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.