Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Land Of The Living Dead: Coburg and Junction City, Oregon

Coburg and Junction City, Oregon have plenty of sad economic stories. Vacant lots, abandoned buildings, high unemployment, businesses for sale and going out of business.  This is the land of broken RV promises, forgotten retirement dreams and monuments to greed. 
This vacant property still has signs advertising the Safari line of motorhomes.
Another vast vacant sales lot.

We were in good spirits when we rolled into town last month -- after all, Monaco RV (maker of Holiday Rambler) was pulled from the jaws of bankruptcy by Navistar and production continues, albeit at a much slower pace -- and on the other side of the country.

As owners of a new Holiday Rambler Endeavor, we are certainly satisfied.  After all, Tampa's RV Supershow last January painted a bright picture for Monaco and Holiday Rambler. 

As I reported earlier, Endie (our new Endeavor) had a few warranty repairs to be done. Our call for service was handled promptly and to our satisfaction.  As new owners with warranty work, we were moved to the top of the waiting list and were taken into service early the next morning.  Both our technical advisor and the service technician were to our liking.  Both were long, long time employees of Monaco. We were pleased by the service we were given and left without paying a dime out-of-pocket.  I was so pleased, I couldn't resist tapping the "EASY" button at the counter.

Part of the only operational Monaco RV property.

What didn't please us was seeing 60 acres of abandoned office, service and assembly buildings and parking lots all bearing the Monaco name and logo.  It was depressing. The week prior, most of the equipment had been auctioned and was slowly being hauled away. The buildings and land will become part of an industrial park but I can't imagine how, when or by whom.  Coburg's overcast skies that day served well to enhance the sadness I felt.

The euphoria of our brand new coach started to wane as we considered how close Monaco and Holiday Rambler had come to death -- and might still be if Navistar can't get them squared away. 

But this was no time for despair.  Our purchase was made and we do love Endie -- just as we loved  Mona before her.  This is very likely our final coach purchase and we expect to live in her for many years to come.

So.... as I became intrigued by local stories of the "RV boom and bust" I decided I needed to do a little research on how this all came about.  I learned this:

Coburg and Junction City gave birth to RVing back in 1968 when four entrepreneurs established Caribou Manufacturing (predecessor to Monaco, est. 1971). Later one of the four men left Caribou to form a second camping company that would become Country Coach, introducing mini-motor homes within two years.  By 1983 a hundred employees would be making luxury diesel motorcoaches there.  In 2004 Country Coach would employ some 1600 locals and operate a 508,000 sq ft building.  In 2006, Monaco employed over 6,000 workers nationwide -- half of them here in the Coburg facility.

Monaco was even larger here than Country Coach and Marathon Coach was a bit smaller. Together these RV giants at one time employed 4,600 local workers and supported many other businesses that provided paints, parts, upholstery, electronics.  All that aside from the services that benefited from the employees and their families.

Then came the economic downturn.  A 33% decline in RV sales in 2008, lay-offs and re-organization.  Country Coach shut down production entirely but maintains a service center with 100 employees for service to it's loyal ownership who flock to this area to rally among themselves and have repairs made to their aging motorhomes.  The single remnant of Monaco in Oregon is its 150 employee Coburg service center. All new Monaco product now comes from Indiana. Rumors swelled last year that Country Coach was looking to make a come-back but that ideas seems unlikely to me.

The electric outlet I didn't know we had.
 It's perfectly placed for my computer station.
But be not dismayed! There are some good stories in these towns too. Many of the thousands of displaced Monaco, Country Coach and related business employees have skills still needed by RVers. This area is a hub of activity and Oregon's pleasant summers and scenic coastline bring plenty of rallies to this area.  Interior renovation, new appliances, fresh textiles, modern window coverings, roof, body and paint work, electronics, towing equipment, cabinetry, engine repair, tires to name a few categories.  Many business are mobile and several offer free overnight hook-ups for customers.

Mark installed new outlets and found the one
I didn't know we had. 

Most of the people with whom we speak expect to spend $5,000 to $10,000 in renovations while they are here. We certainly do our part!  Even with the new coach, we'll have additional electrical outlets and window awnings installed.  With Oregons's sales tax exemption, we love buying things here!

Having Endie's oil changed and generator serviced.

So despite the initial impression this area might give, it is a highly desirable destination for us and for many other RVers.  Our time here has been pleasurable -- just like it was last year. We're staying at the same campground where we get a reasonable weekly rate.  River Bend Resort was the brainchild of a couple of local yahoos who hoped to cash in on the success of the motorhome business -- just before the recession. Now it is owned by the bank who financed it.  It is still a pretty good place to stay though.  

My new favorite steel bridge.
Built 1887 over the McKenzie River in Coburg, Oregon.

Looks like we'll be here for at least another week... perhaps a bit more.   As Wayne says, "We have to be somewhere." 

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