see us and Dave grilled some steaks we had. He did a great job as usual. Larry loaned us his truck to use while we were in Mt Pleasant, it did help on the cost of driving around, especially after my previous fuel disaster. (The truck ran great coming over to IN.)

Thursday night Dave, Shari, Sarah and I went to Bryn Mawr to celebrate Sarah’s birthday and a belated celebration for Dave’s birthday. This is an excellent restaurant, http://www.brynmawrsteakhouse.com/contact-bryn-mawr-steakhouse-iowa-city-ia.htm, if you are in the area stop and have a great meal. Be aware if you like onion rings order the small if you are the only one to eat them, the medium order fed four of us nicely and the large would most likely feed a battalion.

Friday we made the tour of cemeteries in Burlington. We also visited with my aunts Mildred and Marcella, they have a great apartment. It was a very enjoyable visit and one we would repeat on the 5th because they had a bunch of pictures of grandma Ertz’s family and I wanted to scan them, which we did do.

Saturday we went to the cemetery Sarah’s parents are buried. We had planned on taking some beads we brought back from this year’s Mardi Gras but we forgot them. We did get a couple of small geodes to take to Daniel, he wants them for his garden.

Then is was off to Bette and Bob Coffman’s fiftieth anniversary party. Bette is Sarah’s cousin, it was fun Sarah got to see folks she hasn’t seen for a few years and I was able to renew some acquaintances also. We had a bit of trouble finding the restaurant. I input the address into the GPS and it took us to a place where there was no address so because I am a man I drove around trying to find it instead of stopping and asking someone for directions. Low and behold after a few minutes we did see the restaurant not far from where the GPS took us but we didn’t see it right away. It was a good time visiting with everyone.

As I mentioned in my last post I took on the position of an independent dealer for DWG International and their Dri Wash product. I spent three days using their products, Oxygone and the Dri Wash, getting the bugs off the front of the camper and tree sap off the back of it. Also, I did the same thing to the truck, I still have the chrome and the aluminum bed to clean up. The product worked as advertised and I am enthusiastic about it. Again if you are interested in it or want more information go to www.dwginternational.com and you can read all about it or call me and I will tell you about it.

After two weeks at Mt. Pleasant it was time to leave. We were on the road by 8:30 Sunday morning on our way to Joliet, IL. Our destination was the camp ground at the Hollywood Casino. I was surprised by the cost $24-34 for just water and electric. I had reserved a back in site but changed to a drive thru because after looking at things the back in sites were not that big, although I believe a couple of them would have been fine. So we kept the truck hooked up to the trailer and hooked up the electric and water. Then it was time to go to the casino and see how much we could loose. We both signed up for a casino card and later upon examining the cards we saw they were only good until the end of this month. I didn’t go back and ask about it because I don’t know when if ever we will be back.
I put a five dollar bill in a two cent slot machine and won a few cents, Sarah put two dollars in a machine and immediately won twelve dollars, so we stopped and went to eat. Neither of us are good at gambling so we never spend much money at a casino, but casino’s are usually good for camping. This casino campground is nice, over priced, and could be better if it had sewer hookups. We scheduled our stop here to see Tom & Cathy Gerdes, long time friends, but my timing wasn’t very good, they were in Las Vegas for their son’s wedding. We will see them another time.

Monday morning we were up by 7:30 with bright sunshine but by 8:30 we had cloudy dark skies and a huge storm heading our way. I watched the radar on TV and the computer, it seemed that the most damaging winds etc. would stay north of us and it did. We had a bit of wind, one brief moment we did get quite a gust of wind that rocked the camper for a minute or two. After that it rained hard for a brief time and then it was over.

Our trip to Elkhart was a rough one. I don’t remember I80 being that rough but I suppose that is why they are working on it. There is a lot of construction on 80 in the area from Joliet to the IN state line.

We arrived at the MOR/ryde facility about two in the afternoon, after visiting with Ben who gave us the low down on what was going to happen we parked in their camping area. They provide a free place to park and 30 amp electric service. I plugged in and noticed we were on the low side of good electric and after starting up the AC, TV, satellite and refrigerator the needle on my electric meter was just in the red so I put the fridge over to LP and this put the meter back in the green. It was a short night as they wanted the camper at seven in the morning.

Tuesday we were up early and had everything ready for Tony, he was going to do the work on our camper, he came out to the camper and explained what he was going to do. First he took a lot of measurements, then he backed the unit into the bay where he was going to do the work and they put the camper on scales and got the weight on each wheel. He said he would have to raise the back of the camper by about two inches. They want the unit as level as possible when hooked to the truck. Tony did a great job of backing the camper into his work bay, I would probably still be trying to get it in, you could tell he has done this numerous times.

He explained what he was going to do and answered my questions, we were told we could stay in the camper last night which saved on motel costs. The company provides a 30 amp electric and cable TV service so we plugged into both and enjoyed the evening in our camper.

More about our visit later.

Remember – Dreams Do Come True.