Interior renovations and remodeling for motorhomes — as well as mechanical repairs — are performed by this Columbus, Georgia, company.
By Lazelle Jones
My drive across southeastern Georgia was delightful. Rolling countryside, blanketed in every direction by deep green forests and fields, was punctuated by red clay that peeked out from beneath rows of peanut plants and pecan trees. Although I enjoyed the bucolic scenery, my sights were trained on western Georgia, where I would visit with Frank and Brad MacDonald, founder and president, respectively, of Coachcraft by MacDonald, C9022, in Columbus. Once there, I discovered the breadth of motorhome renovation, restoration, and mechanical services rendered by the company.
First, I learned a bit of history. In 1954, after being discharged from the military, Frank opened up a cabinetmaking and woodworking business in Columbus. He bought a 1976 Blue Bird Wanderlodge motorhome in 1980 and decided to use his crafting skills to renovate it. He showed the results to Blue Bird officials at the factory in Fort Valley, Georgia, and they liked what they saw. They began recommending Frank to Blue Bird owners who wanted their coaches updated or remodeled.
Frank saw the opportunity for a business in remodeling upscale motorhomes, because he knew many enthusiasts would rather repair or renovate them than purchase new ones. So in 1989 Frank formally organized Coachcraft by MacDonald and opened his doors for business.
Today the cabinet business Frank started continues to operate in a 22,000-square-foot building adjacent to the Coachcraft facility. Both businesses are now owned and managed by Frank’s son, Brad. Coachcraft by MacDonald offers complete service, maintenance, renovations, and collision and fire repairs of every kind for any type of motorized RV.
To begin with, the 10,200-square-foot Coachcraft facility houses eight service bays. The company’s ranks consist of several individuals whose collective expertise runs the gamut of RV workmanship. These include a certified diesel mechanic; an electrical engineer; a fiberglass, metal, and structural specialist; plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning specialists; craftspeople skilled in fine woodworking and cabinetmaking; an upholstery expert; and individuals who work with granite, ceramic tile, solid-surface material, and carpet.
Since his son took over Coachcraft by MacDonald in 2000, Frank said, “Brad has really made it go.” At that time, the company joined FMCA as a commercial member.
Frank noted that only two places in the country that don’t sell Blue Bird products are authorized service centers for these motorhomes, and Coachcraft by MacDonald is one of them. The company also is a service facility for Coachmen, Country Coach, Fleetwood, National RV, and Newmar. Coachcraft by MacDonald won’t rebuild major components such as engines or transmissions, however. Its primary niche is coach renovation and implementing upgrades to boost the luxury a coach can yield. The service end of its business materialized because clients who are having motorhomes renovated often say, “Oh, by the way, while my coach is here, do you mind changing the oil?”
Renovation can include carpeting, tile work, replacing countertops, installing hardwood floors, upholstery work, adding new window treatments or wallpaper, cabinetry and woodworking, and relocating interior furnishings. For example, they can replace a sofa with a computer station, a recliner, a cabinet, or another item. In addition, Coachcraft by MacDonald technicians are capable of servicing or upgrading heating and air-conditioning systems, as well as auxiliary generators. They install over-the-road air conditioning, will swap out a forced-air furnace with an Aqua-Hot system, and frequently install larger gen sets.
Often customers come in wanting to reconfigure the interior, add or delete walls, cabinets, etc., but not enough space is available. In this case, Coachcraft by MacDonald employees will create several design options and present them to the client. Company technicians once changed a center-aisle bath in a Prevost conversion to a side-aisle configuration. This involved gutting the bathroom, changing the plumbing and wiring, and creating solid-surface shower walls. Coachcraft by MacDonald technicians have reconfigured galleys and added or replaced appliances.
The company works not only on ultra-high-end coaches but also on the more typical kinds of motorhomes that ply the roads of America today. “It depends upon how much a client likes his or her coach or wants to invest and update the coach,” Brad explained. “This usually depends on the value of the motorhome. In other words, is the coach worth the cost of modifying and renovating it?”
However, having said that, when I toured the facility, Coachcraft by MacDonald employees had just finished a complete renovation of a Fleetwood motorhome that was a dozen years old. The money invested by the client in this redo was in excess of the value of the coach, but he told Coachcraft by MacDonald staff that he liked his coach and never wanted to give it up. The work they completed included installing a Corian solid-surface entryway stairwell, replacing the carpeting, redoing the cabinetry and woodwork, installing a large-screen plasma television, swapping out all the appliances for new ones, and changing to a new water heater. But first, company techs had to remove the walls and make structural repairs because of major water damage. They also replaced the skylight and gave the motorhome a new roof.
One client brought a brand-new motorhome to Coachcraft by MacDonald because he didn’t like the lengthwise orientation of the bedroom. The company’s craftspeople reconfigured the bedroom into a sidewise orientation, and ended up installing new walnut cabinetry, too.
One of the things coach enthusiasts want and need to know (and something Coachcraft by MacDonald designers discuss candidly with them) are the characteristics of materials, surfaces, fixtures, components, etc. that make them practical or not practical for use in a motorhome. Brad explained that high-gloss laminate surfaces look great, for example, but don’t hold up well in a high-wear area. Another example is floor tile; he said that clients often initially want a large-size tile, and if that’s what they request, Coachcraft by MacDonald will use it. But with the subtle flex that all motorhomes exhibit, large tiles have a tendency to crack more than smaller tiles.
I asked how much time it typically takes, for example, to have new upholstery, carpet, and window treatments installed. “If we know that a coach is coming on a certain date,” Brad replied, “and we have time to plan the work and get the materials, it will typically take about two to three weeks to complete, depending upon the extent of the remodel.” He added that many snowbirds pass through Columbus and end up on the company’s doorstep because of service or maintenance issues; Coachcraft by MacDonald tries to never turn those folks away. “If a coach enthusiast who is traveling through needs service work, we attend to that immediately,” Brad said. “We get them on the road as quickly as possible.”
While touring the plant with Frank and Brad, I saw that, just as they had described, the service bays were full with coaches under repair and with renovation projects in progress. Two 40-foot diesel pushers that had sustained major fire damage were being totally gutted and rebuilt. This is where the company’s electrical and plumbing specialists really show their stuff, before the woodworkers, designers, and finish specialists ever get started. We looked at the before-and-after bundles of wiring — those that had been burned, and then replaced. It seemed like brain surgery, except the brain was a motor coach 40 feet long and 102 inches wide “” amazing!
Perhaps ironically, this past February Coachcraft by MacDonald was forced to relocate temporarily after an explosion and fire, which were traced to a rupture in an aged natural gas line, damaged the coach repair and remodeling facility. No one was in the building at the time, and business resumed at the temporary location within a week of the incident. The company returned to its original site on August 9, 2004, after reconstruction of the eight-bay coach service facility was completed.
It’s good to know that if you need the specialized services of a company such as Coachcraft by MacDonald, they are available. Columbus may be a little off the beaten path for some, but Coachcraft does work magic. Plus, the drive through Georgia is beautiful.
Coachcraft by MacDonald, 1370 Belinda Drive, Columbus, GA 31907; (706) 562-0510; www.coachcraftbymacdonald.com