Wednesday, August 18, 2004


I have been touring the Excel plant (Peterson Industries) which sits at the north edge of Smith Center along Highway 36. My tour guide is Dave Rorabaugh, the company's western sales rep. We've been walking through the plant so I can see how Excel's travel trailers get put together.

We're watching a fellow put lumber through a computerized saw. "All the pieces are cut exactly the same," Dave says. "This is good work for the computer to do. It lets us put people where judgment is needed, in installation."

The lumber coming off the saw is bundled and tagged and stacked on a skid. The tag tells others what the wood has been cut for and where it is to be used. This pallet holds wood for one left-side wall. That pallet has the wood for a right-side wall. Left and right are different because doors and windows go in different places.

The pieces of wood get laid out in a jig to make the side wall; they get stapled together, then screwed together, then glued together. "They are held together three ways," Dave notes.

"The first side wall in a run is actually the jig for the next ones," Dave says. I see that now.

In the next area, a fellow is insulating the side wall. He's up on a table where the side wall is laid out and is stuffing insulation in every nook and cranny. "A lot of manufacturers use foam board between the studs for insulation," Dave says. "We want insulation stuffed in fully, no voids. We can stuff any design easily this way. Like these trapezoid shapes where the nose of the trailer drops down."

"With metal in the wall, you get condensation," Dave says. "Wood is flexible. Wood moves and returns to its original shape. Aluminum would spring - once it's bent, it's bent."

"Wood doesn't transfer energy," he notes. "If an area gets damaged, the damage is pretty much confined to that one area."

The fellow putting the insulation into place also installs the wiring into the walls. Then he applies a half-inch bead of glue to the exposed wood surfaces and puts a fiberglass sheet into place. Then the entire wall is slid on rollers into a press for an hour and a half of heavy pressure. "When the glue is set up," Dave says, "that bond is the strongest point of the trailer. If you take a sledge hammer to the wall, the wood will break before that bond releases."

"We use positive pressure instead of vacuum pressure," Dave says. "Other manufacturers apply a thin film of adhesive and use vacuum pressure to bond the fiberglass in place. Heat will separate that bond."

"We're the only manufacturer that uses the positive pressure adhesive for the side wall," he says.

The shape of the Excel trailer drops down towards the rear - "to reduce wind drag," Dave says, "and to reduce heat rise in cold weather."

"Our trailer has a more aerodynamic shape than a box doing down the road," he says by way of implicit criticism of other designs.

Once the glue of the side wall has set up in the press, the next fellow in line routes out openings in the fiberglass where windows, doors, and slide-outs will be located. This isn't a computerized operation but is done by hand. The fellow follows the outline of the lumber for each opening. The fiberglass cut out of the side wall is retained and gets cut to become storage doors. Laminated for foam board, the scrap gets transformed into the highest quality storage doors in the industry, Dave says. "We couldn't buy storage doors as thick as we wanted them, so we had to build them ourselves. And there's no way we could ship enough of these doors in here from someplace else."

"It's just more efficient for us to put our scrap to other uses," he says.

"That's one thing Vaughn does here," Dave adds. "He'll come through the plant looking at the efficiency of the operation, asking what can we do better."

Once the openings have been cut out of the side wall and rubber seals put into place, the wall is allowed to stand, to let the glue cure entirely. The "L" shape on the edge of the slide-out room locks into a rubber seal of the wall and keeps both moisture and air from entering the trailer.

We're looking at a slide-out. "This is an entertainment center," Dave says, "TV, computer, telephone all go here."

The slide-outs move in and out of the trailer on steel rollers set high enough to keep the bottom of the slide-out from dragging on the carpet.

The trailer frames are fabricated in a line coming in at a right angle. We are looking at one of the frames now. This one is nearly ready to get put together with the side walls. The next one farther back needs more work yet; farther back, someone is attaching axles to a frame and putting tires on. Farther down the line than I can see, someone is welding frames together.

To be continued....


AUGUST 18, 1998

It rained yesterday in the morning; it rained good before it was done. The sky wanted to clear in the afternoon and by evening it was steaming. It was cool during the night, somewhat grey this morning.

I think perhaps the reason we don't pay much attention to the greater world beyond us - there is plenty here close at hand to be concerned of. I've often said government should be no bigger than as far as you can see - township size, perhaps. There is plenty in the village and the town to worry over, we don't need to concern ourselves so much with what our President did or didn't do. We have our schools to take care of, the village water works, the flow of water in our Grand River. Let those with nothing local to do bird dog the distant, low-impact concerns. We'll let the national press fret for us, so we can do our work here.

I remember when the "Camp David Accord" was signed, the news people were interviewing the locals in town right outside Camp David - What was the effect of this historic agreement on their lives? "Don't affect us none, day to day, as far as I can see. The whole conflict don't affect us none." The interviewer expressed his superiority by being appalled with such responses.

Clean water, clean air, good schools, a place to put our garbage. Rain or lack of rain, good markets, a fair price. If you're talking about anything else, you might be wasting your breath.

A sour morning - the smell of canning factory waste water drifting on the day, all the way to my driveway.

"She opens like a cut" is the sentence I get as I drive out of town. What does that mean; and why would I save a sentence like that?

In the distance, the grey sky is streaked in layers, like a bad watercolor - again. How can what looks like bad art be our reality?

Zen day.

I have be-
come lost

in sky. How
can I

say any-
thing? What

little wind
there is

is enough.

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