November arrived, and it was time to drop off our grandson, Jace, back with his mother. That's because our next couple of weeks were going to be spent in manufacturing / repair environments to get our 36LA back in shape after the pounding it took during our first few months on the road.
For those who have been reading our blog, you know our coach was ordered with a revolutionary new rear suspension from Liquidspring. When it works, it makes our Ford F53 truck chassis ride almost like a much more expensive diesel motor home.
And when it works.
Unfortunately, our Liquidspring system hasn't worked really well since we picked up the coach back in August. Part of the problem was that we had never owned a Class A motor home before and didn't have any way to compare the ride to our new home, so we didn't realize it wasn't working as advertised. Part of it was a driver interface which looked at times like it was working, when it really wasn't. And part of it was a problem with our Liquidspring system itself.
While in New Hampshire back in September, we had a ride height sensor replaced which was giving our 36LA an error message, basically disabling the system because it could not properly adjust the ride height on both sides equally. Based on calls to Liquidspring, this was a first for them, and according to many users of this new system on Facebook and other sites, ours appeared to be a unique problem. Replacing the sensor got us a great ride from New Hampshire all the way down to Pennsylvania, where we stopped for a couple of nights and deployed our leveling jacks. But the ride height sensor appeared to fail again once we powered up before leaving our campground. Very frustrating, and it could not have happened at a worse time, as we were approaching Harrisburg, PA, home to some of the worst roads in the northeast!
Long story short, some significant damage occurred as a result of that drive (we'll detail that in our next blog post, so stay tuned!), but we made it back to Georgia to a campground we were going to stay at for a month, which would give us time to hopefully fix the Liquidspring system sufficiently enough to get us to their factory in Indiana by November 4th. Since the symptom was that any time we deployed our leveling jacks on any kind of significant slope the Liquidspring system would error out, once we replaced the sensor which showed the error we could run as along as we wanted with a working system - so long as we didn't deploy jacks. Great if we got a level site; not so great if it had any slope!
Our final day in North Georgia was a miserable one. We had some significant rain the previous two days, and more rain was expected later in the day, but there was a 2-hour window of no rain in the morning. This gave me a chance to crawl underneath our 36LA and replace the sensor before leaving, hopefully giving us a working system for the ride north. Unfortunately, we were in a crushed rock pad which still had rainwater running through it, and the 36LA was as low as it could be since the rear suspension wasn't working – yet. Oh, and the area where the sensor is attached is right by the exhaust extension and the wet bay of the motor home; the two lowest points on our chassis. Let's just say I wished I was back at my old high school weight of 135 lbs when I was trying to get underneath.
Muddy and wet from rear end to shoulders, I extricated myself from the near-prison I had entered 30 minutes previously, and thank God the Liquidspring system came up and running! Now to make the sprint to Lafayette, Indiana, hopefully finding level campsites along the way. Our first stop was just outside of Lexington, KY in a town called Berea, at the Oh! KY Campground. Nice level pull through site. Quiet. Not much in the way of amenities but they're adding a pool. But since we had made such good time (even in rain and windy conditions) we decided we could stay an extra day just to rest and recuperate. Did NOT deploy the dreaded jacks.
The next day got us to Columbus, Indiana, where we Wally-docked at a local Walmart Superstore. Once again, since the parking lot was level, no jacks needed to be deployed. Liquidspring still running great. Fingers firmly crossed, our final travel day was just a couple of hours away to Lafayette, where we were allowed to boondock in Liquidspring's parking lot.
Early Monday morning, we meet with Chad Wilkins, Customer Service Manager at Liquidsprings. First things first, let's try to recreate the problem. Of course, there's no slope to their parking lot, but Chad wants to go over our procedures to see if we can recreate it anyway. Lo and behold, we get our warning light lit up! This causes Chad to look at our procedures a bit more closely, because he knows the logic behind what his system is trying to do. And it seems as if we were doing something wrong procedurally.
According to Chad, the proper procedure for shutting down the Liquidspring system is to lower the ride height to it's lowest setting, then shut off the interface before extending jacks. We had been keeping the interface up and running at it's normal running height during the jack and slide deployment process, which caused the Liquidspring system to try to compensate for ride height as the jacks were lifting up our coach. Apparently it confused the devil out of the system, causing it to error out.
The good news was that our system was running fine. The bad news was that all our problems were caused due to a lack of documentation from Liquidspring regarding the proper way to operate their system. As Chad explained it, the RV marketplace is new for them, as is the interface that drives their system. Liquidspring has been installed on thousands of ambulances and large ore carriers for years, but those systems are simple on/off buttons, with nothing to adjust both ride comfort and ride height as the RV systems do. And there are no leveling jacks on ambulances.
Just to play it safe, Chad had new ride height sensors installed on both sides of our 36LA while we got a tour of the Liquidspring plant, we received a little bag Liquidspring swag for our troubles, and a promise from Chad that he will update his quick reference guide for RV use. It's been a pleasure to drive about 1000 trouble-free miles with our working rear suspension, and it makes a world of difference in riding enjoyment and less fatigue at the end of a day's drive.
Next, it's on to Red Bay, Alabama, the birthplace of our 36LA and the place where hopefully all our damage will be fixed by the masters at Tiffin!
Hi, I'm Taz! I'm a 9 or 10 year-old Shepherd / Lab mix that my Mom and Dad rescued. I'd like to think I got the best of both breeds. You're obviously not seeing my best side right now, but this picture is entirely appropriate given my lifestyle and Mom and Dad's choice of motor homes.
I used to be a car dog, jumping at every chance to head somewhere down the road, but now I've upgraded to something bigger - but I'm not quite sure it's better yet. Like most dogs, I get used to certain things, and when change happens I get a bit weirded out at times. Like when my "home" walls all of a sudden start closing in on me for the first time. Dad calls them slides, but I know slides and these aren't them! Then right after the walls come in, my home's engine starts up and we begin to move! What the heck ?!?!?!
Anyway, the good thing is that Mom and Dad know what I like, which is a nice, comfy position by their feet. But there's a lot of pedals under Dad's feet in this new home, so that option is out. But they got me a nice soft pad to lay on, where I can look out my own window and step on Mom's feet whenever I want. I'm still a bit nervous about my home moving a lot, so when Mom has to leave her seat every now and again I move over closer to Dad - until she gets back. Then I step on her feet again and lay down by my nice window provided by Mr. Tiffin.
I'm not very different from most dogs, in that I really don't like sharp noises. Mom and Dad added something called a Safe-T-Plus to our new home, and the guy putting it on started up a really loud impact wrench right under my feet, so I had to hide from that under my kitchen table. Good thing Mom and Dad were there to keep me safe!
One thing that is also a bit scary right now is what Mom and Dad call a "campfire". Every once in a while there's this popping sound coming out of the campfire, and that sends me to my safe place.
Under my new home.
But it's OK. I'm kinda a cave dog at heart, so this is just my own personal cave whenever I want it.
I also have a nice bed set up in the back bathroom for sleeping, but I really don't use it much because Mom and Dad really like me sleeping between them on their queen size bed! They don't tell me that in so many words, but I just know it to be true. I'm very perceptive in that regard.
Otherwise, once it stops moving, it's still my home, and once Dad sends the walls back out, I have plenty of room the sprawl, which is what I do best!
We have had one scary thing happen on our first trip, though. Mom and Dad are laughing about it now, but they weren't laughing the other day. Seems as if this thing called an "exhaust extension" got knocked off my home on the way back down from New Hampshire, and caused a lot of heat and fumes to come into my home while we were driving to our current camp site. All of a sudden, this loud beeping noise comes on about 3 feet from where I'm laying. It was VERY LOUD! Mom was in the back picking up something that had fallen off the counter top, and I had no one to hide with or calm me down. So I just ran across to the other side of my home where Dad was driving, and got right on top of his feet! For some reason, Dad didn't appreciate me doing that, because we started going faster and he started yelling for Mom to get me off of his feet.
Some people just don't appreciate a good doggie cuddle. And I WAS scared after all . . .
I found out later that Dad said our CO2 alarm went off, so we opened our windows really wide in hopes the sound would stop, but it didn't until we got to our campsite and got the door opened. Boy, I couldn't get out of my new home fast enough!
Otherwise, this RV life is turning out to be pretty good. I get to go outside with Mom and Dad more than I used to, and they're around a whole lot more because they're doing something called "retirement". If you see me at a camp site you're staying at, don't be shy; I love meeting new people! Not always other dogs just yet (I can take some and leave some others), but with more practice I'm sure I'll be as good at that as I am sprawling.
See you down the road!
OK, so our first major excursion is now complete, and we're back in Georgia to drop off our 3 year-old grandson to his mother. We've spend just about one month on the road (as opposed to sitting and loading the RV for the first couple of weeks, and it's time to give the low down on how our Open Road 36LA (and us) have handled the road.
Tiffin build quality and overall quality – 4.8 out of 5 stars
After the initial leak in the shower, pretty much everything manufactured by Tiffin has met or exceeded our expectations. We've identified a couple of areas of woodwork that will need to be addressed in our first visit to Red Bay, but everything else from cabinets to floor to basement bays is pretty solid. The new dinette chairs for 2020 are wider and are more comfortable, and the extra chairs are sturdy and more than ample enough for any sized guest.
Water systems – 4.9 out of 5 stars
Plumbing is solid, and except for the exceptionally long time to get hot water to the kitchen sink or shower, works very well. The swivel on the kitchen sink is pretty free-flowing (wonder if that is normal or can be tightened down somewhat), and the wet bay works well. Interesting that the black tank flushes with significantly more force than the gray tank, but getting that part done faster doesn't bother me in the least!
Air cooling and heating systems – 5 out of 5 stars
Both A/C's cool very quickly (although we haven't had many days in the high '90's yet) and the furnaces and heat pumps work as advertised. The fireplace is pretty much essential to take the chill off of the living area first thing in the morning.
Kitchen appliances – 4.6 out of 5 stars
This score would have been higher, but the new gas cooktop, while looking great, is pretty weird with the elongated center burner. It might come in handy someday, but I'm not sure when that day will come. The residential refrigerator is great, and the new latches Tiffin uses to lock it closed are working fine (and we've been down some very nasty roads – more to come on that).
Hydraulics system – 4.9 out of 5 stars
The main slide has performed flawlessly, and the levelers have been almost perfect. One leveler in the rear seems to take more time to raise than the others. It usually takes me hitting the auto store button a second time to get the job done.
Carefree awning – 4.8 out of 5 stars
Haven't used it much due to the weather being windy where we've traveled, and it would have received a perfect score if not for the wire that got caught in the front arm support. Tore the wire out of the side of the awning when it got stuck when deploying, but caught it before it could cause too much damage. Big shout out for the automatic rain drain feature which collapses whichever end has the most water weight on it to relive the pressure on the fabric and arms.
Entry steps – 5 out of 5 stars
Hesitated even mentioning this category, because I'm sure at some point this will become a problem and didn't want to jinx things!
Truma AquaGo Comfort hot water heater – 4.8 out of 5 stars
This would have received a perfect score if not for it failing to provide hot water on our last night in New Hampshire (and boy did we need showers that night!). We were at 44% propane level in the coach, so we're not sure if it's an issue with lower pressure from the tank or not, as we filled the tank the next morning on our way out and it has worked fine since.
TV's and other electronics – 4 out of 5 stars
TV's work great. DVD player works fine, unless you want to run it via the remote. Pointing the remote at the IR receiver gets a response from the receiver, but nothing happens. A work in progress.
Liquidsprings rear suspension – 0.5 out of 5 stars
When it works, it's a marvelous technology, but it has only worked a total of 3 travel days out of 12. And when it doesn't work, you have NO SUSPENSION AT ALL on the rear end of your coach! The problem has been some faulty ride height sensors on the driver's side of the 36LA. I'm convinced now the unit wasn't working from day one until we found out it was leaning significantly to the left after leaving Hershey, PA on our way northbound. And unfortunately we were heading up to New England; home of some of the worst roads in America. Needless to say, our home took a beating on the way up, and unfortunately on the way back down, even though we had the ride height sensor changed out in New Hampshire.
Now, to Liquidspring's credit, they have shipped us replacement sensors whenever we have needed them, and done so overnight, but when you're on a schedule with a 3 year-old, you just can't add an extra night at a campground waiting for a new sensor to show up which may (or may not) work when you install it. Liquidsprings claims they got a bad batch of sensors from a third party supplier, and recently shipped us out a new one from a new supplier, so we'll see how this one works.
Unfortunately, the damage that was caused by having no suspension on the rear running on some bad roads is considerable. Minor damage to the bottom panel of the Splendide washer (the unit rocked into the bottom of the cabinet and broke off the snaps to the cover). Major damage to the exhaust tailpipe (lost it completely somewhere on our last travel day back to Georgia), which then allowed hot gasses to meltdown the right side of our wet bay, opening it up to the elements in three separate areas. I'll have to get a new tailpipe and heat shield installed before we can travel again, and figure out who takes care of the cost of the wet bay.
Needless to say, Liquidsprings is not high on out list of third-party providers right now. And sadly, I don't know if the latest sensor will work for a while, or fail again shortly. I have zero confidence in that system right now.
Adjusting to full-time RV living – 3.5 out of 5 stars
There's a certain frustration when you travel with a 3 year-old that can skew your patience level with new things, so I'm sure that this score could have been higher. I'm rolling with the punches a little bit better than Barbara is doing, but then I'm the one who has done the majority of the research beforehand in hopes that I could cope with the inevitable breakdowns and glitches that come with an RV. Not that any level of research could have prepared us for a complete disaster with our Liquidsprings. Still, I think that some of the issues would have been easier to live with if it were just the two of us and we had a rear suspension that worked.
Overall, it's a beautiful home on wheels (the comments we've received from fellow campers and campground staff are always appreciated), and it's running about as well as I imagined it would. And I know it's early. But I optimistically figure things can only go up from here.
So, driving up from Georgia to our eventual destination in New Hampshire, I began to notice a less-than-smooth ride in the rear of our 36LA. Sure, the roads weren't very good in some of the states we passed through, but I was expecting a better ride than what we were getting.
Since we only had a single night in southern Virginia, with an early departure the next day, I didn't have any chance to diagnose what the problem was. I completely forgot about it following the harrowing episode of a FedEx truck causing one of our tow dolly tires to suddenly deflate. It wasn't until after we left the Hershey RV show that I had another chance to try to figure out what was going on.
My first clue was that the Liquidspring interface by the driver kept going crazy; sometimes it showed normal lights, while other times it was flashing odd groups of lights which made it look like it was trying to reset itself. Pulling into a rest area on I-81 just north of Hazelton, PA, I walked around the coach to check everything from basement doors to the toad and dolly. Facing the rear of the coach looking forward, I noticed that our brand new motor home was listing heavily to port (the driver's side for you landlubbers). There was no space between the top of our rear tires on the driver's side, and a good 4-6 inches between the top of the tires on the passenger side and the wheel well.
Catching Wayne Wells from Liquidsping at the Hershey show, he immediately got me in touch with Chad Wilkins, a Customer Service Manager at the home office in Indiana. After a quick explanation of our symptom, Chad ran us through a couple of calibration tests on the driver interface and determined that our ride height sensor on the driver's side was toast.
The good news: they are relatively easily replaced.
The bad news: we had to make the rest of our ride up north without any Liquidspring comfort.
Chad would send our two new sensors (he wanted us to replace both sides) overnight to a friend's house, and sent us a document via email that described how to change them out.
Crawling under these coaches is not an easy task, especially if you're almost 63 years-old; even worse when your camp site is crushed rock. Not a lot of room, and the ride height sensor is above your head and situated where your arms have to curl around some parts of the Ford F-53 chassis. But the good news is that there are only two bolts that have to be removed to replace the ride height sensors, a simple unplug of the old unit, and a clip that has to be removed to put a control rod on the new unit. Plug the new unit in, replace the clip on the control arm, and it's time to calibrate the new units.
Heading inside to the Liquidspring driver interface, you hit both ride height arrows simultaneously to put the unit in calibration mode. The back end of your coach goes through a whole bunch of rises and dips, and after about 2-3 minutes (if you've done things correctly and the units are good) your coach is level and ready to head down the road in relative comfort. Shut off the coach at the key and wait for about 4 minutes, and the new calibration is locked in.
At least, that's the theory.
Not so much when your error code refuses to clear after changing out the ride height sensor.
Looking for a Liquidspring service provider is not easy. Their website shows lots of places in different regions, but once you start calling them you find out that they either only work on ambulances and fire trucks (and those don't really want to leave their comfort zone to work on an RV), or their local shop isn't certified – or trained – or hasn't even seen what a Liquidspring installation is, but some other national branch is, and Liquidspring has added ALL of them to their list.
But Chad from Liquidspring insists that just about any shop could diagnose and work on their product, and fortunately he's right. Calling a local RV repair shop in nearby Nashua, NH, we schedule an appointment for Thursday morning. After about 4 hours, the 3 folks at 1st Priority Towing and Repair have all had a look at this unique system and have figured out the sensor problem and have it fixed.
And what a difference it is! I'm thinking this system wasn't working pretty much from day one, because the difference in the ride is night and day to what we experienced, even coming back from our dealer in Alabama. It's early, but can't say enough good things about the support from the folks at Liquidspring!
I really hate FedEx drivers, but you'll have to wait until the end to find out why.
Two days into our first trip in the 36LA, and here are a few random thoughts:
Thus far, I can only say that Tiffin makes a great coach. I know it's only two days into actually driving down the road, but this particular unit has performed spectacularly.
Big shout out to the folks at Safe-T-Steer. Had a 7:30 appointment at their Austell factory location, and they got us in at 7:15, had the product installed by 7:45, and finished the road test by 8:30. Couldn't have been any easier, and the results are great! I think the best way to describe it is that it tightened the looseness of the steering, and keeps the front end tracking straight. It no longer feels as if I am wrestling a snake when trying to stay in my lane. I don't think I'd even feel comfortable driving with just one hand, but I think could if I wanted to.
Packed up our 3 year-old grandson, Jace, and headed north on 85 to the first Pilot gas station. Got each axle weighed at a CAT scale behind the Pilot, and was pleasantly surprised to find us slightly underweight. About 700lbs light on the front axle, and just over 1000 lbs light on the rear. Considering we still have camp chairs, a grill, and an outdoor table to buy, we'll need the extra capacity.
This Ford V10 really has some power. Sure, it's not some big Cummins diesel, but heading over the mountain dividing North Carolina from Virginia, I was going 50-55 mph, and passed a number of 18-wheelers. And except for glancing at my rear view camera every now and again, I don't even know we're towing our Mini Cooper and dolly behind us.
Stayed at Pioneer Village campground the first night in Max Meadows, VA. Nice campground with lots of pull-through sites, good power and water. Quiet enough, and you will hear some traffic noises from nearby I-81 at night, but they're not distracting.
Headed north on I-81 up what I've called the spine of Virginia, as it parallels the Blue Ridge mountains to the right. Jace has been very good through these two days, and we've tried to keep him active at each stop we make. I will say that setting up and taking down his bed each day is going to become tedious in a few days. Makes me wish we had opted for the drop down bunk when we had this built.
Even fellow RV-ers can be inconsiderate. Stopped for gas at another Pilot, and was pulled in behind another Class A that was just finishing gassing up. Even though the guy saw us waiting, he put the nozzle away, went into the building, and cam out 10-15 minutes later with a couple of cold drinks for him and the missus!
There can be some bad roads out there, but the worst part of driving is going over each and every bridge. It seems that transitioning smoothly from one surface to another is a lost art in state and federal governments.
So we're heading across the little portion of Maryland on I-81. Maybe 15 miles in distance, and most of it under construction. Speed limit is supposed to be 55 mph, and I'm doing 50 mph in the right lane. Both lanes have been narrowed to just 11 feet in width, with Jersey barriers on each side. All of a sudden, I feel a heavy push on the RV to the right, because a FedEx tandem rig is passing me on the left, going at least 70 mph. I manage to keep the RV off the barriers, but somehow the tow dolly holding the Mini has a right tire going flat. That's because I can see it and hear the alarm on our TST tire pressure management system. Still in the construction zone, I take the next exit and find a storage field for 18-wheel trailers on the right just as the pressure hits zero.
Finding a tear in the side wall of the tire as the culprit, we begin the task of changing the dolly tire. I had ALMOST opted to not buy a spare tire for our American Car dolly, but added it in at the last minute. Good thinking on my part, as it was sitting in the rear bay of the 36LA. Improvised using the jack from the Mini on the dolly, and got the lug nuts off with our trusty star wrench each of our cars has had since the beginning. Also had the Viair pump handy to add the right pressure into the spare tire to satisfy the settings on our Tire Pressure Management System, and away we went after about an hour. Needless to say, prior planning prevents poor performance was in play this afternoon.
But here's my rant about FedEx truck drivers. In just two days, I've seen these jokers break every speed law on regular roads with their tandem rigs, but worse yet is their gross disregard for speed limits in construction zones. The guy who pushed the Mini close enough to the Jersey barriers to kill the dolly tire was going at least 70 in a 55 mph zone, with lanes just wide enough for both of us with no extra room to spare. These drivers are a menace on our roadways.
At least the Western Village RV park we're staying at in Carlisle, PA is really nice at the end of a stressful day. Nice shady sites with lots of amenities for kids and adults.
Tomorrow it's on to the Hershey RV show!
When last we left our readers, I had finished off installing a series of upgrades to our new home, and had just finished a quick shower before heading to bed, only to discover a bit of water coming out under the shower onto the floor.
After a restful night's sleep the next morning, we let the good folks at Marlin Ingram know about this little problem, and thus begins a very long day.
These motor homes are built for the customer, but not for the service people who have to work on them. In the case of our drain problem, there is one 6” by 4” panel on the floor where someone can reach into by hand to see what is going on, and a side access to the shower after removing a set of bedroom drawers and our inside breaker and fuse panel. While the guys take apart our brand new coach, Barbara and I sit and surf the internet waiting patiently. After all, not being able to use the shower is a pretty big thing!
As minutes turned into hours, and the working area expands into our bedroom, we begin to become concerned. We had planned for an early start from Montgomery in order to miss Atlanta traffic and to get into our camping spot up in the North Georgia mountains long before dark. Morning turned into early afternoon, and the diagnosis was that the primary drain pipe had a small crack and needed to be replaced. Problem was, there were no replacements in stock! The part was ordered and was expected to be delivered THE NEXT DAY between 10 and 2. Minor problem: Barbara and I both had shifts to work at our respective stores the next day.
Seeing our dilemma, the folks at Marlin Ingram got creative. Most people would call what they did “Robbing Peter to pay Paul”. They found another unspoken for Tiffin Open Road on the lot and stole the drain pipe from that unit in order to get us on our way, and would use the replacement part in that one the next day. But they still had to install the part in our shower, and test it to make sure it was working.
At this point, you need to know that from the very beginning, our plan to full time was based on the 330 rule of RV-ing: Don't drive more than 330 miles per day, and arrive at your destination by 3:30 in the afternoon so that you can setup your spot in daylight. My goal as an RV-er was to never know if my headlights worked.
That goal went out the window on our first day. (And BTW, the headlights need adjustment)
Because once the repairs were complete, it was now past 4 in the afternoon, and we had AT LEAST a 4-hour drive back to North Georgia. Grateful for the efforts at Marlin Ingram, but a bit tired and frustrated at the loss of a day, we headed out. Figuring it was better to fill up sooner than later, we stop at a Love's about 25 miles out of Montgomery. Got my first expected sticker shock when the receipt for gas came to just under $100. After usually spending just a bit more than $20 to fill up the Mini Cooper on a near-empty tank, this half tank fill up of the motor home was certainly different.
Driving into the oncoming night, Barbara and I both realize that one of us (me) is going to be Wallydocking this even, while the other will spend the night in the apartment with Taz. Proper etiquette for Wallydocking (boondocking at a WalMart) is to check with the store manager to make sure it's OK to stay in their lot overnight (usually is, but sometimes local ordinances prevent that) before bedding down for the evening. Oh, and you should always spend some money at the store to thank them.
Grabbing a Subaru full of storage bins and boxes, I hit the bed hard, because moving day was tomorrow . . .
Ever stuff 10 lbs of sausage into a 5 lb casing? That's what it felt like bringing all the stuff we had designated for the road (and some things we hadn't) into a 37 ft motor home. The good news is, I can't be blamed for this. Even Barbara admitted she packed too much stuff. The bad news is, it had no place to go except in the limited storage facility we had left, get thrown away – or it went into the RV.
At the end of the week at Paradise Valley Campground, we finally had everything packed away – even if some of it hadn't found it's permanent home. What the heck; we're retired. We'll have plenty of time to weed out the things that shouldn't have come, and rearrange the rest. My biggest concern is our overall weight, and the weight on each axle, which we'll find out the day we head north to New England.
The good news s that our 36LA has performed flawlessly this first week, even if Taz isn't 100% sure of where she's at and why her home moves and why the slides go in and out. Barbara is very glad I took the time to do the homework I did over these past few years, because there have been no surprises or questions that haven't been answered. I'm sure that won't stay that way, but it's been a great 10 days of everything we expected.
What a day! Woke up on Tuesday, August 27th at 5:15 for an intended 6:00 start to beat Atlanta traffic. Actually left at 6:15 due to more than expected items being packed into the back of our trusty Subaru Forester. We didn't take our Mini this time, because we had company for the trip over to Marlin Ingram RV in Montgomery, AL. Due to a delay in delivery of our American Car Dolly we needed someone to drive our car back to the Atlanta area, because my DW, Barbara, was NOT going to miss that first drive in our new home by having to trail the 36LA all the way back to North Georgia – and I couldn't blame her. So our youngest daughter, Alicia and our 3 year-old grandson, Jace, were also loaded into the back of the Subaru.
Note to self: Don't wake up a 3 year-old early if you want an uneventful 3 hour drive.
Anyway, 4 hours later we arrive at our destination, and Beth Morang, our sales rep, takes us down to see our new home. It's tucked underneath one of the open service bays, plugged in and ready for inspection. No house we've ever moved into has looked as beautiful as our 36LA does with it's vivid Pacific Blue top and Ice White base with dark and light gray accent colors. Everybody agrees that it's a statement coach, and who are we to argue?
So now we're ready to do some paperwork; as in pay for our new home. Nope. Paperwork is important at Marlin Ingram, but the customer experience comes first. Time for our PDI and a test drive to make sure everything is good to go! And again, who are we to argue?
In we go, and we get our first look at a finished dark mocha interior with creamy white furniture and sandy colored flooring. Even the gray wallpaper which cause a brief moment of concern a few weeks ago is a nice offset to the brighter furniture, and all is right with the world according to the love of my life. As we take in the beauty of the craftsmanship of the woodwork and interior, Jace immediately does what all 3 year-olds do; finds buttons and switches to push – and in a motor home, there are a LOT of buttons and switches to push!
Tying him up (OK, not really, but I did find myself wishing I had brought a roll of duct tape with us), we keep Jace occupied for about 10 seconds before he finds the remote (what IS it with these kids and electronics?) for the fireplace, and now we (and he) know the way to turn it off and on for the effect and for the heat. Thanks, buddy! Now that his mom is off the phone (after also finding out he now knows how to release the catch on the sliding door to the bedroom) Alicia and Jace get down to unloading the Subaru into some of the many basement storage compartments so that she can head back to Georgia, and we can get back to discovering our new digs in earnest.
In the entirety of our inside look at the 36LA, Barbara spots one – ONE! - noticeable defect in the finish; an area of woodwork by the freezer door which will need some minor touch-up in Red Bay once we get around to taking care of warranty work before our first year is up. I find a small dollop of caulking in a dark area under the main bath cabinetry. And just like that, we're outside going through basement storage bays, and the first of our surprises.
The first front passenger bay has always, in the 3 years we've been looking at the 36LA, been just for storage and a couple of electrical outlets for when you need power outside the coach. Not anymore! Open it up, and there's the battery disconnect and a new inverter disconnect switch installed in that bay. Now, battery disconnects are supposed to be close to the batteries themselves, so we're kind of surprised to see this all the way to the front of our coach, when the batteries have, for the past 2 years, been installed in a sliding tray in the very last bay of the coach. Heading quickly to that bay, we find it empty and it's reverted to it's past use as open storage! But where are our house batteries?
Back under the entry steps, where they had been in years previous; that's where! Not a big issue, as there is a trade-off to the placement. On the minus side, having that pull out tray made battery maintenance relatively easy, but it ate up some storage which can come in very handy for us full-timers. So on the plus side, getting back that storage bay is great. Makes me wonder if the Liquidspring option we ordered for our model had something to do with the shift, since the rear end of the 36LA has some pretty significant modifications to make the ride go smoother. Maybe Tiffin thought having the power components back there was no longer a good fit with that option. We'll ask them later.
Outside inspection completed, it's time for my second experience behind the wheel of a moving RV, but THIS time it's ours – and it hasn't even been paid for yet! And I gotta tell you, it's both scary and nice at the same time. Look, these gas motor coaches will never be as quiet going down the road as a higher priced diesel model, but they cost about $100k less than a similarly equipped diesel and they're still quiet enough at highway speeds to have a normal conversation in them.
The Liquidspring option performed as advertised, as we had multiple 18-wheelers pass us with nary a shift or shimmy in the 36LA, and we were even passed by a wide load transporting a large pool! Found myself creeping past the 70 mph mark (again!) just as I did two years ago at the Tampa show during a test drive of a similar model. This Ford V-10 with the 6-speed transmission has no problem moving this 26k lb chassis down the road, especially with MY foot on the gas!
Back at Ingram, I back the motor home into it's former spot with just one adjustment, and we have a chance to just sit and experience our new home while we wait for the office manager to process the paperwork. We'll be spending the night in the coach, giving us a chance to relax a bit, and giving me a chance to install some third-party mods that will make our lives easier once we get on the road. First come the Snap Pads. These are attached to the bottom of the jacks which level the RV. It saves my back from bending over each and every time we park somewhere having to slide pads underneath the coach and making sure those things are centered. These literally snap onto the feet of the jacks and remain attached as you drive down the road. Barbara and I also get to try out our new walkie-talkies since she has to lower our jacks manually from the inside a little at a time so I can line up the Snap Pads.
That accomplished, I now move onto installing our Tire Pressure Management System, or TPMS. Six sensors are programmed into a central monitor; one for each tire. The sensors are then screwed onto each tire's air valve so that pressure and temperature can be monitored while going down the road. These systems can sometimes give the driver ample warning of a tire issue before a catastrophe can happen, and it's something I'd rather have on the RV at the start. While screwing on the sensors for the rear duallys, I find that one extender doesn't allow any air flow, while another extender is very loose. Something for the folks at Marlin Ingram to look at the next day before we shove off.
Deciding I've sweated enough, it's time to try out the shower with our Truma continuous hot water heater. Took a quick Navy shower, where you wet down, shut off the water and soap up, then hit the water again to rinse off. Think of this as practice for when we boondock for multiple days when water conservation is critical. Drying off, I notice a bit of water coming out from under the shower onto the floor. Looks like something else has to be looked at by Marlin Ingram service in the morning.
To be continued . . .
If you have our kind of luck, things like this happen.
So, after speaking with someone at Tiffin this past Wednesday, it was agreed that this Friday (today), would be the best time to head over to Red Bay to go through a customer Final QC check. This is where the future owners can run through their coach for the better part of a day, and list those things we think need to be addresed by Tiffin before the coach leaves Red Bay for the dealer next week. Originally, it was supposed to be done on Monday the 12th, but the coach had been ahead a day in the production schedule, so it was thought that if we delayed our trip until then the coach might have already been shipped off to the dealer.
Sounds like a plan, right?
Plans don't always play out the way people plan them, do they?
As of last night (Thursday), our Open Road 36LA was sitting snug on the Yellow Brick Road at Tiffin's main plant. The Yellow Brick Road is where finished Tiffin coaches wait for final checks, and where visitors can walk through them to see what features and options they like. So at 8:00 sharp, when Tiffin officially opens, we saunter into the guard station and tell the folks there that we're here to do our customer final QC check on our one-of-a-kind painted coach. “You can't miss it”, we said. “Lots of blue on the top, and no black on it at all.” So the guard dutifully packs us into the extended-length golf cart for transport to the Yellow Brick Road, and off we go, anticipation written all over our faces.
Curving around the front, there are no blue coaches. Coming around to the center aisle, there are a couple of coaches with blue on them, but none are the custom color we had ordered. Nor were they Open Road gas coaches. Puzzled, we head back to security to figure out what had happened to our new baby.
First, we give them our ORDER number. They tell us they have no record of a coach with that number. They call the Belmont paint plant, and can't even get anyone at the front gate to answer their call. After almost 40 minutes waiting for a call back, they speak to someone at Belmont, who hasn't seen a blue coach come through their gate. Finally, they ask us for our unit's SERIAL number, which ends in a specific 4-digit number. Come to find out, even though our order number is plastered on the front of the coach, it's the serial number they track in security.
And our new home was found to have left Red Bay at 6:30 Friday morning for Belmont, but they still can't find the unit in Belmont. After giving the security guard our name and number to call us if they find it, we decide to head over to Belmont to see if we can spot our future home. Think we see it in a bay where they're taking the paper and tape off of the roof, but aren't sure, and don't know why that kind of large-scale painting would be needed at this stage of the game. Found out later it was probably another new owner who had ordered their coach with our color scheme that they liked so much.
But where was our 36LA?
Since it was Friday, we decided to hang around Belmont and do the Tiffin paint factory tour (again) in hopes of finding our unit somewhere in the 18 bays Tiffin uses to paint their coaches. Gearing up with neon yellow vests, headsets and goggles, we follow our tour guides Jeanette and Richard up the driveway towards the main plant. As we're passing a structure on the left used to install Diamond Shield on the front of each coach (used to keep rocks from chipping the paint), Ol' Eagle Eyes Barbara goes,
“Dave! Look in there. It that ours?”
Quickly separating myself from the tour (OK, I ran over to it), there's a blue, gray and white 36LA with our order number proudly displayed on the windshield! We've found our baby!
The tour immediately takes a detour into the building to admire the colors. Some folks are even taking pictures of our coach (kinda odd, but apparently they liked the colors as much as we do), even as I am scampering around to get better angles to shoot. After a few minutes, Jeanette herds the tour away from the building, leaving Richard with Barbara and me to get a closer look at our future home. Richard says, “Go ahead, take a look inside. Take your time. We don't want these other folks thinking they can just open doors and walk inside coaches being painted”. It was dark, with no power in the coach, but nothing ever looked better to us.
After detaching ourselves from the inside, we drool over the outside once again. Richard tells us, “You've found what you came looking for. If you folks just want to head back home it's OK.”
So we did.
We didn't get to spend all day long in it, and the pictures are a bit dark due to being taken in an unlighted building, but we think we have ourselves a winner here in the looks department. We hope you all think it's as beautiful as we do. In about 2 week's time, it will finally be ours, and we'll get some better pictures then.
With apologies to Frankie Valli, we managed to avoid a situation where a big girl was going to cry.
Dawn broke hazy and hot in Tupelo, MS on Friday. I know this for a fact, because I had spent most of the night researching something that had upset Barbara the previous night as she was perusing the pictures I took during Day 1 of our 36LA build. Why was she so upset?
It sounds trivial at first, but when you know how these motor homes are built, if wallpaper has to be changed, it is a major deal, mainly because the wallpaper is applied BEFORE all cabinets and trim are installed, so once those cabinets are installed in slides, there's no going back.
Unless you want to rebuild the entire motor home and set yourselves back 4-5 weeks.
So when Barbara took a look at the wallpaper on the walls of the living area, Ol' Eagle Eyes noticed that the wallpaper Tiffin used in previous years had changed from a creamy color to a fairly dark gray. If you remember an earlier post we made about having to rush over to Red Bay to pick out all the new colors for floor, upholstery and trim, Tiffin made changes to their basic palettes from 2019 to 2020. What they didn't tell us is that they changed the color of their wallpaper as well, which when you couple a dark gray with dark mocha cabinetry, the look becomes a bit darker than originally planned.
And this is what had Barbara (rightfully) upset.
My research that night, which cost me some significant sleep, was trying to figure out if this was common across all 2020 units, or whether Tiffin just goofed on our wallpaper. Looking at pictures from about a dozen or so new units (and lighting can be all over the board on these dealer units), it was inconclusive. That required an email and a phone call to Danny Inman, they guy who showed us all the décor boards the last time we were in Red Bay. Once again heading back to his office, he explained that Tiffin had, indeed, changed their default wallpaper to a gray this year. Oops!
We confirmed that every model on the “Yellow Brick Road” that we had looked at the previous day did have gray wallpaper, but the proof was in seeing it in OUR unit. So it was off to the manufacturing floor – thankfully during their morning break – where we could spend some time figuring out if this would actually work, as well as seeing it in person. It helped that they had the lights on in the coach and the roof installed, so we could get a much more accurate idea of what we were looking at.
In the end, Barbara was able to accept the new color, and we could move forward.
The changes in our future home were significant from the previous day, in that the roof and front and back caps were now installed, making it look much more like a motor home and not a train wreck, but the interior hadn't changed much at all. Nevertheless, I was able to take a couple of more pictures of the interior.
Feeling much better, we grabbed some lunch and headed over to Belmont, MS to the Tiffin paint plant for a tour. That will be covered in our next post.
Today, our new home has completed the main manufacturing process, and will have it's first test drive as it makes it's way to Belmont to go from ugly gray duckling to beautiful swan. Less than a month before our scheduled pickup date, 1 month, 3 days before retirement, and way too much to get accomplished as our calendar gets compressed!
Thursday, July 25th began at 4:00 AM EDT. It was time to head to Red Bay, AL for the Tiffin Factory Tour.
Our original intent was to take a leisurely drive 5 ½ drive during the day, but since I was awake and the early departure allowed us to take the Tiffin tour on both Day 1 and again on Day 2 of our build, we figured we might as well strike while the iron is hot.
For those of you who haven't been following our journey towards retirement, Tiffin Motorhomes used to allow new owners to actually camp themselves out on the manufacturing floor for all three days of the build process, but that ended last December due to insurance concerns. But Tiffin still gives escorted tours of their factory every Monday – Friday at 9:30 Central time, so now, as long as you tell the tour guide which station your new coach is supposed to be, you still get a chance to see your motor home while it's being built. It's just a taste, but it's heady wine nevertheless.
After gaining an hour by crossing into Alabama, we arrive at Tiffin's headquarters with about 20 minutes to spare. Replacing our sandals with sneakers (no open toed footwear on the factory floor, thank you), we walk into the visitor center to get our very stylish neon yellow vests, safety glasses and headsets, because the various places Tiffin takes you can be very loud. Jeanette and Harold, two retired schoolteachers who tease each other like an old married couple (but they're not), will be conducting our tour today. After a short introductory video and presentation, where we find out Tiffin has the #1, #2, and #3 best selling diesel models and the top 5 selling gas models, we head to the areas that make the woodwork (only hardwoods like alder and cherry are used in Tiffins – no press board or soft woods in the interior), assemble and stain the cabinetry, cut out the huge segments of plywood for the subfloors and then head over towards the welding shop where various naked chassis sit waiting for their turn in the factory.
Tiffin uses three different chassis in their products based on the models they make; a Freightliner chassis for their entry level and mid-level diesel coaches, their own Powerglide chassis for their high-end diesel Buses and Zephyr models, and the Ford F53 gas chassis for their Open Road line of coaches. The F53 is what will drive our 36LA down America's highways and byways beginning next month if all goes well. At the chassis stop you get a tantalizing glimpse of some coaches in various stages of completion.
Tiffin has three production lines; the inappropriately named GAS line which makes most of their Phaeton and Red diesel models, Line 1 which makes their higher-end Bus and Zephyr coaches as well as some larger Phaetons, and Line 4 – the line we're most interested in – because it makes all their gas models and their smaller Breeze diesel models.
But before you get to see the build process up close, you get to see where Tiffin laser cuts and assembles their one-piece fiberglass roofs. Watching them haul finished roofs of up to 45 feet in length and over 9 feet in width with dozens of suction cups attached to them is pretty awesome!
Now, full disclosure: Barbara and I had taken the Tiffin factory tour about a year or so earlier, so much of this was familiar territory for us, and even though it was still impressive, we really had only one goal in mind; find Unit #119312 on the Open Road / Breeze line. Based on the production schedule I showed you in a previous post, our home was supposed to be early in the build process as the tour came around – maybe Station 3 out of 8 – so Barbara and I weren't expecting to see much. Maybe a chassis with a floor and a few components sitting on it.
But Tiffin puts out 11 coaches per day across all lines, and while things move deliberately, they sure do move! Our guide helps us find our 36LA by peeking under the engine compartment of a motorhome that doesn't yet have a front cap with windshield on it (that's how you'll easily identify your coach later on), and suddenly Barbara and I are staring at our new home – and it's further along than either of us had imagined it would be! Lots of stuff left to do, but side walls are up, slides are installed, and the craftsmen and women at Tiffin are working on the interior. It's weird to see them moving around in there without a roof over their heads!
Harold says, “Go on in!”, and so we do. I get to snap a couple of pictures, Barbara and I get to thank the folks at this station for doing such a great job, and just like that, our first look at our new home is over all too soon.
I gave Barbara a brief hug and we looked at each other for a moment. You see, over the three years we've been researching living on the road in an RV, and all the product shows and dealers we've visited, we've always stepped into someone else's home – never ours. This was different. This wasn't some random coach built for some unknown couple or family to take on vacations or weekends.
This was . . . ours.
The feeling was similar to when Barbara and I had a home custom built for us one time, where we had picked out colors and styles and design features to make our new home uniquely ours, but this was different. It was more emotional for me because of the total lifestyle change this new home will bring to us. A new freedom. New experiences, new places and new people to meet almost each and every day. I'm not ashamed to admit I came close to crying as we had to leave our new home behind.
Now when you're done with the official Tiffin tour, you're really not done. The folks leave you at an area where completed coaches sit, just waiting to go through final Quality Control. They're all open and visitors are welcome to check them out as long as they want. Barbara and I find a couple of new 36LA's just calling our name, so we open the door to the first one and head on in. The Open Road 36LA was first introduced in 2012, and it's Tiffin's second-most popular gas model. As with all Tiffin's, it came out with loads of features at that time, but one thing we've learned in all our research is that Tiffin doesn't stand still and let these motor homes age gracefully. Each and every year they find new ways to improve on each model, and we've become pretty adept at spotting the upgrades and changes from one model year to another. The changes we found in the 2020 version of the 36LA will be highlighted in a future post, but we left Tiffin once again amazed at what we'll be getting in just 1 month and 6 days (thanks for asking!).
With Day 1's tour finally over, Barbara and I then head over to Tupelo, MS for a good night's rest (or so I thought). I send the pictures I took on my phone to Barbara, and Ol' Eagle-Eye spots something that immediately makes her sick . . .
To be continued . . .
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're planning the ultimate retirement experience - travel the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, play golf and stop at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.