Dipping our toes into the sea of RVs

Working hard to check out all the RVs at the California RV Show in Pomona

Working hard to check out all the RVs at the California RV Show in Pomona

Peggy and I have been excited bystanders in the world of vintage RVs for some time so we thought it high time we saw what’s new and exciting. To do so, we went to an RV show. Specifically, the California RV Show at Fairplex in Pomona. 

We listen to a number of RV podcasts and one of those podcasters also wrote How to Survive an RV Show…and Make it a Great Experience. Step one was to download and read that. In addition to reading the 14 pages produced by Kathy and John Huggins, we also have spent a ridiculous amount of time watching videos and visiting RV-related websites. 

I’ve noticed that RVs all seem to be slightly revised versions of the same poorly-made appliances housed in wooden boxes that are supposed to be able to withstand the earthquake that is a simple drive down the road. But there are a few exceptions and I’ve also noticed that Europeans seem to be significantly smarter about innovation than we are here in the USA. 

But that’s not completely true as we went to this show specifically to check out the diminutive Happier Camper trailers. These little RVs are more designed like boats than like trailers, per se, and the interior is completely reconfigurable much like a giant rolling Lego kit. The back has a huge hatchback so one can load large items, or those interior building block pieces, and the company will custom make the trailer to the buyer’s specifications. 

While their trailers are small, the fact that you can bring the kitchen sink outdoors or have it indoors is intriguing. You can bring the cubes in and out or stack them or configure them to your liking meaning that this trailer can actually adapt to your changing needs. I was impressed, and meeting the guy who built the trailer was pretty cool. 

We were also excited to meet Janine Pettit who does the podcast Girl Camper, but a family emergency took her back home so that didn’t happen. We did get to look at the Riverside Retro trailers like the one she owns and talks about and these retro rigs, along with a few others, are really nice in that the interior decor doesn’t look like all the others you see at the show. It’s more of a throw-back to the 1950s with checkerboard floors and birch wood walls that actually look inviting. 

Not that I dislike the interior of most modern RVs, but some one company is probably making a fortune selling the same horrible wood veneer to just about every company out there while another company is laughing all the way to the bank because their tinny stoves and crappy heaters are in almost everything you can buy. 

Which makes me ponder all these RVs with their similar configurations of the same appliances and features. Looking at the show map it’s incredible how few real choices there are in the RV business. You can have your heavily-recalled Norcold refrigerator in one of only a few similarly-configured RVs from one of only a few low-quality manufacturers. Greg Gerber makes a good point about this in his articles on the RV Industry Death Spiral

If any one of these appliances were in a proper home it would be the first thing we replaced yet these ghetto-grade components are even in most of the really expensive rigs as well as all the downmarket units. 

Enough bitching, there were some nice rigs that I liked. 

One of those is Airstream’s new Basecamp model, which is another shortie trailer with a somewhat configurable interior. The rounded front with the huge window was an eye opener and reinforces why one goes to the great outdoors - to see the great outdoors. The Basecamp was also much more roomy feeling than it looked on all the YouTube videos I had watched. 

Winnebago’s smaller trailers also really appealed to me. The lighter interior colors and central air conditioning in a smaller trailer made them very inviting. 

As you can tell I favor the smaller RVs simply because you get the flexibility of taking them to more places and having less of an impact on the planet on the way there. Sure, the RV “bus” with the 27’ slide that represents almost the entire side of said bus was absolutely something to marvel at, but having such luxurious trappings when you’re out in the woods just is too big a contrast for my way of thinking. 

What I’d really like to see is more flexibility in creating one’s own design when it comes to RVs, but that’s another appeal of having a vintage rig - you can do just that. 

Oh, and on the subject of vintage rigs it seems that we may have finally found a solution to bringing Winnie out to California and even having her restored. We’ll keep this blog updated with information and progress on that but we met someone who restores vintage RVs and has a friend who hauls them. 

And thank you to those who have been following our odd journey - I realize my viewpoint is different than most just based on what’s selling in the RV industry. But someone’s got to be the outlier and, it seems, I’m not the only one based on the unique and stylish Happier Camper trailers.

Written by Anthony B. Barthel for the Winnebago Chronicles