After becoming full-timers, Bill and Carol Mumma wanted a coach that would fulfill all of their needs. So they drew up the plans and had it built.
By Doug Uhlenbrock
As I pulled into the Cincinnati campground where Bill and Carol Mumma, F230646, were staying, I expected their type A coach to be outwardly different from other motorhomes. I had talked briefly with Bill by phone, so I was prepared for a “wow” factor when I first encountered the coach. But that didn’t really happen right away. The coach looked very much like others in the campground.
A few hours later, after meeting the Mummas and touring their coach, I realized that appearances can be deceiving. The motorhome was everything “” and more than “” I expected. Most importantly, it was exactly what the couple wanted.
Bill and Carol, who joined FMCA in 1997, took the traditional route to motorhoming, moving from a tent to a pop-up camper and then to a travel trailer before buying their first motorhome. Once settled into their home on wheels, they toyed with the idea of full-timing for several years before finally committing to the lifestyle.
“Bill would say, ‘Are we going to go on the road or not?'” Carol recalled. “We saw other full-timers out there, but I didn’t want to start too soon, so I’d say no. He did that to me for two years.”
Carol was still teaching school at the time and wasn’t quite ready to give up her suburban Cincinnati home, which had been drawn up by Bill, a residential designer. At the time the house was built, they both thought they’d be in it for the rest of their lives. But then, as they became more involved in motorhoming, their attitudes began to change. “We started to make excuses to stay another night or two on our trips,” Bill said. Then they began taking longer trips, such as a one-month excursion to Minnesota wherein they wandered as they pleased. “If we liked [a place], we stayed,” Bill said. “If not, we moved on.”
The Mummas were very happy with their 28-foot Safari Trek, which satisfied most of their traveling needs. When they finally made the plunge into full-timing, they believed that the Trek would suffice. “What we liked about the Trek was its smallness,” Bill said. “It allowed us to travel on back roads and in places that you can’t take some of the larger coaches. Plus, Carol drives about half the time, so if she couldn’t drive it, we weren’t getting it.”
But after a year or so, they began to wonder what it would be like to have a coach that was custom-built especially for full-timing. As a designer, Bill often told his clients to build their homes to satisfy their needs. He’d taken his own advice when he designed his stationary home, and did so again with this motorhome.
What may come as a surprise is that the Mummas’ coach is small, measuring a couple inches shy of 31 feet long. People may think that a full-timer’s coach should be as large as possible for both storage availability and interior comfort. But after traveling in the Trek, the Mummas realized that a smaller motorhome was more conducive to their lifestyle.
In designing their new motorhome, efficiency was a key factor in nearly every decision the Mummas made. Early on they determined that the coach should be powered by a diesel engine. Fuel efficiency played a part in their decision, but they also liked the idea of a single-fuel coach, eliminating the need for an LP-gas tank. The couple also appreciated the Trek’s rear bathroom setup, so they decided on a front-engine chassis for the new coach as well.
“I liked having a flat floor all the way back,” Bill said. “Having an engine in front creates a little additional noise, but we put up with it before [with the Trek].”
However, this decision posed a problem. At the time, none of the major motorhome chassis manufacturers made a front-engine diesel chassis. Acting on a tip, Bill called the folks at Custom Chassis Inc. in Wellington, Ohio, who were more than happy to work with the couple in building them “” what else “” a custom chassis.
Initially the Mummas planned to outfit the coach with a midsize diesel engine, but the waiting time for the one they wanted was six months. So they opted for a larger engine, a Cummins 370-horsepower ISL turbo-diesel power plant, which was available in 10 days. Transferring that engine power to the pavement is an Allison 3000 MH electronic six-speed transmission. The chassis is equipped with a Granning air-ride independent front suspension; a Reyco air-ride rear suspension; a TRW Automotive steering assembly with a 56-degree wheel cut; six-wheel air brakes with ABS; and a 150-gallon fuel tank. It has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,000 pounds and a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 36,000 pounds.
To build the house portion of the motorhome, the Mummas selected Euro-Liner LLC, a conversion company in Elkhart, Indiana. For nearly a year the couple worked with Euro-Liner’s engineers and technicians to design and assemble their full-timing coach. Literally thousands of details had to be worked through during the construction process.
Since this is a full-timing coach, the Mummas paid special attention to the coach’s utilities. It has two 50-amp service connections. One includes a 12-circuit, 120-volt-AC panel while the other is set up to handle 240-volt-AC to run the motorhome’s clothes dryer. The coach is equipped with a pair of Xantrex 3000 inverters, which convert 12-volt-DC electric from the coach’s five absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries. Each inverter feeds one leg of the 50-amp internal service, but not the dryer. (The motorhome also includes a pair of 12-volt chassis batteries.) When boondocking, the couple calls upon the coach’s three 120-watt solar panels and the 12.5-kilowatt Onan Quiet Diesel generator for their electrical needs. Controlling it all is an Intellitec 50-amp Smart Energy Management System.
Should the couple stay in a primitive camping area for an extended period of time, the coach is equipped with a 100-gallon water tank and 52-gallon gray and black water holding tanks. Since the coach doesn’t have an LP-gas tank, hot water and interior heat are produced by a diesel-fueled, 50,000-Btu Hydro-Hot heating system. A Dometic 15,000-Btu air conditioner with heat pump provides interior cooling during warm weather.
The decision to go without LP gas may seem questionable to some motorhomers. But during the initial planning stages, the Mummas took a page from the bus conversion folks and went with residential appliances: a 26.5-cubic-foot refrigerator-freezer with ice maker and filtered water through the door; an 18-inch under-the-counter dishwasher; and a stacked front-loading washer and dryer. Part of the reason for choosing residential appliances, Bill said, was that they wouldn’t have to worry about leveling the coach perfectly each time they parked. While discussing his refrigerator choice, he added that it cost less “” “about the same as an 8-cubic-foot RV refrigerator,” uses less energy, and is easier to get serviced. “One of the great things about having this type of refrigerator is that if it ever needs service I’ll be able to find it,” he said. “Sometimes with an RV refrigerator that’s not as easy. The service person will come right to the motorhome instead of me having to take the motorhome for service.”
In the galley you won’t find any gas burners. Food is prepped in a microwave-convection oven or on a trio of Ultrex induction countertop range units that plug directly into the 120-volt-AC outlet and can be stacked out of the way when not in use.
Under the 8-foot-long, extra-wide kitchen counter are a series of 30-inch-deep sliding drawers that hold most of the couple’s cooking and kitchen accessories, while a row of cabinets above hold their food and cooking supplies. The cabinetry throughout the coach, handcrafted by Van’s Cabinet Shop in Milford, Indiana, is made of solid cherry wood with bird’s-eye maple inserts.
Two things you won’t find in this motorhome are a dedicated dining area or a bedroom. That’s because the living area between the driver’s compartment and the galley serves all three purposes, an idea they borrowed from the Trek.
In its travel setup, the area includes a pair of large custom-made opposing sofas. When parked, a driver’s side slideout can be extended to reveal a series of 16-inch-deep cabinets under a large counter. Since the couch doesn’t move with the slideout, there’s plenty of room to walk behind it and reach the storage area.
At dinnertime the couple uses a custom-made drop-leaf table and chairs, also fashioned by Van’s Cabinets. If it’s just the two of them eating, they simply pull the table away from the wall and swing it around to face the TV (equipped with satellite service) in the front of the coach, giving them ample room for two. However, if they have company, the table can be placed between the sofas for a comfortable, relaxing dinner. The Mummas also had Van’s Cabinets fashion a large dashboard-mounted computer desk in the copilot area.
When it’s time to turn in for the night, the living area converts to a bedroom, similar to the setup in the Trek. However, instead of lowering a bed from the ceiling as in the Trek, the Mummas sleep on the sofas, which fold down, slide together, and lock into place to form a walk-around, queen-size bed. A storage area in the driver’s side sofa holds the bedding and pillows when they’re not in use. The sleeping setup converts back to living space in a matter of minutes the next morning.
Now you might be wondering why the Mummas didn’t just put a small bedroom in the rear of the coach. Well, as full-timers, they wanted a large, residential-style bathroom with a full-size tub and plenty of room to move. The tub measures 32 inches wide and 60 inches long and includes integral whirlpool jets and an adjustable handheld shower. A good-size sink and counter sit opposite the tub alongside a SeaLand china toilet, with a pair of large cabinets hanging above to hold toiletries and towels.
Although the Mummas’ coach is small, it is outfitted more like a 40-footer. The basement area holds the sizable fuel, water, and holding tanks, the large generator, and the Hydro Hot system. This still leaves room for several large storage compartments. Since the engine is in the front of the coach, the couple devoted the very rear of the unit to a walk-in closet where they can hang clothes; keep coats, hats, and shoes; and store other larger, unwieldy items. With this and the numerous other cabinets and drawers around the motorhome, the Mummas said it has more storage than what is found in many larger coaches.
“We knew what was important to us, and Carol is very good at prioritizing,” Bill said. “We could have had fewer cabinets for less money, but we knew storage would be a priority. They’re very nice cabinets and the work done on them was terrific, but what they’re made of and what they look like was not the most important thing; that was the storage space they provide.”
The coach was built in 2002 and 2003; the process took more than a year to complete. The Mummas spent many nights either in the Trek or in Elkhart hotel rooms. But they both agree that the time and money spent was well worth it.
“[The motorhome] is customized to the way we live,” Bill said. “We don’t have to depend on what [services are] available in the parks where we stay. We can freestand for a month or two with the generator and solar panels.
“We take full advantage of everything we have here. Half the secret to this coach is not doing things we didn’t need to. We could’ve had a little bedroom in the rear, but it only takes us a couple of minutes to get the bed ready at night and put away in the morning. That left us with more space in the rear for the bathroom and storage closet.”
As for the cost of the custom 31-footer, Bill said it wasn’t as expensive as you might think. “All together it cost less than $160,000,” he said. “And that includes the satellite system, a 10-disc CD player, a backup camera and color monitor, and a 30-inch TV. It may not be a millionaire’s coach, but it has everything we need to live comfortably at a price we could afford. It shows that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a nice motorhome.”
The couple admits that the design and layout of their coach are not for everyone. In fact, they would discourage anyone from adopting their ideas unless they were planning to use the motorhome as a permanent residence.
“This is a full-timer RV from the ground up,” Bill said. “The occasional RVer would be foolish to get some of the stuff we’ve included in [this coach]. Things that a full-timer needs, such as the laundry and large refrigerator, part-timers would never need.”
The Mummas’ coach is an example of how comfort and efficiency can coexist. By understanding their needs, eliminating extraneous add-ons, and prioritizing the many elements of their plans, the couple was able to build a motorhome that they can live and travel in with confidence and convenience.
As I said good-bye to Bill and Carol and exited the coach through its 32-inch-wide door “” made extra large so that anything inside, including the refrigerator, can fit through “” I realized that they had created the perfect coach for their lifestyle. As I closed my now-filled notebook and took one last look at the motorhome, that’s when it hit me. “Wow! That is a unique coach.”