After a quick dash to Texas, it was time to spend some quality time with friends and former co-workers of mine from many years ago at Xerox; people we hadn't seen since 1996 during the Atlanta Olympics.
I used to work FOR Rhonda Lea. I used to work WITH Allen Lea. Rhonda was usually working hard to keep Allen and I from committing professional suicide with our sometimes quirky sense of humor – always funny (to us), but not always understood by others. Fortunately we both survived and lasted many years at Xerox. But we hadn't seen each other for many, many years. So when in Texas, it was a natural thing to head to the northern suburb of Dallas known as Frisco, TX. We don't usually pay as much per night ($60) as we did for this campground, but there is a dearth of available campgrounds in decent places north of Dallas, and as it was also situated on Lake Lewisville we felt the three days there were worth it.
The nice thing we discovered about Texas is that it is very flat, therefore there is little trouble finding level sites upon which to park the motor home. Our levelers have always done a great job of leveling our 36LA, but the more it needs to level, the harder it is to get it just right so that the shower door doesn't slide open while in use, or that the half bath door doesn't fly open when using it. An added benefit is that the lower step is always very low, making it easier for us and our guests to get on up into our home.
The campground we stayed at was Hidden Cove Park and Marina. It's quiet, with very little light spillage due to it's remote location. But it's also close enough to Frisco to get food (I can recommend the Nolan Ryan beef at Kroger) and meals if you want to. Warning signs for this park included being on the lookout for coyotes and bobcats. Didn't see or hear either, which was fine by me. The sites, as you can see by the attached picture, are fairly large; either pie shaped to the back or to the front due to the curves of the roads onsite. Our back-in site was just long enough to tuck our tow dolly underneath the back of the 36LA and still have room to park the Mini across the front of the coach.
Texas features many strange and quirky places; none more strange than the Toxic Waste Dump Farm, featuring the tag line: “Beef To Die For”. OK, so it's not a real cattle farm (or any farm for that matter), nor does it contain any toxic waste on the property. It DOES contain a very disgruntled owner whose next door property is being developed as a pretty posh neighborhood of brand new and expensive homes. Doesn't sound like a big problem, unless you're the guy next door who didn't want the property developed but didn't want to buy it on his own, either. So in his own fashion, he's finding a way to protest development on his terms. Not sure how effective it will be, but I give him high marks for creativity!
After a little sightseeing in historic downtown Denton, TX, and a couple of really good meals where some tall tales were swapped, we headed to our next destination; Stephen F. Austin State Park just west of Houston in San Felipe, but not before we encountered our next Texas institution: Buc-ees.
If you have never experienced Buc-ees before, well – it's hard to describe. The first thing you notice is the unbelievable number of gas pumps. Nearly 100 at the Melissa location, and that's not even the largest Buc-ees in the state! The interesting thing about Buc-ees is that tractor trailers are NOT allowed in any Buc-ees; it is NOT a truck stop. But it can accommodate our 37 ft RV just fine. Diesel is available for pickups and RV's as well, but NO 18-wheelers! But that's only part of the Buc-ees experience. Spotless restrooms (a miracle given the huge number of customers who stop by). A bakery, a sandwich counter featuring real Texas brisket, homemade candy and fudge, an incalculable number of flavors of jerky, and enough souvenirs to make any traveler happy. Think of your average CVS or Walgreens store, quintuple it's size, and stuff it with all of the above. It is a sight to behold, and their gas prices are the lowest around.
Full of gas, we point our RV south towards the port city of Houston.
Unencumbered with family issues and the occasional drama, it's time to head out on our first big official travel. Time to head to Texas for the month of January, New Mexico for the month of February, and Arizona for the month of March. The early part of the trip has some scheduled stops to visit friends, but beginning the second week we're back to winging it. No reservations; no plans. Just travel and take in the sights.
But first we have to get to Texas; a great state with lots to see and do, and one where Barbara and I have limited past experience. Back in the 1950's, Cunard Cruise Lines had an ad campaign with the tag line “Getting there is half the fun”! This post will show you the “other” side of RV-ing; the part that most people won't tell you about.
We'd already heard about the legendary poor condition of I-10 going through the southerly route to Texas, and fortunately our initial travel to Dallas means we get to enjoy I-20 across Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi before we get to Texas. They'll be no sightseeing on this initial leg of our journey, as we have reservations in the Lake Lewisville area north of Dallas for three nights to visit with Rhonda and Allen Lea, former co-workers of mine during my time with Xerox.
In keeping with the 330 rule of leisurely Rv-ing, we try to look ahead to about a 5-6 hour drive each of the three days it will take us to get to Dallas. This will mean we drive about 330 miles per day, and try to arrive by 3:30 in the afternoon at our campsite for the evening.
The one observation I'll have about this dash to Dallas is the elevation. We've been used to hills and mountains living in North Georgia for the past 28 years, and there are a LOT of elevation changes to be had in Georgia.
Not so on this trip. It's flat. Really, really flat. Good for gas mileage, but nothing much for the scenic side of the trip.
Since this is a speed run to Dallas, we're not interested in any amenities in our campgrounds, so price becomes more important. Enter Passport America. We joined them for their 50% off campground fees that take the program; very important for the one or two night stays we'll need when heading from one place to another. Generally, they are older parks, limited in creature comforts. Usually just a pad and hookups for the RV, but a cheap way to get from Point A to Point B for under $20 per night. They also tend to have more pull-thru sites available for folks like us who are just passing through; enabling us to keep the tow dolly and Mini hooked up to save us time and effort.
Leaving our comfy spot in Cleveland, GA at Leisure Acres RV Campground (and leaving our duck friends to fend for themselves), we travel at a sedate 62 MPH on cruise control west through Georgia and Alabama, stopping at Benchmark RV Park in Meridian MS just over the border from Alabama. It consists of basically a couple of loop roads in order to facilitate the large number of pull-thru sites they offer. Cement pads separated with narrow grass that holds the hookups. The ONLY amenity is a “dog park”, which is a chain link fence where dogs can leave their droppings when owners refuse to pick them up, and a propane filling station. Power is sufficient for our RV using 50 AMP service, but there is a strict NO SPACE HEATERS warning in the office, leaving me to believe that the grid is a bit taxed due to age. But it's a short drive off of I-20, so at $20 for the night, it will do.
Since we have a shorter than usual trek the next day, we leave around 10:00 AM in a heavy rain. I'm glad that our destination is less than 300 miles away, because we have to drop down to between 50-55 MPH due to the varying nature of the rain, alternating between a heavy mist and a heavy downpour. Crossing the Mississippi River is always a thrill. The “Big Muddy” was not as wide as it would be closer to New Orleans, but it is still impressive, especially covered in a morning mist. We arrive at our next overnight stop in West Monroe, Louisiana. The rate is even better at $17 for the night, and that's a good thing. It's a park loaded with full-time residents; normally not the worst thing, but unfortunately full-time residents tend to ignore the rules that are written for the rest of us. Therefore, our site bordered a number of spots where people had more than one vehicle parked, making it difficult to maneuver our way out of the spot in the morning. We also heard constantly barking dogs all night long (another rule violation) in at least 2 sites. Frankly, we were happy to depart for Texas then next morning.
The interesting thing about Texas and I-20 is the condition of the interstate. Very, very good. It's in stark contrast with the local roads we encountered in and around the Frisco, TX area north of Dallas where we stayed for 3 days. Very, very poor.
Fortunately, the park we stayed in, as well as the company we enjoyed with good friends, made up for all the poor local roads.
We'll be spending 3 nights in Hidden Cove Marina and RV Park on Lake Lewisville. Beautiful concrete padded site on a spacious level lot within sight of the lake. A bit pricey at $60 a night, but in better weather worth the price when you can enjoy more of the park and it's amenities. But there's not a lot of RV parks in that area, so choices are limited.
Our dash to Texas completed, it's time to enjoy some Texas food and friends. But that's for another post. Stay tuned!
So we've been encamped at Leisure Acres RV Campground in Cleveland, GA going on 4 weeks, with another week to go before heading out on our longest trip since becoming full-time RV-ers in August. Three months beginning in Texas, then heading to New Mexico and finally to Arizona; taking up all of January-March of 2020.
In one way, it's been nice to not have to set up and break down every couple of days (not that it's that difficult in these Class A motor homes), and it's been nice to reintroduce our grandson, Jace, to Christmas. But Barbara and I bought this Tiffin 36LA to travel – not sit around.
It hasn't been all idle time, however. In addition to the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it's been a time to order and install upgrades to make our RV perform better and give us more flexibility as we head across country.
Some upgrades that worked and why we did them:
Maxxair II Vent Fan Covers. These allow us to open our existing Fantastic fan covers no matter what the weather. Open, they allow heat to escape if the RV gets too hot, but also keeps rain out of the RV They also cut back on sunlight (we got the smoke color) so they keep us cooler when we get into hotter weather.
Camco Heated Water Hose. Winter is still here, and even though we'll be heading to Texas and New Mexico, there might still be some freezing temperatures overnight. Keeps water flowing into the coach down to -20 degrees. Of course, if temperatures are going to go THAT low, we're heading further south!
Nutrichef Double Burner Induction Cooktop. This is by far Barbara's favorite upgrade! Our propane stove top works great, but in wintertime propane is best used for our furnaces to keep us warm. Since our Magma cookware is induction capable, we had always intended to get one, but colder than normal temps accelerated our need for one. It also helped us tremendously on Thanksgiving when we suddenly had to host dinner in the RV and needed those two extra burners.
Camco 4 Port Tee. Allows us to “T” off of our main tank to cook on our Weber Q grill. Saves on buying those small green bottles.
Not everything worked out as we had hoped for, however. We had heard a lot about the Oxygenics family of shower products which had been designed to provide for a more refreshing shower. RV showers are typically weak, mainly due to pressure regulators which are recommended for most campgrounds due to campground pressures that can blow out the flexible plumbing usually found in RVs. However, the RV Fury model we tried was disappointing at best. Provided less pressure than our standard Tiffin-installed shower head. I'm sure it provides a wonderful experience at higher pressures, but I'm not missing a high pressure shower in exchange for my plumbing.
As for prepping for travel down the road, our extended stay allowed Barbara and me to reorganize storage; her on the inside, and me on the outside. Gained a whole bin of space underneath, and made things we'll need in campgrounds and parks more accessible without crawling under a slide.
Installed our Sani-Tube underneath the rear of the RV so that our “stinky slinky” (sewer hose) can be stored OUTSIDE of our wet bay, keeping things nice and sanitary around our fresh water supply.
I also ran around the RV today, checking tire pressures and making sure they matched our Tire Pressure Management System. You'll remember an earlier post where our TST system saved our tow dolly on our very first trip, so making sure these two systems match is very important. It's also good to make sure tires are inflated properly; not only for safety purposes, but also for a more comfortable ride.
New Rain-X wipers were added, reducing the size down from 34' to 28”. This is because the wiper motor on these RVs are notoriously under-powered, and they get seriously strained when trying to move that much rubber across a dry windshield (when you're trying to use the window washing feature). Even though you lose 6” of sweep, there is still more than enough clearing done on the windshield. Filled the windshield washer reservoir (nearly empty), and checked the oil.
Installed a bunch of gas apps on the iPhone to make it cheaper, easier and more secure to fill up this rolling behemoth. When you typically spend about $100 a fill-up, anything to make it easier and cheaper is good! It also gets rid of the security issue of swiping a card at the pump where scammers steal your number.
So when next Wednesday rolls around, we store chairs, bring in slides, retract jacks and disconnect from water and electric. It will be good to get back on the road.
After almost 3 weeks on the road following one month in Blue Ridge, GA minding our grandson, Jace, it was time to put jacks down and slides out for the holidays here in North Georgia with our daughters and grandsons.
Making the run up to Lafayette, IN to the home of Liquidspring for repairs in some nasty downpours and wind, and the ensuing plunge in temperatures was stressful enough, always hoping I wouldn't have to crawl under my chassis to swap out ride height sensors. Fortunately, the system worked as advertised all the way up and back down to Red Bay, AL. It is truly amazing the difference in ride Liquidspring makes, and when in windy conditions (as we seemed to have for the five says it took to do the loop up north and back down south) the Sport mode - I know, it sounds really weird to write "Sport mode" when discussing motor home driving - made handling this RV much easier and didn't tire me out at the end of a day's drive.
I've written extensively about the Tiffin aspect of a visit to Red Bay previously, but I'd be remiss if I didn't cover the personal side of the Red Bay experience. And I don't want the comments I make here to be construed as a knock on Red Bay in any way, shape or form. It's a quaint little town in the upper left corner of Alabama, and it is the very definition of a company town. Frankly, it's hard to believe that 4 of the best-selling motor homes made in the world are made in this one small town. If a business in Red Bay doesn't say Tiffin on it, it's supporting that company in one way or another.
If I covered this before I apologize, but Tiffin doesn't take appointments for their service center. You show up, get in the queue for a full-service bay for serious problems, or in line for an express bay (2 technicians for up to 4 hours and then you're done) for smaller issues. This system is frustrating to many who are not full-timers like us who can spend as much time needed to get everything fixed, and truth be told it even frustrates some full-timers as well, but because people used to make appointments and then not show up, Tiffin instituted this policy and it works for them.
So you hurry to get to Red Bay, check in, and wait for "the call" . . . And you'd better be ready to scoot over to your assigned bay at the time of the call or you get replaced by the next customer in line. We heard of four people who missed their slot because they strayed too far from the service center to get back in time.
What does this have to do with decompression and reflection? Decompression first.
Waiting in Red Bay can be stressful. You're sitting in a parking lot with full hookups (when the water isn't shut off due to freezing temperatures), you can't go far if you want to keep your spot in line, and there's not that much to do to pass the time in such a small town. If you have satellite (we don't yet) you can watch TV, but if not, there are 5 OTA (over the air) stations that can be received in Red Bay - and they're all Public Broadcasting stations. And Tiffin doesn't provide cable. You just sit and wait for the Tuesday and Thursday priority lists to come out at 3:00 so you can have an idea of when your number will be called. If you're way down the list, say, #10 or higher, you can feel confident enough to venture away from the service center. If lower, you'd better stay put.
Once called though, it can be a great learning experience, as Tiffin allows owners to sit in their coaches while they're being worked on. It can be a great for the owner as you get to see they guys doing the work and ask them questions about the work being done.
Unless you have a dog like Taz.
Tiffin (rightly) doesn't allow pets to be in attendance while the coaches are being fixed. The technicians might make an exception for the little travel dogs many RVers seems to have these days, but a 70-lb shepherd/lab mix is a no-go. Now, you can take your dog to the pet friendly lounge Tiffin provides, unless your dog is a jerk.
Taz is a jerk.
We're working with her, but she gets too excited around other animals because she's never really been socialized around other dogs with few exceptions. She's not nasty or mean - just excitable and a jerk. So now either Barbara has to keep Taz occupied at some nearby park (there are none), and only if the weather is good, or we have to take her somewhere to keep her busy (hours in the Mini Cooper are NOT conducive to a happy dog) thereby keeping the owner (me) from interacting with my expert technicians.
Five days of trying to strike that balance is STRESSFUL. We managed to find a couple of places an hour or so away from Red Bay when we knew the coach was going to be in the service bay for the entire day. Tishomingo State Park on the Natchez Trace was a hidden gem, and Taz got some running around time. But otherwise, we waited. Mostly Barbara waited. In the Mini. With the dog.
Once finished, it's just a 1 day drive back to Georgia, specifically to Blue Ridge to pick up a Snap Pad we lost on our way out the previous month, and stay a night until our site is available in Cleveland, GA at Leisure Acres RV Campground. Not wanting to go through the construction zone at I-65 and I-20 in Birmingham when leaving Red Bay, we take an alternative route offered to us by our GPS program - CoPilot RV. It's supposed to be the shortest route mileage-wise, and doesn't look too bad. It's a 5+ hour drive, with some rural roads near the end. Everything is great for the first 4 hours, and then we hit the rural aspect of the trip. Our GPS decided, even though it knows we're in a 37 ft RV with a tow vehicle programmed into it's settings, that it would be fun to take us meandering along the Oconee River for over 25 miles. Now don't get me wrong; I'm sure it's a lovely drive in our Mini Cooper. One lane each way curving sometimes not so gently around every curve and sharp bend in the river. Not so lovely trying to reef that motor home around those curves in the last hour of a 5 hour drive!
As to the Reflection part, we're in an absolutely lovely spot next to a small pond populated with ducks, who serenade us each morning in hopes of getting fed by us. Barbara bought a nice duck blend of food to keep them happy, and Jace loves to come by and feed them. We sit outside and goof off; Barbara with her crocheting, me napping. We take walks.
I think back to the friends we met while in Red Bay. Jamie and Bob, Jennifer and Harry, and especially Ron and Teri; our next-door neighbors. Ron is retired Air Force and loves to golf, so we have two things in common in addition to RVing. We celebrated our last night together before leaving Red Bay with a dinner down the street, and talked and laughed like people who had known each other for years instead of just meeting each other 2 weeks previous. It's part of the RV experience we had hoped to find, but hadn't up until then. These are all people we hope to see again on the road in the future.
Posts might be few and far between for the next month until we get back on the road, but you never know. Some upgrades are being ordered to be installed before our next trip, and there may be a post or two on those. If not, Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas from Barbara, Taz and me - the Parental Parolees!
A quick walk to Cabinetry was on the docket for 7:00 AM to talk with Dennis. It was supposed to be our next stop on the way to completing our list of issues at Tiffin Service, but a full day had gone by with no call, and we were concerned we had fallen through the cracks in Tiffin's process.
Good news was that our paperwork was sitting on Chad's workstation, and we were called to Bay 25 within 30 minutes. He couldn't fix the minor defect in the woodwork to the left of the residential refrigerator, because to do so meant the entire cabinet had to be removed. It's relatively minor, so we just had him smooth out the finish on one of our closet doors, and we were back in Site 8 waiting for a call from Paint.
Not 5 minutes after jacks down, slides out and power hooked up, there was a knock at our door. The Tiffin paint supervisor got a look at our dimple on the driver's side front cap, showed me another Phaeton down the next row with a similar dimple on the passenger side, and said that Dustin in Bay 23B was waiting for us. Okay!
Dustin has certainly seen this anomaly before. No one has yet figured out why it is happening, but it appears that when they spray the foam inside the front cap, when it sets it seems to pull the fiberglass back into a dimple. Doesn't happen all the time, but depending on the severity of it, they can remove the foam insulation, heat it and push it out, brace it, and foam it back up. If not successful, it's a 4-day process which requires removing the Diamond Shield, fixing it, and waiting 3 days for the clear coat to set before Diamond Shield can be reinstalled.
Thank goodness ours was the former, and in about 45 minutes Dustin had pretty much removed the offending dimple to where if you didn't know we had one, you couldn't find it. These guys at Tiffin are special craftsmen and women.
After a five minute checkout and being presented with four pages of detail regarding our two week visit totaling zero dollars, we're one night away from heading back to Georgia tomorrow morning. A quick checkup of our headlight alignment is being done tonight by the folks at A+ Lighting, an oil change for the engine and generator tomorrow morning at Bay Diesel, and Red Bay will be in our rear view camera, hopefully until we head back here at the end of our first year of warranty.
For those who are unwilling to travel to Red Bay for Tiffin service because you think it's too far away, you need to rethink your objections. It's worth every penny and every minute of your time to experience the exceptional quality and professionalism of the people here, as well as the information you get from the technicians and fellow Tiffin owners during your stay. It is invaluable.
Just do it.
So long, Red Bay! We'll be back next year!
Our second week in Red Bay Alabama at the Tiffin Service Center came to a close with more things being checked off our list, and a feeling that we have less time here in the future than we have been here.
A minor but almost expected setback occurred when I woke up to my 6:00 AM alarm, and headed outside to discover lots of water in our new wet bay and on the ground beneath us. We had planned to go right back into Bay 4 that morning anyway, because David wanted to make sure there were no leaks as a result of the wet bay repairs he and Dave performed the previous day. Not unexpected given the total rebuilt they had to do, so as long as it wasn't a black tank leak (it wasn't – just the gray tank) we could handle it and head back to Bay 4.
Dumping and wiping everything down, we're ready for the March of the Elephants; 40 or more 33' to 45' Tiffin Class A motor homes all starting engines and heading to their respective bays at the same 7:00 hour. It's a sight to see, and even more exciting to be part of.
The two Dave's attack our immediate problem, spending most of the next 4 hours replacing some parts that apparently had more damage than first appeared, and reworking some hard rubber plumbing to prevent cracking or breakage when heading down the road. As 11:00 approaches, the wet bay has been repaired, improved, tested and dried. One final fix of the silverware tray and fortifying the rail system on our main galley drawers (needed due to the pounding we took on the road), and we are released from Bay 4. From fixing everything on our general repair list, to improving things not on the list, to recommending great restaurants to try, we've made new friends and trusted advisers in the two Dave's.
We've experienced first-hand why so many Tiffin owners insist on coming back to Red Bay each year for their service.
Not that we're done and ready to head back to Georgia, mind you. Once released from Bay 4, we head back to Site 8, our home for nearly 2 weeks, and wait for the call to Mechanical. David had said that we were next on their list, so don't hook up anything but power and keep our slides in, because we'd likely get a call when the next mechanical bay became open. Now understand, Tiffin employees work from 7:00 until 11:00 and take their lunch until 12:00, meaning that as the afternoon wore on I was expecting less and less to get our call, so I decided to take a nap.
So of course I get a call about 30 minutes after closing my eyes to get over to Bay 41. Right now. Ahhh, nothing like the retirement life I always say!
Fortunately, there were only 2 things on the Mechanical list; check all our welds of the house to the chassis, and the all-important replacement of our temporary exhaust extension and heat shield lost somewhere on I-85 southbound back in September which had caused so much damage to our wet bay. This next picture is something pretty cool, but also something that, as an owner, you never really want to see; our 37' long, 14.5 ton motor home suspended nearly 6 feet in the air.
Yeah . . .
Right after THAT sight, our 36LA is inexplicably lowered to the ground for about 15 minutes while a conference ensues in our driver and passenger area. For some reason, our home has been powered on at the key level, because our front headlights are now on. Don't know what they're doing and can't ask them, because Mechanical is (rightly) one bay where customers are NOT allowed due to safety reasons. I mean, what isn't safe about a 37' motor home up on jacks, right? The guys exit, and it's back up in the air to have the exhaust extension and heat shield installed. By 3:15 we're back down on all 6 tires with an officially-approved Tiffin heat shield and spot-welded extension. Paperwork is completed to be sent to our next stop – Cabinetry – and day 4 is in the books. I'm told by the technician that they've re-calibrated our Liquidspring system in the process, and I ask him why. He doesn't know; they just did it. “Okaaaayyyyy”, I said. “Thanks . . . ?”
But my day isn't quite done.
Starting up the 36LA, I go to power on my Liquidspring interface to set it for normal ride mode and see something I haven't seen in almost a month; the dreaded warning light and error code saying my ride height sensor needs replacing! Now it dawns on me what they were doing in the drivers area of my home, and while it was nice of them to try to make sure our Liquidspring systems had been set properly before sending us home, they are not privy to the new procedures in power on and powering off the Liquidspring interface. Fortunately, they had our system in normal ride height mode when they shut off the motor home WITHOUT shutting off the interface (a big no-no), but even so, I gingerly drive down the incline away from the building, hoping that my jacks don't bottom out on the way.
Parking the motor home back in Site 8 and powering off my Liquidspring interface before shutting off my engine, I immediately take out the tools of my trade over the past 3 months; a 1/2” socket and wrench, screwdriver, work blanket and a replacement ride height sensor that I might have forgotten to send back to Liquidspring when they fixed our problem last time. I run the jacks up and explain to Barbara what has happened, and get to work. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I've become pretty adept at changing out a ride height sensor since September, and since I now know the right sequence of events I can work underneath with jacks extended, giving me enough room to change this out in about 10 minutes flat.
Lowering the jacks, I start the engine and power up our Liquidspring interface, and I see a beautiful set of normal lights shining brightly. IT'S ALIVE! In an abundance of caution I re-calibrate the system, and after about 2 minutes I'm able to power off, shut down my engine and extend jacks and slides once again in order to enjoy another relaxing evening in Red Bay, Alabama.
I'll be speaking to the guys in Mechanical bay 41 tomorrow morning and handing them an updated Quick Reference Guide from Liquidspring . . .
Next up, the final 2 items on our list!
After two very productive days, we're heading down the home stretch in Repair Bay 4. The two Dave's have cleared everything they can and then some off of our list of things needing repair, and it's time to tackle the last big thing before heading to the specialty shops in the Tiffin Service Center.
Our melted wet bay.
For those who have been catching up on our initial troubles, we lost our exhaust extension and attached heat shield somewhere on I-85 in South Carolina (we think). Hot exhaust gases then found their way onto our wet bay, slagging it down and creating 3 holes to the open air. In addition, it melted insulation around electrical work, and the resulting plastic of the bay found itself melted around the hot and cold water drain lines. Our outdoor shower head was also slagged, and who knew what other damage lay behind the white metal cover of the wet bay controls.
But how do you replace a wet bay, something which the coach is built around after being laid on top of the chassis when it is bare?
Good thing the two Dave's have an idea.
Earlier in the week, they had ordered a 36LA wet bay from Tiffin parts. Don't know if they had to make one from scratch, or if they just happened to have one handy for a future build, but it arrived in Bay 4 Thursday afternoon right around end of shift. David showed Dave (and me) what he was planning to do, and we agreed to meet again at 7 AM the next morning with black and gray tanks empty.
Dawn broke with our coach heavily leaning to the drivers side, so that the most material could be drained from our tanks. After so many days trying to get our motor home to be level, it's a bit unnerving to deliberately raise the passenger side and lower the drivers side as much as we did. Once dumped, I leveled our 36LA in order to bring our main slide in, and it was off to Bay 4!
So, if you've never seen how these motor homes are assembled, there are basement bays on each side of the coach. They're one-piece molded to have one bay on each side, with a connecting pass-through floor attaching each bay. The bays are laid across a bare chassis, providing stability down the road and a sealed unit from the weather. But I only needed the wet bay replaced, and come to find out later, really only the lower tray of the wet bay at that. Disassembling the bay was relatively easy, but the rat's nest of wires and hoses take up a good portion of the morning.
Once opened up wide, the initial plan of dropping the bay on top of the old one was discarded due to the size of the new bay. While it mimics the exact size of the old bay, it's too wide to get into the enclosed bay area once the coach has been built around it.
Undaunted, the two Dave's come up with replacing a progressively smaller portion of the wet bay, finally settling on the bottom portion of the bay where all of the structural damage had occurred. Removing just the bottom, but keeping the upper portion of the existing bay allowed them to bend the new tray into the available space.
The bottom portion was inserted, screws driven into place to lock the whole thing down, and a black plastic sealant slathered around the inside and outside edges to smooth things out and further seal the new wet bay from wind and water.
A new water pump was ordered - another casualty of the heat when it's mounting bracket was partially melted, wires and hoses reattached, and our newly upgraded outdoor shower head installed. A hole is drilled for the sewer hose to drop through the floor, the cover plate screwed down, and we're good to go. It is a beautiful job!
So now we see if any leaks develop this weekend, and if not, our time in Bay 4 will come to a close on Monday morning. We have been blessed to have been assigned such a dedicated and talent pair of technicians in David and Dave, and can only hope our next forays into Mechanical (for exhaust extension and chassis weld checks), Woodworking (for two minor finishing problems), and finally Bodywork and Paint (to fix the softball-sized dimple on the driver's side front cap) will be just as successful. Sadly, these three areas might take an extra week or more to see.
More to come.
6:00 comes early when you have a 7:00 start time in Repair Bay 4. Especially when you're retired and like to sleep in.
But our original list of fixes still needed to be addressed by the two Dave's, so I make the ultimate sacrifice and haul myself out of bed at that ungodly hour. After all, I not only need to get me some breakfast to start the day, but I have to disconnect our power, sewer hose (after dumping, of course – because they might start working on our wet bay depending on how the day goes on our list of items), bring in slides and retract our jacks in order to drive the few hundred feet from Site #8 to Bay 4.
They, and we, are very pleased with the results of the previous day (covered in my last report) after sealing up the many holes in our motor home, thus preserving a great deal of heat and propane in the process. But this list isn't getting any shorter, so it's off to the races!
We had some staple holes developing along the vertical in our bedroom. Rather than play around with matching stain and sanding things down, they simply shifted the Spyder controller inward a ½ inch, then added a thin strip of molding stained to match from floor to ceiling to cover the staples jutting out. Easy peasey! The back wall of our master bath also had an irritating problem. Instead of making it from one solid panel stretching from side to side, Tiffin puts two smaller panels together, and joins them with a strip of tape which matches the color and pattern of the wallpaper in the wall. Problem is, the tape doesn't hold the two pieces together very well, especially if the walls do not meet up flush with each other. A thin piece of super sticky double-sided tape inside, and a couple of screws drilled into beams in the top and bottom of the walls, add some new wallpaper tape, and you have a nice flush back wall.
During the Liquidspring failure, our stacked washer / dryer combo got tossed around pretty good on a very bad stretch of I-81 running through Harrisburg, PA. It damaged the cabinetry inside, broke a cover on the bottom, and tore our dryer vent hose when it pulled away from the wall. The solution: lock the combo down with a couple of L-brackets, after finding a replacement cover and updated dryer hose. The two Dave's had to use an appliance jack to lift the unit up and out before doing all the back end work. Replacement woodwork was ordered and reattached. Beautiful! And the new dryer hose is made of a tear-resistant fabric, so even if the dryer does move, the hose won't get torn. Upgrade!
Both bathroom sinks had problems. The ½ bath drain pipe had separated from the gray tank due to the pounding we took on the road. I had temporarily repaired it using Gorilla Tape, and even though David said the Gorilla Tape would have probably lasted just about forever, they removed my temporary fix and reattached the pipe properly. Also under the ½ bath sink is a plastic air admittance valve attached to the hose which feeds the black tank flush. When flushing / cleaning the black tank, the fresh water being used would leak out into the bathroom before heading to the black tank. Replaced with a brass one.
The full bath sink had a cracked seal right at the drain plug. Replaced with a metal drain plug instead of the original plastic. More upgrades!
Our sliding screen windows have rubber seals, none of which actually seal against the glass when sliding open. Kept us from using our screens to enjoy some fresh air either driving down the road, or sitting in a campground. The space was at least 1/4”, which would let in any enterprising bugs who wanted in. They used a sticky-sided rubber tubing to expand the seal to keep out any and all creepy-crawling things. Lord knows what type of bugs we might encounter on the road, but our windows are now ready for them!
Day 2 has now been completed; internally and externally our coach is as close to perfect as one can be, and all that is left for the two Dave's is to replace our melted wet bay. Wait 'til you see how this was approached, and how good it came out. Stayed tuned for our Day 3 report!
After about a week waiting for the call to get our 36LA to a regular service bay, I was awoken from a sound sleep at 8:44 AM (Hey, I'm retired, OK?), and told to have our motor home in Bay 4 immediately.
Good thing we didn't have a lot of things connected and open. Water had been shut off on Monday due to freezing temperatures, and our main slide had been closed the previous evening for the same reason. We were trying to save some propane, and our RV was having some real trouble getting warm, even with TWO separate propane heaters installed. Despite our best efforts to reduce the volume of air to be warmed, and running our electric fireplace full bore, we could barely maintain 62 degrees inside the coach.
Even though we had list of things that needed to be fixed from to road damage sustained due to our Liquidspring rear suspension not working for about 1000 miles, we mentioned our inability to get warm the previous evening when temps had dropped to about 20 degrees with windy conditions.
Our two repair technicians in Bay 4 are David and Dave. Given my first name, I figured this was destined to be a great visit to Red Bay! They went through our list of repairs with us, but once I mentioned the heating issue, they immediately tossed our list aside to address our lack of heat. After confirming that our propane heaters were both working, they began to circle our home in search of openings where air could get in.
After the first few minutes, it was determined that we were living in the Tiffin Open Road version of Swiss Cheese.
Fully 60% of our basement bay doors had to be adjusted to close more evenly and tightly. Could have been the battering we took on the road, or could have been done during the initial build. No way of knowing. Other holes were areas where Tiffin probably should have used some foam sprayed in after assembly. Bottom-line, there was way too much outside air coming inside the coach, and it was overwhelming our propane heaters and fireplace. In fact, we used 20% of our total propane in just that one cold night!
Fortunately, David and Dave are not only craftsmen, they are perfectionists, and are EXACTLY the reason we bought a Tiffin. While a couple of things were knocked off our repair list, the majority of our first day in Bay 4 was spent closing up literally every place where air could invade the inside of our home.
And the results could not have been better. While the next night was not as windy or cold, it was still hovering around the freezing mark. Instead of keeping our main slide in tight, we decided to test the work done by opening it up to it's full living area. Setting the furnaces to 68 degrees, we sat in toasty comfort for the rest of the evening. Once we headed to bed, we lowered the thermostats to 64 degrees. It maintained temperature for the entire evening, and when we got up the next morning we found out it only used 2% of our propane!
These guys are truly miracle workers. They not only completely fixed the temperature problem, a secondary benefit will be that it makes the motor home quieter going down the road. Less wind noise, and less vibration.
Day 1 is in the books. Day 2 will address bathroom and washer / dryer issues, with Day 3 attacking our melted wet bay. Stay tuned!
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!
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.