Escapod Teardrop Trailers – Rugged Campers for Off-Road Adventure!

April 2018 – In our RV travels we love taking small roads from one destination to another because there’s more to see and you never know what you’ll bump into.

As we were towing our trailer in Utah from Strawberry Reservoir to Huntsville, we found ourselves driving through the village of Wanship. As we turned a corner, we noticed several cute tear drop trailers parked by the sidewalk.

Escapod teardrop trailer rugged RV for backcountry off-road travel-min

What a cool looking teardrop trailer!

Our heads whipped around to get another look as we drove by, and we noticed two big red garage bay doors were open and a teardrop trailer was peeking out of one of them.

Escapod Trailers manufacturing facility Wanship Utah-min

There was a teardrop trailer in one of the garage bays.

Did they build teardrop trailers here? We quickly found a place to pull over and walked back to see what this was all about. We noticed a petite trailer frame glinting in the sun and the company name “Escapod” on the building.

Escapod Teardrop trailer manufacturing Wanship Utah-min

Out front there was a trailer frame waiting for a teardrop body.

Manufacturing Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Escapod trailers are ruggedly built with strong frames made from 2×2 inch steel tubing.

We’d never heard of Escapod trailers before, but we LOVE teardrop trailers. So, we went over to one of the models to have a closer look.

Escapod Teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Sturdy, tough and ready for back country camping.

Then we heard a voice behind us and a tall, lanky fellow came over and introduced himself. He was Chris Eckel, and he had recently moved to Utah from New York to become a partner in Escapod Trailers alongside the founder Chris Hudak.

“Would you like me to open it up for you?” He asked.

Yes indeedy!!!

Escapod trailer rugged backcountry off-road teardrop trailer RV


Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

The back end lifts up to reveal a galley with drawers, shelves, a high end cooler and a cooktop.

We were very impressed with the quality of the woodworking and the craftsmanship of the trailer all around.

Galley kitchen Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

The woodwork is top notch.

Like most teardrop trailers, the galley is in the back. There is a stove set into a stainless steel countertop, and sliding doors in the back open up to shelving. Three finely crafted drawers are set next to a high end cooler.

Stove in Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

The stove is recessed into the countertop.

Chris explained that the origin of Escapod was the desire for a well built and rugged trailer that could handle anything the backcountry might throw at it but could be purchased at a reasonable price.

Too often teardrop trailers are either relatively plush and unsuited to off-road travel or they are sufficiently sturdy yet astronomically priced.

Escapod is filling the void of top quality off-road durability for those who are budget conscious.

Front exterior Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

The front of the Escapod is aluminum, ready for tough back country travel.

Hitch and battery Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

A Group 27 12 volt battery powers the rig.

There are lots of options that can be added to an Escapod trailer. The unit we were looking at has an awning, but you can even add a rooftop tent to make the trailer a double-decker and have more sleeping options than the residential sized queen bed inside.

Tour Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

An awning provides shade and the propane tank is easily accessed.

There is a door on either side of the trailer, and we poked our heads in to see more beautifully finished cabinetry inside. There is storage space at the head and foot of the bed, an opening hatch vent with a fan, opening windows in each door and a fixed window at the head of the bed.

Besides having wonderful air flow through the trailer for hot summer days, Escapod trailers are very well insulated for winter travel as well.

Interior Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Inside: a residential queen bed, storage space with push button latches and a hatch vent with a fan.

Inside Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

The doors on either side both have opening windows and the front cap has a fixed window.

What a neat little package!

The foundation of any trailer is the frame, and with large fifth wheel trailers almost all the frames are made by Lippert Components. However, with small trailers like the Escapod and other independently manufactured teardrop trailers, the frames are often made by the trailer builder.

The Escapod frames are purpose-built for off-road travel in the outback.

Escapod Trailer frame-min

The frame is built right here at the Escapod manufacturing facility.

Sideview trailer frame Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min


The Escapod foundation includes high end gear like torsion axles, heavy duty Firestone Transforce AT tires and Mickey Thompson wheels.

Escapod Teardrop Trailers off-road rugged frame-min

Torsion axles ready for the Firestone Tranforce AT tires mounted on Mickey Thompson wheels.

While Chris Eckel told us all about the Escapod teardrops, we saw Escapod’s founder, Chris Hudak, hard at work welding a new frame.

Welding trailer frame Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Escapod founder, Chris Hudak, welds a frame.

A nearly finished Escapod teardrop was in the next bay. Escapod builds two trailers a month, and each one is built to order for a particular customer. When we visited in April they had trailers on order through July, so the wait for a new trailer was about 3 months.

Although all Escapod trailers have the essential basics in common, Chris works with each buyer to understand exactly how they intend to travel with their trailer, and they discuss which options will make the most sense for their particular needs.

Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Somewhere out there an excited buyer is eagerly waiting for this Escapod to be finished!

The GVWR for an Escapod trailer is 3,500 lbs, and the basic model with a few options and a full 20 gallon water tank is just 1,500 lbs. So you have a whopping 2,000 lbs of Cargo Carrying Capacity to work with, making it easy to carry a kayak or bicycles or a rooftop tent system on top or load up the cupboards and cooler with anything that might be needed on a camping trip.

Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

These tough little teardrop trailers can take you anywhere you want to go.

Folks who live in relatively gargantuan fifth wheel trailers like our 36 footer may raise an eyebrow at the idea of doing any kind of long term travel in a teardrop trailer. However, it’s feasible. Last year at Sturgis Bike Week we met a man who designed his own teardrop trailer that he could tow with his motorcycle. It had a twin bed inside. He had lived in it for nine years and was truly loving life!

Homemade motorcycle teardrop trailer-min

Home for nine years to a very happy motorcycle camper!

The Escapod motto, “Born in Utah. Bred for Adventure. Tow and Behold” invites customers to go boondocking with their trailers out on America’s public land down remote and precarious dirt roads that those of us with big fifth wheels would never dare try.

And you can go for weeks at a time. Chris told us he took his girlfriend on a six week trip all around the back roads of the west in an Escapod last year and they had a blast.

A hot water heater and shower nozzle hookup are possible, but a solar shower bag is also a great way to go. We used one on our sailboat all through our Mexico cruise on days we’d been at anchor so long that our engine heated hot water was no longer hot.

Slogans Escapod teardrop trailer rugged backcountry off-road RV-min

Born in Utah. Bred for Adventure. Tow and Behold!

The Escapod we looked at came in at just under $14,000, a remarkable deal for a quality trailer. For those who are worried about such a big purchase, Escapod has several teardrops available for rent so folks can try before they buy. Even better, they have plans down the road to build rental fleets and partner with outdoor outfitters in America’s most beautiful locations.

We are so tickled we bumped into Escapod as we rounded the bend in Wanship, Utah. What a neat discovery!

Escapod owners Chris and Chris and dog Milo-min

Chris Hudak (left, he’s the founder) and Chris Eckel (right) and canine camping companion Milo

It turns out that Trailer Life recently did a fabulous article surveying the many teardrops that are being built today. The article is here: Tiny Trailers: New Era Teardrops. Escapod is the third teardrop in the list under a fabulous photo of an Escapod in Utah’s red rock country.

Unlike the market for larger travel trailers and fifth wheels that has less than a handful of independent builders and is dominated by a few conglomerates, teardrop trailers are the wild west of trailer building. Independent builders are staking claim to portions of this unusual market and building trailers to suit their special niche. How fun!

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Space Craft RV Factory Tour – Custom 5th Wheels Made To Order!

October 2015 – During a wonderful 8 month season of RV travel that had taken our fifth wheel trailer 10,000 miles from Arizona to Big Bend Texas to Florida’s Gulf Coast and up through the Smokies via the Blue Ridge Parkway to Nova Scotia and then over to Acadia National Park in Maine and west through New York’s Finger Lakes, culminating with a fabulous stop in Maysville, Kentucky, we had not only seen some beautiful sights, but we had visited several RV and trailer repair shops on the way.

Custom fifth wheel trailer RV by Space Craft Manufacturing

How about a new custom fifth wheel trailer from Space Craft Manufacturing?!

After installing disc brakes in our trailer in Texas, an upgrade we have been grateful for every single day since, we replaced a bent trailer axle in Maine, followed by swapping out a dead RV refrigerator in Indiana.

In Kansas, we tackled a slew of plumbing repairs, from a new fresh water tank to a new kitchen faucet, rebuilt toilet, new black tank sensors, new black tank sewer valve, and a repaired window leak, among many other things. And our trailer still has suspension issues.

Besides being grateful for our RV warranty, we began to wonder: at what point do you give up on an aging RV and get a new one?

Space Craft Manufacturing custom fifth wheel trailer RV

A newly completed Space Craft 30.5 fifth wheel trailer

On our way from our refrigerator repair to our plumbing repairs, we stopped in to visit the unusual custom fifth wheel builder, Space Craft Manufacturing. We have known about this company for a long time, and were thrilled to be able to take a peek at their facility.

Space Craft’s primary market is the carnival and circus industry. These traveling folks work full-time and are very hard on their trailers. One client, we learned, lives with his leopard and his chimpanzee in his fifth wheel. He came to Space Craft looking for a design that could give both of his companions a comfortable home in his trailer — along with a little space for him too!

Maple kitchen Space Craft Manufacturing 5th wheel trailer RV

Inside the 30.5 – beautiful custom built maple cabinets

Circus folk don’t have the time to fuss with repairs. They need rugged trailers that hold up to big cats and great apes! Out in Space Craft’s used trailer lot, we saw a bunch of 2014 and 2015 top-of-the-line fifth wheel trailers that had been traded in for Space Crafts after just one season on the road, because they weren’t up to the job.

The beauty of getting a Space Craft is you can have anything you want. They build trailers from 30′ to 57′ long, and they outfit them with whatever kinds of cabinets you want, whatever floorplan suits your fancy, whatever paint job you think is cool and whatever appliances and components you deem vital to your personal happiness on the road in an RV.

Have It Your Way!

RV bedroom Space Craft Manufacturing custom fifth wheel trailer

Cedar closets and a beautiful maple dresser. The furnace blows from under the dresser rather than floor ductwork.

In town, we chatted with a gal that has lived in Concordia, Missouri, home of Space Craft Manufacturing, all her life. She says the locals there are all accustomed to Space Craft’s unusual customers who swing through now and then for repairs or to upgrade to new units. Space Craft is located right behind a rest area on I-70, though, and interstate travelers are often shocked when they see an elephant or a giraffe grazing in the grass just beyond the trees!

When we first poked our heads in the door of a finished Space Craft 30.5 fifth wheel trailer, we were astonished by the quality. Every inch of the trailer radiated hallmarks of rugged construction. Frankly, all other fifth wheels we’ve been in (including our home and other popular and expensive units) are weekend toys by comparison!

RV living room Space Craft custom fifth wheel trailer

This buyer wanted house-like painted walls rather than wallpaper fiberboard

Space Craft is a family owned business run by Marsha Trautman and her son Wyatt. They don’t bother with marketing, because they just don’t need to do it, although they do take a trailer showcasing unique design features to the Tampa RV show most years. They build 10 to 15 units a year, and right now, they are booked with orders for a full year in advance. To get in line, just put down a 25% deposit on your new trailer.

Outer wall of an RV slide-out room

The frame of the outer wall of a slide-out room

Space Craft does everything in-house. They build their own frames and pay extraordinary attention to details that most manufacturers overlook. Rather than focusing on a standardized fleet of sexy floorplans with luxurious furnishings and fixtures, they ensure the underpinnings of each trailer are top notch, something buyers often forget to think about when they are seduced by a beautifully appointed RV living room at a dealership.

Tiny details like the superior construction of slide-out rooms are a given. Most manufacturers build slide-out rooms with multiple joints and rows of screws holding things together, making them prone to leaks. At Space Craft, every slide-out room is built with a single sheet of fiberglass covering the roof and sides, with nary a screw to be found.

Seamless slideout customer 5th wheel trailer Space Craft Manufacturing

Seamless slide-out construction – no chance of leaks

Underneath, their trailers are equally uncluttered, and there is no flimsy corrugated plastic screwed to the bottom. Just pure, fine lines and solid construction.

Space Craft manufacturing clean underbelly custom fifth wheel trailer

Even the underbelly has fine lines and no dangling parts or corrugated plastic sheeting.

Space Craft builds what you request, and they have blueprints for hundreds of different designs they’ve built already to give you ideas.

When I chatted with Wyatt, Space Craft’s designer, about what he feels is important in fifth wheel construction, he made it plain that easy access to all components and leak-proof, solid construction were his first priorities. Whereas many other brand new full-time fifth wheel trailers place important systems and components in out-of-the-way places, Wyatt puts every system in a spot where it will be easy to service or replace.

Electrical compartment Space Craft custom fifth wheel RV

Now THIS is a well dressed RV electrical installation!

The DC and AC wiring in the basement of a Space Craft is a sight to behold. Beautifully done!

Only one Space Craft trailer is built at time by a handful of loyal and skilled employees. While we were there, a 53′ two bedroom, two bathroom model was in the finishing stages on the line.

Space Craft Manufacturing custom 2 bedroom 2 bathroom trailer

Space Craft produces one meticulously built trailer at a time.

Many of the Space Craft trailers are two bedroom, two bathroom luxury models, designed for carnival and circus owners. Many others are “bunkhouse” units that have four to six entrance doors on one side going to individual bedrooms to house employees on tour.

Space Craft Manufacturing custom 53' fifth wheel trailer RV_

During our visit, a 53′ two bedroom two bath model was on the line.

However, Space Craft has built loads of smaller fifth wheels for full-time RVers, although Wyatt said with a smile that none of their buyers are first-time owners. Afterall, it is impossible to know what custom options you’ll want or need in a full-time rolling home before you’ve been on the road a little while.

Space Craft Manufacturing custom fifth wheel RV landing legs

Ummmm…our landing legs don’t look anything like that!

What does one of these babies cost? I was astonished to discover that a 37-38′ fifth wheel would come in around $125k to $150k, depending on options like hydraulic leveling, disc brakes, pre-installed solar power, generator, etc.

Solar panels on a Space Craft custom fifth wheel RV

This buyer wanted two 100 watt solar panels. They’ll install whatever you ask for!

That is very comparable to the MSRP on Continental Coach (Forks RV), DRV (Thor), Luxe (Augusta RV) or New Horizons semi-custom fifth wheels. The nice thing is that if you want a top quality unit that doesn’t have an island kitchen and is in the mid-30′ range, a nearly extinct mass-market design, Space Craft can engineer and build it for you. They can even build in a beautiful vent-free propane fireplace with real flames and a wooden mantel as a cozy centerpiece for those cold winter nights!

Space Craft Manufacturing custom kitchen 53' fifth wheel trailer RV

Custom kitchen built to the buyer’s specs

If you travel with unusual pets, no matter how big or how exotic, Space Craft will surely take it in stride and will build the rolling home of their (and your) dreams!

Space Craft Manufacturing Logo


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Casita Travel Trailers – Lots of RV in a Tiny Package

We have always admired the little travel trailers made by Casita, and two days ago, while buzzing down the freeway between Dallas and Houston, we both did a double-take when we saw a slew of them lined up on the side of the road. A huge sign above them said “Casita Travel Trailers.”

We had no idea these wonderful trailers were made in Texas! What a perfect opportunity to check them out and get a factory tour.

Casita Travel Trailers

Look! It’s Casita Travel Trailers!!

We turned our buggy around and somehow squeezed it into their front lot (which is just the right size for Casitas), and jumped out to prowl around the lot. There were dozens of brand new Casitas lined up, and each one had an owner’s name printed on a window sticker.

Casita travel trailer on the dealer lot

These are very solid and well made little trailers.

When we poked our heads in the door of the building, there was a flurry of activity going on inside. At least three couples were walking in and out of the four trailers on the showroom floor, and several sales people were in cubicles along the walls, filling out order forms and finalizing the paperwork for trailers being picked up. These things are Popular!!

Casita Travel Trailers front door

Casita Travel Trailers World Headquarters

“Feel free to look around,” a saleswoman named Carla told us. “I can give you a factory tour in a few minutes after I sign off the paperwork for a couple that just came in to pick up their new Casita.”

Casita trailer showroom

There were four trailers on the showroom floor, and we admired every one!

Casitas are sweet little trailers that are extremely well built. They range from 13′ to 17′ in exterior length end-to-end. “Our 13′ model gets the most inquiries,” she said, “but most people end up buying the 17′ model.”

17 foot Casita Trailer interior

The Freedom model has two captains chairs

There are four interior plans for the 16′ and 17′ models, and several have a king bed option! The Freedom model has two captains chairs and looked really inviting. “That model gets a lot of interest,” Carla told us when she joined us a few minutes later, “But most people end up buying a different floorplan because those chairs are a little impractical.” I sure liked her straight forward approach!

17 foot Casita Freedom Travel Trailer

Some models have furniture that folds into a king size bed!

There are lots of other options for these trailers too, including fresh water tanks as big as 25 gallons, a microwave, and a furnace. Virtually all Casitas are special ordered by the buyers who will be using them. Winter is the slow season, Carla told us, but they keep building trailers even when orders slide. Some winters they end up with four or five trailers that weren’t special ordered, but they’re always gone by spring!

Prices for new Casitas range from around $14k to $20k.

Casita Travel Trailer kitchen

The kitchen is small, but it has all the things you need to make a good meal.

Casita doesn’t have a dealer network. Instead, they have a dealership in the front of their building, where all the selling is done, and they have a factory out back where everything is made. “We build 14 Casitas a week,” Carla told us, “and it takes about two weeks to build one from start to finish.” That means there are about 30 on the line at any one time.

Casita Travel Trailer at the factory

A brand new Casita peeks out of a bay at the factory.

Out back, the factory was absolutely humming. Most of the employees have been with the company for at least 10 years, and since the company’s founding 25 years ago, Casitas have grown ever more popular. We couldn’t take any pics in the factory, but it was a great scene. Trailers surrounded us on all sides, each in various stages of completion. They are rolled by hand from station to station down the line! Outside a small tractor wheels them around with ease.

Casita travel trailer being towed by a tractor

Casitas are pretty easy to maneuver around the lot!

The top and bottom of each trailer is a molded fiberglass shell, and the two halves are joined with a bonded seal that is fiberglassed in, much the same way as our sailboat was constructed. The final testing stage was most impressive. Each Casita takes a 30 minute shower at full blast while a technician checks every square inch inside for leaks. They had shower nozzles aimed at each window and the door as well as the roof. How amazing to watch a Casita getting totally drenched by a virtual hurricane!

Casita Travel Trailers lined up at the factory

A storehouse full of future camping memories!

Folks sometimes ask us how to “test drive” the RV lifestyle. Without a doubt, the best way is to get a small rig and go do some camping. Our first RV was a popup tent trailer.

The Casita is a wonderful first RV, because it is a very well built trailer that has all the functionality of bigger rigs, but doesn’t require a big truck to tow it (they weigh about 2,500 lbs) and doesn’t require a lot of space to store.

Couple a Casita trailer with a portable solar power kit and you can learn all about boondocking and your rig will fit comfortably into any campsite anywhere! When you’re ready to upgrade, these popular RVs undoubtedly hold their value better than most.

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Elkhart, IN – RV Factories and Amish Country

Bonneyville Mills

Irises in bloom

White Amish barn

Horses & buggies parked at the hardware store

Kids get early driver's ed at a young age.

Jayco Designer fifth wheels in the holding pen

Jayco Jay Feather travel trailers

Amish home across the street from the Jayco holding pen

Modern versus antiquated. 

Complex & Global versus Simple & Local.

These buggies move at a fast clip

The Amish drive on government maintained roads

Yoder Popcorn

Plowing with a team of horses

Getting a little motorized help

Tending the garden

Nothing beats a little power

We saw at least seven women mowing this way

Return to Indiana countryside with red barns

Heartland Factory

Trailer chassis stacked up outside.

Wheels, water and holding tanks installed.

Flooring installed.

A unique dolly system moves trailers sideways down the line

Furniture installation begins.

Bathroom sinks waiting for installation.

Side and rear walls installed. It starts to look like a trailer.

Ready to install the slide-out room.

Slide-out ready to be installed on the trailer.

Slide-out is pre-assembled.

Ready for front caps to be installed

Front caps lined up for installation.

Ready for delivery.

Elkhart's Amish & Heartland RV Tours

Early June, 2009 - The Elkhart Visitors Center is a great resource.  Not

only did they help us locate the RV/MH Hall of Fame, but they gave us a

list of RV factory tour schedules.  It was astonishing to see how many

manufacturers are based in this town, and more surprising to see how

many weren't offering tours because they weren't in business any more.

I wanted to find out how to experience some of the local Amish culture,

and the lady at the desk handed me a CD called "The Amish Heritage

Tour."  You pop the CD into your car's player and it guides you through

a 90 mile tour of the surrounding countryside.  The accompanying paper

map helps you figure out where you are going.  The CD assumes you

drive the speed limit, and gives directions on where to turn.  As you drive

it narrates the history of the area, describing the industries that support

Elkhart today, pointing out the Amish settlements and giving insights into

their lifestyle, and explaining the Indian and European roots in the region too.  The sound effects and accompanying music are

delightful, and the driving instructions are terrific.  Every 5-10 miles there is something worth stopping to see, and the CD explains

where to park and what to look for as you walk around.  We returned the

CD to the Visitors Center at the end of our tour and later found out you

can download the MP3 files from their website instead of borrowing the


We spent a very happy day with that CD.  The first stop was Bonneyville

Mills.  A beautiful iris garden out front caught my eye.

The second suggested

stop was the RV/MH Hall

of Fame, which we had

seen the day before.  I

don't think you could

squeeze both tours into one day.  What we were most eager to see was the Amish countryside.  We

learned that some 20,000 Amish live in this area, of about 225,000 worldwide.  They are a subset of

the Mennonites who number about 1.5 million in 65 countries worldwide.  With a birth rate of 6.8

children per family, the Amish population is growing at 4% annually, making it one of the fastest

growing cultures in the world.  Customs vary by community, but in this area their homesteads have

white barns rather than the usual red ones in the rest of Indiana and Michigan.

The essence of their beliefs is twofold:  humility and isolation.  Their forebears were so terribly

persecuted for their religion in Europe in the 1600's that they withdrew from society at large,

preferring to nurture their own community's independence while keeping the rest of the world at bay.

Therefore, when electricity became available in the 1920's, they rejected it, as it would bind them to

the non-Amish around them.  Similarly, they prefer to travel by horse and buggy and work the fields

manually.  A horse's range is perhaps 25 miles before it needs to rest and eat, shortening the distance they can travel outside the

Amish community.  Manual field tools prevent anyone from attempting to acquire a larger field than his neighbor and thereby

aggrandize himself rather than remain humble. All this adds up to an extremely simple lifestyle that thrives without much

technology.  However the rejection of technology is not so much of technology in and of itself but of things that could lead to one

individual standing apart from the rest or that could make the community dependent on the outside world.

I had seen photos of Amish horses and buggies but

couldn't really believe it, so when I saw them all tied to

hitching posts at the local hardware store and local

dentist's office I was quite startled.  The biggest

grouping was at the local bulk food market, a huge

building that must have had 40 horses and buggies

lined up outside.  All the horses were dark colored and

the buggies were black.  Most had a roof, windshield

and doors, though some were open air buggies.

The kids get early equestrian training and learn to

drive on the roads responsibly at a young age.

The CD instructed us not to take photos of the Amish, which

I mostly obeyed.  However, in every Amish shop we entered

(which were staffed exclusively by Amish), there were

arrays of books and information about the Amish for sale,

featuring photos of all kinds, including some beautiful coffee

table books that had very intimate photographs of the

Amish in all aspects of their lives.  Who took those lovely

photos, and did the Amish object?  Apparently not, as they

were happy to display and sell the books.  The Amish are

not totally independent of the world around them, as they

need to buy homes and land as their population increases,

so they interact financially.  Some rely on the tourist trade

for money and others hold jobs.  They have

been affected by the economic downturn as

well, and I read one local newspaper article

about an Amish man who had lost his job in

an RV factory and had to rely solely on his

farm.  He liked spending more time at home

with his kids and wife, tending their farm

together, but he said if his job were available

again he would return to work without


In our search for trailers last year, we had encountered several

manufacturers who advertised that their trailers were Amish made,

especially the interior woodwork.  The image of a man with beard,

suspenders and wide brimmed hat carefully crafting the cabinetry with

hand tools while his horse and buggy wait patiently outside can be

appealing.  But it isn't quite accurate.

Jayco, in particular, advertises this Amish connection.

We came across their holding pen for trailers ready to

be shipped across country.  It was an open field with

space for rows and rows of trailers.  Only about half of

the rows were occupied, but it was interesting to see

rows of their high-end Designer fifth wheels and light-

weight Jay Feather travel trailers ready to go.

Directly across the narrow lane from this holding pen was an Amish farm, complete with a

large barn and several buggies parked out front.  The woman of the house was tending her

vegetable garden and the clothes line was full of clothes swaying in the breeze.  I was

fascinated by the juxtaposition of the simple living and home based values sandwiched into

the modern, mass market standards of the surrounding community.

We found this odd mix of

cultures on the road too, as the

horses and buggies fill all the

roads in the area.  We stopped

at the Rise 'n Roll Bakery and

were enchanted with what lay

inside.  A group of young Amish

were baking and selling their

goods.  The girls were singing together as they worked, and when

they stopped periodically to talk together they spoke German (we later

found out it is a dialect of Swiss-German).  Of course their English is

perfect as well, and the young boy at the cash register was utterly

charming as he offered us samples of the most amazing donuts I have

ever tasted.  There was an innocence and sweetness among those

teenagers at that bakery that I have rarely experienced elsewhere.

And what better place for sweetness than a bakery; the sugar coated delights were heavenly.  I

wanted so much to photograph the charming scene there: the girls in their bonnets laughing and

singing; the boy in his suspenders gently teasing them.  Instead, I took a picture of a little sign

they had hanging below the cash register:  "As you travel on life's pathway, may this always be

your goal: Keep your eyes upon the doughnut and not upon the hole!"

We took a fresh raspberry pie and

some donuts out to a little bench in

front of the bakery and watched the

Amish world go by for a while.  The

horses and buggies were more

common than the cars, and they moved

at quite a clip.  I was amazed looking at

one of my photos later to see that all

four of the horse's hooves were off the ground.  The Amish may not travel

long distances, but they have the same urgency to get where they are

going as we do.

I read later that in some Amish communities only the young use open-air

buggies, and they are used for courting.  That didn't seem to be the case

with this open-air buggy, but it sure looked like a fun way to get

around.  Of course they travel on all the state and US highways that we do, and those roads are maintained by the governments

that govern us as well as them.

The Amish pay all taxes except social security tax (because they never apply for social security, relying on families to take care of

their disabled and elderly instead) and Worker's Compensation (because they do not use insurance).  Again, both Social Security

and insurance would bind them too tightly to the community at large.  However, some hospitals have begun to offer special care for

the Amish when they are sick, and they have been participating in studies of genetic diseases and disorders, as most Amish today

are descended from just 200 original European ancestors, and genetic disorders have become an issue.

We found ourselves eating our way across Amish land as we stopped next at the "Deutsche Kase Haus," the Cheese Factory.

They had a seemingly infinite variety of cheeses, and all were available for sampling.  Mark was immune, because he doesn't like

cheese, but I tried almost all of them, and they were delicious.  I noticed that other tourists were stocking up on goodies, both here

and back at the bakery, and I discovered that many people come into

Amish country on a regular basis just to buy their amazing foods.

One fellow who was traveling through ("I come here twice a year every

year!") highly recommended that we stop at the Blue Gate Restaurant in

Shipshewana and have the "Amish Plate."  He said it would be one of the

best meals we'd ever have.

We didn't make it there, but we did get to Yoder Popcorn where we

bought a bag of Tender Tiny Whites.

Across the street we watched a man working his fields with a team of six

horses.  The notion of using manual labor to discourage individuals from

trying to outdo their neighbors by having a bigger farm was intriguing.

The very essence of western culture can be such a Darwinian survival-

of-the-fittest scramble to the top, where aggrandizement is revered and everyone

wants to stand out.  It was hard to imagine a culture where the drive for

achievement was capped.  We learned that the Amish don't go to school past

eighth grade, usually attending one-room school houses in their communities.  In

order to comply with the government's minimum age for leaving school, they simply

repeat 8th grade until they are the acceptable age.  Amish students score higher

than average on all standardized tests except vocabulary.

Down the road we saw a man working his field with a single horse pulling a cart

that he sat in, and which, in turn, towed a gas powered tractor.  Because it wasn't a

riding tractor, his farm size was naturally limited by his horse's stamina.

We did not see any churches in their communities, as they prefer to worship in

each others' homes, every other Sunday.

It was a perfect spring day, and every home had a prominent vegetable garden out front.

Almost every vegetable garden was being tended by a woman in her long dress and white

bonnet.  The division of labor between the fields and the homes was distinct.

Women also mow the grass in

the yard.  I stopped counting

after then 7th woman I saw

pushing a lawn mower.

These weren't little manual

rotary mowers like my brother

used to push in our tiny city

yard in Massachusetts.  These

were big gas mowers that

could really get the job done.  One thing we noticed is that extreme

obesity is not a problem with the Amish.  All that work around the home

and farm keeps them trim.

There are Mennonite communities in the area too, and they are much

more lenient in their interpretation of how to live humbly, simply and

without ties to the outside world.  At the local supermarket I watched a

group of women in long dresses and

bonnets filling their baskets with many

of the same goods we rely on, and

when they got outside they hopped in

a car and drove off.

Near the end of the tour we emerged

back into the familiar Indiana

countryside with red barns.  They were

beautiful too, but it was a sign we were

coming back to a society that is more



We enjoy factory tours, and we wanted to visit

Heartland RV, one of the very successful newcomers to

the fifth wheel market.  Having left the rundown looking

but elite Tartan yacht factory a few days earlier, what a

contrast it was to pull up to this modern building topped

with a proud sign and a new Mercedes parked out

front.  We walked inside, inquiring about a tour, and several people instantly scurried off and came back with a salesman for us.

He was clutching some papers and thrust them towards me as he said excitedly, "Sales are down 27%!"  I raised an eyebrow.

"We're number three in the industry!"  He handed me the papers, and sure enough, out of 30 or so manufacturers, where sales

were down 40-60% across the board, Heartland was third from the top for smallest decline in sales volume. What a sign of the

times that a 27% drop in sales would be news to brag about.

He led us on a brisk walk to the beginning of the line, explaining to us that Heartland's founders

had been in the RV industry since time immemorial, coming from Coachmen years ago and

starting several other RV enterprises before opening Heartland.  The place was abuzz with

activity.  Drills, saws, stacks of parts, people moving fast: it was like a movie set.  A feeling of

purposeful, focused ambition filled the air.  We came out into the sunlight where the line begins

with stacks of chassis made by Lippert.

Once inside, each chassis gets

its water and holding tanks and

wheels installed.  Then the

flooring is laid.

Unlike the traditional trailer

manufacturing techniques we

have seen elsewhere,

Heartland has a unique

method for getting the

trailers down the line.  Most

manufacturers line the trailers up

nose to tail and let them stand on

their own landing legs and wheels

as they do at a campground.  They

roll down the line all in a row on their

own wheels.  In contrast, Heartland

puts each chassis on a dolly system,

both the front landing legs and the

rear wheels.  They stand cheek-to-

cheek and roll down the line

sideways.  The trailers don't come

off the dollies until they leave the

building, fully assembled.

This allows Heartland to put

twice as many trailers on

each assembly line.  In

addition, each station on the

line has a scaffolding system

mounted to the ceiling that

can be lowered around the

trailer once it is in place to

allow workers easy access to

the high areas.

After the flooring is installed

on the chassis, the furniture

can be put in place.  The

furniture modules are largely pre-


Then the walls are installed.

The gaskets for the slides are

installed next, and the windows

are put in place.

Then the slide-outs, which are

assembled and furnished

separately, are mounted in


Last of all the front cap is

installed on the nose of the


Finally, the trailers emerge into the

sunlight, ready for shipping to the


There is a lot of pride in this

bustling factory.  But when I asked

about warranties and repairs, it

didn't sound like the Heartland

factory wants to see their trailers

once they leave the plant.  Unlike

NuWa, which offers phenomenal

personalized service at the factory for both

in-warranty and out-of-warranty work,

resulting in a steady stream of loyal customers

visiting their plant in Chanute, Kansas,

Heartland's repair service is handled exclusively

by the dealers.

Elkhart is loaded with RV manufacturers, and most offer tours.  However, we

were ready to change gears and go up Michigan's west coast to visit some of the

cute waterfront towns that line Lake Michigan's shores.










































































































Chanute, KS – Tour of NuWa / Hitchhiker RV Factory

Train engine Santa Fe City Park Chanute KS

Train engine in Santa Fe City Park

Chanute, Kansas

Santa Fe City Park Chanute Kansas

Historic bridge, Santa Fe Park, Chanute

Santa Fe City Park Chanute Kansas Santa Fe City Park Chanute Kansas

Waterfall in the park

Santa Fe City Park Chanute Kansas

Families come to the park every evening

Santa Fe City Park Chanute Kansas

Goose family: mom, dad,

5 goslings & a nanny

Santa Fe City Park Chanute Kansas World Harmony Run truck Chanute KS

The World Harmony Run RV

NuWa Industries headquarters Chanute, KS

NuWa Industries !!

NeWa fifth wheel trailers

A fifth wheel frame

Holding tank installation

Holding tanks being installed in the frame

vacuum bonded walls NuWa factory

Walls are vacuum bonded Blue Dow

styrofoam and gel-coat fiberglass --

a winning and unique combination

Walls being installed on a fifth wheel NuWa Industries

Walls being installed on a frame

Slide-out room installation NuWa fifth wheel trailer plant

Slide-out walls lined up

A slide-out being built

NuWa Industries Chanute KS

A slideout being installed on a trailer

NuWa Industries Chanute KS

Ceiling/roof trusses lined up

NuWa Industries Chanute KS

Windows lined up

NuWa Industries Chanute KS

Cabinets get assembled

Furniture ready to be installed

End of the line

Hey - we have that exact same wall trim

in our Fleetwood Prowler Lynx !!

NuWa Hitchhiker fifth wheel and Fleetwood Lynx travel trailer

Hitchhiker & Lynx side by side

NuWa Hitchhiker fifth wheel and Fleetwood Lynx travel trailer

Goodbye Little Lynx !!!

We join the other NuWa owners at the Chanute city RV park

Chanute, Kansas

May, 2008 - We had been kicking around the idea of upgrading to a fifth wheel

trailer since our winter months in Quartzsite and Yuma, Arizona.  We loved the

little Lynx and it had taken good care of us.  If we were traveling only part-time, six

to nine months a year, then there would have been no need to change.  A 27'

travel trailer is ideal for skipping around the country seeing the sights if you have a

home to return to.  However, with fulltime travel we found there were periods

where we needed to stop and simply live for a while.  We couldn't keep moving

continuously.  We had to catch our breath, absorb what we'd seen, and simply be:

watch TV, read, talk, write, maintain the rig, etc.  During the cold months, on rainy

days and during long winter nights, we always secretly wished we had just a little

more room.  So we began researching fifth wheels.

By May we had a stack of brochures three inches thick and had been in and

out of hundreds of trailers on maybe 20 different dealer lots across the

country.  We had interviewed anyone and everyone that was in a fifth wheel

to find out what they liked and didn't like about their brand.  We had

narrowed down the search to three prospective manufacturers:  NuWa

(pronounced "New Way" as in "New Way of Camping" coined circa 1965) in

Chanute, Kansas, Alpenlite (Western Recreational Vehicles) in Yakima,

Washington, and Arctic Fox (Northwood Manufacturing) in LaGrande,

Oregon.  We had seen the Arctic Fox plant the previous summer (along with

Fleetwood which has a plant 50 miles away).  When we had planned to go to

Florida we had decided to stop at NuWa in southeastern Kansas on the way

home after passing through the Ozarks.

Chanute is a small city largely supported by the NuWa manufacturing plant and

its companion plants, Young's Manufacturing (which makes trailer frames,

including some for NuWa), and HiLo Manufacturing (which makes trailer furniture

and cabinets, including some for NuWa).  When we signed in at the town's

historical center, of the fifteen people who signed in before us, fourteen were

visiting the NuWa plant and one was looking for a job.

We slipped out of

sightseeing mode as

soon as we arrived in

Chanute.  We were

there to visit the factory

and learn more about their fifth wheel trailers.  While we stayed in the city

park, a pretty park with an area for RVs, we took many afternoon and

evening jaunts around the park, on foot and by bike.  It is a lovely place

with an old train engine you can climb on, a historic bridge and a waterfall

that gushes with amazing force when it rains hard.

There was a family of

Canada geese that we

watched grow up during

our stay: two parents, five goslings

and a nanny.  The nanny was

always with the family, but she (or

he?) wasn't a Canada goose.

Other geese came and went, but

this family, including the nanny,

always stuck together.  There

were ducks at the park too, and

one pair was on eggs.

The city park is well used by the

locals and by all kinds of travelers

too.  Ninety percent of the RVs in

the park were NuWa owners

who were in town for warranty

or other service work on their

trailer.  However we saw

several traveling cyclists come

through with panniers and

tents, and at one point a

carnival came into town and

their trailers filled the park.

One night as we walked we saw some very fit people milling about, and they

turned out to be part of the World Harmony Run, a group that was running relays

around the US all summer.  There were eight runners with them in Chanute, and

they were running about 100 miles a day as a relay.

NuWa opens its doors to

visitors with a formal factory tour every morning.  We took the tour three times,

and each time there were at least 10 people on the tour.  The NuWa employees

were extremely hospitable, and Debbie in HR and Brett in Sales made us feel

right at home.  We mingled at the plant almost daily, saw familiar faces fishing in

the park in the evenings, and bumped into Ed Cox, a sales manager and the city

mayor, repeatedly, all over town.  We became more and more enamored of the

company.  It is well run and tight knit.  We visited the plant at one of the worst

possible times in their 50-year history.  With the US economy slowing and gas

prices skyrocketing, the RV industry was not happy.  While we were in town we

learned that four major high-end RV manufacturers had closed their doors:

Travel Supreme, Western RV (Alpenlite and Alpine Coach), Alpha (See Ya!), and

King of the Road.  These were all direct competitors for NuWa.  In preparation for the downturn, NuWa had consolidated two plants

into one and streamlined their workforce to carry the company forward.

We talked extensively with all the NuWa owners in the RV park.

Most would come in for just three or four days, so we ended up

becoming friendly with quite a few owners during our month in

town.  Many invited us in to see their trailers, and all talked

extensively about their experience with the trailer, their dealer and

the factory.  Everyone was in town with problems to be fixed, but

there was no pattern to the problems.  The only pattern we saw

was that people liked their trailers (many were repeat buyers), and

they seemed very happy with the service they received.

When we arrived in town we thought we might eventually order a

Discover America 333RL, and we peppered everyone who would

listen at NuWa with questions about its various options and what

modifications might be coming up in the future.  By the time we left

we had found there was a 2007 Hitchhiker II LS 34.5 RLTG sitting

in the back lot that had never gone out to a dealer.  It was one of the last 2007's built and it was in the color I liked (which had been

discontinued).  NuWa sells through dealerships exclusively, so we worked out a deal with Russ Herron at NuWa and Carl Fogleman

at H&K Camper Sales in nearby Columbus, Kansas, and suddenly we were the proud owners of a new trailer!


H&K Camper Sales is a fantastic dealership, and they allowed us to park

the two trailers side-by-side in the VFW park in Columbus for a few days while we moved things over and got organized.  The

amount of extra floor space was startling, and the new rig felt very luxurious.  It was a sad day, however, when John from H&K

towed the Lynx away.  But our smiles quickly returned when we set ourselves up in the Santa Fe city park in Chanute, right along

with all the other NuWa owners!

After testing out all the systems in the new trailer and making sure

everything worked properly, we were ready to go back out west

again.  We had been living in Tornado Alley for the peak month of

Tornado Season and had already been evacuated once to the Super

8 motel across the street.  When you're living in a trailer in Kansas

and the cops knock on your door and tell you to evacuate, you do as

you're told!!  Luckily, no tornados came through Chanute, but the day

we were evacuated, Pricher, Oklahoma, 80 miles away, was


A man living in a 1980's vintage Holiday

Rambler travel trailer that ended up in a

million pieces was really interested in

buying the Lynx from H&K.  Hopefully he

worked out a deal and was able to move

in.  Meanwhile we wanted to get to

northern Arizona to install our solar

panels and start our summer travels.