Riverside RV – Craftsmanship and Customer Awareness in Action


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.

The Camper set up at WPAFB Family Campground.

The Camper set up at WPAFB Family Campground.

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.

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.

Small wheels under the tires allow units under construction to move down the production line.

Small wheels under the tires allow units under construction to move 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.
The black-and-white checkerboard floor covering is a popular element in creating a "retro" style camper.

The black-and-white checkerboard floor covering is a popular element in creating a “retro” style camper.

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.

The back of the refrigerator cabinet and the cupboard are visible as the interior elements are added.

The back of the refrigerator cabinet and the cupboard are visible as the interior elements are added.

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.
At this station on the production line, the exterior walls with interior paneling have been installed

At this station on the production line, the exterior walls with interior paneling have been installed

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.
Insulation is installed after the walls have been assembled.

Insulation is installed after the walls have been assembled.

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.

After the insulation is completed, the unit is ready for its exterior skin—but there is still much to be done.

After the insulation is completed, the unit is ready for its exterior skin—but there is still much to be done.

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.

Two units await completion of the "punch list" before being scheduled for delivery to a dealer.

Two units await completion of the “punch list” before being scheduled for delivery to a dealer.

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.

The upgrades shown are now included in production models or are available as options.

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!

About Entry
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.

Table of Contents Entry
Riverside RV – Craftsmanship and Customer Awareness in Action describes our visit to the Riverside RV factory, and updates to my camper.

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20 Responses to Riverside RV – Craftsmanship and Customer Awareness in Action

  1. Pingback: Renaissance Musings Table of Contents | Renaissance Musings

  2. thank you very much for this post. it is helpful as I try to decide whether riversidervs.net is offering a trailer I feel comfortable buying.

    • merlinjr01 says:

      I appreciate your comment. We have no affiliation with Riverside other than the fact that we own one of their campers. We have been pleased with it. They have a new model that is a foot longer and I think that will be an improvement over ours.

  3. Jim Harrell says:

    Thank you for all the information. We are looking at the Retro 177 and like what we see so far. The customer service and response from the manufacture, which you so kindly outlined, is a positive as we make our decision to purchase.

    Thank you again.

    Jim Harrell

    • merlinjr01 says:

      We have taken our Retro 177 out almost once a month since we got it, and we are enjoying it more and more. I look forward to hearing about your experience if this is your decision.

  4. Very helpful, especially when there are few reviews out there. Hopefully others will post their experiences. So far, the company has been great about answering my basic questions as a soon to be first time trailer owner. Thanks!

  5. Lisa Brousseau says:

    My husband and I are looking into buying the 177 and also live a mile down a dirt road and were very concerned on the low clearance. How much of a lift did you get? The R-Pod trailers have a 4 inch lift and 15 inch tires and we think that might work for our very bumpy road. But love the look of the retro 177 better. Do you still bottom out on deep dips in the road? Thank you.

    • merlinjr01 says:

      The axel lift was three inches and that was enough to raise the rear support triangles above of the bumps and rolling areas of the yard and any campsites (and roads) that we have encountered–some dirt and unimproved camp sites. Still have a minor issue with the low level of the front jack. It tends to drag, occasionally when in sharply rolling terrain (not on open roads but–and I mean where the ground dips sharply as the truck’s rear wheels go over it (if that is clear). It only really happens when I back it down a sharp decline and into the carport where it lives when not on the road. There are ways to overcome that too, although it has not happened enough to worry me. It is my opinion that the axel lift solves most of my towing concerns. We really like the RV 177 as a camper.

  6. Jimmy Brousseau says:

    Thank you for your response. Our road does have sharp dips and our trailer would scrap as we went over it but we didn’t have any damage so I think we had more clearance and we were pulling it with our full size truck. We are down sizing and want to pull it with my 2014 jeep grand cherokee. And since I will be doing the driving and didn’t really drive the bigger trailer I’m worried about our roads causing damage every time we took it out. You have a full size v-8 do u think my v-6 with a 6500 lb towing capacity will be able to pull it. Thank you

    • merlinjr01 says:

      You should have no problem pulling the RV with your Jeep. We pulled a slightly heavier authentic retro with a Hundai Santa Fe. I would have felt more comfortable had it had trailer brakes. One suggestion is to get a hitch arrangement that keeps the trailer relatively level when hitched. That will allow both the rear triangles and the hitch jack to take advantage of the lift kit of the trailer. Happy camping. Wife is taking our RV-177 out this coming weekend.

  7. Lisa says:

    Oh good. Thank you. I will tell my hubby about the hitch idea.. Did you have to get bigger tires with your lift? We are also thinking the 15″ tires might help on our road.

    • merlinjr01 says:

      We did not put larger tires on the camper. A 15″ tire raised the unit about 1/2 in., and requires the new wheel for 15 in. tires. Maybe when I need to replace the tires. We are happy with the current set-up.

  8. Matt Clark says:


    I enjoyed you’re stories. I have a 155 and NEED the lift kit. New steep driveway and more adventurous camping. Where did you get it and did you install it yourself?

    • merlinjr01 says:

      Matt, I think I mentioned in one of my articles that I took my camper to the factory in Indiana–a slight detour during a planned trip, and had the factory install the lift. It must have taken no more than 15 minutes. It was well worth the effort. I could not navigate around my yard without dragging the rear supports and the tongue jack without the lift.

      • Matt Clark says:

        Thanks. I looked back over the post and saw that. I called Laura at the riverside RV factory and she got me the part number and I ordered it through my dealer. I hope it’s as easy to install. HA!

  9. We had the 2014, 155 model for 2 years, loved it so much we special ordered the 2016, 177. We had twin beds, wood look flooring and the birch wood walls and cabinets, with gold interior. We have take out camper out every month! We pull it with a 2005 Chevy Trail Blazer that can tow 5,200 lbs. It pulls it great! We only had one small issue of a leak from the shower, but the dealer fixed it, said it was a lose fitting. We never had a minutes trouble with the 2014, 155 model.

    • merlinjr01 says:

      Thank you for the comment. We had the same leak under the shower when we got ours. But we have enjoyed ours. It is already scheduled for three or four trips before the end of April.

  10. Megan says:

    So glad I found your blog! Our Starcraft was just totaled in a horrible wind storm and we are looking for a replacement. I have fallen in love with the Retros! We are looking at a new 2017 and I’m especially curious about how it’s insulated for cold weather. Do you know if the underbelly is insulated so the hoses and tanks don’t freeze? I can’t find much info on these online.

    • merlinjr01 says:


      I am not sure the underside is all that well protected. I have had several people tell me they have camped in the winter in freezing conditions without problems. I suspect that if it is being used and kept warm, it would be okay. I would drain all of the holding tanks if it were going to be left out in the cold. Another hint, during cold winter weather, let the shower head hang down to the bottom of the shower so that water drains out of the hose. The biggest challenge to winterizing is the flush valve on the toilet–but that is the same flush valve used on many brands of campers.

      Having said all that, we have done some winter camping, and were very comfortable.

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