We’ve been traveling North America for the past month. Checking out small motorhomes and visiting various RV manufacturing facilities and this week, we want to share the visit we just made to Manitoba, Canada and the factory where Leisure Travel Vans makes its excellent line of Class B-Plus motorhomes. In our interview of the week, you’ll meet the two brothers who run the operation,Ryan and Mike Elias, and they’ll tell you about their quest to make beautiful, reliable and functional motorhomes that are also foolproof.
Plus, we’ll discuss our just-announced partnership with Leisure Travel Vans, offer up the RV News of the week, share some tips and suggestions and hear a great off the beaten path Valentine’s Day report from the Burketts.
Show Notes for Episode #229 Feb. 13, 2019 of The RV Podcast:
WHAT MIKE AND JENNIFER ARE UP TO THIS WEEK
Hello my dear and Happy Birthday and Happy Valentine’s Day.
Thank you. This episode is being recorded Feb. 12, my birthday, for release in Feb. 13th, the day before Valentine’s Day. And it looks like we’ll be spending this Valentine’s Day on the road… headed off to Florida in a brand-new Leisure Travel Vans Wonder RTB…. RTB standing for Rear Bed Model. And I suppose now is a great time for us to officially announce that we have become the brand ambassadors for Leisure Travel Van and as part of that sponsorship, they provide us the use of one of their beautiful motorhomes.
Yup. And we’re excited. The unit we drove home from the factory up there in Winkler, Manitoba last week is on the Ford Transit Chassis and that is the chassis more and more RV manufacturers are adding to their model lineup. It’s the HD 350 Transit, a diesel unit, and driving it about 1,200 miles to our Michigan home – in subzero temperatures and a blizzard no less – I find it to be very stable and very easy to drive. After we finish recording this podcast we will finish packing it up and skedaddle down south in search of Spring…to Florida and eventually to Salt Lake City, Utah in mid-March, where we will attend a big RV industry trade show and swap out the Wonder for a new Unity model, built on the 2019 Sprinter chassis. So, we’ll be using the Wonder for about a month or so and will be doing a full review of how it works with a motorhome.
Not only are we testing out the Ford Transit as a motorhome chassis, we are also trying out a B+ van, something we have been curious about for years. Mike and I have been big fans of Leisure Travel Vans for years now and as we started looking around for our next RV and the model that would best fit our needs, we found their coaches checked every box. We had some very specific things we were looking for – more storage room, for our photo and video gear and our camping accessories; comfortable, permanent beds with a mattress so we didn’t have to sleep on a pads atop a bunch of sofa cushions; a designated work space for Mike to edit videos and work on the blog and our ebooks; and we also wanted a stand up dry shower, a bigger bathroom and , as we were looking for a new sponsor, a certain type of company we could confidently attach ourselves to.
And that was a big item on our list: We wanted a family owned company with a solid reputation for quality, integrity and customer care. And Leisure Travel Vans is all that and more. You’ll be able to understand why we are so delighted to be their ambassadors and drive their products in a few minutes, when you meet Ryan and Mike Elias. And Tomorrow, Thursday February 14 at 7PM Eastern, we will have a premiere showing of our visit to the Leisure Travel Vans factory on our RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel. Those of you listening to the podcast after Feb. 14 can find it available to watch on demand on our RV Lifestyle Channel at youtube.com/rvlifestyle. But a You Tube Premiere is a big deal. We’ll all be able to watch it for the first time together as it rolls at 7PM, interacting in a chat room as the video plays. We may even do a quick live stream right afterwards, though as Jen said, we will be on the road, somewhere between Michigan and Florida, and there’s no guarantee we will have strong enough Internet to do a live stream afterwards. We’ll try. But for sure the video Premiere will work and that is scheduled for 7PM. JENNIFER
It sure has been a busy month for us. We’re anxious to hit the road and start doing more RV Lifestyle stories as we tour Florida and the Gulf States and make our way west to Utah. For me, the real RV Travel season starts when we can de-winterize the RV and we’re hoping to do that someplace in Alabama and northern Florida. I love wintertime and snow, but I also like sunshine and warm weather and its now time for us to go get warm!
RV News of the Week
Congress moves closer to restore funding to America’s National Scenic Byways
The National Scenic Byways program, which began in 1991 under the Department of Transportation, could receive new life under a bill passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives. There are 150 roads designated National Scenic Byways (such as Route 66), because of their unique qualities. The roads are often popular with RVers, but the National Scenic Byways program has been without funding since 2012. The bill now sent to the Senate could change that. (click here for more information.) Reading the story got me thinking to Jennifer and my trip along historic Route 66 – a National Scenic Byway. We shared out adventure on one of our earliest podcasts! To listen to our report, click here.
Yellowstone records third highest visitors; see buffalo charging by winter tourists
Yellowstone National Park announced last week that it recorded its third highest number of visitors, with more than 4 million visiting the iconic park in 2018. But what really caught my attention in Yellowstone news last week was an incredible video taken by a winter tourist. The tourists were in the park with a guide when out of nowhere a buffalo appeared, running full speed, passing within a foot of their vehicle. Click here to see the video.
Wolf placed by National Park officials on Isle Royale uses an ice bridge to return to mainland
Many of you may remember last year when we reported a program to capture wolves and release them at Isle Royale, a National Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Researchers wanted to relocate wolves to the remote national park to keep the ever-growing moose population in check. The wolf relocation program got off to a rocky start when one of the wolves died in captivity before she could be released, and another wolf died shortly after he was released. Well, last week a story was out showing that yet another wolf brought over to the island was gone – this one took advantage of the polar vortex that hit much of the country, crossed an ice bridge off the island, and was back in Minnesota. To read more, click here.
Dog saves man from rabid racoon
One story I saw out of Pennsylvania’s Poconos Mountains last week really highlighted the old saying that a dog is man’s best friend. Apparently a 60-year-old man was walking with his dog in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area when a rabid raccoon came out of nowhere and started attacking him. The startled man slipped in some mud, the rabid animal biting and attacking, when his dog came to his rescue, grabbed the raccoon and likely broke its neck. The man was taken to a hospital for rabies treatment, and the dog was seen by a veterinarian and was OK. A park ranger killed the racoon. To read more, click here.
This part of the podcast is brought to you by RadPower Bikes,an electric bike manufacturer offering direct to consumer pricing on powerful premium electric bikes. Now with free shipping
LISTENER QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK
- A caller asks about supplemental Medicare insurance and traveling, and also about joining a fitness club
- And we had two calls from listeners responding to something we asked them to do last week… call our special Voice Message line at 586-372-6990 and tell us about the favorite things they most like about their RVs.
RV INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK
Time now for our RV Interview of the week and this week, we introduce you to Ryan and Mike Elias, who lead Leisure Travel Vans in Winkler, Manitoba. Ryan, who is the general manager, and Mike, the marketing director, are great-grandsons of one of the company’s founders.
Leisure Travel Vans have long had a reputation for unparalleled quality and they build what are known as Class B-Plus RVs. That’s really a made-up term. Technically, they are Class Cs. But instead of the traditional overhanging cab seen on a Class C, B-Plus vans are more streamlined and don’t look nearly as boxy.
They are roomy on the inside, about 10 inches wider than a Class B, but about the same length – 24 feet nine inches – and height – about 10 feet tall -as a Class B Sprinter XL Class B model.
Listen in now as we talk with Ryan and Mike about their company and their quest to build the foolproof van.
Here’s a transcript of the interview:
Mike Wendland: Well, first, Ryan and Mike, thank you guys for inviting us here. We really enjoyed the tour of Leisure Travel Vans. The weather could have been a little cooler-
Mike Elias: Well, we warmed it up from last week for you a little bit.
Mike Wendland: Really? When I said it could have been cooler, I meant that facetiously, but I guess it was cooler.
Mike Elias: Oh, no last week, I think she dropped down to about minus 45 Celsius.
Ryan Elias: Yeah.
Mike Elias: She was cold.
Mike Wendland: It’s 45 Celsius. That’s about the same as it is in Fahrenheit.
Mike Elias: I don’t think it matters, right?
Mike Wendland: No. [crosstalk 00:00:32]
Ryan Elias: That cold it doesn’t matter.
Mike Wendland: Yeah.
Mike Elias: But yeah we’re happy to have you here, you’re welcome here.
Mike Wendland: Well, we have been big fans of Leisure Travel Vans and ever since we started this, and we’ve run into you guys and Dean at the shows. I know many of our listeners have done the same. So it’s kind of fun to learn a little bit about these units you make which have such a great reputation for quality and innovation. Give us a little quick history of Leisure Travel Van. This is a family owned business, right?
Mike Elias: So it dates back to 1965. Founded by our great-grandfather and his two son-in-laws. So, the founder … Great-grandfather was P.W. Enns, and his two son-in-laws which was Phil Ens, one with one N, and one with two Ns. It’s kind of confusing, and Peter Elias was the other. Who’s actually was our grandfather.
Mike Wendland: Now, tells us about where in Winkler, Manitoba, which is about 10, 15 miles over the North Dakota border.
Ryan Elias: Yup, that’s right.
Mike Wendland: And tell us a little bit about Winkler.
Mike Elias: So Winkler … It’s been our home from day one. It’s our community. We love it a lot, and what’s very unique about Winkler is … There’s so many things unique about Winkler, but one of the things we hear a lot, including yourself, you mentioned this at lunch is just the people. You said there’s something about the people in your factory, and I think I said, “Our people, our secret sauce.” And that’s truly what we believe in. And I can tell you a lot, lots of stories about Winkler, but the long and the short of it is we’ve been very fortunate to be in a community that has such good quality people in terms of their skill set and in certain terms of work ethic. There’s so many ideas coming from the shop floor today.
Mike Elias: So Winkler has a long history. There’s a lot of Mennonite heritage here and the company has a lot of that as well. But it’s grown, and it’s evolved, and it’s expanded and today it’s a thriving community. There’s lots of entrepreneurship, not just within Triple E, but within the whole community. Lots of agricultural companies, agriculture equipment companies and so lots of energy entrepreneurship, and yeah it’s a thriving community for sure.
Mike Wendland: And it was founded by Mennonites pretty much.
Ryan Elias: That’s correct.
Mike Wendland: And obviously the town itself is about 10,000, is that the population?
Ryan Elias: I think a little more than that, right?
Mike Elias: Maybe 12, yeah. Something like that.
Mike Wendland: You guys are Triple E and Leisure Travel Van, explain that. How do we understand that? Triple E was the original name-
Mike Elias: Yeah.
Mike Wendland: That the company was founded under, right?
Mike Elias: Yeah, so the three E’s is what I talked about before. And so Triple E was an RV manufacturer and from 1965 till 2008, when we purchased Leisure Travel Vans, that was our brand name. Now Triple E was mostly … We sold most of our products within Canada. So we had a very strong brand presence in Canada, but not as much in the US. And in terms of products Triple E made everything from big class A’s, to fifth wheelers, to travel trailers and it was a company known for its quality. I would say the pillar, quality and customer care and customer support. And then there was a another manufacturer just six miles down the road in Morton, Manitoba named Leisure Travel Vans, which was a completely separate company founded in the 70s, and they focused on building these small vans. A very innovative company that come up with a lot of firsts in the industry and we at Triple E acquired Leisure in 2008.
Mike Elias: And so the plan was to continue on with both brands, the Triple E brand which was, you know, known for all these products and Leisure. However, we know what happened in 2008.
Mike Wendland: 2008 was the great recession, yeah.
Mike Elias: And so we had a lot of restructuring to do and these class B’s and B Pluses was kind of a little bit of a shining star in the RV industry. So we started focusing more and more of our efforts on this product line, came up with the Unity. I guess a cool story about the Unity is that was the first product that was a combination of the two companies, and that’s actually why we called it the Unity between Triple E and Leisure. So we had the knowledge and the expertise of these two companies coming together. And the beauty of that was we got the innovation and the creativity from Leisure mixed with a lot of the quality and systems and structure that Triple E had. And it was a runaway success. And so that’s kind of how the two came together. Fast forward 10 years, 11 years now, 2019. The leisure products had so much demand we eventually phased out all of Triple E’s products and today everything is branded under Leisure Travel Vans.
Mike Wendland: And everything that you guys make now our class B Pluses which are really class C’s as we’ve learned, but a little more streamlined version of them.
Mike Elias: Right.
Mike Wendland: The idea of community. I want to go back to that for a moment. Back in your early history, as I read on the website in 1972 you guys were almost wiped out a fire. But then something really unusual happened. Would you explain that Ryan, how did that happen?
Ryan Elias: So the devastating fire in 1972, one of the managers was actually killed in the fire, and it was devastating and basically it wiped out the whole factory. And there was a lot of discussion after that to what the company should do to deal with this, right. And the employee group actually approached the ownership at the time and says, “We’d be willing to help build the factory after this devastating event for free. Just so we could get back up and running.” And so at the time it was an unbelievable act of kindness of the employees to get this company back up and running.
Mike Wendland: They actually donated their labor, their work to build this place.
Ryan Elias: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That was the offer.
Mike Elias: I don’t believe that that was actually needed. There was some insurance money to cover the rebuilding process, but it was more the gesture that meant so much to the ownership, right. Because they were considering their options, whether to maybe just close up shop. They were seven years in from 65 to 72. Seven years into the business and starting a new business is not easy, right. And so there was talks about that, and that gesture really, I think helped the ownership to do obviously rebuilding. And it’s a great thing that they did.
Mike Wendland: One of the things that has impressed Jennifer and me so much is that this is a family run business. And I go back to something that we were told some time ago by Bob Tiffin from Tiffin Model Homes, well known beautiful luxury motor coaches. Now, I think they make a class C as well, but mostly known for their class A’s, but I was asking him about advice. And he talked about how in the RV industry it was so important that consumers try and buy from a family run business. And I wanted to ask you guys that. Obviously this is the family run business. Can consumers rest a little easier with a family run business than perhaps one of those big corporate manufacturers that have a million different divisions, and a million different products. But what makes a family run business likely Leisure Travel Vans so unique?
Mike Elias: I think that it’s hard to blanket statement that. I certainly agree with Bob’s statement there, obviously. But I think I can say for our company that our employees truly care. They care about the quality of the product, they care about how the customer is treated before and after the sale. And how that relates to a family run business, I think that there’s just more of a connection to the company, per se.
Mike Wendland: This is your name out there.
Mike Elias: Right.
Mike Wendland: This is your family’s name, really, out there and your history. So this business actually means more to you, does it not, then if you were just a corporate office holder and COO-
Mike Elias: Yeah. 100%.
Mike Wendland: And CEO, and marketing director, you’re more than that.
Mike Elias: Yeah. Absolutely.
Mike Wendland: This is your name.
Mike Elias: And we are truly a family, right. It’s not just that, you know, obviously, the family in terms of the ownership, but the family as a business, as a business entity, right. The one thing, too that sets us apart, too is we sometimes … If you look at a public company, the shareholder return in the almighty dollars is extremely important. It’s number one, right. For us that obviously we need to make you need to make a profit right, but our customers and our people in our community is number one for us. It’s the most important.
Mike Wendland: Tell us about your vans, what excites you about your beautiful B Plus vans, the Unity, the Serenity and the Wonder?
Ryan Elias: Yeah, we think we have the strongest product lineup we’ve ever had today. And the few reasons for that. One of the reasons being is we’ve never been so focused on one particular type. All we build is B Pluses, right. And so we have the benefit of being laser focused on this type of product. And then we have a nice diversity. We have a growing amount of floor plans so you can choose from … Today I believe we have nine different models. So there’s a lot of options in variety there. We build on two different chassis, the Ford and the Sprinter. They’re both excellent chassis for what we build on. Lots of exciting stuff coming ahead with the chassis manufacturers as well.
Ryan Elias: And then going a little deeper, I think our products and our floor plans are by and large unique in the industry. We try and do something different that you can’t find elsewhere. And so we get ideas, a lot of ideas from the European markets. We got ideas obviously from our customers, and we blend all these and try and come up with stuff, floor plans and models that we believe our customers will like. So I think you’re gonna find something different in our product line than you will in many of our competitors.
Mike Wendland: Some of the things that we see your competitors do is adding lots of lithium batteries, which are certainly interesting batteries. You guys haven’t quite embrace them yet. And as we were talking and learning, there’s still some things in lithium that need to be worked out. I wonder if you could talk about that because the way lithium is often marketed to would be RV buyers is that, “This is the latest. It’s the most necessary. It’s the best, and it’s all foolproof now.” And I’m certainly not asking you to bad mouth competitors, but maybe to help us all understand how ready for primetime is lithium in terms of battery system for an RV?
Ryan Elias: I think you said it good there, foolproof. We’re sometimes not the first or even second or third to come to the market when it comes to technology-
Mike Elias: Technology and systems, because we wanted it to be foolproof. And we’re waiting for the technology to be available that will be foolproof, right. We can only control what we build … What part of the box we built, right. And generally when it comes to warranty and service issues, the majority of the problems that we have are the components, right. The external companies that we deal with that we have very little control over, right. So we try to reduce that exposure as much as possible with foolproof companies and products that are available on the market, right. So when it comes to lithium technology, obviously, it’s still at its infancy in the RV market, right. And we’re waiting for that technology be proven to know that our customers are gonna be trouble free, right. Our goal is to build a trouble free RV every single day. And that’s kind of our response.
Mike Wendland: So who’s buying Leisure Travel Vans and how long is it going to take for somebody to get a new one?
Mike Elias: People like you and Jennifer and Bo.
Mike Wendland: Yeah?
Mike Elias: Yeah, I’m very serious about that, including the dog. I think we did a poll, a survey, not that long ago and it was something like 75% of our owners have pets.
Mike Wendland: Yeah, we’ve done the same survey.
Mike Elias: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:13:26]
Mike Wendland: And I think it’s about the same thing. Yeah.
Mike Elias: It’s not surprising, right?
Mike Wendland: Yeah.
Mike Elias: But yeah, we’re selling to retired couples.
Ryan Elias: And semi retired.
Mike Elias: And yeah, semi retired, and retired and even working. We’re slowly seeing a shift younger, which is awesome.
Ryan Elias: So typically 65 plus is our demographic, but there are certain months on our survey returns that we get from our owners that have purchased Leisure Travel Vans that we do see you know 55 to 65 being the top category.
Mike Elias: Right.
Ryan Elias: So just slowly the trend is actually getting younger.
Mike Wendland: [inaudible 00:14:01]
Ryan Elias: Yup.
Mike Wendland: And we found that this is the most affluent, most active group of quote ‘retirees,’ although they’re awful busy, that we’ve ever seen. And so this is just the perfect lifestyle for them.
Mike Elias: Totally.
Mike Wendland: Yeah.
Mike Elias: And we find our customers are people that want to travel no different than yourselves. They want to see the America. They want to see all the national parks, all the provincial parks and our type of product is perfect for doing that. It’s not set up to go sit in the campground for three months, although you can do that if you want. It’s great for traveling, it’s a true traveling product and it’s easy to drive, easy to park, easy to drive in cities. So it’s just a very versatile unit. And we’re finding a lot of our customers, they’re using it to its fullest potential. Which is really cool to see from a manufacturer standpoint.
Mike Wendland: Well, we look forward to seeing a lot more of Leisure Travel Vans in our travels and thank you guys again for making us feel so welcome here in Winkler, Manitoba at Leisure Travel Vans. Thank you.
Mike Elias: Well, thanks for making the big long cold trip, Bob.
The interview of the week is brought to you by SunshinestateRVs.com, where every new or used Roadtrek motorhome is delivered to the customer free, anywhere in the country
OFF THE BEATEN PATH REPORT
By Tom and Patti Burkett
We remember when you did a video on how to get along in a Class B motorhome. Lots of bloggers have done them because, after all, it’s a challenge to work out the choreography of such a small space. Less often you see reports of the sweet moments that can only happen when you’re squeezed close together. We suspect every traveling couple has experienced them. Since Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, we thought we’d tell about a few of ours.
I recall an early morning on the shore of Swan Lake in Montana. I was sitting in a camp chair, watching the sun rise, and listening to the loons call across the water sipping on a hot cup of coffee. I’m an early riser, at home or on the road. Patti is not. Still, it has somehow become her daily task to make coffee in the Roadtrek. On this day, as she often does, she climbed out of bed before I did, fired up the Aeropress, and left me a mugful to start my day. Then she crawled back under the covers until I’d finished making breakfast an hour later. At home, with the pot on a timer, it goes unnoticed. At the campsite, it’s a loving kindness that gets the day off to a perfect start.
One evening we headed out for dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant near Las Cruces, New Mexico and were reminded that our friend Google is not infallible. Despite its online listing, the place was shuttered for the night. Heading up the potholed road to the next little town, we found a plaza with a cannon and a bandstand. The area was fairly busy, with pedestrians all heading down the same side street. Driving by, we saw they were turning into a restaurant, so we parked and followed the crowd. We ended up at La Posta De Mesilla, one of the first Tex-Mex joints. Tropical foliage, colorful murals, and exotic birds made for a delightfully intimate evening despite the crowds, and the food was perfect.
Before our first visit to Big Bend National Park, we read three books about the area. Big Bend: A Homesteader’s Story recounts J.O. Langford’s efforts to turn a historic hot spring along the Rio Grande into a health resort in the early 1900s. Lizards On the Mantel, Burros At The Door continues the story of this corner of the landscape up to the founding of the National Park. Early one morning we took the short hike to a hot spring, still enclosed by the stone wall J.O built in 1910 with the help of an itinerant German mason. We spent a glorious half hour by ourselves in the pool, dangling our hands in the Rio Grande and tossing stones across into Mexico before someone else arrived.
Isn’t it romantic to share a secret? That’s one of the reasons we travel the way we do. The map comes alive as we fill it with characters met and places explored. Once, on our way to Baltimore, we “discovered” Arthurdale, a depression era planned community just beginning to be restored into a national heritage site. In the rain, we toured the museum, walked through the wood-floored hall where Mamie Eisenhower danced with the locals, and talked with the lone Vista Corps worker who invited us to settle in for a while and help with sorting documents and identifying artifacts. We thought of Monticello and Faneuil Hall and Deerfield Village and smiled at this chance to be part of the making of a someday national monument.
Some of our favorite moments? Standing in a field in the Smokies surrounded by synchronous fireflies.
Dangling our toes in the mountain stream hidden behind a dispersed campsite in Utah.
Dancing at a neighborhood ceilidh on Cape Breton.
Watching the sun set over one of the National Grasslands, with not another soul in sight.
For Valentine’s Day, why not recall for yourself or your travel partner some of the most magical moments you’ve had on your travels. You’re sure to have plenty of them when you spend time out here off the beaten path
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