Country Coach: a story of entrepreneurship
The story of Country Camper, all the way back to the Barbie toy of Bob Lee’s daughter for which the company was named, has always captured my imagination, my interest, and inspired me throughout my journey in this great industry.
Country Camper was founded in 1973 with two employees building slide-in campers. It grew to a corporation spanning over eight city blocks in Junction City, Oregon and employing 1500+ employees at Country Coach’s peak manufacturing years. Country Coach’s product lines encompassed both front and side door entry diesel pusher luxury motorcoaches from 32’ in length to 45’, with up to 4 slide rooms. Country Coach built at least twelve different Class A models (and even briefly a Class C Max)*, along with the custom-tuned proprietary DynoMax chassis. The motorcoach company became one of the industry’s premier manufacturers of luxury diesel pusher motorcoaches.
“There were definitely some challenges to overcome,” said company founder Bob Lee’s wife Terry Lee. “When we had the gas crunch in the late 70’s/early 80's, we also built trailers and park models too; we even put our employees to work fabricating stove inserts.....anything to survive the industry downturn.”
Terry worked in the company and served as corporate secretary and treasurer for the first 20 years of the company’s history. The Lees, along with brothers Ron and Lenard in early years and in later years, Bob and Terry’s daughters Kenda and Brenda, ran a family operation.
For many years, Bob and Terry logged 10,000 to 15,000 miles per year on their motorcoach, traveling to industry shows and club rallies, where they’d park beside Country Coach owners. “Motorcoachers are the best source of information as to what is most important to have designed into their home on wheels,” Bob always said. So he and Terry would listen, gather ideas; and then take that input back to his Country Coach team. The next model year debut usually found many of those motorcoachers’ suggestions incorporated into the new coach designs.
Pictured: Pat Mason, Bob Lee, Tom Slagle, Ron Lee, Gary Obermire, at Country Coach Friends Club Friendship Rally
Recognition came from many avenues. Country Coach was presented the Oregon Governor’s Award for Corporate Excellence in 1984, the Private Industry Council’s Outstanding Employer Award in 1987, the U.S. Senate Productivity Award in 1988, Oregon’s Private 150 Award in 1994, and RVIA presented Bob Lee with its “Distinguished Service to the RV Industry” award in 1995. Bob Lee was inducted into the RV/MH Heritage Hall of Fame in 2000 having held positions of leadership for nearly 30 years on the Commercial Council for Family Motor Coach Association, Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, and the Oregon Reinforced Plastics Association. Lee also chaired the Annual RVIA Manufacturers Shows, held each year in Los Angeles, CA and Louisville, KY, for many years.
Bob Lee was always one to share the credit with brother Ron Lee (VP of Engineering and Manufacturing for many years), Ed Read (then VP of Production), as well as the entire engineering, design and manufacturing team for the old world craftsmanship and significant product innovations Country Coach brought to the industry. Those innovations included a coach systems monitor with speech processor; air leveling for the motorcoach; HVAC control technology; and hydronic heating coach systems, as well as introducing code-compliant custom bus conversions built on a production line.
Bob Lee sold Country Coach to National RV Holdings, Inc in November, 1996. He continued to serve as Chairman Emeritus in an advisory capacity at Country Coach for several years. In November 2009 due to unfortunate economic factors, the company was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy and closed its doors. In January 2011, Country Coach Corporation (CCC), a service and parts facility, opened within buildings on a portion of the original Country Coach campus in Junction City, Oregon. CCC company owner Ron Lee (Bob Lee’s brother) completed the manufacture of a new Country Coach Allure motorcoach in 2015 and sold the company to Winnebago Industries later that year.
*Original Country Coach lines included over the years Country Coach Prevost Conversion, Concept, Rhapsody, Lexa, Affinity, Magna, Intrigue, Allure, Tribute, Mystique, Max, and in the early days the Country Camper.
Bob Lee passed away October 8, 2017 and will be sorely missed in the RV industry. Godspeed and blue skies to Mr Lee as he enters Heaven's Highway.