Trucking Industry Legend Kevin Rutherford Creates the Ultimate Freightliner Coronado RV Custom Rig
If February, 2011, as we pulled in at the Wine Country RV Resort in Paso Robles, California, I noticed something unusual. Squinting in disbelief, I spotted the longest semi pulling a fifth-wheel RV rig I had ever seen.
Up front was a new Freightliner Coronado on-highway traditional tractor with a flat top sleeper. Pure white, with lots of chrome and polished aluminum, it featured a full sleeper compartment. With its twin 150-gallon diesel tanks, one could drive this beauty coast-to-coast without a fuel stop. On the dual rear axles, four super-single tires took the place of the usual eight. If this rig were pulling a standard van, with super-singles all around, it would become a 10-wheeler, rather than an 18-wheeler. Fewer tires on the ground create lower rolling resistance, translating into higher highway mileage. The engine of success for the Freightliner Coronado has always been continuous improvement. This custom tractor was no exception to that rule.
To the rear, a modified hitch supported a triple-axle, Voltage Toy Hauler fifth wheel, manufactured by Dutchmen. With the Voltage alone measuring over forty-two feet, the full rig measured almost seventy feet. That, of course, did not include the little Smart Car, parked out front.
After looking at this astounding road machine, I thought that the owner must be an on-highway trucker on vacation or an eccentric individual, to say the least. Freightliner Diesel tractors mated to fifth wheel RVs are common enough, but most such units look like a modified SUV. This RV tractor was the long-wheelbase type, typically seen pulling a fifty-three foot trailer along our interstate highways. It was not until the next morning that we met the owners of this unusual land yacht.
That morning, we sat enjoying a cup of coffee in the warm California sun. Soon, we saw a woman pull up in the Smart Car and unload groceries into the coach. Before we knew it, we were in conversation with Leesa Campbell and her husband, Kevin Rutherford. An accountant, with experience in trucking operations and truck building, Kevin also hosts a daily "Letstruck" Sirius satellite radio show. Even with multiple careers to manage and many trade shows to attend, Kevin and Leesa enjoy a full-time RV lifestyle.
Soon, Carrie and I were taking the grand tour, starting with the Freightliner high style sleeper cab and finishing in the palatial Voltage toy hauler. With the floor set low in the coach, the ceilings appeared to be ten feet high. There was no claustrophobia there or forward in the master suite, with its two separate entrances. In the salon, there were generous living, dining and galley spaces.
In the stern, the spacious toy-hauler garage also served as Kevin’s broadcast studio. After stopping for the night, Kevin rolls the Smart Car down a full body-width ramp. Then he closes the garage and uses an innovative, piling-rig-sequence to lower his radio studio into position. At show time, Leesa sits amidships, screening the calls, while Kevin chats live with truckers from all over the country.
Focusing as he does on “trucking as a business”, Kevin Rutherford is a contributing author on http://OverdriveOnline.com, where he has published eighty-three articles to date. On his own http:// LetsTruck.com website, Kevin features forums where members share operating efficiency and mileage tips. That information can make the difference between profit and loss on the road. He also offers a free mileage-minder program, called My Gauges. Freightliner owner or not, members logging in can input their fuel purchases and calculate their mileage statistics. This leads to friendly competition for top positions in the website’s unofficial mileage championship. Although it is nowhere as large as Facebook, Kevin's 31,000-member LetsTruck.com social media website helps owner-operators create efficiency and profitability.
Although a casual observer might think that Kevin Rutherford’s rig represents the ultimate RV power trip, it does more than look good on the road. Known for “walking the walk”, Kevin’s personal rig averages close to ten miles per gallon. Few, if any Class A diesel motor coaches attain that level of fuel efficiency.
At a "truck of the future" factory in Tennessee, Kevin Rutherford builds innovation into every Freightliner custom Signature Series Truck. Using Freightliner Coronado tractors, he builds the big rig of the future for on-highway use today. Before customer delivery, they install custom tractor sleeper cabs, plus gauges and level-monitoring for fuel and exhaust system modifications, even chrome steps, if you choose. Many of their custom rigs include advanced oil filtering systems and super-single tires. Utilizing those and other modifications, Kevin’s trucks achieve both high mileage and low maintenance costs. Even in today’s economy, demand for fuel-efficient, low maintenance trucks is high. At the time of our meeting, Kevin was working through a backlog of seventy new Freightliners. Currently, his factory delivers two finished units per workday, each for sale at over $100,000.
Although it is both a showstopper and fun to drive, Kevin’s personal rig is also a test bed for innovations of all kinds. One example is its Bose Ride vibration-cancelling truck seats, manufactured by the Bose Corporation. Using a technology similar to their noise-cancelling headphones, the seats offer a precise counter-force to road bumps, both large and small. To demonstrate the vibration damping effect, technicians drop a basketball on the seat platform. No matter how hard they throw it down, the basketball sticks without a bounce. Once installed in the cab of a Kevin Rutherford tractor, the Bose ride and perceived noise level are far superior to conventional air-ride seats.
After our tour, it was almost time for Leesa and Kevin’s three-hour Saturday afternoon broadcast. After thanking Kevin and Leesa for their hospitality, we departed for San Francisco. Looking back, I laughed at my initial assumptions about Kevin's big rig. Rather than an eccentric, resource-wasting RV nut, our neighbor turned out to be a trucking industry legend and visionary entrepreneur. Can you imagine what might happen if in 2012 Kevin put his talents toward creating the ultimate Freightliner off-road RV?
When towing, our pickup truck and travel trailer rig averages about eight miles per gallon. Kevin Rutherford and his Freightliner/Voltage fifth wheel rig consistently average better than that. In both trucking and the RV world, appearances can be deceiving.