It's a good thing we saw some Mobile Suites and Cameo 5th-wheels in
person before we ever read the slick sales brochures put out by
makes Mobile Suites) and
Carriage, Inc. (which builds the Cameo line). The
booklets are heavy on snob appeal, which would have turned us off if we
hadn't already seen what does appear to be superior construction and
materials to other brands and models we had seen.
Jim and I are
anything but snobs. Resort vehicles?? Gimme a break. That's the
term these companies use instead of "recreational vehicles" to appeal to
folks seeking status. We just want a coach that is built tough enough to
handle our lifestyle -- lots of miles and lots of time living in
What's funny to us is that the photos in the brochures show their
"luxury" fivers next to manicured golf courses, pristine white sand
beaches, and picturesque seacoasts with yachts in the background.
Ha! I can pretty well guarantee that ours will never see the inside
of a resort or sit next to a golf course, unless we decide to take up
that sport in our old age. (No, 60 isn't old yet!!!)
You'll most likely
find ours at unpretentious local, state, and national parks, military
campgrounds, remote forest service and BLM land -- and WalMart, Sam's
Club, or Flying J parking lots when we're in transit!
And I doubt we'll be the classiest RV there. You'd be amazed how many
quarter-million-dollar Cla$$ A motorhomes park overnight at WalMart.
WHY WE CHOSE CARRIAGE, INC.
As I mentioned in the
last entry, our search for the perfect RV (for
us) became easier once we zeroed in on the only two companies we've
found that make and warrant their 5th-wheel coaches for full-time use.
There is no point in buying one that'll fall apart on us in a few years.
Once we'd heard the first salesperson's spiel about the construction
of each of those brands at dealers that carried them, we automatically told
subsequent salespeople that we understood the advantages -- we
just wanted to see the particular floorplan(s) they had.
We were sold on the durability and features of both brands: their
heavy-duty floor, sidewall, and roof construction, high R-value
insulation, better moisture, condensation, and humidity control, extra
soundproofing, sealed and insulated slideouts, and other features
designed for the near-constant, year-round use we'll give our new
Construction details from the Cameo brochure
We had to visit about a dozen dealerships all over the southern half
of Texas to find the particular models we thought would be most
suitable for us. These two companies don't crank out as many units as,
say, Winnebago or Keystone. There are also fewer RVs available now
because of the reduced demand for them in the current economic
We found enough suitable rigs on dealers' lots -- and we could
have kept visiting more dealers in Texas and other states, if
we'd needed to -- that we didn't consider ordering a new
5th-wheel from either company's factory. We'd have paid a lot more that
way and I don't think it would have been worth it for the few features I
would have liked to have but can live without (a built-in desk, double refrigerator/freezer,
and combination microwave/convection oven).
We got everything else we really wanted -- and a lot more!
More construction details from the Cameo brochure
What finally sold us on a
Carriage Cameo instead of a DRV Mobile
Suites coach was price. The Mobile Suites line costs at least $20,000 more
for comparable models and we just can't see that much difference in how
they are constructed.
Two other factors that swayed us are Carriage's longevity in the
business (forty-two years vs less than ten for DRV) and Carriage's
Photo of a Carriage frame from the company's brochure.
Small photos show how Carriage
its room slide mechanisms between the
floor and subfloor (L) instead of cutting into
(and weakening) the frame (R) as some other
companies do, which weakens the chassis.
Unlike DRV, Carriage engineers, builds,
and welds its own frames (above). It also builds its own aluminum wall, floor,
and roof trusses; stains and builds its own cherry hardwood
cabinetry, tables, chairs, doors, trim, and paneling; shapes and
fits the Corian countertops; and stitches, quilts, and hems its
own bedspreads, pillows, and window valences.
Carriage's philosophy is to build as
much of the components
in-house as possible. This has several
advantages: more flexibility to build floorplans, quality
control, lower costs. One of Carriage's selling points is that other companies "are just assemblers, not builders."
I don't know how true that is, but even DRV doesn't mention having its
own frame shop, aluminum shop, mill room, wood shop, countertop shop, or
That's our soft suede-like
bedspread and glazed cherry cabinet finish --
but a different model than ours
(photo from Carriage website).
A disadvantage of Carriage is that their
"bumper-to-bumper" warranty is only two years compared to DRV's three-year
warranty for everything (including structural components). Two is still better than the
industry standard of one, plus there's that five-year warranty on
structural components and the automatic leveling system that's optional
on the 2010 models.
WHY WE CHOSE THE MODEL WE BOUGHT
Our next step was choosing which Cameo
floorplan we wanted. We
were limited to the five shortest of their nine models because of the weight
limits our truck can handle.
We originally wanted a new rig the same size or smaller than the
HitchHiker (34 feet in length) to give us more choices of campsites.
Sometimes those local, state, and national parks we love don't have
sites long enough for the HitchHiker and truck or wide enough to put the
We figured that if a smaller floor plan was designed well,
it might "live" as large as the HitchHiker.
OK, this one's ours! It
looks about the same length as the HitchHiker and each has three slides.
We had already learned from looking at other brands of 5th-wheels that
we'd probably never find the same floor plan our HitchHiker had. We
loved that floor plan. By the time we were looking at Cameos our
attitude had changed and we were looking forward to having a slightly
different floor plan.
We soon learned that higher-end 5th-wheels just don't come in lengths
shorter than about 33 feet. Apparently most of the people who can afford
them want bigger units.
Cody likes his new dog house.
We ended up with a coach two feet longer than
the HitchHiker by default. Four got eliminated in this manner:
- We didn't like the floor plan in one of the
five designs we could tow.
- We decided that the new full-wall slide in
the smallest (33-foot) coach might cause problems; that's a lot
of weight on the gear-driven rack and pinion system.
- And we couldn't find two of the other models in an internet search
of the entire region.
With Cameo, choosing the particular floor plan we wanted was not as
difficult as actually finding that floor plan! At least one of
the two we couldn't find looked good in the diagram (the 33CKQ with four
Here's the floor plan we chose, the Cameo 35SB3:
Interpretation: 35 = length, sort of. It's actually an inch
short of 36 feet long. SB = side bath. 3 = number of slides.
THE FINAL DECISION
We knew we'd found the right floor plan when we toured this model for
the first time. We were not satisfied with the Espresso interior color
scheme, however (dark cherry wood with off-white leather furniture
that's just not practical for our lifestyle) . . .
Espresso color scheme in a Cameo
32FWS (full wall slide) model we looked at. This one is NOT ours.
. . . or its weird
2009-2010 hybrid model year. It was built during the factory's
transition from the 2009 to the 2010 models. It had some of the new 2010
features but lacked the one feature we finally decided we wouldn't compromise on:
Yup. That's Carriage's hydraulic self-leveling system. DRV has a
comparable feature without the catchy name, Level-Up. I'll explain more
later about Bigfoot and how it makes Jim's life easier every time we
move the camper.
As expected, we got better price quotes on 2009 Cameo models than
2010 models. We were willing to compromise on most features (like the
double refrigerator/freezer and built-in desk I didn't get) but we
really, really wanted Bigfoot and Bigfoot is available only on the 2010
Now that we'd found the right floor plan, we had to find it in a true
Jim sits next to our new Cameo at the dealership
three days before we picked it up.
We found it two days later at another dealer under the same
ownership. This one had almost everything we wanted, including Bigfoot, the more
subtle River Canyon color scheme (below),
and a reclining loveseat which we preferred to the optional "theater seating"
in the other 35SB3 (shown three photos up).
We loved just about everything about it except the optional
king-sized bed (too big) and the price quoted by the general manager
(also too big!).
The next two photos are from the Carriage
website to show you our color scheme. They are from two of the larger
models, NOT the model we got. Our table, dining chairs,
cabinets, sofa, pillows, valances, walls, lighting, flooring, and
kitchen island with Corian countertop are like the ones shown here. We have a loveseat
that reclines on both sides instead of individual recliners.
I'll show lots of interior photos of our coach in the next entry but
they are nowhere near as good quality as these professional ones. I take
lousy photos indoors. Just wanted you to see what the colors really
A negotiating nightmare ensued for several days as the general
managers at Dealer #1 and Dealer #2 fought over our business.
Without going into details -- this is a very loooong story if
I do -- we ended up getting the 2010 coach, the one we preferred,
at an even lower price than we expected.
Because of his unethical and unprofessional shenanigans, the GM at
Dealer #1 may have lost his job. Because she didn't make anywhere near
the profit she wanted, the straight-arrow GM at Dealer #2 will probably
never give us good service if we return there for warranty work.
I don't ever expect to see the optional microwave/convection oven we
negotiated into the contract, either. We have a nice microwave that will
do fine if the dealer reneges on that.
Bottom line: on Friday we closed the deal, moved everything
from the HitchHiker into the Cameo (that took several hours!), and
literally drove off into the sunset
in our beautiful new home on wheels.
Next entry: features and interior photos of our new
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil