And these were not Newell’s only innovations. Always creative, feisty and outspoken, he never let the way things were done keep him from seeing how they could be done better.
L.K. Newell entered the motorhome business quite by accident. In 1967, he traveled from his Oklahoma home to El Monte, California, to take possession of his new Streamline motorhome, a top-of-the-line luxury motorhome manufactured by a division of the Streamline Trailer Company. (RV history buffs might recall that Streamline was formed by former Airstream employees. The Streamline products and early Newell employed similar aluminum body construction.) Two weeks later, Newell returned to the Streamline factory to have a few “corrections” made to his new toy.
When L.K. shared his product-improvement suggestions with the owner of Streamline, he was met with the challenge: “If you’re so damned smart, why don’t you buy the motorhome operation from me?” Within hours, the deal was struck, and Newell was in the motorcoach manufacturing business.
Ironically, although Streamline Trailer did not survive the turbulent RV market of the 1970′s, the motorhome division Streamline sold to Newell in 1967 has been in continuous and successful operation ever since as Newell Coach Corporation.
L.K. Newell’s major innovations blended the best features of bus and motorhome design and construction, and then improved upon them both. Newell built his first rear-engine motorcoach in 1969. He was not satisfied with the conventional, off-the-shelf Class A motorhome chassis of the time.
L.K.’s goal was to combine the desirable features of a bus—the rear diesel engine, under-floor storage, air brakes, and air suspension—with features that buses did not offer, such as a front-mounted generator, a mid-entry door, motorhome systems built into the body and chassis during manufacture, and more flexibility to custom build to the customer’s preferences.
In 1970, Newell designed and built his own pusher motorhome chassis—from scratch. He used a unique bridge-construction technique that maximized under-floor storage space, creating the first motorhome with a basement. He offered his first diesel-powered motorhome in 1972, far ahead of the rest of the industry.
Many of the significant innovations L. K. Newell introduced are now taken for granted. And the basic elements he established during his relatively short tenure have resulted in decades of success for the company he founded.
In 1973, for health reasons, L.K. sold Newell Coach to Chuck and Letty Goldenberg. Chuck applied his education in industrial engineering and his background in consumer product sales to reorganize the Newell factory. He also reinforced and expanded the company’s already considerable commitment to customer satisfaction.
In the fall of 1979, Karl and Alice Blade were driving through Miami, Oklahoma, in the new Blue Bird Wanderlodge motorhome they had just picked up at the Blue Bird factory in Fort Valley, Georgia. Karl was a Chevrolet and RV dealer from Mount Vernon, Washington, and he and Alice shared a personal passion for motorhomes. They stopped at the Newell factory and immediately sensed the opportunity that the Newell product represented (rear engine, air ride, customization to customer preferences).
Negotiations quickly followed, and in December of 1979, the Blades and two partners became the owners of Newell Coach. Karl and Alice moved to Oklahoma to manage Newell in 1981 and purchased sole interest in the company in 1985.
Under the ownership of the Blade family, the company has kept a clear, sharp focus on quality—in both its products and services. As a result, the Newell consistently ranks at the top of its class of luxury motorhomes. And the company’s reputation for customer service is one of the best in the industry.