TCM visits the Northwood factory in La Grande, Oregon and watches Arctic Fox truck campers run through one of the toughest quality control gauntlets we’ve ever seen.
After our first meeting with Northwood Manufacturing’s new CEO, Jim Jones, and COO, Ward King, we were ready to see how Northwood’s Arctic Fox production line was doing. So what did we find? Honestly, not much had changed. How could a company go through a major leadership change and recession and stay so firmly on course?
When we put this question to Jim and Ward or any other team member at Northwood their answers were always the same; Ron Nash, Northwood Manufacturing’s Founder and President, was so clear with his vision and direction for Northwood Manufacturing that there was never any doubt about what each team member, no matter their position at the company, needed to do in his absence. Ron had shown them the way to success and they continue to follow it to this day.
LEFT: Northwood Manufacturing is a multi-building complex consisting of a building for the travel trailer and fifth wheel production lines, a building for the truck camper production line, a climate controlled welding and lamination building, and several other buildings used for offices and material storage. In this photograph you see the front of the truck camper production line building.
CENTER: This is a close up of freshly completed 2011 Arctic Fox 992 truck campers emerging from the production line building. Note the new 2011 graphics designed by Rich Zinzer, Northwood Manufacturing’s graphics mastermind. If you look closely in the lower right hand corner of the front graphic, you’ll see a hidden fox.
RIGHT: As Arctic Fox campers come off the production line, they are hauled to a storage yard where they wait for a third and final quality control screening. The storage yard had about forty truck campers waiting for delivery to truck camper dealerships. Doug Karr, Northwood’s resident truck camper expert and our guide during our visit to Northwood, reported that every camper in inventory was already sold to an Arctic Fox dealer.
LEFT AND CENTER: Our first tour stop at the Northwood Manufacturing campus was the climate controlled welding and lamination building. There Bill Schlickting cuts the aluminum and Frank Kee, Eric Stanger, Jeff McCants, and Curtis Touve weld the frames for Northwood’s truck camper, travel trailer, and fifth wheel lines.
RIGHT: As the welding team completes the frames, another team cuts the foam insulation and places it inside the frames prior to lamination. Here Mykel Hansell uses a hot wire to precisely cut a half-dozen foam insulation sheets at once.
Across from where the welding and foam insulation teams are working, Northwood’s lamination team runs panels through a reactive hot melt applicator, assembles the walls, and pushes them through a pinch roller.
The lamination building is climate controlled to maintain the ideal temperature and humidity for the lamination process. Even with the climate controlled environment, Jared Underhill, Chris Nash, and Kevin Gregory have to move fast to complete the walls before the polyurethane adhesive sets.
LEFT: Once the walls have been laminated, Randy Aldrich picks them up with a ceiling mounted crane and gently places them onto Northwood Manufacturing’s CNC routing table. There the wall perimeters, windows, access doors, and slide-outs are precisely routed.
CENTER: Here is a cross section from one of the CNC cut wall sections. From left to right on the cross section you can see the fiberglass exterior, luan backing, foam insulation, and inside panel.
RIGHT: CNC routed walls are then brought to the assembly line for production. If you look closely, you can see the aluminum framing and cut out windows and access doors.
LEFT: Arctic Fox truck campers begin on the Northwood production line as upside down basement floors. Once the wood and aluminum basement structure is assembled, holding tanks, electrical, and plumbing systems are installed. Here Brandon Powell is installing wiring for a 2011 Arctic Fox 990S basement.
CENTER: Before a basement is turned over and for the production line, a layer of insulation is placed into the floor of the camper. After installing the insulation, Dave Grashoff installed the exterior floor paneling.
RIGHT: Slide-out mechanisms are installed early on the production line at Northwood. We observed Robert Gardener install the Power Gear electric rack and pinion slide-out mechanisms for a 990S. He carefully measured and re-measured during the install to ensure smooth slide operation.
LEFT: With the basement completed and the laminated and CNC routed walls installed, the aluminum framed front nose walls are screwed into place. As Jeremy Shankel was attaching the front nose walls, other team members were installing the interior cabinetry and appliances.
CENTER: Slide-outs have their own separate production line and are completed and installed just prior to final finishing. When it’s time to load a slide-out, team members are brought over from the slide-out production line as well as the main production line to install the slide-out. As we watched, Charles McDaniel, George Wesley, and Daniel Evans installed a slide-out in less than two minutes.
RIGHT: Exterior final finishing is where a camper really begins to look like a finished truck camper. Here Gina Reed is giving a 2011 Arctic Fox 992 it’s front nose decal.