A month and a half later and so much has happened. I want to thank every member of this forum for their time and thoughtful responses to my questions / concerns and foibles along the way. This is truly a very helpful community.
We were not idle the past month and a half or so as we spiced our holiday travels with numerous stops at various dealerships and manufacturers. Below will be a quick (yeah right, have you read my previous posts?) rundown of what happened and how ended up where we did.
Our trips started off heading East for Thanksgiving with the in-laws. On the way we were able to stop at two dealerships and spend some more decisive time in an Aliner Expedition. I had been considering an Aliner Family which is basically an Expedition floorplan. My wife was VERY enamored with ease of set up which she could *almost* do by herself. The inside with both dormers felt was very spacious and the boys liked the “campy” mountain cabin feel. WHile my wife had previously secretly completely ruled out the Aliner, it was now high on her list.
Less than 30 minutes later we were at a dealership in Tacoma looking at my beloved off-road Opus. To be 100% honest, though I am a very thorough researcher for purchases of even $100, let alone $25k+, I always pretty much figured we’d end up buying an Opus of some variety. It has the perfect combination of quality, accommodations, utility, ruggedness and comfort while maintaining a camping ambiance. Wow, in person, having just left the, in my opinion, disappointing interior quality of the Aliner, was this all the more apparent. EVERYTHING on the Opus is solid and well built. The slide out kitchen is robust, and has no wobble. The suspension was designed so that Godzilla could use a pair of them for roller skates.
Do you feel it? The *but* that’s about to hit?
BUT, oh my goodness. The beds. Are. Fricking. Tiny
My 14 year old 6’ tall son had to curl up into a ball to even sort of fit on it. Well, no problem, they sell a “king” bed extension for one of the beds OK, fine, but due to the (otherwise awesome) super thick airpoles, even my 5’4” wife could not fit laying flat on the bed. Mind you, this thing has glorious 8’ high ceilings with panoramic windows which anyone diminutive enough to fit on the beds would need a four step ladder just to reach the zipper.
Not a lot of point in what amounts to a glorious $30,000+ portable bed on which only my 11 year old could sleep... and that only for about the next 18 months or so.
Given that I had day dreamed about owning an Opus for the better part of five years, this was disappointing. Given the other three members of the family’s reaction to the Aliner,it was now at the top of the list, with the caveat being we had not actually seen one that could even kind of sleep four people, no dealer being goofy enough to stock a “Family” on the lot.
On the way HOME from Thanksgiving we made a quick detour to stop by a dealership in Oregon in order to see an E3 Somerset again. This has always been my #2 but after our last visit in one a few years ago, my wife was underwhelmed. We came away liking it *enough*. The interior cabinetry is very basic, the hardware cheap, the latches non-existent. If you are unfamiliar with the line, unlike the Indianan brands, there is basically no attempt at all to pretend the interior is anything but utterly basic. All the weight and cost in a Somerset goes into the frame, the tent, and the lift. But sitting in the dinette, the ability of this thing to sleep us four with ease, and the panoramic windows had undeniable appeal.
This popped the Somerset above its sister Aliner as we had no first hand experience in a Family, and when I had talked to Aliner salespeople, and even the COlumbia Northwest management about a four sleeper, they had always told me, previous to the Family of course, that it was pretty much “impossible” with the confines of the A-frame design.
Imagine my surprise then, when, on a lark, before leaving the Somerset dealer, I poked my head in a Chalet XL 1920, and the first thing I saw was... BUNKS?! This thing had the largest dinette of any trailer we’d seen, an actual wet bath with hard walls, a galley with useable counter space, an electric lift and, when converted, would easily sleep all four of us.
Hmm. What’s the deal CNW? If Chalet can do it, and for the same price, why can’t you?
(We were momentarily enamored with a couple of Flagstaff models. I’ll try and edit this down by mentioning the research I did on the quality of those confirmed my previous notions to stay clear of any Buffet / Indiana products.)
It was a very confusing few weeks for us. Chalet had come out of nowhere to seemingly check everyone’s boxes and vault to the top of the list. Opus had been categorically removed from consideration, Somerset was once again a *meh*.
On to our Christmas trip. You all know what Escapes are like, and most of you have been to Chilliwack. Suffice to say, everything we heard was true. The people are nice, the trailers are well priced and probably second only to Oliver in quality. We actually found we had MORE room for us in the 17b (with the bunk option) than the 19 (or even the 21) due to layout. My wife LOVED it. The boys thought it was cool, but not in the least like camping. My older son, who has been designing and in love with Tiny Houses since long before they were a fad, thought it was cool in that regard, but not a camper.
Left Chilliwack and headed toward the ferry, stopping at a dealership stocking Safari Condos. The R series Altos are very, very cool. They too will mount a bunk and sleep four. Unlike the Escape however, the views are magnificent and fulfilled both my sons and my own desire to at least SEE the woods and views outside. We also saw the larger fixed roof ones. They are very expensive though, and they rather cynically try and circumvent the USD appeal of them by having US and Canadian prices (at a significant benefit to them obviously). Additionally, the difference in philosophy is apparent, and summed up nicely by my son who, from the back seat, commented on the way to the ferry after the visit, “It’s weird to me that they want more than $40k for that trailer when they have cheap plastic trays instead of drawers, and all the cabinets have Velcro instead of latches... and the Velcro doesn’t even work.” I explained to him the difference in Euro and NA concepts of quality / aesthetic and he said, “Well, it’s still weird.”
Looked like we were leaning Chalet, depending on price, a purchase / decision that was likely to be finalized at the upcoming Tacoma RV show.
During the above saga I had remained in contact with two Somerset sellers on Craigslist. One was a 2015 E2 (about 60 minutes form my house), and one was a 2017 E3 Box (about 18 hours from my house in California). Out of the blue, the man in California said his timetable had stepped up, they were getting a new trailer, and the dealer had offered him $10k to trade in his Somerset. Being an absolutely HELL OF A GUY, he offered the trailer to me, at that price, if I could come get it. So, far too late, long story short, we tossed together $10k in cash, and the next morning at 6:30am I was driving my CX-9 south to pick up a trailer, by specs, I could only barely tow, having no more experience doing so than carting my John Deere around on my $400 utility trailer. I was a bit nervy.
Ever been down Hwy 1 in North Cal? Did you puke? How about this? Was your first experience towing a camper up Hwy 20 in order to avoid EVER using Hwy 1 again, let alone towing a trailer? And then, after surviving Hwy 20, on the same initial trip, did you hit Southern Oregon in the pitch black, dropping below zero, slush falling from the sky, with a half dozen truckers intoxicated by Oregon’s faster speed limits and emboldened by their experience on this road to treat North I-5 down the mountain passes like a GD drag racing strip?
Holy hadrosaurs, that was as baptism by fire (and ice). I figure if I can tow in that, should be pretty smooth sailing from here on out.
Mazda performed like a champ. I have an eye for how people rig their trailers now, and I had ample time in my three day trip to check them out. I passed a Hummer like he was parked as he labored on a hill towing a modest thin walled Indiana trailer. I saw a woman with a utility trailer so poorly loaded it looked like it had negative tongue wait wobble down the road like an eight year old swinging around toy nunchucks.
Anyway, at $10k, there is very little to absolutely zero risk. I could probably turn this thing for profit if it doesn’t work out, or, I have it on good authority, get about $10k in credit at a dealership.
I’m still iffy on the Mazda as my tow vehicle, and I continue to scan for old Excursions, 7.3l diesel Fords, Suburbans, etc...
Thanks again folks and happy trails.
P.S. I wanted to post a photo, but can’t figure out how.