Fuel Stops

fuelstop

After our little adventure with being locked inside our coach, we were a bit tentative in terms of how to operate the door of our coach. On our return leg from the Hershey RV show, we were a bit nervous every time we went to open the door from the inside.

We now understand what caused the door mechanism to jam: we must unlock the door first before trying to open it. We just did not learn that until after we got back home.

Refueling a large coach like the Castaway means planning ahead. Most gas stations are too tight for a coach our size. We generally look for a Flying J on our route and we make our fuel stop there. We have gone into the truck stops and used the fueling stations there but it is a bit of a different experience.

Here is a short video of me leaving the RV fueling station at the New Milford, Pennsylvania Flying J:

I find the Flying Js to be a lot calmer than the truck stops. We have a Flying J credit card which allows us to pay at the pump and we get a small discount off the cost of fuel. Most of the truck stops require a pay first, pump after protocol. I also find the RV lanes at the Flying J to be cleaner than the truck stops. In the truck lanes there is usually a lot of spillage around the pump area.

One thing that I have learned when fueling the Castaway is to watch out when topping up the tank. I make an educated guess as to how much fuel I need for the coach and I ease back considerably on the pump when I get close to that estimate. My first time out I filled at a truck stop and I had the fuel spill out all over me. This was due to the higher pressure for the pump and the tendency for the diesel fuel to foam. By the time the tank had filled there was simply too much fuel still on its way. It spilled all over my hands and feet.

The smell of diesel stays on you for quite a while.

I now use disposable gloves when I fill the tank. I add fuel from the side of the coach well behind the fuel cap as opposed to directly in front of it. And I am fine to be close to a full tank. Not completely full. Not over full. Just close enough.

Hershey RV Show Takeaways

trek

What did we learn from our two days at the Hershey RV show? Plenty.

The Crowds: RVs are Popular Again

This was the entrance area into the show on the Saturday.

Crowded

By the time early Saturday afternoon came along, it was virtually impossible to get into most of the coaches. The show was jammed. The parking lot was jammed. The seminars were jammed. Too many people.

From a recent article on Yahoo Finance:

After RV shipments dropped to a 30-year low in the downturn of the late 2000s, demand is stronger than ever, says Pete Reeb, principal at California-based John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

In fact, the demand for RVs is insatiable: There will be a record number of RV shipments this year, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). We haven’t seen these levels since the late 1970s. RVIA estimates that over 400,000 RVs will ship in 2016. Currently, there are about 9 million RVs on the road in the US, and an estimated 8% to 9% of all US households now own an RV.

rviashipments

 

If we look at the S&P 500 over the same period, there seems to be a fairly close relationship of RV sales to stock market performance.

sp500

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association makes a couple of interesting points:

Wholesale RV shipments are projected to total 396,400 units by the end of 2016, an increase of six percent over the 374,200 units shipped in 2015. Moreover, 2017 will mark the eighth consecutive year of growth for the industry with shipments predicted to reach 404,800 units. Both of these yearly totals are well above the quarter century record of 390,362 units in 2006.

Why?

The record increases in RV sales are also being fueled by a receptive marketplace.  The baby-boom generation has long been the mainstay for the RV industry, and increasing numbers of millennials have begun to enter the market place.  Each and every day 11,000 baby-boomers turn 65, and another 12,000 millennials turn 35.  Each of these generations, as well as GenXers, share core RV values and value the experience of outdoor family recreation.

“Consumers are flocking to the RV market thanks to a combination of baby boomers hitting the road and younger families desiring to break from gadgets and reclaim the American outdoor way of life,” said RVIA President Frank Hugelmeyer. “RV travel and camping helps them strengthen family relationships, enjoy outdoor adventures and be active.”

Even some of the fulltimers we follow are seeing a change:

I don’t know how many of these RVers are full-timers or post-retirement, but based on the feeble number of empty spots I see in campgrounds I can well believe it’s growing. RV’s are gaining ground, but the number of campsites stay the same so it seems harder and harder to find easy openings.

I see the increase in popularity as a good thing. Demand will drive supply. Eventually.

Full-time is Hip: More and More People Looking to Ditch their Sticks and Bricks

We sat in on two seminars where this topic kept coming up: the rise of interest in full-time rving. One seminar described it as an incredible level of interest in full-timing or extending timing. We will probably wind up in the latter category of extended timing in our coach. Our plan right now is to keep a property in Canada as our home base and travel as widely as we can, particularly during the colder seasons. Not sure if extended timing is as hip as full-timing. I guess we’ll find out.

One of the seminars claimed that over 1,500 people a month were joining the ranks of those full-timing in their RVs. It was also hinted at that this number is the one that gets reported and the reality might be a lot higher.

Still, based on a population of roughly 325 million people in the United States, 20 – 40 thousand people a year is not exactly a raging tide of retirees seeking to travel across North America full-time in their RV. There are roughly 116 million households in the United States so even 9 million RVs on the road represents about an 8 percent ownership by household. Good but quite a bit less than the 240 million or so cars and trucks on the road.

Motorcoaches are Pricey

A high quality diesel motorcoach seems to start at around $300,000 USD and can go up from there dramatically. A nicely equipped Newell or Prevost will set you back millions of dollars. Clearly the bulk of the RV industry is not focused on higher end coaches like our Castaway. According to the RVIA, less than 6 percent of all RVs sold in 2015 were Class A. And I suspect that Diesel Pushers represented an even smaller portion of those Class A sales.

Motorcoaches are Pricey and Nice

There is no doubt that most of the motorcoaches we looked at, whether from Newmar, Tiffin, Entegra, or American Coach, were expensive and also very nicely finished. We love our Newmar but we were also quite impressed with many of the coaches at the show.

Not Enough Toys

Surprisingly enough, there wasn’t as much variety in terms of accessories for RVs. Very little choice of Tire Pressure Management Systems — we could only find one vendor — and very little choice in things like dash cams and other types of products. The Hershey RV show was primarily focused on selling RVs. We did pick up a few odds and ends on our shopping list while we were at the show. The balance will be sourced off Amazon.

Caravan

caravan

Although we spent most of the first day touring coaches at the Hershey RV show, we also spent a few hours going through the various booths that offer products and services for RV owners.

This is one of the display areas at the show:

HersheyBooths

It was here that we spent about 30 or 40 minutes talking with Chris from Fantasy RV Tours. She and her husband Vern are travel ambassadors for that company and they serve as WagonMasters or TailGunners on a caravan.

Chris and Vern live in their RV full-time. They are also in a Dutch Star.

Although I know part of our interaction was focused on getting us to sign up for a rally or a caravan, we spent a lot of the time talking about how to live the latter part of our lives. Chris is approaching her late 60s — I think she said she was 68 — whereas Lorraine and I turn 60 in a few months time.

Chris was very passionate about the need to reinvent yourself as you get older and to follow your dreams before it gets too late.

She gave me a gift that afternoon, a gift of clarity of purpose and of focus and passion in terms of the adventures ahead. Chris and Vern were living their dreams. Not everyone can do that.

We are not sure if we will sign up for a caravan or not. A caravan can be defined this way:

Caravans are comprised of a group of independent RV Travelers who join a professional tour with a pre-planned travel itinerary including reservations for camping, events, excursions and selected meals. The independent travelers meet at a predetermined ‘Rally Point’ and become a group – guided by professional teams, WagonMaster & TailGunner, we collectively call Travel Ambassadors. Generally speaking, our groups travel between the teams – but not in convoy. As a guest you are able to choose the stops along the route that interest you – knowing that your TailGunner is behind the last traveler and will stop to assist anyone along the route that needs it. Each planned destination you arrive at will have a campsite waiting, and planned events secured prior to your arrival. Additionally, our Travel Ambassadors are available to assist you with optional activities in the area that are not included in the scheduled itinerary to make the most of your vacation.

Chris suggested that we try a rally first. A rally is simply a single meeting place from where organized events take place. As we are members of Newmar Kountry Klub, we will probably just take advantage of one of their rallies next year. The cost is very reasonable and we can get a feel as to whether we would try a tour operator’s rally or caravan.

Although if all of the travel ambassadors are like Chris, I think we would have a great time travelling in one of their caravans.

Newmar at the Hershey RV Show

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Our first day at the Hershey RV show focused on coaches. The crowds were light and it made it easy to spend time on the models that we wanted to see.

Of course we wanted to spend time at the Newmar section of the show. And, much to our surprise, we bumped into John and Michelle from Newmar.

Not that we had ever met them before. No, we met them through this video:

We had watched this video dozens of times while we were waiting for our coach to be built and delivered. When we saw them in real life, it was almost as though we were meeting some old friends.

They were both very generous with their time and both really nice people genuinely interested in our ownership experience.

We also made some new friends in one of the Dutch Stars, Jake and Lydia, a wonderful couple from Pennsylvania. They own a 2015 Dutch Star and we began sharing a lot of stories about our ownership experience, the differences between Canadians and Americans, the American election as well as a number of other topics. Another couple joined in, Lynn and Debbie, and, before we knew it, a couple of hours had passed.

This was one of the highlights of our day. I’m not sure if we will connect again with Jake and Lydia, I hope that we do, and I am not sure if Lynn and Debbie elected to purchase a Dutch Star. I do know that great conversation with delightful people is an enriching experience.

Window Shopping at the Hershey RV Show

Our plan was to attend the Hershey RV show Friday and Saturday.

We arrived on Friday to a pretty quiet day at the show. We were there from 10am until about 7pm. Long day but we had a lot of fun.

I’ll spend a bit of time posting about our window shopping first. The Hershey RV was our opportunity to relook at a number of coaches and to see if we had any tinge of buyer’s remorse. The short answer? None whatsoever. Although there was one coach that was very tempting.

There are four coaches that compete very closely: Entegra, Tiffin, American Coach and Newmar. Sure, there are other coaches from Thor, Fleetwood and Winnebago, but realistically, those four coaches would be at the top of our shopping list if we were looking to buy this year.

Having lived in the Castaway since June and having run the coach on several long road trips, we have more than a bit of a feel for the Newmar product. We love it and if we were to make a purchase decision today, we would still go with the Newmar Dutch Star. It is a wonderful coach and the Newmar support has been terrific.

Entegra was a strong candidate for us last year. Going through the coaches at the show this year, I could see why. The Entegra products offer a lot for the dollar. Now, I could nitpick on a number of items with the Entegra coaches, which is true for all of these coaches as not one is perfect, but the main issue for us was the floorplan. We could not find a floorplan we really loved in a 40-foot coach in the Entegra line. I’m not sure what impact the Thor acquisition may have on the Entegra line. Most M&A activities are conducted to build scale and lower costs. I guess we will have to wait and see what, if anything, this acquisition might due to the Entegra customer base. What that acquisition concern us if we were buying this year? Hard to say.

For us, the Tiffin line was nice but not to our liking. Again primarily due to floorplans in a 40-foot coach. We had quickly ruled their products out of the running last year when we were going through our finalist list. The one and only dealer in Ontario, McPhail’s of Harriston, was a significant distance from our home. And then there was a lot of online feedback about required trips to Red Bay, Alabama to deal with warranty items.

As we went through the Entegra and Tiffin coaches, we were reassured in our decision to buy the Castaway from Newmar.

That said, the American Coach products were very impressive. We really liked the American Dream. Beautiful coach and a really nice floorplan albeit at 42 feet and just a wee bit more expensive than the Dutch Star. Okay, maybe a lot more expensive. Very nice coach.

Oh, and I did find my Basecamp at the show. Such a cool little travel trailer.

airstreambasecamp

Lots more to share about the Hershey RV show so stay tuned.