Truck Camper Magazine visits the Palomino RV factory in Colon, Michigan. And if we didn’t have a map, we might still be there. This place is huge!
There’s nothing like the rapid fire tack-tack-tack of staple guns, the thump-thump-thump of hammers, and the whirl-whirl-whirl of air tools. To the untrained ear, these sounds might be an annoying cacophony of noise. To us, they’re the sweet symphony of truck camper production. With every tack, thump, and whirl, we hear our North American truck camper industry gaining strength and charging ahead.
It had been almost two years since we had last stepped foot into a truck camper factory and it was really good to be back. This was our first visit to Palomino RV and it didn’t take us long to be a little overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of their operation. There are six buildings at their facility, each with a dense maze of fast moving production. Thankfully, they gave us a map and showed us how to get to the truck camper line in Plant 4. As soon as we walked in, we were home.
LEFT: Just inside of Plant 1, we came to Palomino RV’s aluminum welding shop. Palomino’s Maverick truck camper line is 100% aluminum framed and vacuum bonded.
CENTER: Palomino stuffs their aluminum frames with wood to allow for a better screw bite when attaching cabinetry and other interior components.
RIGHT: When we were observing the aluminum welding team, they were welding Maverick truck camper floors. Paul Hopkins and Gabe Kosachuk worked together on the same camper floor, each on opposite sides of the floor.
Eicher Gingerich applies glue webbing to a framed and welded aluminum Maverick wall. The glue webbing holds the foam insulation in place for vacuum bonding. This was the first time we had seen glue webbing in a truck camper factory. According to Palomino, the webbing speeds up production and replaces tape, which does not adhere as well during lamination.
LEFT AND CENTER: Dan Miller builds a Bronco sidewall at the wood wall building station in Plant 1. After assembling the wood frame and placing the foam insulation, he uses glue webbing to keep everything in place prior to vacuum bonding. This is the same glue webbing as used by Eicher Gingerich above on the aluminum frame line.
RIGHT: Terry Smith and Brian Brown prepare a pop-up roof for vacuum bond lamination. We observed Terry and Brian quickly and systematically route the insulation for wiring, apply galvanized metal strips, and complete three to four roofs within minutes.
Across from the welding shop in Plant 1, the skin roll coating team was getting to work. Most RV manufacturers purchase their fiberglass laminated skins from outside vendors. Palomino has brought fiberglass skin lamination in house to save cost and improve the quality of the laminated fiberglass skins for their campers and trailers.
The nine man skin roll coating team works very quickly to create eighteen hot glued layers of fiberglass, luan, and galvanized metal strips before lowering the blue vacuum bag for bonding.
LEFT: Terry Smith, Bret Hoover, and Ron Thurston vacuum bond components for production. The pace is quick on vacuum bond table as the applied glue has a short window before it sets.
CENTER AND RIGHT: Once they’ve applied the glue and assembled the components, they place the vacuum bag over the table and apply a seven pound vacuum.
Palomino vacuum bonds every truck camper wall and roof before sending them to the truck camper production line. Gene Cronin explained that they do not currently vacuum bond the camper floors but will begin vacuum bonding the floors in the very near future.
The buzz of sewing machines and fans was constant in the area known as the Needle Division (not photographed). Here Palomino stitches its own camper soft walls. As the soft walls move down the line, they are folded, bagged, and forklifted to the truck camper production line in Plant 4.
LEFT: Directly under and to the side of the Needle Division is where Palomino manufactures its own seat cushions and valances. Gene pointed out that most RV manufacturers use vendors to produce their soft walls, cushions, and valances. He also explained that having production in house meant significant cost savings, improvements in quality and quality control, and the ability to turn around customer cushion, soft wall, and valance repairs within one week or less.
CENTER: At the end of the valance production line, we found Bruce Sehy completing valances and listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
RIGHT: From the Needle Division loft, you could see an ocean of foam cushions waiting for covers. With Pink Floyd filling the air, it was almost tempting to jump into the cushions. There were so many cushions that we might have been okay, if we made it to the cushions.
When we first arrive on a truck camper production line, we walk the line up and back observing the flow and learning the stations. We also look for opportunities to get above the production line and observe the line on a macro level.
These three photos show almost the entire production line. The left photo shows the beginning of the production line with the open door and first stages furthest away. The center photo shows the middle part of the production line including electrical, plumbing, appliance setting, trim, and roof setting. The photo on the right shows the three stations where Palomino pop-up campers get their soft walls installed and interior finishing takes place. What you can’t see is the floor setting at the first station and final finishing and quality control at the final station. But before we show you those two stations, let’s take a look at the cabinetry shop.
Above the truck camper production line is a large loft area where the truck camper cabinet shop and wiring harness manufacturing area is located. Three of the five workers in the loft area are Amish and requested that their photographs not be taken. We really enjoyed our conversations of the Amish and they allowed us to photograph their stations and publish their names.
LEFT: Vernon Yoder was working at the pneumatic pocket screw table assembling space frames. Melvin Hochstetler (station not pictured) was building cabinets.
CENTER: Jake Eicher was making wiring harnesses. Jake explained that he had measured wire lengths per his own arm lengths and that’s how he measured the wire.
RIGHT: Also in the cabinet loft were LouAnn Shook, pictured building a kitchen overhead for a Bronco, and Robbie Slagle (not pictured), who was installing cabinet door hinges. They are not Amish and gave us permission to photograph them.
LEFT: At the very beginning of the truck camper production line in Plant 4, Tyler Palmer and Luke Alexander work together to build the camper floors. Tyler brings in the laminated and vacuum bonded wall sections and uses a router to cut the windows, doors, and other wall features. Once completed, he delivers the wall sections to Luke just across from him.
CENTER: In this photo, Luke Alexander builds a Bronco 800 floor. As he listened to classic U2 on his radio, Luke explained that each floor took him between one and one and a half hours to complete. Luke’s pace and the pace of the whole truck camper line was fast and focused.
RIGHT: Once a camper floor is completed, Luke calls over some co-workers and they hand carry the new camper floor onto the camper dollies that roll campers down the production line.
LEFT: Just before Palomino truck campers leave the assembly line, we watched Rob Foster, Truck Camper Line Foreman, making some final quality control seal checks.
CENTER AND RIGHT: In final finishing, we watched Rob and Dawn Merkle (not photographed) look over each truck camper in great detail. As they found a blemish or slight break in a seal, they marked it with orange tape. Once marked, they and other team members would clean the blemishes and reseal. Rob started at Palomino in final finishing and told us that he still enjoys looking over campers for the highest possible quality before they’re pushed out the door.
LEFT: About fifty feet outside the back door of the truck camper production line there’s a sea of finished truck campers awaiting delivery. There were many more campers than you can see in this photo, but our wide angle lens can only go so wide.
CENTER: During our two day visit, we watched several loads of truck campers hit the road. When walking back from Plant 4 for lunch on day one, we found Stan Banker of KL&T Trucking sitting in a Ford F450 ready to deliver three Palomino campers.
RIGHT: Palomino RV is part of Forrest River Inc., which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, which is owned by Warren Buffet. As part of a very large and well financed organization, Palomino RV is able to order raw materials, parts, and appliances in very large quantities and demand low prices. Here’s a picture of the refrigerators for just one week of the truck camper production line. During the two days we spent at Palomino, we saw similarly impressive shipments arrive by the tractor trailer load.
We really enjoyed our visit with Palomino RV and its team. We learned a lot about Palomino’s camper products and look forward to debuting an exciting new Palomino truck camper very soon. Did we say new camper? You bet, and we’ll have the exclusive here in TCM when it’s ready. From what we saw, this is one company that’s moving forward; fast and focused.
For more information about Palomino RV, visit www.palominorv.com.