Truck Camper Magazine visits Travel Lite’s factory in New Paris, Indiana. We were very pleased to see many familiar people on the production line. And a brand new pop-up!
After leaving Palomino RV in Colon, Michigan, we drove about ninety minutes south to Travel Lite in New Paris, Indiana. As we traveled through the Elkhart region, we saw a half-dozen major RV manufacturing plants with dozens, if not hundreds, of RVs in their yards waiting for delivery. The Elkhart RV machine is definitely firing up again.
We were very happy to see many familiar faces when we walked onto the Travel Lite production line. Larry Johns, President of Travel Lite, his son Dustin, and Dustin’s wife Lindsey, have managed to steer Travel Lite through the economy with most of the camper production team in place. Considering what we all just experienced these past eighteen months, that’s no small feat.
LEFT: It’s always a good sign to see a full parking lot at a truck camper factory. From left to right in this photograph, you can see the main office and production line building and the final finishing building. Behind the main office and production line building is a third building where Travel Lite assembles their new pop-up camper roofs. On the very far right you can just make out our truck camper parked outside the final finishing building.
CENTER AND RIGHT: A.J. Rosenbrock, Travel Lite’s Assistant Plant Manager, raises the roof on an all new Travel Lite pop-up camper. Travel Lite wasn’t running pop-up campers during our visit, but we did get to take a close look at a new Travel Lite pop-up camper in the yard. What we noticed the most was the gimp-free Amish made cabinetry that Travel Lite is known for. It really looked sharp. We photographed the pop-up camper from head to toe and will share the pictures with you in an upcoming blog.
It was good to see Shawn Plank when we walked onto the Travel Lite production line. Shawn was one of many familiar faces whom we had met when we toured Travel Lite in July of 2008. Shawn recognized us too and commented that the last time we saw him he was building the same camper model. We don’t know how he remembered that, but he did. In the photos you see Shawn building a camper floor for a Travel Lite 800 Standard (LEFT and CENTER) and a Travel Lite 900SBSL (RIGHT).
LEFT: Corey Brown is a new hire at Travel Lite brought on to help Travel Lite meet their increasing demand. Here you see Corey selecting from Travel Lite’s library of side wall templates. Once he finds the template he needs, he puts it on his assembly table and begins to frame a new camper side wall.
CENTER: With all of the necessary wood pieces cut, Corey begins to build a side wall like a giant puzzle. He is constantly measuring, pencil marking, and remeasuring as the side wall comes together. If you look closely, you can see the pencil in his mouth and the measuring tape on the table.
Behind Corey you can see David Bond, Travel Lite’s new Plant Manager, talking to the team about the many quality control changes he is bringing to the company. Before working at Travel Lite, David ran the Ford Mustang plant in Detroit and another automotive supply company. David told us that he’s on a mission to make Travel Lite the quality standard for the truck camper industry.
RIGHT: As one of his last side wall building steps, Corey trims the excess materials from the side wall and routes out the windows. Once the side walls are completed, they are assembled with a matching floor from Shawn and a new camper is sent down the Travel Lite production line.
LEFT: After Corey and Shawn are done with floor and wall assembly, the camper rolls down the line to have its electrical and plumbing systems installed. Here Dana Morton runs the electrical wire through a Travel Lite 800 short bed camper.
CENTER: Lester Smith is another new hire at Travel Lite. On the production line, Lester installs gas lines and sets cabinetry.
RIGHT: As Dana runs the electrical wire, John Richardson installs the diamond plate under the camper wings. Not only does diamond plate give the camper a nice finished look, but it also protects the camper from potential damage during loading and unloading.
LEFT: The production line at Travel Lite was full and moving. When we were there, they were building two units a day and looking to move up to three as soon as possible.
CENTER: In this photograph, Melvin Hochstetler is installing the interior lighting on a Travel Lite 960 EXT. Melvin not only builds the hard side roofs at Travel Lite, but he also installs the roofs on the production line.
RIGHT: Once installed, a roof is wired before going to the next station to be skinned. Here Melvin is wiring up the stereo speakers, lights, and other wiring that travels through the roof. If you look closely, you can see that Travel Lite uses a bowed truss roof which helps water to run off the roof quicker than a traditional flat roof.
Travel Lite skins its campers in both aluminum and fiberglass. In these three photographs you see the Ignacio Leal, Francisco Leal, and Gustavo Pizano working as a team to add exterior trim to a Travel Lite 800. As you can see, the aluminum skin and molded fiberglass front cap has already been installed.
LEFT: The next camper down the line was ordered with fiberglass skin. In the photo on the left, you see Gustavo Pizano applying the adhesive that will hold the fiberglass skin in place.
CENTER: Once the camper is skinned in fiberglass, the windows and access panels are routed out. In the center photo you see Francisco Leal routing out windows.
RIGHT: As with the aluminum skinned camper, the fiberglass skinned camper also gets a molded fiberglass front nose cap. In the right photo, Ignacio Leal applies the trim that connects the front nose and side wall fiberglass together.
LEFT: In this photograph we see Tim Slone labeling a Travel Lite 700 as having completed final finishing. He’s looking at the build sheet to make sure he marks it with the correct information before sending it to the last station on the production line, quality control.
CENTER: Here Tim is installing the hardware on the cabinetry doors before installing them in the camper. Once a camper leaves Tim’s station, the interior is completed and ready for quality control inspection.
RIGHT: This photograph was taken from just outside the final finishing building. Liz Troyer is sealing the unit and making quality control adjustments. After Liz completes a camper, the camper is rolled out into the yard where Lindsey Johns puts the camper through a rigorous quality control inspection. Anything she finds that is not to her satisfaction is marked with red tape. The final finishing team then makes any necessary fixes after which Lindsey rechecks the camper prior to shipping.
There will be more to come from Travel Lite. We are especially interested to follow-up on the new pop-ups as more campers roll off the line. Since we missed seeing the pop-up campers in production, we’ve requested photographs next time they’re building the new campers. Look for these photographs and a few more interesting details from Travel Lite in the coming months.