Visitors ‘Thrilled’ by Recent RV Capital Visits
Admirers of all things RV can fill that particular thrill in Elkhart County, Ind., where more than 20 RV manufacturers offer factory tours.
Elkhart County is the recreational vehicle capital of the world with one of every two RVs being made in that county, according to amishcountry.org.
Fascinated by how things are made, I love factory tours, so I chose three for Best-Ever Friend Dave and me to visit. Dave owned a Winnebago 30 years ago so he was interested to see how things had changed.
First stop: Renegade RV, 52216 State Road 15 in Bristol, a 14-year-old company founded by Chuck McKibbin for the auto racing industry. Here, sales manager Danny Lagunas ushered us onto the factory floor where employees were working on several custom units. The smallest unit they build is about 32 feet, Danny said. Most of their vehicles are made for people who have owned several RVs and now want to design one to their own specifications.
We climbed up into these huge RVs to see the work in progress. We saw granite countertops, flat-screen TVs ready for installation — even one on the outside of the vehicle — granite floors, space-efficient layouts and unique storage solutions. Impressive!
Second stop: Jayco, 903 S. Main St. in Middlebury. You can’t miss Jayco because you’ll see hundreds of white travel-trailers in the factory lot.
But watch carefully for the Visitors Center sign. Inside the center, a renovated 1880s farmhouse, John MacDonald, marketing services manager, invited us to look around the center or to go outside and look at the vehicles on display while we waited for our noon tour. We did both.
A video told us about founders Lloyd and Bertha Bontrager, who started the company in a chicken coop in 1968. They quickly outgrew that and are now the largest privately owned RV manufacturer.
Judy Swihart, visitors center coordinator, took us in a trolley back to the building where they make about 11 fifth-wheels per day.
Then we went to the cavernous and fascinating sewing room. We watched a machine quilting two yards of material every 45 seconds. The material is used for bedspreads and pillow shams.
We watched as employee Deb Lafary filled a pillow cover with a foam cushion. If you’ve done that, you know it can be challenging. But not at Jayco.
Deb placed the foam cushion on a vacuum machine, covered it with plastic, turned the machine on and, instantly, it shrank. She popped it inside the covering and, in a nano-second, it re-inflated and filled the covering.
After Jayco, we had lunch at Village Inn, 107 S. Main St. in Middlebury. This is where locals gather to talk about the weather, a hot topic this winter. So we chose comfort food: cups of sweet, tomatoey chili; creamy and tender chicken and noodles; and homemade pie for dessert, pecan for me, cherry for Dave.
Our final stop was SunnyBrook RV, 201 14th St., Middlebury, which just last December became Winnebago of Indiana LLC. Jeff Baker, sales representative, took us and a group of insurance agents on the tour, explaining the manufacturing process from the naked chassis stage to the finished product, whether a fifth-wheel or a travel-trailer.
With the insurance agents asking questions, Jeff told us all the things RV manufacturers do to avoid problems for the consumers. We learned about glues, insulation, windows, awnings and the craftsmanship.
Most impressive for me was the outdoor kitchen on one of the vehicles. You pop up the cover to find a tiny sink, refrigerator and stove.
This day of “RVs Unwrapped” is a great way to learn about RVs before purchasing one or just to be impressed with manufacturing innovations. It also answered my ever-present question: “How do they do that?”