Chinook RV: A Seamless C-Body Manufacturer
Dan Lukehart, president of Trail Wagons Inc., dba Chinook RV, tells a story about a customer who left a paper cup full of coffee on the rear bumper of his new Chinook Concourse Class C motorhome and drove off. When he got home, Lukehart relates, the cup was still sitting on the bumper with coffee in it.
That story speaks volumes for the manufacturers of Chinook one-piece molded fiberglass minimotorhomes.
“We don’t have any other priorities other than making the most sound motorhome possible,” Lukehart said. “It’s expensive to do it that way, but that is what makes us a niche. Not everybody can afford everything that we build.”
Indeed, customers expect quality and top-line features from Chinook RV, which manufactures about 450 minimotorhomes annually with retail base prices from $74,157 to $167,131.
“We’ve failed at building an economy model,” Lukehart said. “That’s what controls our volume completely. There’s not an employee here who could build a midline vehicle. I’ve been asked to do that hundreds of times, and I ask how? Every time we try to do it, every time we try to design something out, somebody else (in Chinook management) puts it back in.”
Chinook emphasizes the strength of its one-piece molded fiberglass construction.
“Our molds provide as fine a finish as you have on any car,” Lukehart said. “The whole thing involves as many as eight to 10 layers of fiberglass at the end of the process. It’s 3 or 4 inches thick at some points. We mold a lot of the openings, and we don’t have any flange-mounted doors. All that does away with having to install trim and caulking. Because it’s one piece, it has a lot of strength. It has no weak points and it provides a solid ride.”
Chinook, first produced in 1938 by Sy and Rose Mair in Orange County, Calif., is among the oldest U.S. brand names in the RV industry.
“In 1938, they were just little old travel trailers and pickup campers and chassis mounts that went on a one-ton cab chassis,” Lukehart said.
In 1971, after Chinook had been merged and sold several times and moved to Yakima, Wash., Lukehart’s father, Gary, became president of the company, which at the time was owned by an investment group that took it public. When the investment group pulled out in 1975, Gary Lukehart left Chinook, which became idle, and formed Trail Wagons Inc. to build Class B van campers.
Gary Lukehart previously had owned Family Wagon Compact Equipment Co., which converted Chevrolet and Dodge vans into campers. He is restoring one of his original conversions, a 1961 Corvair, which he found at a convention of Corvair owners. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Trail Wagons converted Dodge, Chevrolet and Ford vans into Class B motorhomes.
“They weren’t just van campers, though,” Dan Lukehart said. “They were luxury travel vans that sold, basically, in the auto market.”
Chinook lay dormant until 1985, when Gary Lukehart purchased the remnants of the company and the Chinook brand name.
Trail Wagons eventually began to focus singularly on Chinook minimotorhomes and its one-piece fiberglass construction, which Gary Lukehart had implemented previously while at Chinook’s helm.
Chinook frequently has gone outside the RV arena to prove the point. Dan Lukehart set a motorhome land-speed record of 114 mph in 1998 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, and in 2000 participated in the Alcan Winter Rally, a strenuous road rally from the Pacific Northwest to Alaska.
“We did it to prove that Chinooks aren’t just motorhomes and shouldn’t be stereotyped as being only for old people,” Lukehart said.
Always innovating, Chinook has built and shown macho-style off-road Class Cs, and most recently a minimotorhome with the look of GM’s Hummer.
“It’s a front-appearance package with a Hummer H2 nose on a Chevy cutaway chassis,” Lukehart said. “We’re not saying that it’s a Hummer, but it was fun to do. That’s what it’s all about: Dress it up and make it look nice.”