A look at Dodgen Industries’ first slideout-equipped motorhome.
By Lazelle Jones
Anecdotal accounts often best describe the significance of an evolutionary step when it occurs. Case in point is the decision by Dodgen Industries Inc., of Humboldt, Iowa, to build the company’s first-ever slideout room in a Born Free motorhome. This past January, the 32-foot Rear Queen Slide-Out made its debut at the Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa. Upon seeing this new motorhome for the first time, a longtime Born Free owner shook his head and commented sadly, “I’m sorry to hear about Mr. John Dodgen. He will certainly be missed.”
“What do you mean?” asked the Born Free sales representative.
“Well,” replied this veteran Born Free owner, “It’s a commonly held belief that Born Free will never offer a slideout motorhome “” not on John’s watch, anyway.”
Well, rest assured that John Dodgen, founder of Dodgen Industries Inc., is doing quite well, and this year is celebrating 40 years in the recreation vehicle business. It is true that John’s company, Born Free Motorcoach, is one of the last motorhome builders to offer a slideout in any of its models. The new Born Free rear queen bed slideout model was not launched until a good deal of forethought, design engineering, and product development had taken place.
Back in 2007, I reviewed Born Free’s first 32-foot coach built on the Chevy Kodiak C5500 platform for Family Motor Coaching. So, when I was invited to test this new rear-slideout model on the same chassis, I was eager for the opportunity. Laying my hands on the unit at the company’s factory store in Clermont, Florida, I was pleased to find that even though this coach is a major departure from previous Born Free motorhomes, the fit and finish and attention to detail that have been company hallmarks remained evident in this new floor plan.
Like all Born Free coaches, the 32 Rear Queen Slide-Out incorporates a safety system with three tubular steel roll bars that loop like giant horseshoes from one side of the motorhome to the other, forming a quasi cage around the house portion. The opening on the rear curb side of the coach, where the 66-inch-long-by-67-inch-high-by-22-inch-deep slideout room is located, is reinforced with steel tubing to guarantee the unit’s structural integrity.
The motorhome exterior is a high-gloss gel-coat fiberglass surface that the customer can select with or without exterior body paint.
Born Free’s foray into the world of the slideout room incorporates time-tested designs and components that have proven themselves over the two decades such rooms have been offered in motorhomes.
The slideout mechanism in the 32 Rear Queen uses a 12-volt-DC electric motor and a rack-and-pinion gear system to articulate the slide to its extended and retracted positions. A large, thick, automotive-style bulb seal surrounds the perimeter of the opening where the slideout is located and guarantees a tight seal against moisture and air. A topper awning moves with the slide and prevents debris from accumulating on its roof when the room is extended. Giant squeegee-type cleaning devices remove any moisture from the exposed outside surfaces as the slide is being retracted.
Touring the interior
The rear-bedroom slideout permits the queen-size island bed to be positioned perpendicular to the fore/aft orientation of the coach. When the slide is extended, occupants are totally free to move around the bed on three sides. When the slide is closed for travel, the bed is still fully serviceable and can be used at a roadside stop to grab a quick nap.
Above the head of the bed are storage cabinets, while at the foot of the bed is a floor-to-ceiling complex of drawers and cabinets that include a solid-surface vanity-type countertop. This street-side storage assembly includes four stacks of roll-out drawers (two drawers per stack), along with two shirt-length wardrobes, one at either end of the solid-surface vanity. Below the drawers are additional cabinets, and more overhead cabinets hang above the vanity.
An optional 15-inch LCD television is mounted against the exterior wall of one of the wardrobes. It features a robotic-style arm that permits the TV to be moved out, around, up, or down so it can be viewed from any spot in the bedroom. When the television is not in service, it remains tucked out of the way against the surface onto which it is mounted.
Day-night pleated accordion-style window coverings dress the three large windows in the bedroom area.
Of course, one more feature yields mega amounts of comfort in the rear bedroom: the Select Comfort bed. This bed, which comes as standard equipment, allows users to tailor the degree of firmness desired on individual sides. The foot of the bed features pneumatic struts that facilitate raising it up; doing so reveals humongous amounts of storage below for bedding, pillows, or other items.
The bath area is a split configuration, with a full-size stand-up shower that includes a wall-mounted dispenser for shampoo, body wash, and hair conditioner. The shower is located on the curb side of the center-aisle passageway. A private water closet is located on the opposite side of the coach. The water closet includes a porcelain toilet and a set of floor-to-ceiling storage cabinets, as well as a solid-surface countertop and lavatory, with drawers and cabinets both above and below.
The galley is also a center-aisle floor plan. A 10-cubic-foot stainless-steel refrigerator includes a freezer above with an access door of its own. Adjacent to the refrigerator is a floor-to-ceiling pantry, just aft of the entry door on the curb side. The pantry is divided in half with roll-out storage on the bottom and a stationary pantry section above. Full-timers, as well as those who simply like to bring sufficient stores along on an RV adventure, will find that this galley yields considerable storage for dry goods.
The galley’s food preparation capabilities will accommodate a broad spectrum of culinary pursuits. The spacious, solid-surface countertop on the street side of the coach is augmented with additional work area when the sink cover is inserted. An adjacent three-burner LP-gas cooktop is disguised below a matching cooktop cover, yet ready for service at a moment’s notice. Below the countertop are a total of five cabinets and two roll-out drawers. Directly above it are a microwave-convection oven and the range hood, which also includes the systems monitoring panel. Large overhead cabinets sit directly above the sink and flow evenly into and along with the overhead cabinets in the living area.
From the cockpit all the way aft to the rear bedroom, the floor has received delightful treatments. Both the bedroom and living areas are dressed with a rich pile carpet. (On a related note, I appreciated the optional central vacuum.) The center aisle, the water closet, and the galley areas include vinyl inlaid flooring that challenges the eye, as it first appears it might actually be porcelain, ceramic, or slate tile.
The interior woodwork and cabinetry are quintessential Born Free: beautifully handcrafted raised-panel solid oak, which gives the inside of the motorhome an even more open and luxurious ambience.
The Flexsteel driver and passenger seats are covered with Ultraleather, while the two living area swivel chairs and sofa are upholstered with Ultrasuede. The tops of both walls in the living area are laced with large overhead cabinets. Between the curbside chairs is a foldaway table that pulls up when it is time to dine, enjoy a puzzle, or simply have an additional large surface area for use.
Across the front of the coach in the cab-over area are two huge storage cabinets. Whatever is stowed inside the cabinet on the right is sequestered behind a large oak door. The left cabinet is fronted with a smoked-glass panel that finds a synergy in appearance with the 19-inch flat-screen television mounted between the two doors.
Privacy curtains can be drawn across to separate the cockpit from the living area. When these curtains are open, the faux burl wood trim that embellishes the dash and cockpit instrumentation is striking. I particularly like the straight line the privacy curtains take across the width of the interior, for when the heating and air-conditioning systems are called upon to tame temperatures in the living areas, their cooling efforts are not wasted on the cab or cockpit.
Speaking of the HVAC systems, this largest-ever Born Free motorhome does not go wanting. Two 13,500-Btu roof-mounted air-conditioning units and a 30,000-Btu forced-air furnace will handle the most challenging temperature-related issues. Also important to maintaining an interior comfort zone is the fact that thermal-pane windows are used throughout the coach. A thermostatically controlled multispeed Fan-Tastic Vent ceiling fan with a reverse mode and automatic rain sensor evacuates stale air and circulates fresh air from the outside to the inside via whatever window you may want to open.
The six-gallon water heater features dual heating modes: LP gas and 120-volt AC. The latter is available when the coach is connected to shore power or when the auxiliary generator is operating. The LP-gas tank holds 23.2 gallons (this represents 80 percent of the tank’s rated capacity) and is the fuel source for the water heater as well as the cooktop, the furnace, the 120-volt/LP-gas refrigerator, and the 6.5-kilowatt auxiliary generator. The Born Free 32′ Rear Queen Slide-Out is wired for 50-amp shore power.
Even though this is a larger motorhome, especially for a Born Free (32 feet 3 inches long and 101.5 inches wide), the configuration of the cockpit and the automotive-style controls are completely familiar to anyone who has driven a large sedan. When accelerating to pass on the interstate or enter a freeway onramp, the 8.1-liter big-block V-8 engine and the six-speed Allison 1000 Series transmission make it feel as though there is always something left in reserve to call upon.
This coach is quiet, and with the Link UltraRide Air Suspension system that Born Free has added to level and cushion the drive, even a long travel day will be completed with ease. The driver sits high above the surrounding traffic, so visibility is excellent. The hood slopes forward below the large single-piece windshield “” a design feature of the Kodiak C5500 chassis “” which enhances road visibility immediately in front of the vehicle.
The base (standard equipped) manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the Born Free 32′ Rear Queen Slide-Out is listed at $158,450. As tested, with the HWH hydraulic leveling system, 6.5-kilowatt gasoline generator, dual roof air conditioners with heat strip, A&E Weather Pro power patio awning, bedroom TV, electric powered TV antenna, color backup camera, central vacuum, and front entertainment center (LCD TV/DVD), the suggested retail price of my test unit came to $178,475. The Born Free 32′ Rear Queen Slide-Out also can be ordered with a 6600 Duramax diesel engine, a global positioning system, a 2,000-watt inverter, storage pod(s), a King-Dome Satellite System, and a Bose surround sound system.
After enjoying an outing in Born Free’s new 32′ Rear Queen Slide-Out, I thought of the adage “Good things come to those who wait.” John Dodgen and company have followed that logic in their methodical approach to motorhome slideout design. And now, with the introduction of this coach, it’s time to realize the possibilities.
Dodgen Industries Inc., 1505 N. 13th St., Humboldt, IA 50548; (800) 247-1835; www.bornfreemotorcoach.com
32-foot Rear Queen Slide-Out
rear bedroom slideout
Chevy Kodiak C5500
Chevy 8.1-liter V-8; 325 horsepower @ 4000 rpm; 450 pound-feet torque @ 2800 rpm
Allison six-speed 1000 Series
4.78 to 1
onboard Link UltraRide Air Suspension system
house “” (2) Interstate marine/RV-style, 12 volts, 600 cca;
chassis “” (1) Delco, 12 volts, 770 cca
32 feet 3 inches
6 feet 4 inches
10 feet 1 inch
GROSS COMBINATION WEIGHT RATING (GCWR)
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR)
GROSS AXLE WEIGHT RATING (GAWR)
front “” 7,000 pounds;
rear “” 13,500 pounds
WET WEIGHT AS TESTED
front axle “” 5,240 pounds;
rear axle “” 11,760 pounds;
total “” 16,960 pounds
PAYLOAD AS TESTED
fiberglass batting/foil-covered thermal wrap
FRESH WATER CAPACITY
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES
black water “” 37 gallons;
gray water “” 57 gallons
Suburban gas/electric, 6-gallon
Suburban gas furnace, 30,000 Btu, thermostatically controlled
(2) 13,500-Btu Duo-Therm roof units with 5,600-Btu heat strips and Comfort Control Center
Dometic, 10-cubic-foot; 120-volt/LP-gas
3-year/36,000-mile limited warranty on manufactured motorhome;
lifetime limited warranty on fiberglass body;
chassis “” 2 years/unlimited miles;
engine “” 2 years/unlimited miles
BASE SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE
PRICE AS TESTED