Several months ago, I wrote a review of our new Riverside RV 177 camper, followed by a second review in which I identified several, albeit minor, issues with the camper—specifically that it was low to the ground and the rear supports or the tongue jack would drag or dig in on uneven ground and that I was prone to bumping my head on the shelf over the head of the bed. Before I published the second article, I shared it with the folks at Riverside RV and General Manager Mervin Lehman, advised me that they had developed a lift kit to raise the height of the camper. They also had fixes for the shelf, and said that they could make the necessary changes at the factory in Lagrange, Indiana. They did not have a lift kit available for dealers to install.
When John and I were planning our trip to Michigan, a little research showed that the Riverside RV factory was only a minor detour on the return trip. I called Mr. Lehman and made arrangements to install the lift kit and tour the factory.
We arrived at Riverside RV about 9:30 Monday morning and met Mr. Taulbe, the sales manager. He introduced me to Danny Yoder, the production supervisor. We discussed installation of the lift kit, and, Danny showed me several other changes or additions that had been made to subsequent production models of my camper. I selected the ones that I thought would enhance our use of the camper. Danny said they would start on the work directly after lunch and that the work should take about two hours.
Mr. Taulbe led us down the production line. There are eight to ten units on the production line at any one time. Each unit begins as a basic frame foundation mounted on its axel and tires. Steps, rear stabilizers and the front jack are installed here. Each unit is mounted on a dolly and a temporary wheel under the jack, so that they can be pushed sideways down the production line.
Pre-assembled aluminum wall frames and other components are neatly arranged in the back of the shop, and the needed parts are brought forward to the production line as needed.
The floor is installed, including the floor covering. Riverside has “upped” its commitment to the “retro” look by adding black-and-white checkerboard pattern flooring to select production units, in use in small campers of the 1950s and 1960s.
Construction planning is the key to efficient quality construction. Holes for services such as electricity, water, and waste water are cut in the floors and essential wiring and plumbing are installed while the areas are still accessible.
Construction continues from the inside out. Interior walls, as well as cabinets are built up on the exposed floor. Many interior elements are pre-assembled elsewhere on the manufacturing floor and are ready for installation when the new unit reaches that point on the assembly line.
Once the interior elements are roughed in, wired and plumbed, the aluminum cage exterior walls and roof go up. The Interior paneling is attached to and installed with each of the aluminum cage elements. The walls have openings and cutouts for windows, the air conditioning unit, the refrigerator, etc. Reinforcing structures are added a locations such as the attachment points for the awning, etc.
Next, each camper gets a warm coat of insulation. Based on my experience, the insulation is quite effective. We had just come from Michigan where we had overnight temperatures in the low 40s, even higher 30s, and the heater had to come on only three or four times during the night to maintain a comfortable sleeping temperature of 60 degrees or so. Mr. Taulbe also described a reflective foil that can be installed in units destined for the desert southwest or Florida that helps reflect heat and lower the daytime temperatures in the camper.
Mr Taulbe also explained that they work to be responsive to customer comments. Many little—and not so little—changes and additions have been made on the production line as soon as they determine that the change will improve the function and utility of the camper. They do not wait for the next production cycle or model year to integrate improvements.
For example, apparently, I was not the only one to comment on the fact that I tended to bump my head on the corner of the shelf over the head of the bed. Danny installed padded molding on the forward edge of the shelf. I still bump my head occasionally, but it does not hurt! Otherwise, I like the shelf—it is a very handy place to store my glasses, cell phone, or a book.
After the insulation is complete, the unit is ready for the exterior skin, and begins to resemble a finished camper.
At this point, there is still much to be done. The exterior moldings must be installed and sealed, as well as the installation of all lights, windows, and items such as the water heater and the final installation of the refrigerator, and air conditioner.
The last step on the production line, essentially the completion of assembly and installation of all components, is not the “last” step. Once the unit comes off the assembly line, it is inspected. Typically there may be a list of items that need to be fixed, checked, or installed at the last minute. These are listed on what I call a “punch list” (I neglected to ask them what they call it). This is the list of final items that need to be completed before the unit can be cleared for delivery.
Mr. Taulbe says that they complete six to eight units a day. The management staff establishes a production goal for the week. If the crew can complete the week’s quota by the close of business on Thursday, they get Friday off. Perhaps that explains why I saw a busy, motivated crew of production personnel. The Amish production staff, however, values quality and craftsmanship as much as they value earning Friday off.
By the time we had finished our tour of the production line, the crew assigned to install the upgrades to my camper were done—and in less than one hour. In addition to the lift kit to raise the height of the camper several inches and padding to the over-bed shelf, they also added an access door to storage under the front seat of the dinette, a cupboard over the street-side wheel well and a flip-up work shelf by the stove.
The upgrades shown are now included in production models or are available as options.
Mr. Taulbe explained that the lift kit is installed only at the factory. Other items, such as the flip-up shelf and the cupboard can be ordered through, and installed by, Riverside RV dealers. They have not yet established a catalog price for these modifications since they may vary from unit to unit.
For more information on Riverside RV products, including a new line of toy haulers and expanded models of the 177 and 155, check out their website at: http://www.riversidervs.net/
P.S.: Just did a quick accounting of views on my blog. As of this morning, views of my Riverside RV Camper blogs account for 20% of views of all of my nearly 90 articles posted since January. And the first camper report was not posted until May of this year. You guys are going to love today’s posting!
On May 7, 2014, the first posting about our new Riverside RV Camper appeared. Since then, it has been the single most viewed article on my blog (more than 900 views). An update to that article appeared in August with some comments suggesting improvements. Well, those improvements have been made, and I had an opportunity to visit the Riverside RV production line and talk with their management. Riverside RV – Craftsmanship and Customer Awareness in Action documents that visit.
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Riverside RV – Craftsmanship and Customer Awareness in Action describes our visit to the Riverside RV factory, and updates to my camper.