Friday, March 30, 2012

Winnebago plant tours kick off again in April

FOREST CITY, Iowa – More than 10,000 visitors come to Forest City, Iowa, annually to tour the Winnebago Industries plant. The tours run seasonally, April through November.

Founded in 1958, “Winnebago” became a household word when the company became the first RV maker to build motorhomes in an automotive-style assembly line system. Winnebago Industries builds the Winnebago, Itasca and Era motorhome brands.

The tour starts at the Winnebago Industries’ Visitors Center with a 20-minute video preview of the manufacturing process. After that, a tour bus constructed on a Winnebago Industries commercial vehicle shell departs for a drive-through tour of the grounds including three main areas:

•The chassis weld facility, where the raw chassis is prepared to become a home on wheels with the front cab and basement storage added.

•The Stitchcraft facility that builds chairs, window valances, sofas and other furniture pieces.

•The main three-line production area named Big Bertha, which is about the same size as eight football fields. Visitors get an idea of the magnitude of the building from mezzanines that provide a bird's eye view.

Before or after the tour visitors can explore the Winnebago Industries Museum, which chronicles the company’s 54-year history as well as the design and construction of its RVs.

During the spring and summer months, the visitors center also offers viewing of some of the latest models of the company’s Winnebago, Itasca and Era brand motorhomes, as well as Winnebago and SunnyBrook brand towables, right off the assembly lines. Visitors can also see one of the first motorhomes built by Winnebago Industries, the classic 1967 Winnebago D22, as well as a 1959 Aljo trailer also manufactured by Winnebago Industries.

Tours of Winnebago Industries are free, and all ages are welcome. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. The visitors center is accessible to those with disabilities; however the factory tour does include three staircases.

Tours, which last approximately two hours, are offered twice daily at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday from April through October, and at 1 p.m. in November. For groups larger than six, reservations are recommended.

For more information call (641) 585-6936, or visit the company's website.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Group sues Nevada State Parks over volunteer flap

Volunteers at Nevada's Spring Mountain Ranch State Park feel they've got a face-slap from the park department. They're stinging badly enough they've filed suit over the matter.

The volunteer group, Spring Mountain Ranch Docents, have worked for 38 years with the state to provide interpretive services for the park's natural and cultural history. Early this month the group received a termination letter from a State Park's administrator, David Morrow, advising them that the state is terminating their work and farming it out to its own "Volunteer in Parks" program.

The State cites problems with the group, including, "internal personnel matters, discord among the membership, and the cost of providing workers' compensation insurance," as the reason for cutting the decades-old agreement with the group. The docents representatives have filed suit, asking the courts to stop the State from cancelling their work agreement, and fire back that the State's 'reasons,' are "categorically false."

The docent group also maintains that the real losers, should the contract be terminated, will be members of the public who will no longer have daily access to the park's Ranch House and that the living history program will be, "lost forever."

The State has not yet responded to the suit.

Source: photo: Nevada State Parks

Monday, March 19, 2012

Arizona company modifies RVs for disabled

While the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) has made access to public and commercial buildings much easier for disabled folks, it has no affect on RVs. For those with special needs, RVing has been difficult, if not impossible. Enter Tucson, Arizona's Kick'in Kampers. The four-year-old firm is making RVing possible for those who are otherwise stuck at home.

While a relatively new firm, the company's owners have plenty of industry background. Lorenzo Caracciolo and his father own Kick'ins, and he's happy to tell you they've been in the business for almost four decades. Along the way they've seen the demand for special-needs rigs, and Kick'in is ready to provide modifications--or complete construction of a new rig from the wheels up.

Common modifications include make entry easier: Widening doorways, installing chair-lifts and ramps are there to make access easier. Once inside folks with special needs might need a countertop or table set at the correct height to accommodate a wheelchair user, or even a roll-in shower.

Area newspaper, The Arizona Daily Star, reports that Kick'in once had a client with a "bunkhouse" style fifth wheel that needed a bathroom he could roll into in a wheelchair. After the Kick'in production crew was done, the bunk beds had vamoosed, and the entire bedroom (and adjacent bathroom) had been transformed into a tiled roll-in shower. Other conversions included the transformation of a motorhome to allow the fitting of a hospital bed and medical equipment.

With their deep interest in the practice of helping the disabled, Kick'in has even patented a new form of slideout--a bathroom slide. Extended, the slideout provides a wide, separated toilet and shower.

Kick'in Kampers isn't limited to modification work. The company has a small, but diligent production line devoted to building truck campers, travel trailers, and toy haulers.

Kick'in Kampers, 8620 E. Old Vail Road #120, Tucson, AZ 85747. Contact them by phone at 520.574.7843 or email

Friday, March 9, 2012

Maine's "stupidest RV tax" was based on rumor

News of what was dubbed "the stupidest RV tax in a decade" spread quickly late in the week with dozens of baffled RVers weighing in on the Facebook page and in RV forums across the Web.

The way the news was originally presented and reported by and others was that the owner of any rented RV that entered Maine and stayed there for more than 24 hours would be forced to pay Maine's five percent sales tax on the original purchase price of the RV, even though it was bought in another state! For example, if renter from a Cruise America outlet in Massachusetts were to drive a rental RV into Maine that had cost Cruise America $50,000, and stayed there 24 hours or more, then Cruise America would be forced to pay $2,500 to Maine in sales tax.

Wow! Did this news stir up anger in the RV community! "That is one of the most insane laws I've heard of," wrote Joe Baum on the Facebook page. "They must have eaten some bad lobsters," wrote Fe Blanco.

But hold on, cautioned Peter Bealieu with Maine's Revenue Services. The tax is not about out-of-state RV rentals.

It turns out the out-of-state RV rental tax was never the intent of the legislation. That was a rumor, said Bealieu, based on a comment by a citizen during public testimony. The actual intent of bill LD 1809 is to tax the fee that a Maine RV rental business charges its customers, much the same as car renters do.

Late Friday afternoon (March 9, 2012), Maine Revenue Services issued this statement: "Maine does not impose under current law a sales or use tax on RVs rented out of state and driven into Maine by vacationers. Nor does a Maine sales or use tax apply against the out-of-state rental company for the use in Maine of such rented RVs. Currently there is no pending legislation that will change this law or MRS’ application of this law."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

As dump stations close an Oregon company sees opportunity

SISTERS, Ore., March 7, 2012 -- One thing all RVers must do on occasion is empty their holding tanks. But there's a problem: in these tough economic times, many RV dumping facilities are closing. Other things are deemed more important to cash-starved government agencies that have traditionally operated dump stations as a public service. Businesses close their RV dumps rather than operate at a loss.

Enter Sani-Star and Eric Huffman of Sisters, Oregon, who sees an opportunity. Sani-Star, founded in 2009, envisions fully automated, turnkey, RV dump fee collection systems throughout North America, where those who operate them can cover their expenses or make a profit. So far more than 300 Sani-Star facilities are in use in the United States and Canada.

Operating a dump station is not cheap. Public sewer rates are rising every year and the cost to maintain private septic systems and pump holding tanks, common in remote campgrounds, are significant. “A campground with a 4,000 gallon underground holding tank would cost more than $1,000 to pump,” said Huffman, Sani-Star's director of sales and marketing. "An average pumping fee is about 25 cents a gallon plus round trip mileage by the truck. If you figure the average RV releases about 25 gallons per dump, that's only about 160 uses until a tank that size is filled."

Huffman said his surveys show that only about a third of RVers pay at honor-box fee locations. "That's not good for the bottom line," he noted. A key and lock system, also a common fee collection method, is labor intensive, slow and inconvenient for the RV dump consumer.

The Sani-Star system uses a patent-pending locking sewer cap that opens after payment and re-locks after dumping, eliminating no-pay drive offs. Customers pay by cash, custom token, coin or credit card at the dump station's kiosk or, if a merchant chooses, inside its store. There is also a reprogrammable keypad payment option. The system is currently in use at all Pilot-Flying J Travel Center RV dump stations across the USA, where spot surveys have shown higher fee compliance for Sani-Star sites compared to the traditional honor payment system.

Most locations charge between $5 and $10. A private RV campground and service center in Quartzsite, Ariz., charges $15. "They can charge whatever they want," explained Huffman. "Most of our customers, especially government campgrounds, just want to offset or cover their costs. Others want to make a profit. Our system, very simply, is a much more effective mechanism for collecting a fee than anything else out there. British Columbia Provincial Parks has several Sani-Star installations. The parks tried to collect $5 for years using an honor box. They didn't realize how poor their fee compliance was until they installed our system. Now fee compliance often doubles and even triples in some campgrounds, ultimately helping the parks run more efficiently. A similar result has occurred in many city, county and National Forest campgrounds across the USA."

DUMP STATION OPERATORS pay Sani-Star a onetime fee to set up the system and then a monthly fee (revenue sharing is also available). The operator pays for installation of electricity to power the Sani-Star kiosk (a solar or battery-only option is available for remote locations). Sani-Star also provides parts and 24 hour phone support for its system above ground including the kiosk, payment mechanism(s) and the locking sewer cap for the life of the service agreement. No attendant is required which allows for efficient 24-hour operation.

"The goal with our program is for the dump station, at the very least, to generate enough income to justify keeping it open," said Huffman. "If the goal is to make a profit, so much the better. So far, our customers are happy with the results."

More information about the Sani-Star system, including a video demonstration, is available on its website or by calling (888) 611-9283.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

RV editor hits the road using social media along the way

Woodbury at work.
EDMONDS, Wash., March 7, 2012 -- editor Chuck Woodbury will leave next week in his 24-foot motorhome on a two-month tour of the West Coast to gather stories, shoot video and meet with his readers and other RVers.

"It's been a couple of years since I was away for more than a month," said Woodbury, who has produced his online newsletter weekly for more than 10 years and has built a loyal audience of 200,000 readers.

"I think the biggest change for me this trip will be the opportunity to connect with readers along the way using our Facebook page," he explained. "I've already contacted some of them to help set up impromptu gatherings. The ability to post to Facebook that you will be in a particular place on a particular day and then be able to interact with your readers is something I couldn't do before social media."

Besides writing about the people and places along his route, Woodbury will shoot video and post it to his YouTube channel which to date has garnered more than 1.3 million views. "You really do not need a TV show on a traditional broadcast or cable channel anymore to reach a substantial niche audience," said Woodbury who is a pioneer in video self distribution. His early efforts earned him a "Videomaker of the Year" award from Videomaker Magazine.

Woodbury first started traveling by RV in the mid 1980s as a freelance magazine writer. He spent much of the '90s on the road writing stories for his quarterly newspaper Out West and the New York Times Syndicate.

"How we reach an audience today with our writing, photography and video is dramatically different than when I first went on the road," he said. "It's more challenging, exciting and creative than ever, and as technology evolves the ability to reach a larger audience expands."

Woodbury plans to explore Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona on his upcoming trip but admits he could end up elsewhere. "I've been known to stray," he said.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thousand Trails announces new low cost tenters pass

Tent campers can enjoy camping accommodations at popular outdoor destinations with a new annual tent camping pass offered by Thousand Trails. The pass provides campers with access to up to 90 campgrounds located across 24 states and British Columbia. With two tents and up to six people allowed per site, the pass provides campers very affordable vacation options in prime destinations for $249 per year.

For ease of planning, pass members can make reservations up to 60 days in advance online or by phone.

Situated in scenic and natural settings, the Encore and Thousand Trails campgrounds included in the pass program provides many opportunities for outdoor recreation. Mt. Hood Village in Oregon offers over 700 miles of groomed trails to explore. Rancho Oso's dude ranch in California is a great place for campers to experience their first horseback ride. Whether fishing for tarpon while staying at Florida's Sunshine Key or tubing down the Schroon River at Lake George Schroon Valley in New York, tenters can stretch their camping dollars with quality camping experiences with the annual pass.

In a press release, the company said that the first 500 campers to purchase the new annual tent camping pass would receive a free camping pack valued at $75 that includes a travel mug, blanket, Coleman gift card and more.

More information is available at or by calling (877) 522-1834.

Monday, March 5, 2012

MVP RV pulls plug in investor dispute

California RV manufacturer MVP RV has pulled the plug and is on the selling block even as it had great plans to export billions of dollars worth of RVs to China. This is not the first time the Riverside, California firm has been in the news with less-than-stellar performance problems.

The firm first came into the light back in 2008 after three former managers from Thor California bosses started up MVP. Perhaps they missed the signs of the swirling down the drain economy, and by 2009 the company shut down the production lines. Trying to stay afloat the company owners took a shine to the idea of building electric cars for an outfit in South Korea. The plan never took off.

Enter a savior in the form of one Winston Chung, a businessman/inventor from China. Chung invented a lithium-sulfur battery and plans on building a production plant in California to manufacture and export them--again to China. Chung took over as MVP's board chairman and said he would pump $310 into the company's coffers in addition to an investment he'd already made with the company. His vision: 30,000 RVs made in the USA and ferried to China. Included among them would be electric battery powered units.

But the Asian-American fusion didn't work out well. Last summer a lawsuit was filed claiming that Chung elbowed out other investors, and allegedly phonied up a document that showed that Chung was the sole owner of the stake that other Chinese investors claim a part of. That group was called Fadar International, and their wrath was soon apparent.

In December Fadar International, whose suit is still pending, signed over its assets to a liquidation company. The move forces MVP to liquidate assets and pay off creditors without going the route of bankruptcy court. Shortly after that move, MVP laid off its work force and ceased production. All of the company's completed units were sold to dealers and no new orders were accepted.

Late in February company executives met in a closed meeting. Little information has come forth about what took place, but officials did say the forced liquidation came as a shock, as they felt the company was doing well financially. It is said that Winston Chung may be making moves to buy the company back from the liquidation firm.

What does the future hold? Chung's spokeswoman says the vision is a simple, short-term interruption of production, that MVP RV will soon be up and running again. Time will tell if MVP RV will become another footnote in the chapter of RV firms that went the way of the dodo bird, or like the phoenix, zoom up out the ashpit of commercial intrigue.

sources: Press Enterprise, LA Times.