Remnants of a blizzard greeted us in Kansas
Hopefully this is the last snow we'll see for years!
Our sentiments, exactly.
The Santa Fe City Park waterfall was running at full volume after
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
The Safari Museum and Library, housed in the old train depot
A fellow tourist (or museum escapee?)
roams the sidewalks of Chanute.
Debbie took us on a tour of the trailers in the new
Leaving Kansas, we had hundreds of miles of prairie and farmlands ahead of us on our way to Arizona.
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.
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
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.