I was given a unique opportunity over the past few months. I had been hanging out at the Roadtrek factory last fall and this spring, and Jim Hammill the president asked me to help design and build a new Roadtrek which would include many prototype features. And, when we were done, I was going to drive away in it. Boy, did that get my attention.
It was going to take something special to get me out of my 2003 Chevy, which I had put hundreds of hours into customizing and modifying so that I could fulltime and boondock to my heart's content. Everything was all set up to run my electronics, we had our storage figured out so that we had everything we needed and a way to get to it easily, and we were just comfortable in it. It was home. But I had started with a completed unit when I fixed the 2003 up. What if you could start with a bare chassis and design it to spec, not modify it? That was the deciding factor.
First thing to do is pick the right chassis. I had started with a 155 inch wheelbase Chevy one ton chassis, beefed up the suspension to carry the added weight of my batteries and other stuff, and attached a cargo carrier box to the rear to carry my bulky satellite dish setup. Why not get a chassis that would do everything, as built? That's what we did. The Mercedes Sprinter 170 inch wheelbase extended body would carry both the weight and the storage volume, all in one tidy package, without all the add-on stuff.
I was pretty much just a spectator as the process began and the stripping and cutting took place – this was no job for an amateur. The bumpers and other components came off, the tanks and so forth were fitted and bolted in, and it was starting to look like a Roadtrek. Sort of. If you had a lot of imagination. The windows were fitted and we were on our way to the assembly departments for further work like solar panel installation and leak testing.
After the wiring harness was installed, it was time to start roughing out the interior, and I could pitch in, working with the Roadtrek employees to assemble my new baby. The cabinets and subfloor went in, just to give us an idea of where things would be so that we could fit the interesting parts into the existing framework. Still a lot of loose wires and unconnected pipes, but it was starting to gel. It took less imagination to picture yourself inside an RV now.
Once the basics were completed, we got down to the super secret stuff, and things slowed WAY down compared to the normal production process, which can build a complete Roadtrek in days. Instead of pre-assembled parts on a rack ready to install, we had strange things on pallets and a tape measure to figure out how they were going to fit onto the body. There was no wiring diagram – we had to wire things up as we installed them, designing circuits. I was working twelve hour days with Kevin Ostermeyer the master mechanic and Richard Watts the expert fabricator.
Kevin and Richard did amazing things – I have windows where no other Roadtrek does, thanks to Richard's skill, and Kevin literally redesigned and rebuilt the entire back end of the components and circuitry of the standard design to accommodate the design changes. Tony and Davy, the exotic components experts, worked on the strange things that we were installing, getting them ready to go into the unit. I needed a fairly drastic modification of the basic CS Adventurous design to allow for a permanent bed, storage for large satellite dishes, some *ahem* modifications to the fresh water storage system thanks to Phil from engineering, and an unusual climate control arrangement. It took weeks, but we figured it all out and got it installed so that it worked well.
At my age, 6 AM comes very early when you're doing manual labor day after day, but I dragged myself out of bed and kept on working. One sure sign that you're having fun is when the day flies by, and some of these days were over before I realized it. Everyone was packing up their tools and it was time to go, but I would keep at it to get ready for the next day. The most amazing thing were all the fabrication resources available – metal fabrication, thermoplastic molding, paint and body work, custom sewing and upholstery work, anything you need to get the job done, and available within hours of your request. The Roadtrek factory is the place to be if you want to create the RV of your dreams.
Now that everything is finished and I'm moving into my new Roadtrek, I can truly appreciate how much work really goes into these vehicles, and the effort and foresight necessary to have the ergonomics that many owners just don't realize are there. It's how the cabinets are arranged so that you can stand in one spot and access everything. It's the esthetics of the layout. It's a million different small things that forty years of experience has taught the people who make these vehicles. I am truly a very happy camper, and very grateful for the opportunity that Jim Hammill and everyone else at Roadtrek have given me. It's a good thing that these Roadtreks last forever, because I'm not ready to go again on a project like this anytime soon.