It was aluminum skinned like an Airstream, had panoramic windows in front and old-fashioned white-wall tires and fancy curved fenders. I pulled the golf cart over and
assaulted them with politely asked them questions which they were happy to answer.
The maker was Camp-Inn, their model was the 560 “Raindrop”, and the factory for these distinctive teardrops was located…. get this…. in Necedah, WI, only 45 minutes away from my parent’s house. My parents whom I was planning on visiting next month. To not tour the factory while I was visiting would have been a crime.
So I made an appointment and went out last Thursday (the 16th) and see the place.
Much like the Casita factory, when you enter there are two models on display in a showroom that you are welcome to crawl inside and poke and prod.
Casitas are well designed and built little travel trailers that hold their value and yet are still reasonably affordable. The quality is pretty good, but they can’t be considered top-of-the-line or luxury (like Oliver for instance).
While I haven’t looked into teardrops as thoroughly as I have molded fiberglass trailers, from inspecting the models I feel like Camp-Inn fits into that top-of-the-line category. These little guys look made to last. Casita won’t let visitors into their actual factory which made me a bit sad when I visited three weeks ago, the folks at Camp-Inn on the other hand were eager to show me what went on behind their doors. In fact Cary, the gentleman who led my parents and I on the tour, is co-owner of the company. Talk about getting information straight from the horse’s mouth.
Like Casita, Camp-Inns are more or less made to order, there is one RV store out in Maine that stocks some. Unlike Casita, there is a lot of flexibility and room for customization. There are three body shapes: the 500, which is a 8 foot teardrop shaped with square undercarriage corners, and come with only the essentials: no propane, or water, no front storage box, no front windows, and only one door. What many people think of, when they think of a teardrop.
The 550 adds the two front windows, rounded corners, a second door, and the capacity for electricity, propane, and water depending on which model you want (there are four: Base, Special, Classic, and Ultra). The 560 is called a raindrop instead of a traditional teardrop. It’s 10 feet long and has a different shape in front, adding a couch with panoramic windows to yield a bit more living space inside when the weather isn’t so good outside. All three have the kitchen galley in back that you access from outside and are not tall enough to stand up in inside.
While you get different options and amenities with each of the four models, you’re welcome to pick and choose options outside of them. For instance the 550 Special comes with electricity (battery, 120V and 12V outlets, and shore power capability), a top row of open cabinets without doors, and no front storage box. The 550 Classic comes with electricity, propane (11lb bottle and stove w/ backsplash in the galley), water (fresh tank, grey tank, and a sink), doors on the upper cabinets, and the front storage box. You can say you want the Special, but with the storage box and cabinet doors added, or you can say you want the Classic, but without the plumbing, and the price will be adjusted accordingly to give you exactly what features you want.
Camp-Inn sources out the metal work from other specialized businesses, but does all of the wood-working in house. Cary shows us with pride the machine they obtained in the past few years that cuts the wood pieces out with exacting precision. Camp-Inns have a yellow birch (looks like red maple) interior with three different paneling options to choose from to compliment it – no particle board to be found here. The factory is clean and organized with speakers chiming out an eclectic and amusing mix of music while we get shown around.
After the wood parts are cut out, it gets put together and starts looking like a RV. I see a room with the wood frame mounted on something that looks like a giant rotisserie spit. Here the wood pieces get sanded down and inspected. Three workers stand in the room, one of them is Craig – the other co-owner. He’s looking closely at one corner and having a intense discussion with the workers about some detail. Cary tells me he’s something of a perfectionist and personally inspects each trailer at this point in construction. He seems like the back-end man who makes sure the quality is in place, where Cary does more of the front-end work.
The operation isn’t very big and it’s a tight-nit group. The employees seem happy with what they’re doing, and have a good relationship with Cary and Craig. A former employee stops in and Cary and him have a quick friendly chat. I’ve found over the years that the employees can tell you a lot about how good a company is, and if what I’ve seen in the workshop is any indication, Camp-Inn does right by it’s employees.
After the rotisserie room comes the big floor. Five rows of teardrops are lined up, the row at the back of the room being little more than a shell, and the row at the front looking nearly complete. Employees are assigned to one or two rows, getting specifics jobs done. Again, we are welcome to inspect the trailers in their various stages of completion, and ask questions.
At the front of the big floor lies a smaller storage room, lined with finished teardrops waiting to be picked up. Tucked away in a far corner of this room are two trailers that look different from the others, and I ask Cary about them.
The first is #0, the first teardrop prototype Cary and Craig put together by hand in ’00/’01. It’s part aluminum, and part wooden exterior, and the door isn’t evenly cut. They’ve come a long way since then, actual production started in earnest in 2005.
The second is #500, the 500th teardrop Camp-Inn made, which wasn’t an order for a customer but an experiment to try different things. It has a beautiful wooden inlay in the galley cabinets, mahogany paneling, and the front sofa is leather bound – all features customers can order today. Some things didn’t work out so well and weren’t made into options, like the curved cabinets in the body of the trailer.
Camp-Inn celebrated its 700th trailer last November. Today, about 50% of teardrops they manufacture are 550’s, and half are 560’s. It takes about 5-7 weeks to build each teardrop, and builds are usually scheduled 6 months in advance (business is good).
After the tour, I shake hands with Cary and thank him for the two hours he spent showing us around. What a neat operation!
* * *
I bet I know the question on many of your minds now: am I thinking of selling Cas and buying a Camp-Inn?
The short answer is: possibly, but if so, it wouldn’t happen for a while yet.
As I’ve mentioned briefly on a few different occasions, I am entertaining the idea of downsizing to a smaller RV, but I still think the decision I made three years ago when I bought my Casita was (and continues to be) the best decision I could have made, for the way I currently full-time.
As long as I’m work-camping for a living, I’m going to want a vehicle separate from my living quarters so that I can commute to and from my job, and run errands and take trips without having to pack up everything (a small towable instead of a small motorhome). Work-camping places also usually want you for a whole season, the beginning and end of which are not likely to have the best of weather, so having enough space inside to perform daily tasks is key – I wouldn’t want to be cooking outdoors in a teardrop kitchen up in Yellowstone this spring and fall for instance, because there’s the real possibility I’d have to do it in the snow.
That being said, I believe Camp-Inns would make good full-time RVs for people in the right circumstance. In fact, I joined the unofficial Camp-Inn forum and found four people (two individuals, one couple) that do full-time in their Camp-Inn teardrop.
The second question you have likely revolves around the cost, which is tricky to pin down when there are so many different options to choose from. The 500 starts at $9,000, and if you want a 560 with everything, you could probably get up to $25,000 (the cost of a new 17′ Casita with everything). That being said, you’re getting a teardrop with unheard of build quality and more features and options (Furnace, air conditioning, TV, solar capability, roof rack, torsion flex axle, spare tire, screen doors, hitch for a bike rack, custom designed side tent, commercial grade stove, fully dim-able lights with an amber setting) than any other teardrop manufacturer out there that I know of. From what I saw in the factory I’d say the price is plenty fair, although of course it isn’t the right option for every potential full-timer.
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