Big and Custom
Space Craft specializes in building fifth-wheels for full-time living for customers who want it their way, without compromise
Fifth-wheel trailers offer the utmost in livability, and those who embrace the full-time RV lifestyle look for floorplans that offer exceptional space and comfort. RVers who use their fifth-wheels 365 days a year are usually pretty particular about floorplans, storage and durability to withstand the rigors of living on the road. And it’s quite possible that certain requirements are not met by the plethora of models — and floorplans — that are on the market professing to be earmarked for full-timers.
Another consideration is warranty exclusions when the fifth-wheel is lived in full time; some manufacturers use fine print to provide legal warning against such a practice, even though the trailer is big enough and has the right features. But Space Craft, a company tucked away in the small Missouri town of Concordia, is openly enthusiastic about building fifth-wheels that can withstand the demands of full-time, four-season living and will build just about anything a customer requests.
The name is a misnomer, if one has a spaceship on his or her mind, because there’s nothing compact or confining about a fifth-wheel from Space Craft, a company that hangs its hat on the slogan “The Ultimate in Personal Space.” If you peruse the Space Craft brochure, you’ll see a number of suggested floorplans, but buyers are not obligated to take what’s offered. These are sample plans that are only a starting point from which customers can embellish to suit personal needs, or they can start with a blank piece of paper. In many cases, customers come in looking for a 36-foot fifth-wheel, and by the time the smoke clears, the trailer is stretched to 50 feet. Space Craft commonly builds fifth-wheels up to 51 feet.
We tested the V-400, which was built as a show trailer and representative of what the company can do. After living in this fifth-wheel at Casino Queen RV Park in East St. Louis, Illinois, in the shadow of the famous St. Louis Gateway Arch, we were in no way disappointed by the two-bath, rear-living-room plan but could see how adding personal touches would make the full-time experience even more enjoyable.
There’s no getting over the fact that this fifth-wheel looks and feels big, because its 40-foot, triple-axle profile is not unassuming. There are not many rounded edges to tone down the exterior lines, but once you step inside, it’s clear that these people know how to build fifth-wheels with exceptional spaciousness and value.
One of Space Craft’s interior-design trademarks is the molded-fiberglass ceiling. Its curvy lines and smooth texture take some getting used to, but after a while, they become welcome assets for those who like a clean look. Don’t expect sculpted fixtures and glitz; the ceiling is understated but practical. There’s no risk of staining, and its matte finish is still bright enough to reflect beautifully the illumination from the generous number of LED fixtures, as well as ambient light.
Another design element that sets this fifth-wheel apart from the majority is the use of painted interior walls. This gives the appearance of a contemporary stationary home, where paint and contrasting wood molding are used to personalize the decor. It’s very effective here and works nicely with the high-quality leather furniture and solid cherry cabinets. Add in the mosaic backsplash in the kitchen and the solid-surface countertops, and you have an interior that is stately and indicative of the $160,000 price tag. Luxurious upgrades like power MCD blinds with a remote control, cherrywood window boxes, solid-wood cabinetry with fancy cabinet pulls and well-made drawers further support the highline price tag.
It’s hard to plunk down a large sum of money for a fifth-wheel without delving into the techniques used to build the chassis and body. This is an area where Space Craft excels, since it can devote the time necessary to do it right — and the company claims it builds the most heavy-duty chassis in the business. There are no daily quotas in this manufacturing facility, since these fifth-wheels are factory-direct, and the process involves the buyer on an intimate level.
To build a fifth-wheel with a 23,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr), the chassis and the frame must be stout. The chassis is built from scratch, incorporating three 6,000-pound axles, a torsion-type suspension and electric-over-hydraulic disc brakes, an option that’s highly recommended.
To get the chassis rigidity needed to handle the long lengths and weight, 4-inch I-beams are tied to a network of 2×4-inch and 2×6-inch gusseted vertical steel tubes forming the cavity for pass-through basement storage, which supplements the front Big & Tall storage compartment. Six-inch I-beams are used to strengthen the front area where the kingpin box is mounted.
Laminated walls, supported by a 11⁄2-inch aluminum framework, are comprised of gel-coated fiberglass with a 5⁄32-inch luan backer on the outside and paneling on the inside. Polystyrene block foam insulates the walls, and the company claims an R12 rating, which makes the fifth-wheel suitable for four-season travel. Once the walls are assembled, they are subjected to three passes through the pinch-press rollers to ensure that delamination will never be a problem. The slideout rooms are built with the same process to prevent hot and cold spots, matching the rigidity of the main framework.
The floor is comprised of 2×4-inch studs, and the voids are stuffed with 3-inch fiberglass insulation. On top is a 3⁄4-inch tongue-and-groove Sturdi-Floor where a 7⁄16-inch pad is laid if carpet is desired. The test fifth-wheel had vinyl-plank flooring throughout, something many owners are opting for these days. Durable carpet on 5⁄8-inch plywood lines the basement storage area and 1⁄2-inch Celotex Tuff R foam insulation promotes temperature stability. This product is commonly used to insulate homes, which again demonstrates how Space Craft looks outside the box when sourcing materials for its fifth-wheels.
The resultant basement area is huge, nicely finished off and organized. It’s also heated, which complements the floor’s cold-weather rating of R19. The entire underbelly is enclosed with fiberglass, except where access is needed. Here, aluminum panels are integrated into the underbelly.
Up top, the molded-fiberglass roof is insulated with 31⁄2-inch fiberglass batting, and Tuff R panels are added to get to an R17 rating. The ceiling portion has 1×2-inch arched aluminum rafters that are fiberglassed into the mold. Obviously, the company is big on applying R-factor insulation ratings to the structure, since most of its fifth-wheels are used full time, and not only in snowbird country. Dual-pane, flush-mounted and tinted windows add to the comfort index.
Fit and finish are tight, and it’s easy to get the feeling that this fifth-wheel will last for the long haul. You don’t experience flexing in the floor when walked on, the doors close easily, and the solid-wood cabinetry is finished off to reflect the fifth-wheel’s luxury status. There’s no boing when you open the cabinet doors, and all the drawers have soft-close hardware.
Space Craft’s approach to building these fifth-wheels is to provide time-tested materials and components that will stand up under hard use. For example, the light switches are the rocker style commonly found in homes and are far better than most switches used in the RV industry, but here’s an area where multiplexing might be a better choice. While the test fifth-wheel was rather conventional, it yearns for a few must-have options like instantaneous hot water, hydronic heating and an upgraded entertainment system — items that can be requested by the buyer.
Nevertheless, the livability inside this fifth-wheel is excellent, except for the size of the half-bath on the main floor. The home-style toilet is surely welcome, but the room ironically needs more “space.” Here’s another example that illustrates how potential owners are free to make changes to suit their needs and can opt for more room around the toilet.
Open up the slideout rooms, though, and the living room and kitchen make into a great room with exceptional space to spread out. I suspect most potential owners will elect to fill some of this open area near the galley counter with an island structure. The galley counter in the demo fifth-wheel was too small to prepare elaborate meals or entertain. Again, this is all personal preference.
The rear section of the interior is devoted to the couch in the curbside slideout, swivel rockers against the back wall and a big-screen TV mounted above a large fireplace. The couch has integrated recliners that operate smoothly and allow your body to vegetate on soft cushions. The orientation is designed to allow TV watching without neck straining, but it’s hard to stay awake when the chairs are in their prone position. Big windows really bring in the outside scenery and plenty of light, and when it comes time for privacy, it takes only one push of a button to close down the window coverings.
Next to the couch is a freestanding table and chairs made of solid wood that are comfortable and representative of the quality of the furnishings inside this fifth-wheel. Overhead cabinets complement the storage facilities in the entertainment structure and wrap around the entire area. The galley cabinets are uniquely shaped to handle a lot of groceries but are on the deep side, so shorter people may have difficulty reaching into the back.
Ascending the stairway, flanked by the half-bath on the left and a closet on the right, leads to the master-bedroom-and-bath suite. Here, a king-size bed is tucked into its own slideout room and on a platform that can be lifted to reveal a large storage area. The headboard is soft, and nightstands on both sides are large enough for essentials. Sleeping on this bed promotes plenty of rest, and the whole room is eye candy for those who relish hanging out in a nice master bedroom.
Across from the foot of the bed are a wardrobe, a vanity, and a bench that works great for dressing. An LED TV is built into the cabinetry, and there’s room for audio/visual components. There aren’t a whole lot of windows in this room, but the LED fixtures provide plenty of light. At night the room is private and heavenly. Sliding doors allow occupants to isolate the bed and/or the front bathroom.
The very front is dedicated to the master bath, which is fully equipped to include a stacking washer and dryer in one of the closets. A corner shower is the focal point, and the curved door leads to a large stall that’s been decorated smartly.
A nice surprise were the body jets built into the shower wall. It’s a great idea, if you travel in areas not subjected to water shortages, and in theory should provide a soothing shower for those who like to linger (here’s where the aforementioned instantaneous water heater comes in handy). While the jets were positioned in the right places, there was not enough water pressure — from the demand pump or when hooked up — to push the water out with enough force to invigorate the skin. Meanwhile, the regular shower wand is of good quality but positioned in a place on the wall that made it difficult to direct water comfortably for washing our bodies. A little more work in this department will likely result in improvements that could really add pizazz to showering in this fifth-wheel.
Next to the shower is a sink with a smallish countertop, which allowed little room for spreading out toiletries. We used an adjacent shelf in the wardrobe closet for extra counter space. The closet is plenty big to handle a decent-size wardrobe, and the linen closet inside the toilet room keeps towels and sheets organized. A macerating (vacuum) toilet fills most of this room, but there’s still plenty of space to get the job done. An overhead cabinet handles essentials.
Getting into the interior takes a bit of climbing, because the floor is quite a distance from the ground. To get in and out without taking big steps that may be problematic for some folks, or even dangerous at times, Space Craft employs a retractable step system that is light years better than the typical folding steps. Here, the frame is pulled out of a concealed compartment right below the door threshold and unfolded to the ground. Handrails are then bolted to the steps for stability. When the steps are stored, the railings are easily placed in one of the rear exterior compartments.
When deployed, the steps are evenly spaced with large platforms, but we discovered a couple of issues that, with small modifications, could make it work perfectly. Screwing in the bolts to secure the railings is hard on your fingers, and we would rather not use a wrench; some type of wing nut or similar fastener would really help. We also found that the railing is too far from the doorway. Occupants leaving the trailer have to step down first before reaching for the railing, which defeats the purpose.
There’s plenty of room to store the many items full-timers will need to bring along, especially when stacking items in the big locker up front. If a generator is not ordered, then the very front compartment offers additional space for necessities.
Access to the battery, switches for the electric dump valves and Big Foot leveling system is excellent, but we suggest that latches be added to hold open the doors that are near or under the slideouts. Holding the doors open while bending down under the slideouts is hard on the body.
Participating in the build process is very rewarding. It gives you control over expectations, and the final result is a fifth-wheel that will provide years of service without compromises or disappointment. Space Craft’s mantra is to produce high-quality fifth-wheels. Over the years the company has nearly perfected the process by building strong partnerships with discriminating clients who pursue the full-time RV lifestyle, and it shows.
Space Craft Manufacturing | 888-463-7520 | www.spacecraftmfg.com