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"We encourage you to compare our features and reputation to any other
[RV manufacturer] before you make an investment . . ."
~ Carriage Cameo brochure and website

Note to readers: Jim and I have no financial interest in Carriage, Inc. other than hoping like heck that our new RV is built as well as the company says it is! We hope people who read this don't think we're just giving free advertisement to Carriage. That's not our intention.

We know from reading Carriage Cameo internet lists, forums, and owners' blogs/websites that most folks have had some problems with their 5th-wheel coaches. Most are minor problems; some are major. We expect to have some problems with ours, too. In fact, we've already noticed some small things that Jim needs to fix.

No company is perfect but according to at least one recent RV comparison guide ( Eaton's 2009-2010), Carriage has the best reputation for quality and standing behind their products of the top twenty-nine rated companies that build 5th-wheels.

The main problems owners report are various kinds of leaks and getting appointments in a timely manner either at Carriage dealerships or the factory itself when warranty or other work is needed. The factory service department in Indiana is backed up until July! That's not so good if we have a serious problem that Jim can't fix. We'll have to contact the closest dealer (wherever we are) if we have a problem that's beyond us. This is pretty much the same drill no matter which RV company you're dealing with.

Since some of Carriage's construction features are so different from other manufacturers I want to focus on the details of our Cameo in this entry for the benefit of prospective RV buyers, particularly those who plan to spend a lot of time in their rigs. I'll also include the more interesting (to most readers) convenience and comfort features in our particular camper if you're just curious.

It's kind of like looking in other people's houses . . .


No, it's not if you only think of camping as becoming one with nature in a tent in the woods!

There are many degrees of "camping," from sleeping in a cozy bag under the stars along the Appalachian Trail to sleeping in a king-sized bed in a luxurious Class A motor home at a five-star resort in Palm Springs.

And everything in between counts as "camping," too -- all those kinds of RVs I listed in a previous entry and all sorts of locations, too, from primitive sites on remote trails to free national forest and BLM lands to all sorts of public parks to a variety of private campgrounds and resorts. (And good old  WalMart in transit!)

There's a camping style and venue for everyone.

We see all kinds of camping styles at Huntsville State Park in Texas, from tents to Class As.

Like many folks, Jim and I started out when we were younger camping in tents, then pop-ups, then travel trailers or 5th-wheels. Neither of us has had a truck camper or Class A, B, or C motorhome but we aren't ruling out a motorhome some day. The older we get, the more appealing those become.

Each one of these categories also has a wide range of features and quality of construction. With 5th-wheels alone you can spend anywhere from about $15,000 to $150,000 (maybe more) on a new rig. It just depends on how many $$$ you want to spend and how much you think you'll be using the RV.

We were better prepared this time than we were when we bought the HitchHiker simply because we knew how much we'd be using the Cameo in the future -- a bunch, full-time even (after we sell our house). That meant finding a coach that can withstand all the miles and other use we'll give it. Our HitchHiker was never intended for the heavy use we gave it nor the thousands of miles we towed it. It served us well the first couple of years but soon became a major stressor as one thing after another went wrong with it.

This time we hope we can avoid that by choosing a 5th-wheel coach designed for full-timers. We'll let you know how that works out!


Just like when purchasing a stick-built house, there were several features we had to have on this 5th-wheel -- construction and weight being the most important -- and a bunch we'd like but could live without. Because of limited selection and wanting to retain our power as buyers to walk away if the terms weren't right for us, we were flexible regarding most of the convenience, comfort, and decor features.

Our very first flat-screen TV came standard on our coach. We didn't get an optional fireplace below it
(we really didn't want one). I would have liked a double refrigerator-freezer, though. Maybe next time . . .

What's really cool is that we ended up getting most of the features we wanted (lots more than we had in the HitchHiker) and even a couple that we've never had in a stick-built house!

Many items come standard on Cameos. Ours also has the Bigfoot, Luxury, and Performance Packages, which you can read about on the Carriage website. Our unit came with a few additional options but by no means all of them.


Since the construction of our new RV was our most important selection criteria, I'll start with those features of our Cameo. If you're considering purchasing a new or used RV, especially for heavy use, we recommend you start with the basics first and don't be primarily swayed by the appealing but superficial decor you'll see in rigs on every dealer's lot. Some manufacturers try real hard to get you hooked with good first impressions so you'll ignore how the rigs are actually made!

I'm also including these features for folks like my brother who love to read about the mechanics of different vehicles.

I've mentioned before that Carriage warrants its 5th-wheel structures for five years, by far the longest in the industry. Apparently that's how much confidence they have in their construction. Here are the details, which you can also find on the Carriage website:

  • Cameo frames are engineered, constructed, and welded in-house for quality control, not purchased from another vendor. They feature a 12" square platform chassis design instead of the usual 10" vertical I-beam with holes.

  • Durable floors have nine layers: from the ground up, there is a polyflex vapor barrier, 12" double-stacked box tube steel frame, two layers of Owens Corning insulation, another vapor barrier, 2" x 3" welded aluminum main floor, more insulation (total of R-24 in the floor), exposure-grade tongue-in-groove 5/8" plywood sub flooring, 1/2" carpet pad, and carpet/linoleum on top. (See diagram farther below.)
  • Entire underbelly is covered with a durable polyester fabric that protects the undercarriage from road salt and oil, is puncture resistant, breathes, and serves as a vapor barrier.
  • Carriage builds its slides for slide rooms above the sub and below the main floor instead of cutting into its frames:

  • Electric, gear-driven rack and pinion slide-outs. We had those on the HitchHiker and they caused continual problems but Jim was always able to fix the broken bolts. We hope these are stronger and more reliable. DRV (Mobile Suites) uses hydraulic slides. We don't know if they are superior to gear-driven rack and pinion slides.
  • Slide-out rooms are fully insulated. We can already tell the difference in comfort inside the Cameo compared to our un-insulated HitchHiker slide-outs. Few (maybe no other) companies insulate their slide-out rooms.

  • Walls have 2" box tube aluminum cage construction vs laminated walls in most 5th-wheels. From the outside in, there is a thick high gloss gel-coat fiberglass exterior, Luann backer board, the aluminum cage, Owens Corning insulation, and decorated interior wallboard with a total R-value of 15.
  • Roof construction includes TPO vinyl roofing on top, 1/2" thick roof decking, two blankets of Owens Corning insulation, box tube aluminum roof trusses, and decorated interior ceiling board for a total R-16 insulation value.

  • Carriage touts stronger slide-out rooms with better features and moisture control (leaks can be a major structural hazard in any RV). There is an exclusive H-seal, a rubber squeegee enclosure that wipes elements (water, leaves, pine needles, etc.) from the walls and roof when the slide is coming in. A second feature, the Wedge, creates a slant to direct those same elements away from the coach when the slide is open.
  • Gutters also serve that purpose, just as they do on stick-built houses. You can see a gutter in the lower middle photo above.
  • Hehr trimless (flush/no-frame) windows with solar tinted safety glass. Easy to open and more leak resistant than most types of RV windows. Because they are tipped, they can be left open in the rain. They are sooooo much better than the windows in the old HitchHiker. An option that didn't come on our coach is dual-paned windows that don't fog up or get condensation on them inside when it rains. That feature would have been nice.

Photo of windows from the Carriage website

  • Large insulated, heated holding tanks and plumbing for fresh, gray, and black water so they don't freeze. (The furnace heats the two largest basement areas.)  72-gallon fresh water tank +  10-gallon gas/electric water heater = 82 gallons total fresh water capacity, 62-gallon gray water tank, 62-gallon black water tank. Because we have to watch weight when we're towing the camper, we'll have all those tanks as empty as possible when we're moving from one place to another. Each gallon is over eight pounds!
  • MorRyde suspension system is standard. Our rig didn't come with the pricey optional MorRyde pin box, but we'll consider getting one later if we need it for better suspension. There are other options we can try like a pin box that uses air, or adding air bags or Timbrens to the truck axles, if necessary. We'll have to haul the Cameo a while to see how it handles. We've driven it only about 50 miles so far.

The sticker says MorRyde but it's the suspension system, not the pin box.

  • Dexter EZ-Lube axles secured with heavy-duty steel springs and spring hangers. E-range tires, aluminum wheels. Spare tire with crank-up mount.
  • Windowless door entry with peep hole provides more security than entry doors with windows that can be broken out. Double locks with deadbolt are not real easy to break in unless both locks are drilled out. (It happens. There's been a rash of electronic thefts, especially of flat-screen TVs which are becoming more standard in RVs now, on dealers' lots across the southwest this winter by rings of professional thieves.)
  • Several outside security, courtesy, patio, and step lights
  • Dual 30# LP gas bottles with auto change-over; we added padlocks.
  • 50-amp electrical service

Jim and our friend Bill H. discuss how to set up the generator, batteries, and controller.

  • AC/DC power converter with charger (60 amps); we will add solar panels, generator, four 6V batteries, and battery controller from the HitchHiker soon so we can boondock (no hookups).
  • Heat and AC ducts in all rooms, including bathroom
  • Smoke detector, LP and CO detectors


Now we're getting to some of the more interesting stuff that will make our lives noticeably easier than in the old HitchHiker . . .

  • Bigfoot auto-leveling system, new on the 2010 Cameo line -- this is the main reason we didn't spring for a 2009 model at a steeper discount. At the touch of a button Jim can lower or raise four independent hydraulic cylinders/jacks, each with its own pump and reservoir. You just can't believe how much easier this is: no more lowering each leg and hand-cranking each jack separately every time we move; no more checking the level (tool) inside to make sure the camper is level side-to-side and front-to-back; no more little plastic ramps under the tires if one side is lower than the other. Wow. When we walk around inside, the coach is significantly more stable than the HitchHiker ever was.
  • Bigfoot also allows Jim to hike up the back end of the 5th-wheel more safely so he can work on the tires, instead of using a wooden ramp. 10" x 10" foot pads help stabilize the coach (less chance of sinking into soft ground).
  • Bigfoot has a five-year warranty. We think it's worth every penny it cost us (whatever that was). This photo is from the Cameo website:

  • 87 turning radius, which makes tight turns easier with short-bed trucks

  • More outside storage than we should use -- if we fill it up, we'll be towing more weight than is safe for our truck. Three basement areas with outside doors total 181 cubic feet of storage capacity. We'll use the front one for the generator and batteries, the large middle one with doors on either side (gas struts on the main door) for lots of miscellaneous items, and the rear basement for lighter items like recreational equipment; the rear basement has three doors and is reportedly a Carriage exclusive.

  • More inside storage than we should ever fill, too! It's everywhere -- kitchen cabinets and drawers, island cabinets, cabinets above the sofa and loveseat, cabinets above and below the TV, three sets of bathroom cabinets, cabinets in the hallway, two spacious wardrobes in the bedroom, cabinets above the dresser, large closet prepped for a washer-dryer (which we don't want), and two hidden compartments under the hallway stairs and window seat. All this encourages carrying way too much stuff!! You can see photos of many of the cabinets in the last entry.

Docking center, described below. Blue cylinder is a water filter we added.

  • Insulated and enclosed universal docking center, shown above, with all necessary exterior hookups to the coach: cable/satellite/phone jacks, water connections, gravity fill, city water fill, hot/cold 15-foot hose with sprayer (very handy for washing our muddy running shoes and dog!), black tank flush and sensor, fresh water drain, pump switch, winterize system, and light. Cable dump valves are in a different location for sanitary reasons.

  • Nicely disguised (behind cabinet doors) interior control centers for the slide-outs, circuit breakers and fuses, tank monitors, and water pump.

  • Easily operated wall controls for the Carrier HVAC and dehumidifier system, which includes a 15,000 BTU air conditioner in the living area and a second 13,500 BTU AC in the bedroom. We rarely used our AC in the HitchHiker because we rarely stayed anywhere that hot, or if we did, it was when we were in transit and didn't have enough power from solar/generator to run it.

  • Fantastic Fan/vent in the living area; we had one in the HitchHiker and really liked it.

  • Ceiling fan in kitchen/entry area

  • Electric Carefree Travel-R awning, above, which we love -- very quiet and soooo much easier to put up and down than the old awning.

  • Central vacuum, a first for us. We've never even had that in a stick-built house. Very convenient. Lots of attachments and a very long hose that reaches everywhere in the Cameo. One nice feature is the suction port at the base of the steps up to the bedroom (black rectangle in bottom step, below). Just sweep up dirt in the kitchen, get it close to the port, and turn on the switch. Whoosh, it's gone in an instant! The vacuum hose attaches to an outlet at the far right (next to Jim's shoes) and dirt is sucked into a bag in the basement.

  • TV antenna with power booster
  • Satellite prep at entertainment center and bedroom (we don't have a satellite dish and don't have intentions to get one any time soon)
  • Ceiling vent and window that opens in bathroom; skylight over one-piece molded fiberglass shower with seat and adjustable nozzle, below. Reinforced floor under shower stall.

The shower nozzle slides up and down and rotates side to side.

  • Three-zone halogen lighting with dimmer switches in dining area, living room, and bedroom. Several reading lights in the ceilings above the sofa, loveseat, and head of bed. Additional task lighting over dining table (where my desk is sitting now), and in the kitchen, hall, and bathroom. Lights in all the closets and basement storage areas.


These are the things that are the most visible and most appealing. First impressions count, although we made sure of the more mundane construction features before letting ourselves be seduced by the attractive interiors of these coaches. Some of the features I've already listed, like air conditioning, dehumidifier, and extra insulation, also add to the comfort factor.

  • Three wall slides for extra room. The HitchHiker also had three slideouts but they weren't as long as these. We have a little more square footage now when we're stationary and the slides are all out.
  • Subtle interior colors ranging from cream to tan to caf-au-lait to dark chocolate

  • Beautiful hand-applied glazed cherry wood finishes throughout the coach
  • Graceful curved wood paneled wall between the entry door and hallway; second curved wall in bedroom with the same "fabric" look paneling as all other walls in the coach (subtle beige moir-look)

  • Attractive contemporary wallpaper borders in a swirl pattern
  • Thick "carved" nylon carpeting in living area, hallway, and bedroom
  • Stylish, stain-resistant tapestry fabric valances and pillows in the living area

  • Soft, heavy suede-like fabric quilted bedspread, pillows, and window treatments in the bedroom; padded leather (vinyl??) headboard

  • Brushed nickel hardware and fixtures in every room.
  • Dining furniture and fabric items made by local Amish craftsmen and women. Carriage, Inc. and many other RV manufacturers are located in Elkhart County, IN, which has the third largest population of Amish in the country. The Amish are noted for their fine craftsmanship.

Dining table and chair in their temporary location

  • Two of the dining chairs fold up and can be stored under the bed when not in use.
  • The dining table has a self-storing leaf.
  • Full-height kitchen cabinets with solid cherry hardwood door stiles and drawer fronts

  • Ball-bearing drawer guides (14 per drawer) with a positive catch so they stay closed during transit.
  • Full-length wooden extension drawers in the pantry near the stairs, not wire cages. Wish we had extension drawers or shelves in the narrow pantry next to the refrigerator instead of stationary wood shelves; it's hard to see what's in the back without a flashlight.
  • Residential-quality DuPont Corian countertops and two deep, under-mounted stainless steel sinks with covers in the kitchen; tall single-lever kitchen faucet

Sink with covers in place; we usually leave them off but it's a nice option if we need more counter space.

  • Plenty of kitchen counter and storage space, including a kitchen island with cabinets
  • Inconspicuous wood-paneled Norcold refrigerator/freezer doors that blend in with kitchen cabinetry on one side and entertainment center on the other side
  • 30" Sharp over-the-range microwave oven and MagicChef propane range/oven with metal bifold cover. We negotiated for a free microwave/convection oven to replace the microwave but it has not come in to the dealer yet (we aren't holding our breath).
  • Built-in range hood with power exhaust fan and light

  • Soft chocolate-colored leather sofa and dual-reclining loveseat; the sofa, above, has a hidden queen-sized air mattress.
  • Interior glazed cherry hardwood contemporary window frames
  • Day-night shades in living area (below); night shades in bedroom, including one on the wood and glass privacy door -- nice when one of us sleeps later than the other

  • 70" x 80" king-sized pillow-top bed, an option we didn't want (too big!!) but couldn't change. More about that later in an entry about modifications we've made.
  • Attractive bathroom with glazed cherry cabinets, Corian countertop, porcelain potty (much easier to keep clean than our previous plastic one), bright lighting, brushed nickel fixtures, and a seamless fiberglass shower with glass door and side wall and adjustable showerhead. Shower is a soft caf-au-lait color.
  • Our very first flat screen TV -- we don't even have one of those at our house! It's a 32" Samsung LCD. It's nice to not have to use our digital converter box any more, at least in the camper. Carriage has an optional 19" TV for folks to put in the bedroom but we don't want one there. 
  • Samsung FM/CD/DVD home theater system with six speakers around the living room.


See, you really can take most of it with you -- maybe not to the grave, but RVing.

All these features may sound luxurious but keep in mind that 1) we live in this coach most of the time, 2) we aren't 35 any more, and 3) there are much fancier RVs out there than this one. In fact, you can spend almost three times as much as we did on this coach for a top-of-the-line 5th wheel from either Carriage or DRV -- and motorhomes can run you a lot more than that.

For the camping purists out there:  Despite all the insulation and structure in our fiver we can still hear the owls and coyotes at night in the woods, almost as clearly as if we were hunkered down in an insulated sleeping bag under the stars!

Next entry: Sue's "rules of engagement" for buying an RV or other vehicle

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil