Clark Fork

In my last post, I mentioned a rig that pulled in at the Coeur d’Alene Elks lodge that caught my eye. I should explain why I took interest. First of all, Donna told me I should see the stacker trailer that someone dropped next to our trailer. I had to retrieve her bike from the trailer so I walked down and took a look and a photo.

Our trailer in the foreground – and people think WE have a big trailer!

That’s a tall stacker – our lengths are about the same

Walking down to the trailer, I saw an unusual looking coach. The rear cap had the words “Motor Coach Industries” (MCI). MCI is a well-known brand among tour bus companies and transportation companies. The only MCI motorhomes I’ve seen were conversions of seated buses that had the interior gutted and reconfigured as a motorhome.

This one was different. It appeared to be a purpose-built motorhome with two slide outs. The slides had radiused corners like you would find on high-end coaches such as Newell, Foretravel or Prevost based coaches. It looked to be about 40′ long and had two axles – no tag axle. I’d never seen anything like it.

Custom coach with an MCI chassis and shell

Two sides with radiused corners and pneumatic seals

Eventually I met the owners – first Lisa then her husband Tom. They are from the San Francisco Bay area of California. Tom was an entrepreneur with a business that built entry doors and security doors for hospitals and commercial buildings. He still owns the company but is no longer involved in the day-to-day operation. I’ve heard similar career stories from most of the folks I meet with these super high-end coaches.

This particular coach came from Florida where a dealer – I think the name was Amadas – acquired several MCI chassis and shells back in 2004. They planned to convert three or four per year into custom motorhomes. The financial crisis put their plan on hold from about 2006 to 2010 – that’s when this one was built, in 2010. It checked off most of the boxes on Tom’s wish list – 40′ long so he could stay under California’s 65′ overall length requirement which was a biggie for him. I was surprised to find it powered by a Cummins ISL – like ours – but this one is chipped to produce 500 horsepower – we have 400 horsepower. The challenge with chipping to this power level is keeping the engine operating temperature within a safe range. This bus chassis has a large radiator with a huge belt-driven fan. It also has super access to the engine – something often found on bus type conversions and an area where many motorhomes are lacking.

MCI engine compartment with super access

The bus shell is all aluminum – no fiberglass. The trailer holds their boat on the upper rails and their Cadillac SVR below. The front six feet are a workshop with power tools and a generator on the tongue. I really enjoyed talking to Tom and Lisa and learning about their unique coach.

Thursday morning we packed up and got ready to travel. Donna had ridden over 50 miles on the Centennial Trail to Spokane Valley and back on Wednesday and oddly had a hard time sleeping Wednesday night. I thought she would be out like a light after that endeavor, especially since she put in 35 miles the day before.

Donna snapped this photo of the Spokane River along the Centennial Trail

Tom and Lisa hooked up their trailer and pulled out just ahead of us, leaving us with plenty of room to maneuver and hook up our trailer.

Maybe we’ll see them down the road

We headed east on I-90 and enjoyed several great views of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Then we climbed Fourth of July Pass – a little over 3,000 feet above sea level and crossed the Idaho panhandle into Montana.

We entered Montana at the Lookout Pass summit in the Bitterroot mountain range a little over 4,700 feet above sea level – and lost an hour as we entered the Mountain Time Zone. From there we had a steep down grade to St. Regis. At St. Regis, I-90 follows the Clark Fork River. The river meanders through a long valley that took us roughly south east toward Missoula. The interesting thing is although it often felt like we were descending, we were actually gaining elevation. The Clark Fork runs to the northwest and of course it’s always going downhill.

The way the river meanders through the valley means I-90 crosses it several times. From St. Regis to Deer Lodge – a distance of about 150 miles – it crosses the Clark Fork 16 times. It’s hard for me to imagine, but the Clark Fork flows northwest through a series of valleys and eventually reaches Lake Pend Oreille, a watershed that empties into the Columbia River!

After a long day on the road with several construction slow downs on I-90, we found Indian Creek Campground in Deer Lodge, Montana at the headwaters of the Clark Fork. I didn’t bother to dump our tanks before we left Coeur d’Alene knowing we would have full hook-ups here. We’ll stay one night and push on toward South Dakota. We’re thinking we’ll be in Billings, Montana tomorrow, Then Gillette, Wyoming. We’ll leave here with a full fresh water tank and empty holding tanks – I see a couple of dry ┬ácamping nights ahead.

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