Travelogue: The RV Experience
I headed down to the Winnebago Industries facility in Forest City, Iowa to check them out and take one of their RVs out for a weekend away.
What is a recreational vehicle?
Good question! Not because we have some idea of what one is. It is a matter of being surprised of what is considered one these days.
First, you have two types of RVs – towable and motorized. The towable ones are the camper trailers you see being towed by heavy duty full-sized pickup trucks of varying lengths. They also include the small pop-up campers that can be towed by a compact SUV. The motorized ones can range from ones that are built on a bus chassis with all of the amenities of a upscale home to a van conversion.
An RV is designed to be a home away from home. A means to take on an adventure somewhere far afield with spaces for sleeping, cooking, cleaning up, and simply chilling out. Depending on the budget you want to spend defines whether you are “glamping” (a term for luxury camping) or just roughing it.
Earlier this year, I wrote up an article in Lavender that gave its readers a primer on RV Life. In addition to interviewing a local couple who occasionally go out and use their trailer when they can, I laid out a few things about what to look for in an RV. The folks at GoRVing.com liked that article so much, they invited me to experience one for myself.
After months of planning, I headed down to the Winnebago Industries facility in Forest City, Iowa to check them out and take one of their RVs out for a weekend away at an RV park some 22 miles away near Clear Lake.
The name Winnebago should be familiar a lot of us here in the USA. It is one of the most recognizable brands in the RV business. They began in Forest City in 1958 and has grown to where they are today including the 2018 acquisition of Chris-Craft Corporation – another iconic recreational brand among leisure boats.
Back in the 1970s, you saw more RVs with the big W on the side than any other on the road. They popularized smaller RVs built off of cab-chassis versions of full-sized vans – namely the Dodge B-Series – called the Minnie Winnie.
My Uncle Phil – mom’s brother – had either a Chieftain or a Brave motorhome – a huge thing that reminded us of the good life when you’re making a ton of money to pursue a life of recreational travel. His Winnebago came into play when my brother and I were in Scouting.
The model I worked with is called the Solis. Winnebago calls this a camper van, as it is basically a Ram ProMaster converted into a mobile living space. This is their smallest motorized RV they offer.
Calling a full-sized van “small” is a relative nod to the products Winnebago offers its RV enthusiasts.
The Solis rides on the Ram’s 159-inch wheelbase and is built from a High Roof model. You can choose between two vehicle lengths – 59P or 59PX, corresponding to the ProMaster’s own length options. The interior height is six-foot-three-inches tall – just tall enough for me to stand up inside of it. My tester was the 59PX with the longer body and roof-mounted air conditioning unit.
The ProMaster part is powered by a Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 sending power through the ZF-designed nine-speed automatic transmission, driving the front wheels. Winnebago adds all of the interior components and a few windows along the sides.
To meet the Solis, I drove down in (another) rented 2022 Toyota Corolla to Forest City. Upon arrival, I had lunch with a few folks to talk about Winnebago and the RV industry at large. Winnebago still is a major player the RV market with wide name recognition, even if the vehicles no longer wear the large “flying W” on the side anymore.
Afterwards, I was given the tour of Winnebago’s production lines. I kept my jaw intact when I saw how amazing their assembly lines work. They work on custom vehicles and can do several models on the same line. I was stunned to see that the Class A motorcoaches had their engine up front – the gas-fueled ones had the big Ford V8 motors.
The Class A motorcoaches were not the ones that astounded me. The other line at Forest City’s sprawling manufacturing campus produces the Class C motorcoaches, built from the cab/chassis of some familiar vans. I was happy to see that the Minnie Winnie is still being produced. They ride on the cab/chassis of the Ford E-Series, a vehicle that is surprisingly still in production. I saw other models built off of the Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
Winnebago pride themselves on quality and built techniques that speak to their rigidity and customization. There’s no argument from me.
Then, I was given the once-over of the Solis. There’s so much to absorb from making sure there’s water in the tank, dumping the toilet cassette into the sewer, the electrical hook-up, how to put together the Murphy Bed, swiveling the cab’s seats into a common seating area, and so forth.
That is where you admire the ingenuity of the packaging inside the Solis. Winnebago made an RV for a solo traveler, as well as an adventurous couple. More adventurous folks can step up the overlanding-ready Revel, based off of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4X4.
But, this story is all about the Solis…and my experience inside of an RV by myself…let’s move on.
After collecting the Solis, I headed to a grocery store in Clear Lake. I stocked up on what I figured I could cook on the stove. After all, Winnebago added pots, pans, utensils, paper plates, and such. All I needed was food, right?
A few miles later, I arrived at the Oakwood RV Park on the south side of Clear Lake. It was a simple layout with slots that feature direct electrical hookups, a water port, and a sewer drain. There is a picnic table next to the parking slot. Everyone has access to a “bathhouse,” where you can shower, use the toilet, and change away from your RV. There is a church and a playground for the kids on the grounds, as well.
Did I mention that the RV Park had Wi-Fi? Plus, a good mobile signal?
It took a while to do everything that was shown to me on the Solis. Setting up the Murphy Bed was easy. As was plugging in the cable from the electrical box to the Solis. That took a while, as I realized that I would need such a plug-in to charge up the devices.
I will admit being a noob about doing this. Yet, there were some helpful folks who did get me on my way to enjoying these two nights inside the Solis.
The first night saw temperatures dip below freezing. A sign that fall has snapped in the Midwest. The RV Park shut off the pipes overnight, which delayed my filling the water in the Solis. I was fine with that, because this first night was about settling into the Solis as a place to sleep and relax.
There was a twist to this plot. Not sure if you heard – or read – that I was hospitalized last month due to a toe infection on my left foot. And, that I have been dealing with a spinal cord issue at my neck. So, I was not 100% healthy to do this. However, the challenge is whether to take an RV out to manage these health issues. That is part of the story.
To answer that challenge, I was able to get through this. Not perfectly, but my energy was up because I was doing something completely out of my own routine. That alone is a victory.
The Solis made all of this easy, once everything was put into motion. Sleeping was fine, although I had to make some compensation for being as tall as I am. A sleeping bag served as a mattress above the cushions of the Murphy Bed, while I assembled some sheets and a comforter for a good night’s sleep.
It also helped to turn off the external air conditioner and put the onboard heater to use. Again, making things comfortable as the world turned cold outside.
Plus, I had my traveling companion – Boomer. As big and bulky as he is, my drum helped to keep the energy of the space from being too chaotic. Boomer’s energy was needed this weekend.
An RV tip I will offer: Bring a musical instrument – a portable one, like a guitar or a hand drum. You don’t need to play it volume. However, it will give you something to do if you are at rest from a day’s worth of activity.
Unlike the rest of the campers at the RV Park, the Solis can be driven off the site for excursions or errands. In my case, it was the latter. I had to run into Mason City for a couple of items I forgot to take. That also turned into lunch and a haircut. You know, the necessities.
Winnebago offers some nice amenities to make things livable inside the Solis. For the windows of the cab, you can set up privacy shades to keep prying eyes from seeing inside when you’re inside. The propane-fueled stove came in handy for cooking, as long as you open up the sliding side door for proper ventilation. And, the refrigerator is always on to keep things cold.
Lights are abundant inside of the Solis. There are two under-cabinet reading lights for the moments before nodding off to sleep. Yet, there are some other “night lights” that are on towards the cab. That helped in the middle of the night when someone had to use the toilet inside the Solis.
Back at the RV Park, I had the chance to rest, relax, listen to some of the Wild Card Series via my phone, write, tap on Boomer a bit. Things to let the time roll through on a cool fall Saturday.
There were some things I had to adhere to. The RV Park can allow visitors, but they have to leave by 10:00 PM. That is also when the RV Park goes into quiet mode. You can do some things inside your RV, but please keep very quiet. That quiet time is lifted the next morning at 8:00 AM.
Sunday was my day to check out of the RV Park. I kept quiet to pack up and get the Solis back into a presentable state upon return. It was rather easy to do. Flip the Murphy Bed up into the side, make sure things were put back where they were when I got the RV, and pack up my bags. The only things I needed to do outside was to unplug the electrical connection and dump the waste in the toilet cartridge down the sewer.
After doing so, I off after 8:00 AM to grab breakfast, fuel up, transfer my stuff back into the rented Corolla, and handed the keys of the Solis back to Winnebago.
Based on my experience with this RV, let me break it all down for you. GoRVing.com wants to encourage you to try the RV Life at least once If you like it the first time, you can do it again. It is for those of us who want adventure and bring it closer to your life. No need to pitch tents or absolutely roughing it. Everything is right there within the confines of an RV.
Also, there are many choices on which RV is right for you. Take the time and size things up. Not everyone is going to get a Class A motorhome. That alone takes skill to operate and is quite expensive to do so. However, if you can drive a full-sized van, then the Class B or C RV is right for you. They’re easier to maneuver, park, and use. Plus, you get everything you need inside.
However, you can look at towable RVs if you happen to have the right rig to trailer it. Just make sure that the RV fit well within 75% of your maximum trailering capacity for your vehicle. The less weight to the tow around – the better for your vehicle and your RV.
One more tip: When you get your RV, learn how to use everything on it. Try it after the demonstration. That includes setting the water tank, using the sewer connection or cassette toilet, hooking up the electric, and other functions. Plus, learning how to safely cook with a propane stove and when to use the onboard generator.
Simply put: Be prepared before you set off in an RV.
These tips are just the beginning of a growing lifestyle where one does not need to be home to make themselves at home. If all you need is an RV to discover a new way to travel, check one out and head off into adventure.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Winnebago Industries. Logistics courtesy of GoRVing.com, along with Victory & Reseda
All photos by Randy Stern