Paul Wipf has faith in something big.
Wipf commutes to work from Sioux Falls every morning, driving 56 miles to a Hutterite colony in South Dakota. The past Pepsi region manager for 30 years, and current sales consultant for OES Industries, has been spending the past several months revitalizing TrailManor. Under his guidance and the sweat equity of 16 or so Hutterites, Wipf is seeking to bring back to life one of the most innovative RVs to hit pavement.
“The guy who designed this thing had a genius mind. It’s a unique concept trailer,” Wipf said during his drive to the Hutterite colony. “We’re literally doing a step-by-step process on this using all the books from the old owner. … He’s got every little detail on paper.”
What makes this line of trailers stand out is how each unit unfolds like opening the pages of a 3-D pop-up book. RVers go from what looks like a cargo trailer to a standard towable in under five minutes. Unlike tent campers, TrailManor has hard-shelled walls and a roof with all the interior amenities of a Class C. And it developed a big following with new lines and floorplans emerging every year.
But production of the pop-ups slowed after the production line moved from Jacksboro, Tenn., to Hartington, Neb., in 2015. Past CEO Bob Eikhoff encountered difficulties, and sought to sell the company.
“Bob and I kept it alive as long as we could,” said Cleo Eikhoff, Bob’s wife.
Introduced through a mutual supplier, the Eikhoffs believed the Hutterites represented a potential opportunity to rescue the company. The Hutterites were interested, and the sale of TrailManor was completed on June 21.
“They’re going to do a fantastic job,” said Eikhoff, optimistic of TrailManor’s future. “They’re going to make TrailManor shine again.”
The religious colony had done its research, and saw that like many niche, unconventional RVs – like nüCamp or TAXA – the brand has a loyal following. The TrailBlazer Club, which runs multiple regional rallies every year, has been active since 1993. The next nationwide rally is planned for Oct. 13 - 20, 2018, in Nashville.
This past month, assets of TrailManor were transferred from the 60,000-square-foot facility in Nebraska, to the Hutterite’s new 35,000-square-foot plant currently finalizing construction (pictured below).
As for Wipf’s involvement, his relationship with Hutterites go way back. The “OES” of OES Industries actually stands for Old Elm Spring Colony, which is located in Parkston, S.D. That’s where Wipf was raised until his family left the Hutterite community when he was 15.
His brother, Joseph Wipf, is now head of the colony.
Looking to diversify from agriculture, the Hutterites have become adept at fabrication and manufacturing in various fields, like furniture and cabinetry. Wipf acts as a sales rep for the colony. Assembling RVs, said Wipf, while new to this specific colony, is a task they feel more than up to snuff.
“When they ended up taking over TrailManor, they talked me into taking over the project and basically doing all the building materials and research,” said Wipf. “I firmly believe that, end of the day, we’re gonna have a very good product.”
Hutterites are rather self-sustaining with men wearing thick, black suspenders and a heavy beard (if they’re married). Plans, so far, call for seven to eight stations to be built. The RV frames will come in prebuilt, leaving the 16-person team to assemble it in sections – two men helming each work station. Adhesive company Chemique is visiting the facility this month to help install one station.
Wipf said they may have other colonies act as suppliers. A couple miles north at another colony has two cabinet prototypes done for a TrailManor 2720 Series model that Wipf will be considering soon. Three places are currently giving price quotes for the prefabricated frames.
Two TrailManor units coming in end of October for service. One has hail damage. The other has a water leak. It’ll be the Hutterites first time at the RV-manufacturing rodeo, which Wipf thinks will be interesting.
Little will be done to improving the design of the units. The interior woodwork will be different but not a large departure from the original, minus upgrades to the quality. The new Trail Manor manufacturers are taking a proven product. It doesn’t need revamping, Wipf said.
“Afterwards,” he said, “we’ll ask our customers, ‘What would you like us to change?’ ”
Based on past sales, TrailManor will start by offering the 2720, 2922, and 3124 Series starting this January.
Bob Eikhoff has been hired to maintain dealer contacts. He’s already sold a couple units.
Before Wipf was asked to oversee production, he was “coasting to retirement.” But the promise of Trail Manor’s rebirth was unavoidable.
“Honestly, I don’t think you can put a limit on the potential of this project. I’ve talked to two dealers, I’ve read the (TrailManor Owner's Pages) forum, I’ve been on Facebook,” he said, “and the positives outweigh the negatives so much.”
If Wipf is reading the pulse right, they’ll open an additional production facility soon.