Karen and I met friends at a local restaurant that happened to be down the street from a Liberty Missouri RV dealership. We are hoping to find a couple floor plans we like which is step three out of seven in our search for the nearly perfect home. So we drifted over to the dealership and spent time looking at Palomino’s Columbus fifth wheels. Palomino has been around since the late 1960’s and is now owned by Forest River.
On a side note, I had figured the last step in purchasing our rig would be buying the truck. I’m now leaning towards getting the truck first knowing the trailers we are considering are under 20,000 pounds in gross weight and by then we should have a couple trailers in mind that we would buy. I’ll explain this decision in a future blog post related to transitioning from a stick and brick home to a trailer. My seven steps to selecting a trailer are:
- Decide on budget. (update 11/20/16 – we are considering increasing the budget)
- Fifth wheel vs Motor Home?
- Then decide on floor plan and basic needs (such as 4 season rig) of a “full time” unit.
- Then decide what manufacturers build the floor plan or close to it.
- Then decide which of several manufacturers appear to have best quality for price and the best after purchase service.
- Reduce selection to one manufacturer and buy new or used depending on budget.
- Select a truck capable of pulling the rig with a safety margin.
I’ll get to my notes about the Columbus shortly. In the rating system I’m using it comes in at 167 points out of a possible 260 which makes the Columbus, for our wants and needs, one of the lowest rated.
Last Christmas I bought a family member one of those gifts that you want to keep for yourself. Well, after nearly eight months thinking about it and at least a few incidents needing one, I bought a portable jump starter power pack for myself. What took so long to decide is the notion Karen and I are limiting what we buy knowing we will be disposing of our stuff and hitting the road in a few years. I also try and avoid buying camping gadgets thinking we will need them later. A friend at work bought a similar power pack more than a year ago and highly recommended getting one. He has jump-started several cars and never recharged it. This included a diesel engine. I checked the specs on his power pack and went a couple sizes larger in terms of battery capacity and cold cranking amps. Two weeks after the purchase Karen’s car would not start. Not a problem. I opened the engine hood and 30 seconds later she was on her way to the store. I threw the power pack in the back seat after showing her how to use it. No more having to fetch an extra vehicle to jump start the car. No more having to worry about getting close enough to jump start a car. And as a bonus we can charge our phones, have a handy flashlight and a very bright blinking LED light as a warning devise. I bought the power pack at Amazon because Walmart had a limited selection.
Regarding the Columbus fifth wheel. It comes in two variations, one being the better equipped Columbus and the other being the Compass model. Frankly, in this price point the Forest River Cedar Creek or Cardinal may be a better option for full time living. Here are my notes on the 2017 Columbus 320RS 38’ rear living room (video) for those interested:
Options: Thirteen available floor plans in the Columbus. No advertised 8,000 pound axle options, G/H rated tires, disc brakes or better pin and suspensions. A lot of what other brands come standard with are options which may be nice if one wanted to keep the price down. The number of floor plans will improve my score for this category.
Service: Not advertised in their brochure as being for full time use nor even extended stay. I’ve been getting mixed opinions about customer service by Forest River. Here are a few interesting comments on their brochure: “Forest River dealerships are independently owned so priority service and scheduling is at their discretion and is often provided to customers that purchased their unit at that dealership.” “Purchasing locally allows customers to establish meaningful relationships with a dealer.” “Scheduling timely warranty repairs and adjustments through a local dealership provides far greater flexibility and convenience to the customer.” I don’t know if they are pushing for buying locally to help the dealership or warning if you take the trailer to a dealership where you did not purchase it then don’t expect prompt service. Or maybe they are just being honest and setting customer expectations. Forest River has a very active owner’s group forum!
Appliances: Comes with a residential fridge. Did not see an option for a gas/electric but a photo showed one. Uses a Eureka brand central vacuum. Karen wants a hand-held Dyson. The appliances are typical at this price point.
Furniture: This is going to get them some points. They use La-Z-Boy in the living room which is new for this year. The sofa was a bit stiff to sit on but Karen liked it. Did not test the bed.
Electrical: Has separate stereo controls in basement for outside speakers which is nice! I noticed USB charging ports inside the trailer, again very nice although you can use adaptors with other outlet types. 40” TV in living room on swivel. Not sure yet what size we want. TV size has to do with how close you sit to a TV so surely there must be an optimal size. Can get up to a 55” TV. As usual, I’m rating the trailer as if it comes with their “best” options. 32” TV in bedroom that is framed inside the cabinetry rather than just hanging on a wall. They have really done a nice job with charging stations for electronics, although I did not see any readily apparent 12 volt connections. Not sure what kind of tank water level monitoring system they are using. Whatever trailer we buy will have the better system for the black tank sensor such as the SeeLevel II. Also do not know if there is a remote control for slides. It’s not something I’ve seen in any other unit but the Columbus has an additional sound bar in bedroom. Not sure it’s needed but is interesting to note.
Trim: The kitchen island is on rollers. They have to be buckled down when towing. Karen liked the idea of moving it around to an angle. This was in the model with no sink in the island. They use plastic one-piece bathroom sinks and the other counter surfaces are lower grade than others in the price point. Hardwood cabinets with hidden hinges. They make use of interior doors on slides which I don’t like because they frequently need adjustment. Nice metal drawer hardware with dove tail joints. Stove top cover folds up rather than having to remove the cover completely which is a feature we like. Cabinets over the sofa and chairs that some competitors don’t offer. Lighting fixtures and fabric colors are modern. Cabinets are not so modern in design and hardware. Karen liked the built-in table areas next to each side of the living room sofa. Dining table slides back into the table which is easy to use compared to having to put a leaf in. Lots of windows to include one off the kitchen sink which Karen liked. Coat closet at entry which is a must per Karen. Wood steps up to bedroom which are better than carpet for durability but maybe not as nice as having a rubber topping on wood stairs. Separate closet in the bedroom for washer/dryer rather than having to move clothes to get at a unit from inside the closet. We like the trailers with super slides in the bedroom that have a separate area for the washer/dryer but that floor plan is not available in the Columbus. Shower had a textured glass door which we feel is better for not showing water marks than flat clear glass. Karen mentioned there is no storage over the bed which she said was fine because those cabinets would be hard to get at. They raised the headroom above the bed by 6” this year. That’s nice because many trailers, especially with cabinets over the bed, feel tight between the bed and cabinets. In the bedroom closet they are using a closet rod with the individual hanger locations rather than a smooth bar. Not yet sure what we prefer for a closet rod.
Insulation: Forced air heat to basement (which also helps heat the bedroom). Heat pads on tanks with separate controls inside trailer. No mention if the forced air has a return air vent from the basement. R-38 rated floor, R-34 roof and R-11 sidewalls. The sidewall insulation is a little better than the typical R-9. No mention of slide-out values. In the past I assume if a manufacture does not mention a feature then it’s because it’s less than the competition in that area. They use foam block insulation on the floor, walls and ceiling. Front cap is rolled fiberglass with Astro Foil as well as above the plastic underbelly. Appears to be rolled fiberglass around the tanks. The reflective material, Astro Foil, is under the slide-out floors. At the dealership I noticed some of that beaded foam insulation (low quality) material that had never been cleaned out near the bedroom television. I have no idea where that came from. Perhaps it was from packing material for the components? Overall the insulation is a little better than typical (as always in my opinion).
Foundation: Using Schwintek slides which others say suck. Bedroom slide was encased in the slide so I could not see what type it was. Salesman did not know. Many higher end units are using a cable slide for the light bedroom slide. Saw no advertising for frame size. Warning, the shorter units are 6,000 pound axles. This trailer must be built with lower weight in mind so I’d assume the construction is lighter for that reason. Using hydraulic six point leveling and electric slides. Video says with electric slides you can bring them out one at a time. I’ve noticed others may use hydraulic on larger slides and electric on smaller slides. They use pinched-rolled laminated construction for sidewalls. Slide walls are vacuum laminated and sounded solid when I hit them. They claim a 5/8” tongue and grove sub flooring. When walking in the trailer the floor felt spongy. I wonder if the floor joists are spaced to far apart which is causing the spongy feeling. Coupled with the E rated tires and everything else, I’m not rating the foundation very high. Knowing if the frame is 10” or 12” I beam would have helped. To be fair, they are building a lighter weight unit. Welded aluminum studs but no mention if welded on both sides of studs.
Plumbing: Karen really liked the kitchen sink being along a wall. I noticed there was not a flush backsplash on that wall which could cause water to leach into the wall and cause bubbling like I saw in a used trailer bathroom sink. I could add a piece of rubber trim or tile to fix this. Using three, 20 pound propane tanks, compared to usual 30 pounders. Some say this is because 20 pound tanks are easier to disconnect for refill. I noticed all the propane tanks are on the same side of trailer which, although not much, shifts weight to that side of the trailer. I assume they balance the load on the other side of trailer. Propane has an auto change-over and although not typical, they include a slam-latch door where others use the crappy silver twist locks, assumedly because you don’t get in this door much. Ten gallon hot water tank which is okay. Has a built-in water purifier. 64 gallon fresh water, 78 grey and 39 black. Tank sizes are just a tad under others at this price point with fresh water size being marginal for boondocking. Not sure what they are using for water lines, the pipe feeding the water filter was not Pex. Something different was a 2” heat duct leading to the docking station for hook-ups in the basement which is a nice feature. By the way, I heard recently full water tanks are not counted as part of the dry weight rating. At about 8 pounds per gallon, water will take away from cargo capacity in a hurry.
Mechanical: AC is ducted and whisper quiet. Floor duct work out of the way of where you walk. Heat is 30,000 BTU furnace. I’m not sure yet what the best size for a 38’ trailer would be. This is a 4 seasons trailer. Typical zoned heating/cooling with sensors. They don’t mention if the system is ducted throughout the trailer such as if the bedroom and living room AC units work together or not.
Cargo Capacity: Most are a little below 3,000 pounds max. Capacity is marginal for full time living. Oh my – I noticed in a video the basement area may not be a drop-frame. That’s huge because a drop-frame is done to increase basement area cargo and is a standard amongst all others in this price point. That is going to hurt their score big time. I did not see any access panels to the components from the basement.
Exterior: Slam latch doors are way thin compared to others, again maybe keeping the weight down. Liked the exterior color options (3). No full rear cap on the unit we toured but it is an option. Four entry steps are not aluminum.
Interior: Radius roof but ceiling is flat. I used to want radius ceiling but now don’t care. Their ceiling is 6″ aluminum construction which should limit how much insulation they loose towards the outside of the trailer where the ceiling cavity is thinner because of the radius in the roof. The 320RS, according to the video, was the first floor plan they offered. I find that “first floor plans” appear to be given much thought. Shades are on rollers with night and day shades. They are not using the MCD brand. Modern colors.
Notes: Salesman said there was hardly any change from the 2016 models. There are lots of changes since I looked at a 2014 model to include better exterior color options. Overall, I did not get a good feeling about the trailer’s build quality, but then again it’s a 1,000 pounds lighter than others in the class. New campers all had very heavy chemical smells. The Forest River Cedar Creek or the Cardinal are better options for a full time rig at this price point.
Thank you to everyone for following my blog and all the excellent comments which I learn from. If you are reading this blog for the first time feel free to post your comments on early blog posts a well. I will read them and post a reply. As I read blogs others are keeping I learn a lot from the comments section.
R.I.P Captain Melton, Kansas City Kansas Police – Final Watch 7/19/16