BUILDING CAMPERS

May 10, 2001 12:00 am
CAMPERS CONSTRUCTED: Intermountain RV employees Jerry Crocker, foreground, and Jim Lauman work on a camper in the mill and cabinet shop at the company's 10,000 square-foot assembly plant on Smith Loop Road in the Union County Airport Industrial Park. (Observer photos/KELLY WARD).
CAMPERS CONSTRUCTED: Intermountain RV employees Jerry Crocker, foreground, and Jim Lauman work on a camper in the mill and cabinet shop at the company's 10,000 square-foot assembly plant on Smith Loop Road in the Union County Airport Industrial Park. (Observer photos/KELLY WARD).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Build a better mouse trap, the saying goes, and people will beat a path to your doorstep.

Three young men who grew up in this area or moved here within the last few years feel they have created a formula for success. In the process, they are producing a product they are confident will do well in the marketplace.

Matt Johnson, Eric Kilpatrick and Jody Kuiper are three active owners of Intermountain RV, located in the Union County Airport Industrial Park southeast of La Grande.

There are 20 people, counting the owners, turning out fully self-contained slide-in truck campers for pickup trucks under the Eagle Cap brand name.

We started producing the campers about three weeks ago, said Johnson, who attended Imbler schools before earning a degree from Eastern Oregon University. All three owners live in La Grande. Kilpatrick has lived here 20 years, graduating from La Grande High School. Kuiper, a mechanic by training, has been in the area only three years.

The company started about two years ago, building electrical harnesses for Fleetwoods La Grande and Pendleton plants and for Keystone in Pendleton.

Then we decided to go out on our own, producing our own product, Johnson said.

He said the three owners funded most of the inventory for the startup out of our own pockets. We will be getting some help from Pioneer Bank.

The company constructed the expansive 10,000-square-foot assembly plant on Smith Loop Road in the industrial park two years ago, and much of that space is now filled with 11 campers in various stages of construction.

We soon will be finishing an average of two units a day, but, of course, we work on them in an assembly-line fashion, Johnson said.

He said the target was to produce 20-25 a month soon and then 40 or 50 a month in the future as we add more employees and building space.

The company is producing only one model now, what Johnson calls a mid-line unit, not an entry-level camper. Our suggested retail price is $16,900. We feature several standard things which other companies offer as options.

The slide-in camper has a 9-foot floor from the back end to where it slims out to form the bed over the pickup cab.

Thats the way they are measured, Johnson said. All units have the same space over the cab.

Their unit sleeps four, with the dining table folding out to make a bed. The unit has a slide-out dinette area on one side.

The owners hope the quality of the product will be its strong selling point.

We use an all-aluminum welded frame, not wood, in all the side walls and the flooring, which makes it stronger and lighter, Johnson said. The insulation is a foam core, which offers a lot better insulation than fiberglass.

The company plans to market the campers through auto dealerships and has lined up Roberts Ford as the local firm which will carry its product.

Its hard to set up dealerships until we have an actual product to show them, but we plan to market in Bend, Portland, Salem, Seattle, Spokane, Tri-Cities, Boise and Nampa areas, Johnson said.