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 . . .
I'm now convinced that the process of actually buying a motor home will take years off your life.
Oh sure, you watch these TV shows about RV's where the couple goes out that day and buys their new rig, brings it home, and camps in it starting day one where everything is Skittles, Rainbows and Unicorns, right?
Never met one of those couples.
So we already know that buying an RV and minimizing the issues later on takes research, preparation and patience. And some people actually can just plop down some cash and head off into the sunset. But we're going to be full-timers, and that adds a whole other level of complexity to the purchasing process. We detailed the issues and the process of setting up a full-time mailing address in a previous post, and except for getting there, it's pretty straightforward.
The purchasing part? Not so much.
As readers can see below in our previous post, our Tiffin Open Road 36LA is scheduled to be READY for delivery on August 16th. Key word READY. Not delivered. And that's fine, because our dealer is only 200 miles and about 3 ½ hours away from where the coach will be built, so unless there's a big shortage of drivers that week, it will hopefully arrive on the lot within a couple of days.
Here's where the fun happens; and we're not talking about picking up the coach the next day and heading off into the sunset.
We're financing a good part of our future home on wheels, as many RV-ers do, but the rules for full-timers are a bit different than for people keeping a residence. So, never having closed on an RV before (Barbara and I have closed on 5 different homes in our soon-to-be 35 years of marriage), I decided to call our sales person at Marlin Ingram RV in Montgomery, AL to find out how the process goes.
To quote my Jewish friends, “Oy, vey!”
First, to the financing company. We already have approval from Essex Credit, a division of Bank of the West which specializes in boat and RV loans. They are, literally, the only company that can finance full-time RV-ers, due to special requirements in Federal lending laws. But we're already pre-approved, so that part is done.
Nothing can begin with closing until the dealer sends in a particular form to the lender, which only arrives when the coach is delivered. Once received at Essex, the paperwork mill begins in earnest. And here's where it gets very dicey for us actually being in the motor home by September 2nd (our last day of work and 2 days after we need to be out of our apartment).
If this was Bank of the West financing an RV for someone with a permanent address, a check would be sent out within a day to the buyer, which then gets cashed and the funds would be available for use within whatever timeframe that particular bank has. That person's bank is local, and depositing it is usually just a short trip downtown.
But we live (today) in Georgia, our bank is USAA in San Antonio, TX, and our dealer is in Montgomery, AL.
That means we have to receive our check, sign it and send it off for deposit overnight to San Antonio, TX, and wait for the funds to be available - hopefully within a couple of days. Not the worst thing in the world but if the motor home isn't delivered until the 20th or so, we now have less than 10 days to close before we're considered “homeless”. But wait! There's more.
This is NOT Bank of the West financing our loan, but their subsidiary, Essex Credit. According to our dealer, Essex Credit isn't as quick to issue a check as their parent company, so instead of a single day turnaround, it can be as much as 7-10 days before WE receive the check so that we can send it to the bank! What was once a comfortable two-week cushion between picking up the RV and fulfilling our last few days of work has now turned into a race to close before we have to find a hotel room to stay in with our dog, Taz. For a couple of nights.
And it now messes with our employers, as depending on the financial stuff, we could literally be telling our bosses that we couldn't work the next day because we have to go close on the motor home in Alabama. No shakedown nights at a nearby campground to test things out, just Wham! Bam! get on the road back to Georgia. It also means that Barbara will not be able to ride back to Georgia in the RV with me, because our tow dolly can't be guaranteed to be delivered on a specific date.
So here's our best and worst case scenarios: Delivered on 8/17, paperwork initiated on 8/18, check received on 8/20, deposited on 8/22, close sometime between 8/25 and 8/28, out of apartment on 8/30 and work our last day on 9/2.
OR, delivered on 8/22, paperwork initiated on 8/23, out of apartment and into a hotel on 8/30, work our last day on 9/2, check received on 9/3 (because 9/2 is a holiday) oh, and btw, where is the check going to be sent since we're now in a hotel room, deposited on 9/5, close on the RV sometime between 9/8 and 9/11.
Ain't retirement fun?
And THIS is why you call ahead and check on the process.
This is the story of the soon-to-be RV – "Enterprise". It's undetermined mission; to seek out weird and crazy roadside stops, and new and interesting golf courses. To boldly go where neither of us have gone before . . .
(cue the Theme from Star Trek)
OK, so maybe it's a bit of hyperbole to equate the build of our future Tiffin Open Road 36LA to the Starship Enterprise ™, but let's have a bit of fun with it. As all Star Trek fans know, the ORIGINAL Enterprise was NCC-1701 (which stood for Naval Construction Contract #1700 and the second ship of that contract to be built. So since our 36LA is going to be known as “Enterprise” and our Mini Cooper convertible toad will be known as “Galileo”, introducing . . .
That's Tiffin Construction Contract #119312, scheduled to commence construction PRECISELY at 12:18 PM on Monday, July 22, 2019 in Red Bay, Alabama with Chassis Prep and Fluids.
As you look at the entire build schedule, you see that Tiffin has scheduled this (and every one of their builds) to the minute! Heck, further down in Belmont Final Finish (at their world-class paint plant), they start at 30 seconds past 8:53 AM. And woe be unto anyone who doesn't start on time.
Oper Workcenter Description StartDate StartTime
0010 MS0001 MSN01 CHASSIS PREP & FLUIDS 07/22/2019 12:18:00
0020 WSQUEUE WSQ PRE-WELD SHOP QUEUE 07/22/2019 12:59:00
0030 WSQUEUE WSQ PRE-WELD SHOP QUEUE 07/23/2019 06:00:00
0040 WSQUEUE WSQ PRE-WELD SHOP QUEUE 07/23/2019 06:41:00
0050 WS0001G WSN01 WELD SHOP STA 01 07/23/2019 07:22:00
0060 WS0002G WSN02 WELD SHOP STA 02 07/23/2019 08:03:00
0070 WS0003G WSN03 WELD SHOP STA 03 07/23/2019 08:44:00
0080 WS0004G WSN04 WELD SHOP STA 04 07/23/2019 09:35:00
0090 WS0005 WSN05 WELD SHOP PAINT 07/23/2019 10:16:00
0100 WSQUEUE WSQ AFTER PAINT QUEUE 07/23/2019 10:57:00
0110 WSQUEUE WSQ FUEL & TOUCH-UP 07/23/2019 12:59:00
0120 WS0007 WSN07 WELD SHOP WIRE 07/24/2019 06:00:00
0130 WSQUEUE WSQ AFTER WIRE QUEUE 07/24/2019 09:48:00
0140 WSQUEUE WSQ PRE-HYDRO HOT QUEUE 07/24/2019 10:29:00
0150 WS0008 WSN08 HYDRO-HOT STATION 07/24/2019 10:29:00
0158 MP0000H MPH00 MAIN PLANT FLR PREP 07/24/2019 11:10:00
0160 MP0001H MPH01 MAIN PLANT STA 01 LINE4 07/25/2019 06:00:00
0180 MP0002H MPH02 MAIN PLANT STA 02 LINE4 07/25/2019 08:30:00
0200 MP0003H MPH03 MAIN PLANT STA 03 LINE4 07/25/2019 11:10:00
0220 MP0004H MPH04 MAIN PLANT STA 04 LINE4 07/26/2019 06:00:00
0240 MP0005H MPH05 MAIN PLANT STA 05 LINE4 07/26/2019 08:30:00
0260 MP0006H MPH06 MAIN PLANT STA 06 LINE4 07/26/2019 11:10:00
0280 MP0007H MPH07 MAIN PLANT STA 07 LINE4 07/29/2019 06:00:00
0300 MP0008H MPH08 MAIN PLANT STA 08 LINE4 07/29/2019 08:30:00
0340 QUEUE MPQ UNDERCOATING 07/29/2019 11:10:00
0345 QUEUE MPQ PRE-TEST DRIVE QUEUE 07/29/2019 12:31:00
0350 MS0002 MSN02 TEST DRIVE 07/30/2019 06:13:00
0360 QUEUE BELMONT QUEUE 07/30/2019 07:35:00
0365 BEW010 WASH BAY 07/30/2019 07:35:00
0368 BES000Q PRE-SANDING QUEUE 07/30/2019 08:16:00
0370 BES001D SANDING STATION 1 07/30/2019 09:48:00
0380 BES001D SANDING STATION 2 07/30/2019 11:10:00
0390 BES001D SANDING STATION 3 07/30/2019 13:12:00
0395 BES001D SANDING STATION 4 07/31/2019 06:13:00
0397 BEP000Q QUEUE 07/31/2019 07:35:00
0400 BEP010 PREP 07/31/2019 08:16:00
0410 BEP020 BASE COAT 07/31/2019 10:29:00
0420 BEP030 PRE MASK 07/31/2019 13:12:00
0430 BEP040 STRIPE 08/01/2019 06:54:00
0435 BEP050 QUEUE 08/01/2019 08:57:00
0440 BEP060 STRIPE REPAIR 08/01/2019 10:29:00
0445 BEP070 PREP FOR CLEAR 08/01/2019 13:12:00
0450 BEP080 CLEAR/BAKE 08/02/2019 06:13:00
0495 BEPSC70 TEAR DOWN 08/02/2019 08:16:00
0510 BEF010 BELMONT FINAL FINISH 08/02/2019 08:53:30
0515 BEF020 BELMONT TILE REPAIR 08/02/2019 12:27:30
0525 BEF040 QUEUE 08/05/2019 12:27:30
0530 BEF050 REPAIR LINE 08/05/2019 13:49:30
0532 BEF070 QUEUE 08/06/2019 11:06:30
0533 BEF080 SEALING 08/06/2019 12:27:30
0534 BEF090 BUBBLE CHECK 08/06/2019 13:08:30
0535 BEF100 RAIN BOOTH 08/06/2019 13:49:30
0536 QUEUE RED BAY CLEAN UP QUEUE 08/07/2019 06:09:30
0537 MPF1000 RED BAY FINAL FINISH 08/07/2019 10:05:00
0538 MPF1000 FINAL INSPECTION 08/08/2019 06:10:00
0539 MPF1010 FINAL REWORK 08/12/2019 06:10:00
0540 BEF200 SCHEDULE DISPATCH 08/16/2019 06:10:00
It's amazing to me that they not only schedule this kind of precision in their build process but that, barring an unforeseen issue that needs to be addressed, they actually keep to the schedule. As you go down the list, you'll see where the main action is – MAIN PLANT STA 01 LINE 4. Line 4 is the line that builds all Open Road models, whether gas or diesel. That's because the fit and finish options are so similar between the two; just a difference in the chassis and engine. At STA 01, the units are already largely wired up and plumbed, and have been to the WELD SHOP to have the framework welded to the basic Ford F-53 chassis and have the tow hitch installed. STA 01 is where the floor is installed. Once the floor is in, certain cabinets are positioned inside the future motorhome for installation later in the build. Walls are added, and the one-piece fiberglass roof is dropped down and secured. The rear cap is installed for stability and slides are added, already containing much of the interior décor and some cabinets. All the internal pieces of the 36LA are installed and secured. Finally, the front cap and windshield is added, and the basement doors (7 on each side!) are installed along the length of the 36LA. All in 3 working days!
After assembly, it's off for about a week at the Belmont paint facility and back to the main plant for a Bubble Test to see if there are any areas which might let in water, then a trip to the Rain Booth to further insure that water will not enter the coach, then Final Finish where the awning and other exterior pieces are installed. August 8th and 9th are dedicated to Quality Control, where Barbara and I will have the opportunity to be in the coach all day long, running every system and checking out paint finish, woodwork, electrical and hydraulic systems, and anything else we think needs to be looked at before Tiffin pronounces our new home complete. Anything we (and they) find will be addressed onsite, and corrected before they ship it to our dealer for their inspection and prep. Hopefully, this is also where we get owner Bob Tiffin to sign one of our cabinet doors - a Tiffin tradition!
If all goes well, we'll be in our new home on wheels around August 20th, ready to finish out our last 9 or so days of gainful employment, hitting the road officially sometime in mid-September after taking a couple of weeks to organize, balance, weigh the coach and install some third-party add-ons to make life on the road a whole lot easier.
This is VERY exciting!
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.