This is turning into a kind of out-of-body experience for us.
Usually, the tempo at Red Bay is best summed up as “Hurry up and wait”. Hurry to get here before Sunday. Wait days or more to get into a service bay. Watch Tiffin technicians hurry up to get through your main portion of your list. Wait days for the next specialty bay to open up. Watch Tiffin technicians address your bay-specific needs. Wait days for next specialty bay. Lather-rinse-repeat.
In the past, people have spent 5 weeks or more here, depending on length of their list and severity of their problems.
We weren't prepared for “Hurry up and move”.
Don't get me wrong; I'm all for being swept through the usual waters of the Tiffin Service Center at a more rapid pace, but this visit is turning out to be a bit surreal. We expected we'd need a Full Service Bay for a few days, a Mechanical bay and some work in Paint. Normally, this would translate into a 4 day wait for the first bay, another 2-4 day wait for the second, and we had heard that Paint was so backed up due to a rash of bad Tiffin drivers who needed damage repair that they were a 2-3 week wait time.
Our time frame has looked like this:
Total wait time for 3 bays, not including weekends, is 3 days.
The work here has been acceptable this trip, but not exceptional – except for paint. The back of my big slide now drops down all the way into it's slot when opened, but it's marking up our replacement floor tiles in areas it never did before. Our mysterious thump / thud which occurs when someone goes from the drivers side to the passenger side when jacks are down and slides are extended seemed to have been fixed for a day, but has come back. It was thought that a jack clamp needed to be secured, but either it appears the fix wasn't permanent, or there's something else happening towards the rear of the coach.
So it's back for round 2 to fix the fixes – except for paint.
Every now and again, you find someone in the service industry who is an absolute craftsman. Someone who takes so much pride in their work that they go above and beyond expectations because it's just what they do. We experienced this during our last visit with David and Dave in Bay 4, who were meticulous in their approach to making sure everything was right before returning our coach back to us. This trip our award for exceptional customer service goes out to Cole in Paint Bay 19.
A dimple about the size of a softball had reappeared after a repair last November which had a 50/50 chance of success. Normally, this could have been rushed through in about 2 days, but Cole wanted this one done right this time. Off comes the Diamond Shield, patch the spots where paint has been removed, do a beautiful job in filling the dimple to where you swear it was part of the original fiberglass, tape and cover it off so that not a molecule of paint might travel where it shouldn't go, feather the areas above where the original paint needs to match, and finish it off with a beautiful coat of paint, and two of clear coat.
It's always great to see the front portion of our home look even better than it did when it first came out of the factory. That's how great a job Cole did. Even Brandon, the Diamond Shield guy, was impressed. He checks the area being fixed to see if it has cured long enough before installing his product over it. If too “soft”, it's not ready. After almost 4 days of curing, our area still had soft spots, which means the coat of paint is substantial and not minimal. Good thing we still had more work to do, or we'd be waiting here just for his Diamond Shield installation.
So here's where the self-inflicted delay comes in.
While we had good service in Bay 34, there were new things that developed and some old problems which popped back up. Knowing how good Dave in Bay 4 was, we decided to request his bay for the remainder of our regular work (with mechanical and Diamond Shield still to come). Little did we know Dave had just inherited a diesel Bus that had a list of significant problems which needed to be addressed. In addition, our friend Tom across the way had Dave earlier in his stay, and wanted him to fix a couple of things that weren't quite right, and was now ahead of us in line.
The Bus work took over a week. Tom's took another day. And the way Tiffin works, you have to finish your regular bay work before you can get into a specialty bay like mechanical, so we couldn't get our jack work addressed during the wait time for Bay 4.
Ultimately, the wait was worth it, because Dave found a creak in our floor that had been driving Barbara crazy for months. A shim fixed that. While he was working on the floor he found a bolt loose on our main slide, and tightened that up before something really bad could happen. That's why we had requested Dave in Bay 4 for our final work. He's that thorough.
Diamond Shield was installed on the Friday just before we celebrated our 4th week in Red Bay, and mechanical is still in question. I sometimes think they're trying to avoid bringing us back in, because I don't think they've seen this problem before and are not sure how to proceed with an alternative to their earlier “fix”. Time (hopefully not too long) will tell.
Meanwhile the socializing has started to get to pre-COVID levels; something we haven't experienced much in the past 6 months. Let's face it; anybody who has spent time in Red Bay has pretty much quarantined themselves for at least a week or two, and due to waiting in place for the much anticipated call to a bay, we haven't moved much. Finally got to meet my Facebook buddy and fellow Tiffin owner Mike after swapping comments for over a year. Great guy, fellow escapee from Massachusetts, and fun to be around. We found new friends in Tom and Carmen, and Damon and Kathy, who were both escaping Red Bay after their multi-week stays, and with new friends Roy and Sarah and Gino and Susan, spent a wonderful night swapping stories and contact information the way life intended us to do. Shaking hands. High-fiving a great comment. Not yelling across the street to each other in fear. I suspect that many of the naysayers in the media will be wrong when it comes to the “new normal” way of living post-COVID, at least when it comes to us RVers.
But for us, we are still in the clutches of Red Bay.
Return to Red Bay
Has it really been a year already? Almost.
Therefore, it was rime to leave our beautiful wooded COE campsite for the converted runway / parking lot known as the Tiffin Service Center. Nothing like feast or famine with us sometimes. So like a swallow to Capistrano, Tiffin owners like us return to Red Bay on a regular basis.
But each destination we enjoy has their own purpose. Lake parks are there to rest, relax and enjoy Mother Nature. Tiffin Service Center in Red Bay Alabama is where things get done. Our year warranty on everything in our 36LA expires on August 25th, so we needed to get ourselves back to the Mothership. Our last trip here, which we detailed in multiple posts back in November of last year, centered on repairs needed to our coach following our Liquidsprings rear suspension failure. A failure brought on not by a flaw in their product, but in their documentation on how to operate it properly. Lots of things broke as a result, and immediate repairs were needed at that time. Our Tiffin coach was built so well that we probably wouldn't have needed to make that trip to Red Bay back in November, but this trip is needed to get lots of little things corrected that we've found in our year of living on the road.
Lots of things are still the same at Camp Red Bay; still the 55 or so brand new (within one year of purchase) Tiffin coaches lined up on both sides of the old converted runway. Lots of money tied up in motor homes here from $450k 45-foot diesel Buses to $180k 33-foot gas models, and everything in between. Our Open Road gas brethren seem to be better represented now than back in November, and the color schemes have changed. Less Sunlit Sand (black, white, gray and red), and more Waterfall (blue instead of red highlights), and the newer colors like Smoky Teal and Fire Opal (black, dark gray and red) are better represented. It's refreshing to see people go to more striking colors instead of the same ol' same ol' browns and grays that many manufacturers use.
And it's nice to see our bright blue, gray and white 36LA standing out among the rest. (Just sayin')
COVID-19 has had it's effect on Camp Red Bay operations as well. Used to be two technicians in every Regular or Express service bay. Now there is only one technician in each Regular bay, with three “floaters” to help where extra hands are needed. Tiffin is definitely not back to full strength yet.
Interesting note not related to the Service Center, but we took a drive out past Tiffin's Belmont paint facility, and where there used to be a parking lot full of completed coaches waiting to be delivered, there now sits 5 Open Road gassers like ours, and 4 large diesel models. Frankly there were as many Vanleigh 5th wheel models waiting for paint (five) as there were any one type of motor home. Kinda disheartening to see.
The check-in process is still the same, with the addition of masks. Give the office your paperwork and wait for Jason to come around the next weekday morning to discuss your issues and give you his estimate of where you're going to be placed – Express or Regular bay – and a roughly right estimate of time for any specialty bays. We were given a couple of days notice for a regular bay, but paint might take a few weeks. Apparently there are a lot of bad Tiffin drivers out there, because there are a rash of damage repairs going on right now.
So expecting a few days wait, I get out the grill and the chairs and Barbara gets out her induction burner to settle into some serious Tiffin socializing. Then 2:30 that same day, we get the call to be in Bay 34 at 6:45 the next day.
Now don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining one bit about next day service. Maybe they like us, maybe we got lucky, or maybe the gods were just smiling down on us, but either way, things now need to get back into their bins and bays for movement the next morning. Such is life at Camp Red Bay. Our list isn't very long, and Shane (our Tech) figures he'll be about 2-3 days before he hands us over to mechanical, who will then hand us over to paint.
One other change due COVID-19 is that owners can no longer stay in their coach while technicians are working on them. Used to be it was a great way to learn how things are put together, and how to fix them on the road if need be. Owners with large dogs could not do this due to liability issues, but we had hoped that with Grover being so much smaller than Taz we could have taken advantage of this during our second time here. Alas, it was not meant to be. Owners can no longer stay in their coach during service.
Which brings us to another aspect of life in Red Bay; what to do for 8 hours each day in northwest Alabama when you have a dog. Tiffin has expanded their pet friendly lounge to accommodate the larger number of dogs who can no longer be in their coaches, but you (and the dog) still need to be restrained by a leash, so it's not as if you can take a nap in a leather chair or sit and read comfortably.
And it's hot. We're talking mid-summer, humid-as-all-get-out hot.
Tupelo, MS is about an hour away. Been there, done that, last trip. And we still have Grover. You can drive the Natchez Trace; a wonderful parkway running through Tennessee and Mississippi. It's pretty if you're going from Point A to Point B, but not so interesting if you have to reverse direction halfway through your day to get back to Red Bay. And you can't go too far away in case they finish with you early and have to vacate your service bay for the next guy.
We did explore a really interesting park, Tishomingo State Park just over the border in Mississippi last time we were here, and we decided to check it out a little more closely for potential camping sites when we get finished here. Turns out there are a few good sites both level and long enough for our 36LA that might come in handy at between $16 and $24 per day. It also has some great walking trails that Grover really seems to like.
Those activities got us to about 10:30 each morning. 5 more hours in Alabama heat to go before our 3:00 pickup time, so we sit outside Tiffin's Allegro Club under a shade canopy and fans, and socialize with other Tiffin owners. Grover just looks at us as if to say, “When do I get back into air conditioning”?
Such is life in Red Bay, Alabama.
The socialization aspects of Red Bay is something which has to be experienced. It's not like a typical campground. You have about 25-30 coaches parked diagonally across from another 25-30 coaches facing each other on each side of what once was an old airport runway. Depending on the time of day and season, instead of having your chairs under your awning at the side of your motor home, you put your chairs at the front of the RV and just wait for other Tiffin owners to walk by. And again, there are no Winnebagos or Newmars here; only Tiffin owners.
So invariably, in addition to the usual personal information or great camping sites being swapped, talk ends up discussing our particular rigs. Or on Tiffin as a company. Come to find out, our 36LA is a pretty well-built coach compared to many others here. Our 2-page list of items needing to be looked at turned into a 5-page work order for Tiffin. One customer last week had an 80-page – eighty pages! - work order of things needing attention on their much more expensive Allegro Bus. Are we as nit-picky as many Bus or Phaeton owners are about the imperfections we might see in our 36LA? Probably not. We don't sweat the small stuff like many of these owners with too much money on their hands who didn't do their research like we did before buying their units. And truthfully, Tiffin has had more quality issues in coaches coming out of the factory during this COVID-19 crisis. Thank God ours was built last year.
Shane finishes our list by Thursday afternoon, and now it's time to wait for the call to mechanical for jacks and thumping. Another week at Camp Red Bay is in the books, and the weekend awaits!
Holiday at Holiday COE
After almost a year of living on the road, we tried something new this trip on our way to Red Bay, Alabama for final warranty work.
We stayed at a COE park.
Specifically, Holiday COE park on West Point Lake in Lagrange, GA, right on the GA-AL border.
For those who didn't know, COE stands for Corps Of Engineers, as in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Many people north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi probably haven't heard much about the Corps of Engineers, because most of their work has been done managing rivers and creating lakes in the southern United States. The COE has a long and storied history of managing (and largely controlling) the mighty Mississippi and other lesser rivers for decades, and their work has resulted in the creation of fresh water reservoirs and lakes across the South.
One of the side benefits to these lakes are a series of Corps-managed parks along their shorelines, and they are a hidden gem of camping opportunities for the uninitiated (like us) when it came to using a resource we knew about, but hadn't yet experienced. Being a former country commissioner in a north Georgia county that borders Lake Lanier, I knew about COE parks, but primarily as day use parks for swimming, boating, fishing and picnicking. But never having an RV before meant that I knew little about COE parks when it came to camping.
Only one park under our belts, but what an eye-opener!
Two resources are best used when trying to figure out if a COE park is nearby, and if it is best for you. The first one is corpslakes.erdc.dren.mil, which I have linked here. This site allows you to find COE properties by state, and once identified, gives you the specifics of each park's amenities. Pick a state to search, then check off which activities you're looking for to refine your search. A map shows up with each location, which can be zoomed in to find lakes where multiple choices are available. Click on the lake and you get breakdowns of each amenity for each park or area. For instance, there are 35 places maintained by the COE on West Point Lake alone. Not all are considered parks or campgrounds. Campgrounds will be notated with whether they require reservations or not. Clicking on the campground name will take you to Recreation.gov if reservations are required, or you can use the Reservation.gov app on your smartphone.
Once on Recreation.gov, you can put in the parameters of your needs for your specific rig. Put in your date range, and site options start popping up for you to select. There are few choices with full hookups, so water and electric with a dump station is the usual setup you'll get. I believe there is a maximum 14-day stay allowed before you have to leave, but given the lack of sewer setup, that's probably not a problem for many of us. There are pictures of sites that may (or may not) help you to decide if it's what you want depending on the quality of the picture, but here's a couple of tips to help you find a site suitable for your motor home:
2. Be careful about choosing a 30 amp site based on it's length.
While there may be more 30 amp sites on or near the lake, and the lengths look good to you, many of those sites have some uncomfortable slopes to them, probably because their slabs were built to accommodate shorter campers with lower power requirements. You'll have trouble on many of those sites getting level. The longer they are, the better chance of manageable slopes.
3. The brighter the picture, the less trees are likely overhead
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Just keep that in mind as you look at the site's pictures.
Our site at Holiday was huge! The parking slab was at least 55 feet long, easily long enough for our 36LA, Mini and tow dolly. The only weird thing was it was situated on the left side of the campsite, which meant that our awning couldn't be extended due to the wooded area next to us, and our “patio” faced away from the bulk of the site.
Otherwise, it was a very large site. At least 50 feet wide (not including the parking slab), and extending over 80 feet in length. The site had a picnic table on a cement slab, a fire pit and grill, and a large graded and sanded area for a tent. The only neighbor we could see was at least 50 yards away; otherwise, except for street frontage, we were surrounded by woods.
The park itself has 2 boat ramps, a small playground, a basketball court and a tennis court. Shower and bath facilities were alternately interspersed throughout the park. We weren't here long enough to take the inflatable kayak out, but it seemed to be a great lake, especially with all the coves, to paddle an afternoon away.
Spent a great afternoon and evening with a good friend and former co-worker, Katie Jesser, and her husband, Tom. Hadn't seen her in well over a year, and it was time to catch up with each other's lives.
If there was one downside to West Point Lake in this day and age of connectivity, it's that there was no usable signal on our cell phones for data. In fact, it was horrendous. We could call out and text to people, but the one bar of 3G signal we had wasn't enough to even check email or our banking app. And forget about Facebook. I get it; we're supposed to be getting away from all this when we spend some time in these remote locations, but I suspect that connectivity will be an issue in most COE parks. Check out any reviews beforehand if you need any signal more than minimums. It also looks like a cell signal booster and WiFi setup is in our future.
But the beautiful part of all this was the price: about $12 per night using our US Parks Senior Pass!
More COE parks are definitely in our future!
Now, for my obligatory rant. There is one flaw in the reservation system on Recreation.gov, and it's that it allows people to make reservations without any possibility of verification at time of arrival for length or power needs. This allows people with tents to take up a space clearly designed for a motor home (55' long parking slab and 50 amp power) just because it has a killer view of the water. We passed at least a half dozen sites where tent campers, who clearly had no need for any power requirement exceeding 20 amps, took up sites where a motor home would have more efficiently made use of the site. Because of this, we had one site – one! - available to us at reservation time that met our needs for length and power.
There should be a disclaimer on Recreation.gov which says that your reservation is subject to change or cancellation pending verification of power needs at time of check-in, and that you agree to this before submitting your reservation.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.