Thursday, August 19, 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.

There is room on the frame for a generator if the customer wants to make the unit entirely self-sufficient. The customer can install his own generator if he wishes, or can order one installed by Excel.

There is a white tank set onto the trailer - that's for drinking water. The black tank is for sewer. The grey tank is for wash water. The water tanks are set over two layers of insulation. Heating ducts also channel warm air from the furnace into the water tank area, to keep things from freezing. "This is a standard feature for us," Dave says. "It is not standard in the industry." If the unit has thermo-pane windows, Excel guarantees the water tanks won't free up down to zero degrees outside temperature. Lower-line models without thermo-pane windows are intended for customers who are not going to live in them year around, including the cold weather.

The frame of the trailer is 2"x10" box steel. The box steel, Dave says, "is more resistant to twisting and buckling than I-beam or C-channel steel because there are two vertical pieces of steel instead of one. It makes a stronger frame."

"Our frame is a Z-frame," he says. "What he means is that the back piece of frame comes to within several feet of the front of the trailer, and the front piece starts under the back piece and extends out in front of it. This provides greater ground clearance in back, where you need it, and it brings the front down to reduce wind resistance. It also lowers the center of gravity for the trailer and results in less side to side momentum.

"The trailer is like a race car," Dave suggests, "in that you want it as low as you can reasonably get it." If the back end is too low, it will drag and hit the ground. Yet you want as little wind resistance as possible and the Z-frame is a good compromise.

"We've been using the Z-frame since 1991," he said.

The spare tire for the trailer gets tucked up in the frame at the back.

"We put a boat-receiver hitch on the frame as an option," Dave says. "We can do that because we have the box steel frame. Being able to hitch a boat to the trailer - that separates the strong frame trailers from the weak frames. We'll put the boat hitch option on any of our trailers."

The "Limited Edition" Excel is the classiest line the company makes. The "Classic" is one step down - the difference is in the cost of the trim - real oak versus oak-styled paper over a wood core. Both the Limited Edition and the Classic are intended to be set up in RV parks. The "RT" Excel is for "RV trekking." It is made less expensively, but it is just as strong as the higher-priced models. The RT goes places you wouldn't take the Limited Edition or the Classic, "although you never know where they're going to put them."

None of Excel's competitors put a boat hitch on their trailers in the RT's class, which shows how strongly the RT is made.

Competitors to Excel's Limited Edition and Classic models would be companies such as Teton and HitchHiker. At the RT level, Dave says, "there are a thousand different companies. We want to be known as the strongest-built in the price range. Some companies' trailers in the lower price range are cheapened in a lot of areas. We still want our trailer to have a lot of strength."

"We weld our own frames," Dave says, "and paint them in an electrostatic paint booth. We buy the axles, rims, and tires, and put them onto the frames ourselves. We use heavy duty tires on big rims. Most brands buy the chassis frame. We build them ourselves."

Wilson Performance Flooring is standard in the Limited Edition Excel, linoleum for the Classic and RT models. An extra thick padding is used under the carpet in the trailers, to give the feel of home carpet.

The water-lines in the trailer run through the heat ducts. "Other brands build a sub-floor for the water-lines," Dave says. "I've never heard of our water-lines freezing up. This is what separates the cold weather trailers from the non-cold weather trailers."

It's what separates the real thing from the wannabes, I would say.

To be continued....


AUGUST 19, 1998

Why does a place need its poet? The poet names things. Who names things is the poet, whatever those around should call him, or her. The poet allows us to see this place, and to pick up pieces of it to carry with us. If we could not do that, all places would be the same to us; we would be like the animals.

Another cool morning. I am told it's supposed to get hot and August-like this week, but we haven't seen it yet. What I am getting as actual I much prefer to any forecast - even if it's a 100 degrees, even if it's rain. Stop talking about it. Show me the money. Move it or milk it, as we used to say in Iowa, pretending that the other fellow ought to get his cow out of our way.

It must have spit just a little rain last night - there is evidence of it on the windshield and the hood of the pick-up - but not much. A greyness rolls away, riffles on the dark pond, a breeze in the trees and bushes. There should be a taste of lilacs in the air on a morning like this, but of course it is much too late in the season.

A truck full of sweet corn heads into the village. The swallows flying at Weinkauf's are perhaps discussing the possibility of rain. A neighbor - fired from his job where I work - passes me heading north to another job wherever. His wife has left him. For another woman, he tells the people in the bars. A helicopter is spraying sweet corn right along Highway E; it pivots right above the road, right in front of me, drops down behind the power lines and sprays some more.

Some mornings I think every word should be a poem. Some mornings I know better. Today I sit on the edge of the razor contemplating the smoothness of its cut.

They are painting their ladies again, the owners of those old Victorian houses on Watson Street in Ripon.

Sometimes what you get is what you make of it.

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