In 2023, Truck Camper Magazine embarked on a seven month tour including nineteen factories, four Overland Expos, and two truck camper rallies throughout North America. To celebrate TCM’s 17th anniversary, here’s our factory tour tour report. It was epic.
To celebrate the 17th anniversary of Truck Camper Magazine, I want to share with you some of the highlights of the cross-country truck camping tour we did last year and why we did it.
Toward the end of 2019, Angela and I were planning a cross-country truck camping tour starting in Spring 2020. It had been a couple of years since we stepped foot in some of the truck camper factories, and the American West was calling. It does that now and then.
Nobody needs a reminder of the events that followed that Spring, but the result was factories that were either closed or at least closed to non-employees. That reality scrapped our 2020 factory tour plan, not to mention our previously blissful full-time truck camping lifestyle. For that story, check out From Full-Time To The Future.
From 2021 and into 2022, more and more factories opened to visits, but there were still a few important hold outs. Beyond keeping their teams healthy, it seems the factories found keeping their facilities closed to outside visitors also eliminated drop-by interruptions. This is understandable as I wouldn’t want people stopping unannounced at TCM HQ for a tour. Note: Always call ahead if you’re going to a camper factory.
We explored New England in 2021 and the Canadian Maritimes in 2022. Both were exceptional years for our truck camping adventures, but we felt an increasing need to return to the factories. Throughout 2022, we started to drop hints during our industry interviews. Finally, the timing was right and we got green lights across the board. Four years later, our 2019 plans were on. Well, not exactly.
No Three Hour Tour
By the spring of 2023, it had been five years since we’d been in many factories and several new truck camper manufacturers had sprung up. When Angela plotted our 2023 course, we were looking at a full-blown factory tour tour (what we call it) with at least sixteen camper and gear factories and some important events along the way.
This expanded plan was an immediate point of concern as our previous factory tour tours have been some of the most challenging experiences of publishing Truck Camper Magazine. Our plan for 2019 was to visit maybe a dozen factories we hadn’t been to in a while. Now we hadn’t been to most of the factories in a long time.
We absolutely love what we do and are truly thankful to be able to do it, but it’s a lot of work. To add thousands of travel miles and weeks of being in factories and events on top of our writing, graphics, web work, inventory updates, social media posts–and beyond–was daunting. Wait. Why are doing this?
Factory Tours Are Imperative
From the day we founded Truck Camper Magazine, we believed that we could not write and report on companies and products without knowing their people, processes, materials, and culture. That’s why we went on a six month factory tour tour in 2007, and another six month factory tour tour in 2010, and were regularly visiting camper factories right up to the pandemic.
Above: David Epp, CEO of Adventurer Manufacturing, and Angela on the Scout production line
How can somebody honestly represent an industry, much less review a camper, if they’ve never stepped foot in the factories, talked at length with the leadership teams, and spent hours if not days on the production floor observing, listening, and engaging with the production teams? I know lots of bloggers and YouTubers do exactly this, but that’s not how we want to run Truck Camper Magazine.
Besides, it’s a total joy to be on location, with the men and women behind the brands, and learn how these complex products are made. We also love bringing the framing, lamination, fiberglass, cabinetry, plumbing, electrical, final finishing, and other production team members to light and giving them their due. Our first audience for a factory tour is always the crew.
The 2023 Factory Tour Tour
This article could not possibly cover the nineteen truck camper and gear factories, never mind the camper dealerships and other industry locations we visited. Most of the factory tours have already been chronicled in Truck Camper Magazine, although at least two factories (Rieco-Titan and Soaring Eagle Campers) have yet to be published, and another half dozen documented and photographed camper items remain on the docket. The factory tours in particular take several days to write and assemble and need to be spread out in our publishing schedule.
Just for fun, here are the truck camper and gear companies we visited in 2023, in chronological order: Capri Camper (Bluff Dale, Texas), Goal Zero (Salt Lake City, Utah), Rugged Mountain RV (Emmett, Idaho), Northwood Manufacturing (LaGrande, Oregon), Adventurer Manufacturing (Yakima, Washington), Cube Series (Redmond, Oregon), Torklift International (Royal City, Washington), Northern Lite (Kelowna, British Columbia), Bigfoot Industries (Armstrong, British Columbia), Overland Explorer Vehicles (Red Deer, Alberta), Hallmark RV (Fort Lupton, Colorado), Phoenix Campers (Commerce City, Colorado), Supertramp (Golden, Colorado), Northstar Campers (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), Rieco-Titan Products (Frankfort, Illinois), Soaring Eagle Campers (Wakarusa, Indiana), Skinny Guy Campers (Bristol, Indiana), Palomino RV (Colon, Michigan), Grumpy Bear Campers (Akron, Ohio), and Flex-Armor (Keystone Heights, Florida).
For the factories we had visited before, the tours allowed us to get even more in tune with their manufacturing process, learn about changes to materials, equipment, and personnel, and talk to the leadership team about marketplace trends and where they’re taking their companies. Some industry leaders will pick our brains about current and upcoming camper designs or specific changes they’re considering. These conversations are off the record, but we are sure to relay what you, our readers, are telling us through surveys, social media, and emails, and in person.
We also take tons of photographs for Truck Camper Magazine and our own visual notes. We often refer back to our image library when researching articles, or just to verify something. Finally, we spend time in the freshly built campers on hand. This can be a casual walkthrough for models we are familiar with, or a multi-hour photoshoot for a unit we haven’t seen before or have difficulty finding in the field. The point is this; we take full advantage of being on location and stay for as long as needed. After all, we’re living in our camper in their parking lot.
Moochdocking? Nah. We’re Shopsquatting.
Some factories lock us behind their gate and leave us a key. Others have us park inside their building. A few take us home for the night to meet their families. We do as the Romans do and take the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the companies and the people behind them. All of it seasons and simmers into the writing ensuring our content hits the mark.
In addition to all of the above, we managed to take some time off from factories, expos, and driving and have some relaxed fun. That included visiting 10 National Parks in the United States and Canada: Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Yoho, Banff, and Jasper in Canada, and Capitol Reef, Golden Spike, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Indiana Dunes in the United States.
Our experiences in these parks will trickle into the magazine over time, and helps reinvigorate our passion hiking and exploring the amazing national parks we have in the USA and Canada. It’s no wonder people from all over the world come to our continent to see the wondrous and abundant nature on tap.
We also visited a few more cultural things in 2023, starting with Roswell, New Mexico, and Very Large Array in Magdalena, New Mexico.
Above: Slot Canyons and Goblin Valley State Park; more about these fun hikes in the coming months
Moving on, we stood on the corner in Winslow Arizona, nearly ripped a rear camper jack off our camper in the Valley of the Gods in Utah, felt like Indiana Jones in Little Wild Horse Canyon in Utah, rediscovered my fear of heights at Revelstoke Dam in British Columbia, searched (and found) precious stones at Blue Jewel Sapphire Mine in Montana, and saw some expensive stitches at the Missouri Quilt Company in Missouri.
Above: Blue Jewel Sapphire Mine in Montana; we’ll do a story on this fun experience soon
In between everything we stopped at every thrift store, antique mall, and junk shop we could find looking for LP records and vacuum times (me), and fabric, quilting stuff, and cat figurines (Angela). Perhaps more than anything, this is what you’ll find us doing if we have some free time, and the opportunity.
Above: For all you cat lovers out there, here are some photos of Cosmo from the trip
All of the above are high-highs. Unfortunately, we had some low-lows on this adventure, starting with my back going out the day we arrived at Adventurer Manufacturing in Yakima, Washington. I wrote about the experience in our Adventurer factory tour, but it was no joke. I literally couldn’t get out of bed, and the CEO of the company was making a special trip to meet us from Canada. Thankfully, a trip to the local urgent care got me the medications to get through the day. What was particularly frustrating was the four to five weeks it took to fully recover. Everyone out there who has a bad back knows what it feels like. Being in camper with a thrown back wasn’t fun.
Above: Gordon at urgent care in Yakima, Washington with a thrown back
Four months later we visited family in Baltimore and Philadelphia and both of us caught Covid for the first time. Unlike some lucky folks, we got really sick and eventually went to another urgent care outside Philadelphia. The good part about this story is that we were moochdocking at my dad’s house with electric and were able to stop work and get better for a week. I can honestly state I haven’t been that sick in a very long time; maybe five years or more. Let’s just say the thrown back and getting Covid were the very low-lows of this past trip.
In early November we finally pulled into our Florida condo driveway. After seven months on the road, working almost non-stop including far too many weekends to keep up with the magazine, and getting our hindquarters kicked by Covid right at the end, we were exhausted. With hot showers, free laundry, solid WIFI, endless holding tanks, air conditioning or heat on demand, and no need to worry about where we’re sleeping for the night, we melted into home sweet home comfort.
Well, for about ten minutes. Even before we got Covid, the factory tours, expos, and traveling schedule had eaten away at our content queue. When we walked in the front door, we had about a week of magazine content ready. The good news was that we were stationary and could 100 percent focus on the task before us. If we’re nothing else, we’re hard workers. Within a week, we were bending the curve. Within two, we were on top of things again. A month later, we were back. That’s how Truck Camper Magazine really works.
Thank you to the industry leaders and community readers who’ve supported Truck Camper Magazine all these years. We are extremely appreciative of everything you do for us and hope our magazine remains a moment of light and positivity in your day. And maybe–just maybe–you learn something about truck camping along the way.
Here’s to our 17th year!