Chanute, KS – A part of America’s Heartland

remnants of a blizzard Chanute Kansas

Remnants of a blizzard greeted us in Kansas

Hopefully this is the last snow we'll see for years!

Our sentiments, exactly.

Santa Fe City Park Chanute Kansas

The Santa Fe City Park waterfall was running at full volume after

the blizzard.

Chanute KS

Boarded windows, "closed" signs, and storefronts for lease and

rent were signs of the times in Chanute.

A vendor hopes out-of-work customers can find a

silver lining...

Osa and Marty Johnson Museum Chanute Kansas

The Safari Museum and Library, housed in the old train depot

A fellow tourist (or museum escapee?)

roams the sidewalks of Chanute.

NuWa Industries headquarters NuWa fifth wheels

Debbie took us on a tour of the trailers in the new

show room.

Leaving Kansas, we had hundreds of miles of prairie and farmlands ahead of us on our way to Arizona.

Chanute, Kansas

March 30 - April 1, 2009 - In search of warranty repairs for

the trailer (the stove burner knobs became immoble under

high heat and the pocket door to the bedroom had come off

its track), we drove north from Arkansas to Kansas.  We felt

the warm air of the southern spring quickly slipping away.

Our beach days in Pensacola, just two weeks earlier,

seemed a lifetime ago as we drove north into a ferocious,

freezing headwind.  A nasty blizzard blanketed much of

southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma two days before

we arrived, killing some 3,500 head of cattle in Texas.

Remnants of the storm were visible on the roadside.  We

hadn't seen snow piles in a few years, and this was about as

much as we wanted to see for many years more!

We had enjoyed our visit to Chanute, Kansas

so much the previous year that we were

looking forward to seeing the town again.  We

hoped to hook up with some of the friendly

people who had made us feel so welcome at

the NuWa plant.  News in the RV industry and

world economy had gone from bleak last year

to jaw-droppingly disastrous this year.  We

heard rumors that Elkhart, Indiana, home of

the vast majority of RV industry

manufacturers, had lost some 15,000 jobs.

We had also heard over the winter that, after a 60-day temporary factory shutdown,

NuWa had decided to close its doors permanently.  With characteristic class and

concern for their customers, they had set aside enough cash to cover all warranty

repairs on new trailers until the warranties expired. To protect their shareholders' best

long term interests, however, they wanted to preserve what equity they had left.  This

meant carefully liquidating their assets in an order that would keep the company as

attractive to prospective buyers as possible for as long as possible.  But no new NuWa

trailers would be coming to market.

This depressing news

came at the same time the big three automakers' CEO's were flying

to Washington, DC on their corporate jets to plead for bailout money

to plug holes in their sinking ships.  Plans for how the bailout money

might save those companies were nonexistent, but the wailing pleas

were heard worldwide.  Meanwhile, NuWa had planned years ago for

a rainy day, and cash was available to keep their warranty service

department open for all recent buyers, like us, for as many years as


So we were thrilled to hear the news that NuWa had changed

their plans and decided to squeeze service, production and

corporate offices into one building and resume production on

a much smaller scale as a more streamlined company in

June.  When we arrived, the excitement at this prospect was

palpable.  From the town's visitors center hosts to the skeletal

crew in the darkened hallways of the NuWa plant, hopes ran

high that NuWa would survive the economic calamity after all.

Chanute has a fun, quirky character beyond the NuWa factory and its steady stream of

RV-oriented visitors.  Last year we enjoyed the Santa Fe City Park and its resident ducks

and geese and evening picnickers.  This year we spent more time "downtown" amid the

historic buildings.  The Safari Museum presents the memorabilia of former locals Osa

and Martin Johnson, travel adventurers who trekked to the world's most exotic locales

between 1917 and 1936.  A giraffe statue outside the Tioga Suites made a fun sidewalk


Back at the NuWa plant, we

accidentally bumped into Neil Ford, president of NuWa, and he gave us

a tour of the plant, explaining how it would be laid out in the future.  The

enormous factory floors stood silent and immaculately clean, a far cry

from the beating pulse of machinery and workers that throbbed through

the plant last year.  A new area had been set aside as a showroom area,

and a collection of beautiful trailers stood ready for the new fixed-price

factory-direct purchasing program the company was implementing.

He sadly told us that their two excellent employees

who had taken such good care of us last year, Brett

and Russ, had taken positions elsewhere.  So we

were delighted to see our friend Debbie was still in

the NuWa offices, and she gave us a wonderful,

detailed tour of each trailer in the show room.

The relationship between NuWa and Chanute is symbiotic, and when one is ailing the

other suffers as well.  It was shocking, after visiitng Bentonville, Arkansas, the thriving

home of Walmart, heart of the American consumer economy, to wander through

America's heartland of Kansas to Chanute.

Bentonville's spiffy town

center fairly sparkled, with

an almost Disney-like flare,

showing us small town

America as it could be.  In

contrast, Chanute's boarded

downtown windows, rows of

"closed" signs, and endless

stores for sale and for lease,

made us both ache inside.

The leprosy of Pay Day loan

stores was creeping in too.

Ironically, during

our stay, we watched a PBS special on the Airstream trailer caravans to

Mexico, Central America and Africa that took place during the 1950's.  We

were amazed to learn that Airstream owners shipped their precious trailers

worldwide to embark on mammoth overland voyages together.  In Africa

they traveled from Cape Town to Cairo!  During the program we learned

that Airstream was the only trailer manufacturer, of 400, that survived the

Great Depression.

Which RV manufacturers will remain after the current shakedown?  Our

hopes and bets are on NuWa.  If they resume production as planned, they

may emerge from this economic disaster a stronger, leaner and better

company, producing even more clever and comfortable trailers for future


Perhaps, amid all the government bailout money for the many corporations that squandered their fortunes long ago, there could be a

President's Hero Award for a small company that has tightened its belt and forged ahead, unaided by taxpayers, putting customers

and community first.

The wind shifted while we were in Chanute, and even though we retraced our route to the Oklahoma border, we found ourselves

fighting a ferocious, freezing headwind once again.  That headwind blocked us all the way across Oklahoma, Texas and New

Mexico, for three solid days.  Our trailer rocked all night outside Oklahoma City, buffeted by the wind, and it was pelted so hard with

sand and dust all night in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, that it sounded like a driving rain.  The wind didn't even begin to

show hints of letting up until we had been parked at Roosevelt Lake, Arizona, for a few days.