Monday, October 22, 2007

“Trailer Brakes First!”

An unofficial dream of Kara and mine is, after we win the lottery, of course, to buy a big motor home—one of those house-priced bus kind—and tour the country for a couple of years. It goes without saying that this particular dream discounts the fact that we have kids and they will need to go to school sometime during this fantasy and that we have a dog that craves vast amounts of attention…and food… oh yeah, and the most important hurdle of this dream is the eleventy-million-to-one shot at picking the right numbers. It doesn’t stop me from dreaming, and a subset of this dream is to get an RV to vacation in.

The other day in the mail, I got the American Express bill that covered our trip to Yellowstone, and besides sponsoring a dozen South American kids for most of their lives or making more than a few payments on a really nice BMW, there’s no excuse for spending that much money on a vacation to anywhere.

Before that, the notion of owning an RV was always in the back of our minds, having the freedom to camp, see the country and go at our own pace was important, not to mention that it would be a little less expensive than staying at a hotel, in strange sheets, impossibly uncomfortable pillows and questionable cleanliness.

However, we still thought they were expensive, and without doing a lick of research into the topic, I made the assumption that a trailer that would be small enough to easily pull with my truck but big enough to fit our family’s needs, was out of the realms of affordability. Sure, our budget can allow for a certain amount of stretch, but I’ve been quite happy with the fact that we don’t have any revolving-debt credit cards, car payments or anything that would constitute debt (besides the house, of course). And I wanted to keep it that way.

While sifting through the mountain of mail we got while we were gone on our trip (where 99 percent of it was trash), I came across a small card inviting me to visit the Winnebago booth at the 55th Annual RV show at the Pomona Fairgrounds. The invitation was a hold-over from a few years ago when we borrowed a motorhome from Winnebago because it was built on a VW Eurovan chassis and I worked at the magazine. They must not update their list very often.

Anyway, why not go? What else are we doing on Friday? Nothing, so let’s go to the RV show and look at some trailers, you know, just to get an idea of what’s out there, how much they are and what kind of features we would want on our list.

Always being one to get exciting about looking through model homes when we get the chance, I was looking forward to the show because you get to tour brand new RVs and check out their amenities and all of the cool contraptions and innovations contained therein.

Since the parking lot and the RV show were on opposite sides of the fairgrounds, almost not in the same city, we had to take a tram across the entire grounds to the other side where the show was. When we rounded the corner, the wind was just right, and the air was filled with the intense smell of “new car,” that wonderful odor of rubber, plastic, and glue. It was certainly a mood enhancer.

Once we were knee-deep in the show, they all started to look the same. There were nearly 1000 examples to look at, anything from three-quarter-million dollar motorhomes to under $10,000 small trailers. And everyone was trying to sell me something. It was as if I had walked into a used car lot, I was the last guy in town without a car, and three salesmen’s ability to feed their families that day depended on whether or not I bought an RV or not. I probably said, “Just looking” a dozen times to one guy, and I ran out of creative ways to explain how I’m not buying an RV but merely seeing what was out there. Most of the salesmen were nice guys, and a couple were quite helpful, even after I said I wasn’t buying, but you could see the gentle hope in their eyes, that urgent “what if.”

We were looking for something in the 25-foot range, a trailer that wasn’t too big for my truck to haul or for me to park (and store) but big enough to have everything we wanted in a trailer: bunk beds for the kids, lots of storage, a dining table that you didn’t have to break down and a big bed that you could walk completely around for Kara and I.

The kids loved looking through the RVs. Natalie would scamper up the metal stairs and make sure to look into every closet and behind every door. Matthew would head right for either the big bed or the bunk beds, scramble up onto it and roll around full of giggles. He would only voluntarily get down if a visit to another RV was promised (and delivered; he remembers slights against promises).

In the end, we got overwhelmed pretty easy and quickly—it only took three hours—as there were many trailers that all looked the same: some flowery patterned seats, light particleboard cupboards, linoleum floors and aluminum sides. A tin can if ever there was one. We did find a couple that we felt would make the grade, but what did we know? Plainly, nothing.

I desperately wanted a beer at this point, make that six beers, but at eight dollars a beer (that’s right, eight bucks for a lousy beer) I settled on an Orange Julius, which tasted terrible and was disappointing… maybe it was all the flies buzzing around inside the vendor’s Plexiglas shack or the fact that it looked as though she last washed her hands a couple of days earlier.

We visited a booth where they were selling the Tango line of RVs from Pacific Coachworks. I had never heard of them. I didn’t like the one we looked in, for starters. It had some funky bed setup that didn’t do it for me. It was creative and unique, but it pushed the couch out into the middle of the floor and made the sides around the rest of the bed completely useless. Plus, it was more expensive than the others of the same size. I didn’t give it much consideration, because I didn’t like the only one within my size limits and price range.

We gave up, somewhat defeated and overcome by the choices, and decided to go to Red Robin, regroup and consider other options for the future. Maybe we should wait until the show at Angeles Stadium or maybe we should do some research into these various travel trailers so we be better informed. Over dinner, we made plans to return to the show on Sunday; they gave two-for-one “return” tickets so you can come back a second day…that’s a courtesy to get away and make a decision, plus they take away the one obstacle people have left, the 20 bucks it costs to park and get it.

Instead of going it alone, we conscripted my folks, who have owned and operated a number of RVs in their years and are well-versed in what amenities work and which ones are there for fluff, to go along with us on Sunday to help make heads or tails of what we considered our choices.

We toured them through a couple of our first choices, and they turned up their nose at them. Pioneer by Fleetwood (we discovered that several of the trailers on our list were all made by Fleetwood) was our number one choice of the morning. They had a floor plan that we found acceptable and it was priced in our neighborhood, though Dad kept suggesting something bigger and Kara and the kids were gravitating to the larger coaches. I was keeping to what I thought were my limits. I didn’t want to overtax the truck and most of the bigger ones was coming close to the 9500-pound limit my truck could tow. The last thing I want to do is fry the transmission in the middle of nowhere.

Dad came out of the Pioneer, shaking he head. “This one’s no good,” he said. “It’s not made very well. It’s cheap.” He showed me a couple of things that I would soon-than-later have to replace, like the molding and some of the trim pieces. Still, it was our best option so far, but we had yet to visit Holiday Rambler and any other that we may have come across on our way… Dutchman, Keystone, Mallard, et al.

Sweeping around the show again, we followed a similar path as Friday, and we again stopped by Tango to show them the funky bed, and Natalie wanted to make sure we visited it again so she could find the big soft pillow. On Friday, she had declared that she wanted us to get the Tango because of the big soft red pillow; she was insistent.

So, while I’m sitting inside the Tango, talking with my Mom, who’s enjoying the funky couch and the A/C, Kara, the kids and Dad wander across the booth to another coach, the Tango 299, a 30-foot trailer completely out of our price range.

I don’t need to tell you the rest of this story, do I?

It had everything we wanted in a trailer, from the bunk beds in the back to the slide-out living room and the walk-around queen bed in the front. It had amble storage, a great warrantee and many of the accessories that have actual use and value. However, it was overpriced and, in my opinion, too big (not overweight though). I was willing to settle on a 27-foot trailer, but a 30-foot trailer was just too big. Where would I park it? How would I navigate this thing around a corner? Forget about backing it up. But then again, what’s three more feet? It’s a yardstick, and funny thing is that the 27-foot trailer we had on our maybe list was, in fact a 30-foot trailer when you add the three feet for the tongue. The Tango is 30 feet six inches from spare tire to tongue.

But the most important aspect was the quality. It looked and felt like it was built solid. You stepped in it and it didn’t rattle or squeak or sound hollow, tinny or thin. The colors are rich dark woods with funky patterned seats but tastefully done.

The one big downside, besides my constant hand-wringing over the length and the size and how it was bigger than I had planned on, was the price. It was five thousand dollars over our planned budget to spend, and that included the special show price, which was already five thousand dollars off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.

I met the owner of the company that builds them, Tom Powell. Then I met the CEO of the company that builds them, Dane Found. Then I met the head of the finance department, Peter. Then the guy from the parts department. And this was after talking with the salesman. We haggled. They tried to get the best price for them, and I tried to get the best price for me. I told them how much I was going to pay, what my offer was, and if I got what I wanted, I would put down nearly 25 percent up front. It was fun. Haggling is always exciting and more so when I’m not desperate for what they’re offering. It wasn’t like a new car dealership where I drove onto the lot in a car with one smoking cylinder, three bald tires and no brakes. I didn’t have an RV on Saturday, so what makes me think I must have one on Monday. Plus, it was Sunday and the show grounds was bare empty, so they must have been hurting for business.

I got it for about six hundred dollars over the price I wanted, and we insisted that they throw in a few things that were only offered on a higher package, including a fancy entry way handle. They brought in a couple of people to see if it was possible to make some of the adjustments we wanted, like adding “end tables” to the slide-out couch and cupboard doors to underneath the dining room seats. Which I knew they could, but the fact that they wanted to showed me that they wanted to make a sale.

After an hour or so of the back and forth and filling out the forms, it was ours.

Now where to put it? It was obviously too big for my parents’ backyard, which was the original intent, so I dug around today and found a nice RV storage place that was very affordable and secure. Insurance was cheap, only $200 a year, and when I came home from the AAA office, a message was waiting for me to come pick it up.

So, if you’re visiting me Saturday after next and you can’t quite see my house because of this giant trailer parked out front, don’t worry, that’s just my new RV! Yeehaw!


**The lead shot is what our new rig looks like (though technically, I think I'd have to include the truck in order to call it a rig, but you get the idea).

*The floorplan above is the, uh, floorplan. I guess I didn't need to caption it.


Oh, and I forgot to mention, while talking with Tom Powell, the president of the company, he started to complain to that the owner's manual, written by his wife, a chemist, (whom he deicded was the "only person he knew who could put together a complete sentence") needed to be completely overhauled.

Owner's manual, huh? Writing and editing, huh? Guess what I do for a living, Tom?

So, Tom and I may have both gained some business yesterday.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Sweet!! Will that thing make it to Calico?

 

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