Every day the staff of the RV Industry Association work to promote and protect the RV industry and our members, but for some our work at the Association was the first experience we had with the world of RVing. Even for those who lived the RV lifestyle before joining the Association, few had stepped into an RV or RV component manufacturing plant. Here’s the story of one staff member’s experience as he ventured to the RV capital of the world for the first time.
Elkhart, Ind., commonly known as the RV capital of the world, garners the nickname for good reason. Housing approximately 80 percent of RV production in the state means you will easily see RVs coming down the road just about everywhere. In between stretches of fields, there are factories. Drive down any road, and there’s a dealership. This is life for the locals, but for anyone not inside the RV industry, it’s mind-blowing to see how abundant these sites are and how the RVs are made in the area.
As staff of the RV Industry Association, we’re regularly exposed to the magnitude of RVs and the physical components they’re made up of. But, as an employee visiting a plant for the first time, the experience of seeing how these American-made products come together first-hand, was beyond my imagination.
My first stop on a recent trip to Elkhart was Jayco. One of the largest known RV companies in the U.S. I connected with my tour guide, the quality manager of the plant. I hopped onto the passenger seat of his golf cart like a child boarding a bus for a field trip and off we went. We passed building after building on the property, travel trailer after travel trailer, before we pulled into a lot outside one of the production facilities. From the moment I entered the building, I was instantly captivated by the workers who were busy away at their stations. I was taken away by how meticulous these workers were in their step-by-step processes in building fifth wheel toy haulers.
Upon entering the building, I was immediately engulfed by the sounds of electric power tools, nail guns and hammers echoing. After passing one work station after another, we made our way up a flight of stairs to a platform that provided a bird’s eye view of the floor. This was the view no one told me about. It was like none other. Each corner of the building had its specialty stations that brought each unit to life – the process was fascinating. I even learned something new: after the chassis and floor were in place, the next step is to begin assembling the interior – before the walls go up. It makes complete sense as it’s easier to install large items such as cabinetry and showers instead of attempting to fit these components through narrow doorways.
I proceeded with my Elkhart tour going a stone’s throw away, right up the road in Middlebury to Grand Design. There I was greeted by the quality assurance manager as I was removing the plastic covering from my protective eye-wear I was given, and we jumped right into a tour of the facility.
I had the pleasure of seeing two different fifth wheel models on my tour. Similar to the process I had seen, staff were divided into stations of the progression of the build of the unit. A common thread that carried through each tour was the immense teamwork. Craftsmen and women of all ages knew their tasks inside and out, and it was clear they’d establish a strong work flow in order to achieve what they needed to – especially when it came to their part in the build.
As my time in Elkhart wrapped up, I reflected on everything I had seen that day. RVs change the way people travel. Being in the industry this was something I was aware of, but to actually see how it all comes together, in person, I could truly understand it. The people I witnessed creating these units weren’t just creating a vehicle, they were building a way of life.
Until you’ve seen it, it’s hard to believe how these extraordinary vehicles are made. I now have a new appreciation for the effort in creating a lifestyle and will certainly take this with me in my work supporting the industry.
My first visit to Elkhart will be a hard experience to beat.