A La Grande camper manufacturer is making the most of down time it’s had to take recently because of poor market conditions.
DETAIL MAN: Robbie Shells of Eagle Cap Campers puts some finishing touches on the exterior of a prototype of the company’s new 711 model. Observer photos/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
Eagle Cap Campers, one of the three struggling RV makers doing business in the Grande Ronde Valley, has designed two smaller, lighter, less-expensive models of campers and plans to start producing them early this year.
It’s hoped the new campers, the Eagle Cap 711 and 890, added to the line of larger campers, will catch the fancy of consumers who are holding tight to their money in the midst of recession.“With this fluctuating economy and the price of gas, people don’t want to buy a new truck. A lot of them want to use their smaller existing truck. These campers will fit in the bed of a Ford F-150,” said Mony Pen, Eagle Cap’s general manager.
Eagle Cap, owned by Canadian businessman Chris Epp, is in the same boat these days as Northwood Manufacturing and Fleetwood, the other companies that make recreational vehicles locally.
Production has ground to a standstill. Most workers are idle, hoping to be called back after the holidays. At Eagle Cap, only a handful of the 75-80 workers usually employed are on the job now.
Epp recently closed his other camper-making company, Okanagan, for good. He decided, however, that Eagle Cap has a future.
Small, lightweight campers have long been popular with Canadian buyers, and Eagle Cap’s new mission is to build them.
Three months ago, Pen, Sales Manager Gary Hubbard and others set to work designing the 711 and 890. Their marching orders were to improve on the quality of similar lightweight models that Okanagan produced.
“We took blueprints from the Canadian company and made modifications, designing them the way we think it should be,” said Hubbard.
Added Pen, “They have their way in Canada and we have our way here. We Americanized the plans.”
The 711, weighing between 1,450 and 1,600 pounds, has a floor length of 7 feet, 11 inches and is offered in both a long and short box configuration. Wood frame construction is covered by watertight, high gloss gel-coated fiberglass.
Interior features include hardwood-trimmed cabinets, hand-upholstered valances, pleated shades, and lightweight counter and table tops. There is a bathroom but no shower.
The camper is equipped with a furnace. Air conditioning is optional. Other options include a water heater and outside shower, and a full range with oven.
The cab-over sleeping area includes a cabinet on each side of the mattress, and the entry step to the cab-over area is fully carpeted.
The camper comes with many standard features including a sealed locking battery box, city water and water fill doors, exterior lighting and more.
Overall, the Eagle Cap executives are confident they’ve designed a camper that will make even the most budget-conscious road warrior happy.
“It looks and feels like an Eagle Cap camper,” said Hubbard. “We’ve got a reputation for building high-quality products, and we don’t want that to end.”
So far, Eagle Cap workers have built two 711s. They have just begun work on a prototype 890, which is configured much the same but is slightly longer and includes a shower in its standard offerings.
Pen said the 711 will retail for under $16,000, the 890 a little more. The campers are already drawing attention within the industry, according to Hubbard.
“We’ve had a lot of inquiries and some orders. Dealers want to see it,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard said he is hitting the road this month to show the 711 off to dealers.
Eagle Cap hopes to resume operations the first week of January, though Pen can’t say how many workers will be called back initially.
Pen said he looks for the 711 and 890 to add a new dimension to business.
“We can’t wait for the orders to come in so we can work again,” he said.