Rugged Mountain is launching a line of slide-out truck campers from Nampa, Idaho. Here’s how this new company already has decades of truck camper manufacturing experience, and where the tiny house phenomenon fits in.
Four years ago Jesse Collinsworth had a bold idea. He would quit his job as a traveling electrician and start a tiny home manufacturing business. He had no outside funding, no pre-sold customers, and no way of knowing if such a business could actually work.
What Jesse did have was the essential ingredient for any successful business start-up – grit. Defined by Dictionary.com as, “firmness of character; indomitable spirit”, grit powered Jesse through the inevitable, ”Are you nuts?” and “That will never work” comments from friends and family. He was also motivated by a rapidly depleting bank account and a new baby on the way.
Fortunately, Jesse’s calculated risk quickly paid dividends. His new business, Tiny Idahomes, grew rapidly requiring more and more employees and larger and larger production facilities. Then, with Tiny Idahomes hitting its stride, another entrepreneurial opportunity presented itself.
Just down the street, an established truck camper brand was abandoned by a succession of new owners who were disinterested in the truck camper market. Jesse, a passionate truck camper himself, couldn’t help his boundless business spirit and decided to take action.
We are very excited to be announcing the beginning of a brand new truck camper manufacturer, Rugged Mountain RV. With two slide-out models already in production and a highly experienced manufacturing team on staff, Rugged Mountain truck campers has hit the ground running.
To learn more of the incredible story behind this new start-up, and details about how Rugged Mountain truck campers are manufactured, we talked to Jesse Collinsworth, President of Rugged Mountain RV.
Above: The Rugged Mountain RV team at the factory in Nampa, Idaho (Anca and Jesse Collinsworth on the far right)
TCM: Before we get to Rugged Mountain RV, tell us about how you first got involved with tiny homes.
Jesse: I am an electrician by trade. Before starting Tiny Idahomes, I was a traveling electrician who worked on Marriott Hotels. Then I met my wife and we started talking about having children. I wanted more stable work, so traveling and raising children wasn’t going to cut it.
Four years ago, tiny homes were still an emerging trend. After a brutal winter working on a Marriott in Casper, Wyoming, I decided I wouldn’t do winter traveling anymore. I called Anca, my then fiancé, and told her that I was going to quit my job as an electrician and build tiny homes.
Above: Anca and Jesse Collinsworth with their daughter
TCM: That was a bold decision. What was her reaction?
Jesse: At first she didn’t believe me. Then she was very upset. As an electrician, I was making good money. We went from good money, to no money at all. Our friends and family also didn’t see the opportunity in tiny homes. Nobody thought I could sell them.
I built the first tiny house myself in a facility owned by a friend. It took me three months to build it. By the time it was completed, Anca and I had less than $100 in our bank account. To make matters more stressful, Anca was pregnant. That was an emotional roller coaster.
Fortunately, that first tiny home sold quickly. We rolled that money back into the company and built more tiny homes. By the end of the first year, there were four guys including myself building tiny homes in our own 1,500 square foot facility.
Our pre-sold orders continued to grow. In our second year we expanded our facility to a 3,000 square feet, and then 6,000 square feet. By the end of year two, we had built 16 tiny homes and still had more sales in the pipeline.
In November of 2016, we moved into our current facility, a 22,000 square foot building. When we moved here, we were looking for a building big enough for both our tiny house and truck camper lines. As of right now, we are back ordered with eight tiny homes. Things have really taken off.
Above: Tiny houses on the Tiny Idahomes production lines
TCM: That’s an incredible start-up story. What do you think sets Tiny Idahomes apart from other tiny house builders?
Jesse: From the beginning, I set out to get our tiny homes certified by the RVIA (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association). No tiny house manufacturer was certified at the time. When I contacted the RVIA, they were not interested.
That’s when I joined forces with another tiny home manufacturer, Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in Colorado Springs. Together we petitioned the RVIA and proved that our tiny homes are recreational vehicles.
The negotiations with the RVIA took nine months, but they eventually let us become members. Tiny Idahomes and Tumbleweed Tiny Homes were the first two companies to build RVIA certified tiny houses. To this day, all of our tiny houses and truck campers are RVIA certified.
TCM: Why do you believe the RVIA certification was important?
Jesse: RVIA certification is the highest level of certification available to the tiny home and recreational vehicle industries. I wanted tiny houses to be recognized as RVs and built to RVIA standards and safety codes.
The RVIA certification is further reassurance that a tiny home is built well and safe. Safety codes are important to me. That’s why we are the only tiny house manufacturer who builds our own NATM (National Association Trailer Manufacturers) certified trailers.
I want to be a leader in the tiny home industry. In that leadership, I want to help set the rules so other manufacturers have to stand up to our safety and quality standards.
Above: Rugged Mountain Polar 860 camper
TCM: With Tiny Idahomes doing well, why did you decide to get into the truck camper marketplace with Rugged Mountain RV?
Jesse: Prior to starting Tiny Idahomes, I had a Northland truck camper. Northland had been around for decades and built a very high-quality truck camper.
Tiny Idahomes just happens to be down the street from the original Northland facility. I had heard rumors about Northland’s owner wanting to sell out and retire. Then an RV dealership out of Seattle bought the company. After the acquisition, management decided to stop building Northland truck campers and switch to travel trailers.
When you take a crew that’s been building truck campers for years and tell them to build a different product, you’re going to have problems. The new direction instantly slowed production and the newly acquired company started to fail. That’s when Pacific Coachworks in California bought the business. Pacific Coachworks only builds travel trailers, so they also abandoned the Northland truck camper line.
Soon after, we hired the core production team from the original Northland factory including the foreman with 36 years experience. When I asked the team if they would like to build truck campers again, they were very excited.
Above: The Rugged Mountain RV truck camper production line
TCM: So that was the beginning of Rugged Mountain RV?
Jesse: Yes. After studying the feasibility of launching a truck camper line, we moved to our new facility, ordered the required materials, and launched production. With our crew already having decades of truck camper manufacturing experience, we hit the ground running.
Above: The interior of a Polar 860 camper
Above: Kitchen of a Polar 860 camper
Above: Bathroom of a Polar 860 camper
Above: Overcab of a Polar 860 camper
Above: Dinette of a Polar 860 camper
TCM: Did you make any changes to the Northland build quality or floor plans?
Jesse: The floor plans are essentially the same. I immediately upgraded the fiberglass and interiors to give the campers a more modern look inside and out. As a truck camper myself, I made other changes to make the campers more friendly to use. I really didn’t need to change much because it was already a great product.
TCM: The fact that you were able to start with the original Northland production team is huge. Now that Tiny Idahomes and Rugged Mountain RV are under one roof, how do you handle running the two companies?
Jesse: On the Rugged Mountain production line, I have a foreman who’s been building truck campers for decades and a team that’s already dialed in. I’m available to them, but there’s not much I need to do for the truck camper line day-to-day.
The Tiny Idahomes are custom ordered and there are often challenges along the way to meet customer requests. That’s where a lot of my time is spent – monitoring Tiny Idahome production.
TCM: Tell us about the basic materials and construction of a Rugged Mountain RV truck camper.
Jesse: Rugged Mountain truck campers are wood framed with hung wall construction. The fiberglass sidewalls are vacuum-bonded to a 1/4-inch luan backer by Crane Composites. This was the construction method used to build the original Northland truck campers, but we are using higher quality materials.
The fiberglass from Crane Composites has a better look and higher gloss than other fiberglass vendors offer. Their vacuum seal lamination process is also superior. The cost to have their product shipped from Indiana is higher than the California-based alternative, but we worked with local manufacturers and split the shipping costs.
TCM: Why not frame with aluminum?
Jesse: Before we started Rugged Mountain production, I built camper walls with aluminum framing. What I found is that the metal on luan separated the adhesive in cold and hot weather. The lamination adhesives holding the fiberglass skin to the quarter-inch luan backing were letting loose on the aluminum side.
I could not find an adhesive that didn’t suffer this problem. Here in Idaho, we have cold winters and hot summers. I do not want a de-lamination problem, so we decided to stay with wood framed campers.
Above: Framing a Rugged Mountain camper
TCM: When some people hear “wood framed” they will be concerned about potential rot.
Jesse: Rot only happens if you have a leak and don’t take care of it. De-lamination happens a lot faster and causes damage long before rot takes place. In my opinion, de-lamination is a much greater problem.
To avoid a potential leak, our truck campers feature a one-piece fiberglass nose cap. We also wrap our TPO roof around the overhangs by a full 3/8-inch all the way around. We also carefully seal every camper that leaves the building. As with any camper, it’s important for the owner to maintain the seals.
TCM: That’s critical for every truck camper or RV. Are there advantages to having the tiny home production line and the truck camper production line under one roof?
Jesse: All of our tiny home and truck camper products are wood framed, use RV appliances, and follow RVIA standards and safety codes. Having a nearly identical construction approach across our products means the production teams can help each other, especially when there’s a deadline.
There are also production techniques and ideas from the Idahome line that help the truck camper line, and vice versa. That happens all the time. Most of my tiny home employees have worked construction jobs and bring those experiences as well.
For us, the main advantage of having both product lines is cost. We use a lot of the same materials and appliances for both product lines. That’s a significant cost advantage when ordering inventory.
Above: Two Rugged Mountain Polar 860 campers outside the factory
TCM: Right now there are four truck camper models listed on your website; the Polar 860, Polar 990, Polar 1060, and Yukon 820. Are all of these truck campers currently available?
Jesse: We are currently building the Polar 860 and Yukon 820. The first Polar 990 will be completed in the next week or so. We have made the decision to hold on the Polar 1060 until next year.
Above: The Polar 860 is 8’6″ and comes fully-loaded
We started with the Polar 860 because the original owner of Northland told me it was their most popular unit. The Polar 860 is designed to work with both long bed and short bed trucks. It’s also our shortest model at 8’6”. We have a good number of completed Polar 860 models on dealer lots, and here at the factory. Those are available now.
The Polar 860 comes fully-loaded with a 9,000 BTU Dometic air conditioner, Atwood electric jacks with remote, three-burner oven with cover, CD/DVD Player, 24” HD LED television, concealed television antenna, day/night shades, and outside shower.
Above: The Yukon 820 is a more basic camper
We have the Yukon 820 on dealer lots as well. The Yukon 820 has exactly the same floor plan and build quality as the Polar 860, but does not have the Polar’s extensive feature list.
Above: The interior of the Yukon 820
The Yukon is a very nice camper, but was designed to fit a lower price and weight point.
TCM: Are you planning to launch additional floor plans in the future?
Jesse: I am working on new concepts and designs. For now, the goal is to concentrate on the products we have perfected before we continue on with anything new.
I’m always thinking about new product ideas. I also don’t like to sit still. I just made the first tiny house toy hauler. I know it’s going to get a lot of attention when we announce it.
TCM: Tiny Idahomes sells factory direct. Why did you decide to sell through a dealer network for Rugged Mountain?
Jesse: I have approached RV dealers about selling Tiny Idahomes, but they just laugh. In their eyes, tiny homes are modular homes, not RVs. That reality forces us to sell our tiny homes direct.
On the other hand, RV dealers are interested in selling truck campers. For Rugged Mountain, I need to stay focused on production, not handle direct customer sales. Currently we have two Rugged Mountain truck camper dealers. Over the next year or so, I want Rugged Mountain truck campers on dealer lots from coast-to-coast.
TCM: Where are your current Rugged Mountain dealers?
Jesse: Southern Idaho RV and Marine is located in Jerome, Idaho. Russ Dean RV is in Pasco, Washington. Both dealers currently have Rugged Mountain truck campers in stock.
TCM: What are the base MSRPs for the four Rugged Mountain RV models?
Jesse: The Polar 860’s MSRP is $30,559. The Yukon 820’s MSRP is $25,774. When it becomes available, the Polar 990’s MSRP will be $32,287. If you’d like to learn more about these models, we’d be happy to send you a free brochure.
TCM: Do you mark center of gravity on Rugged Mountain truck campers?
Jesse: Not at this time.
TCM: Center of gravity stickers are something we strongly recommend as a magazine. What’s Rugged Mountain’s approach to weighing campers and marking dry weight?
Jesse: I take the campers to a certified scale just up the road. That’s how I get the weights of our finished units. We then mark that weight in two locations; inside and out. The interior weight label is inside a cabinet.
TCM: How would you describe your approach to quality control and customer service?
Jesse: We have plumbers and electricians on the production line that test everything. We also have the original Northland quality control inspector on the Rugged Mountain line. She has many years experience inspecting truck campers and is very detail oriented. Her attention to detail better than any guy here.
TCM: Does she have the authority to stop a camper on the line?
Jesse: Absolutely. She can flag a camper and pull it off the line. We can then change the process to prevent that quality control problem from happening again. For quality control, she runs the show.
The truck camper crew has worked together for a long time. They were excited when I started the camper line. They didn’t like building trailers.
TCM: Tell us about the Rugged Mountain RV warranty.
Jesse: Rugged Mountain RVs have a one-year warranty. The individual appliances have their own warranties.
TCM: What is your vision for Rugged Mountain RV in five years? Where are you taking the company?
Jesse: The original Northland owner wanted to keep the company small. I want to build Rugged Mountain RV and see it move into its own building.
Right now I have seven full-time people on the Rugged Mountain truck camper line building about two truck campers a week. The next step is more employees and at least one unit per day. I have already calculated how many employees would be needed to make that work. That’s where Rugged Mountain is going.
TCM: Thank you for talking to us about Rugged Mountain RV. Is there anything else you want our readers to know about the company or products?
Jesse: When I met them, none of our truck camper production team members had been truck camping. Some of them have been building truck campers for decades, but never had the opportunity to go truck camping.
One of the first things I told the crew was that we would build a truck camper to be a company camper. Together with the factory truck, they can take their families truck camping. We just finished the factory camper and the first team member is taking their family truck camping for the July 4th weekend.
If you build a product, you need to use it. You need to understand the product and learn about loading, unloading, and the various ups and downs of truck camping. They will all understand this better by the end of this summer.
I would also like to point out that our campers have this neat fishing rod holder under the door step. It runs about 7-feet as a pull-out drawer. As a fisherman and jet boater, I love having this feature on our truck campers. Rugged Mountain truck campers have a lot of neat and practical features folks are going to enjoy.
Quality, durability, functionality, and comfort are cornerstones of our truck camper design and construction. We understand how important comfort and convenience is to truck camper owners. If you didn’t believe that, you’d be sleeping in a tent. We offer the best prices in the industry for this level of high quality truck campers. You can buy a lot of toys and gear with the money you save buying one of our products and still get a very high quality truck camper.