Leisure Travel Vans Factory Tour!


 
Hello.  I’m James, and I’m an RV nerd.

rv_nerd1It’s true.  On any given Saturday, while the rest of the clan is out taking the grandchildren to the “interactive farm”, I’m probably underneath our RV.  Maybe I’m checking for hairline cracks in the ABS pipes.  But it’s more likely that I’m just hanging out down there – thinking up new projects.  Stef thinks this is weird, but it all seems completely normal to me.

Knowing that, it shouldn’t surprise you that on our recent road trip, I convinced Stef to take a very minor, 1200 mile detour to Winkler Manitoba to check out the Leisure Travel Vans factory.   This was a chance to see the RVs before they were finished, to understand why they’re built as they are, to see inside the walls, so to speak, and to ask questions.  How could we not go?!

We were met at the LTV front desk by Dean.  If you’re seen his videos and wondered what he’s really like… I’ll tell you, it’s not an act.  He’s the same guy in person that you see in the videos and he’s pretty passionate about the Leisure Travel Vans products.  His enthusiasm and my inquisitive nerdism (is that even a word?) combined to make what I thought was an extremely informative tour.

Dean Explaining Serenity

Dean, explaining to us that manufacturing the Serenity is much more difficult, because everything has to go into the RV through that door. (Without scratching it up!)

We were at the factory for about four hours.  We hit all the major departments, and followed the process from bare chassis to completed RV.  You can check out the video for the complete story, but here are a few of the things I remember most from our time there:

Keeping it In-House:

One thing that impressed us was that they try to keep as much of the manufacturing process as they can under their roof.  We saw them making their own fiberglass molds, all the cabinetry, and even fabricating their own tiny metal brackets.  They stop short of mining their own copper and drawing their own wire, but I bet they’ve thought about it.

Attention to Detail:

Stef would tell you I’m borderline OCD*, and even I was impressed with some of the little touches I saw going into the RVs they were building.  Much of it was things that, as a consumer, you’d never notice.  Things like, sealing up openings around wires that most people would think were negligible, and burning 15 person-hours just to mask off a single Free Spirit SS for painting.  You may never notice these things, but trust me, you appreciate them.

*Stef here:  There’s no borderline about it.

Check out Those Walls:

For both the Unity and Serenity, they really pay attention to the walls, and to adding the strength where you need it.  The Unity walls (and roof… and floor…) are vacuum bonded – where they take multiple layers of material, insulation, metal framing, and resin and fuse them into a single piece.  It’s super strong, and you can see the whole process in our video.  But what impressed me the most about the vacuum bonding is that they’ve taken the time to figure out where they’ll need to screw things down later – and they reinforce those areas with additional sheet metal that’s also vacuum bonded right inside the rest of the wall.  On the Serenity side, they take a similar approach.  The walls and roof in the Serenity are solid fiberglass.  On the areas they need to reinforce, they use core bonding or solid wood and lay that up and bond it right into the fiberglass walls.

I could keep going on about the factory tour, but Stef will be editing this article for me and I can just picture her eyes glazing over as I extol the virtues of vacuum bonding, so I’ll stop at that.*  The rest of the tour is captured in our video.  If you own, or are considering purchasing a Leisure Travel Van, you really owe it to yourself to head up to Winkler and schedule a factory tour.  But if you can’t make it up there right now, our video is the next best thing.

*Stef again:  Actually, you lost me at “fiberglass…”

 
moving_the_unity-1024x681

That’s me (in the black shirt) helping move a Unity down the line.  If that’s your TB… you’re welcome!



James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling certified coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he works for a large IT company.


    18 thoughts on “Leisure Travel Vans Factory Tour!

    1. Ross Broughton

      Thanks so much for your ‘start to finish’ tour of LTV. I’ve always been a fan of Dean’s vids. His enthusiasm, knowledge and humour is amazing. To have him interviewed by such a knowledgeable dynamic duo such as yourselves was really informative. We almost bought a Free Spirit. It was close but we went with a Pleasureway Plateau TS in the end. Made by another small town Canadian company know for quality (they have a 5 yr bumper-to-bumper warranty, which helped sway us their way. And a bigger bathroom and closet also helped! It was neck-and-neck down to the wire, tho.) Of course we would love to see you tour PW next. Thanks again for your website. Very useful to us class B RVers!

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Glad you liked it. Dean’s a nice guy to boot, and we always have fun with him.
        I envy the predicament you were in – those are two really nice options to choose between! I’m jealous. Both of them are made by family-run companies in smaller towns in Canada, and the quality built into them is impressive. If we ever make it up to Saskatoon, we’ll ask about a tour.
        Hopefully we’ll see you out on the road!

        Reply
    2. Jesse

      Thanks for taking us on the tour with you and Dean. This is my new favorite RV video. Dean really comes across as a true believer in the product he sells. The factory tour was very entertaining and I learned a lot about the process. Great video.

      Can’t get enough of your RV Videos.

      Reply
    3. Tom Boles

      James & Stef-

      Cool video! The tour Dean does, the one on the LTV site is good, but I think you bring more to the party. Besides, Stef in the glasses is way better looking than either James or Dean!

      LTV’s use of precision cutting, full part identification, vertical integration with so much in-house manufacturing and a long-term workforce results in a high-quality (and expensive) product. It would be interesting to contrast their product and processes with the comparable Winnebago units. Do I sense a trip to Iowa anytime soon?

      That being said, you expressed surprise over the use of simple plywood cutting jigs for the routing out of windows and other “holes” in the vacuum-pressed body shell. This is in contrast to the CNC router used for making parts. It’s an old technique of course, and the “but” relates to wear of the jig, precision of the location on the larger panel and operator skill and technique. What are your thoughts on this? There are boat builders who use long arm and gantry-style CNC routers for the identical purpose, but the plywood jigs may be “good enough”.

      After looking at your clip, parallels with the boat building industry are clear. (Fiberglass composite construction, vacuum bonding, use of chopped mat, laminated-in local reinforcement, all interior parts moving through the door , lots of cabinetry in a small space, dense plumbing and electrical systems, Etc.) The use of balsa as a core in some areas is interesting. It’s a common material in some boats and the issues are well-known. Deck panels on some sailboats, for example, are subject to more moisture and heavier loads and some exhibit delamination as a result. Likely not the same conditions or problems in the LTV product, but the use of balsa was surprising.

      So, my question to you guys is-what truly surprised you? What did you like, what did you not like and what seemed out of place on such a high-end, high-quality unit?

      Thanks again for the work you do!

      (Two last things:)
      The “new, experimental unit” at the end was hilarious…Triple E has come a long way!

      Any hope of seeing any more “nitty-gritty” video from your visit? What method do they use for making the wire harness? Do they uses a CNC brake press for the sheet metal units? How do they control crimping of plumbing fittings? How would you characterize their overall approach to making motorhomes? How is QA (Quality Assurance) a part of the LTV culture?

      Your fellow RV geeks want to know!

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Actually, I was looking at a Trend this past weekend. I don’t know about a trip to Iowa, but it would be good to get another factory tour to really get a sense of how the various manufacturers differ in their approach to things.
        You actually hit on my biggest surprise – which was the simple plywood jigs and a handheld router. Though I seem to recall that they had a better way to position them than just a tape measure. I’ll have to look at the footage some more to see if I can pick that out. But as far as more footage, I don’t really have that much more to share – you’ve seen the best of what we got. There’s a lot of stuff where you can’t hear anything because it’s too loud, and a bunch of “nobody facing the camera”, that kind of thing… There was a lot to pick through to find the good parts in the video.

        Reply
    4. John

      James would you please do a video about the handling differences between the different models. I hope you will turn this into an examination as detailed as your waste tank or tire pressure videos. Thanks in advance

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        That’s an interesting idea. I’d have to find a dealer with stock that I could drive around.
        But you’re right – driving comparisons would really complete the review process…

        Reply
      2. Terry McWilliams

        I’d like some reviews on road handling for Pleasure way vans and Leisure vans when vehicles are loaded with two passengers and gear. Thanks!

        Reply
        1. James - Post author

          Terry – What a weird coincidence! Did someone persuade you to post that comment? We JUST FINISHED shooting some footage where I drive different Leisure Travel Vans models to compare the ride and drive! I’ve got a big queue of videos to work on, but it is definitely coming. It’s not a comparison across manufacturers, and we didn’t have the time to load all our stuff in them, but it was interesting none the less. Stay tuned!

    5. jjva

      So, just how tall is Dean? (Inside joke)
      Thanks for the video. It was like being there.
      BTW, who taped the video for you guys?
      If you were to choose among all the B or B+ size Sprinter RVs, do you have a preference yet? I think you like creating your own modifications in your own van, so I don’t think you will ever buy someone else’s. Or not.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Glad you liked the video. We did have help filming it – it was some of the LTV crew that helped us out on this one, and we really appreciate their taking the time to help out our little corner of the internet.
        I think you’re getting to know me pretty well. I do like to tinker, and even if I got someone else’s new RV, I’m sure there will be modifications right off the bat. I like different things about different models. I love the cabinetry and build quality in the LTVs, obviously. Advanced-RV does some really impressive things with their power and systems management. Heck, I even looked at a Winnebago Trend this weekend and was pleased with the spaciousness of it. The first one that makes an RV with a Euro-style garage will get us all excited too, I’m sure. But nobody is making the perfect RV for us yet – or at least nothing that beats Das Bus. Until that happens, we’re staying put.

        (Or, they’ll finally release the diesel ProMaster, and I’ll just build the perfect one myself…)

        Reply
    6. VaVet96

      Great video! Been considering the LTV products for several years now and while the other brands are making progress style-wise, this video clearly shows the superior quality that goes into the LTV RVs. Very valuable info and very well done! Thank-you

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Glad you liked it! It was a real treat to get to see behind the scenes. They really do put the effort in to build a quality coach.

        Reply
    7. Jeff Treiber

      Thanks for this video! It echoes what we saw on our tour, but in greater detail. You may have been pushing our TB (heater mats, aluminum wheels, due in October?). You provide great information in a focused, intelligent and fun format. Hope to hear which LTV you end up choosing!

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        I didn’t check to see who was the owner, I just jumped in when I saw a bunch of guys pushing! You’re going to love the Unity, hopefully, we’ll see you on the road in it. Glad you like our stuff!

        Reply
    8. Dillon

      Awesome video. I watched every minute of it. Dean is just the coolest.

      Question, are you guys suddenly sponsored by Leisure?

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        We’re actually not sponsored by Leisure Travel Vans.
        Obviously though, we had their help and cooperation to make the video. We’re just fans.

        Reply

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