Although there are many RV manufacturers in Elkhart there are many others scattered through out the nearby small communities in the area. Our first stop was at the visitor center where we picked up a list of all the manufacturers in the area that offer tours (and are still in business) as well as RV surplus stores. The visitor center also provides a free auto tour on a set of CDs which guides you through the back country roads.
Our first tour was at the Newmar factory in Nappananee a little town south of Elkhart. The day was rainy but most of the tour was inside. The only interesting thing about the tour was learning that the Class A homes are set on air pads and the crews move the unit from station to station by physically pushing on it. My pictures didn't turn out very well (I think the lens was wet). The Newmar company is a family owned company and the workers are mostly Amish from the nearby Amish communities. They arrive around 6:30 in the morning and are finished around 1:00, and it is all piece work. Tours are offered at 10:00 and 3:00.
There is very little Newmar inventory as the units are made by order only, which is probably why this small company has been able to stay in business during the bad economy. We met with the owner of Newmar and he stated the work force had been cut nearly in half, but that orders were picking up and he was beginning to be able to rehire some of those that were laid off. The tour itself was only about 45 minutes long (which was quit a contrast to our tour of the Allegro RVs in Red Bay Alabama) and we really didn't get to see the inside of a finished product.
Our second tour was to the Heartland Fifth wheel plant within walking distance of the Moose Lodge. Our tour guide showed us the higher end Landmark and Big Horn fifth wheels. The company is now owned by Thor. No offense to those that own fifth wheels (they are big and comfortable), but I'm happy that I'm traveling in a nice big Class A. Although the construction of this high end fifth wheels is good, it doesn't seem as "beefy" as what is found in a high end Class A. All the manufacturing is done by piece work at this factory also and the workers are usually gone by 3:00.
Elkhart is also the home of the RV Hall of Fame and Museum. We had heard that the facility was fairly new and patronage had fallen and the museum was struggling so it was a must see for us. The museum chronicles the evolution of the RVs back to the early 1900's and there are lots of old, interesting, RVs but there were not any RV representing the progress the industry has made in the last 10 or 15 years.
The facility is very large and it is part of a convention center. There are plans to have 200 RV spaces.
This was my favorite model.
There is so much more to the area besides RV plants and surplus stores (yes, I allowed Joel time to poke around in a few). There is a garden quilt tour and lots of Amish country to explore, which I'll post next.