If you have our kind of luck, things like this happen.
So, after speaking with someone at Tiffin this past Wednesday, it was agreed that this Friday (today), would be the best time to head over to Red Bay to go through a customer Final QC check. This is where the future owners can run through their coach for the better part of a day, and list those things we think need to be addresed by Tiffin before the coach leaves Red Bay for the dealer next week. Originally, it was supposed to be done on Monday the 12th, but the coach had been ahead a day in the production schedule, so it was thought that if we delayed our trip until then the coach might have already been shipped off to the dealer.
Sounds like a plan, right?
Plans don't always play out the way people plan them, do they?
As of last night (Thursday), our Open Road 36LA was sitting snug on the Yellow Brick Road at Tiffin's main plant. The Yellow Brick Road is where finished Tiffin coaches wait for final checks, and where visitors can walk through them to see what features and options they like. So at 8:00 sharp, when Tiffin officially opens, we saunter into the guard station and tell the folks there that we're here to do our customer final QC check on our one-of-a-kind painted coach. “You can't miss it”, we said. “Lots of blue on the top, and no black on it at all.” So the guard dutifully packs us into the extended-length golf cart for transport to the Yellow Brick Road, and off we go, anticipation written all over our faces.
Curving around the front, there are no blue coaches. Coming around to the center aisle, there are a couple of coaches with blue on them, but none are the custom color we had ordered. Nor were they Open Road gas coaches. Puzzled, we head back to security to figure out what had happened to our new baby.
First, we give them our ORDER number. They tell us they have no record of a coach with that number. They call the Belmont paint plant, and can't even get anyone at the front gate to answer their call. After almost 40 minutes waiting for a call back, they speak to someone at Belmont, who hasn't seen a blue coach come through their gate. Finally, they ask us for our unit's SERIAL number, which ends in a specific 4-digit number. Come to find out, even though our order number is plastered on the front of the coach, it's the serial number they track in security.
And our new home was found to have left Red Bay at 6:30 Friday morning for Belmont, but they still can't find the unit in Belmont. After giving the security guard our name and number to call us if they find it, we decide to head over to Belmont to see if we can spot our future home. Think we see it in a bay where they're taking the paper and tape off of the roof, but aren't sure, and don't know why that kind of large-scale painting would be needed at this stage of the game. Found out later it was probably another new owner who had ordered their coach with our color scheme that they liked so much.
But where was our 36LA?
Since it was Friday, we decided to hang around Belmont and do the Tiffin paint factory tour (again) in hopes of finding our unit somewhere in the 18 bays Tiffin uses to paint their coaches. Gearing up with neon yellow vests, headsets and goggles, we follow our tour guides Jeanette and Richard up the driveway towards the main plant. As we're passing a structure on the left used to install Diamond Shield on the front of each coach (used to keep rocks from chipping the paint), Ol' Eagle Eyes Barbara goes,
“Dave! Look in there. It that ours?”
Quickly separating myself from the tour (OK, I ran over to it), there's a blue, gray and white 36LA with our order number proudly displayed on the windshield! We've found our baby!
The tour immediately takes a detour into the building to admire the colors. Some folks are even taking pictures of our coach (kinda odd, but apparently they liked the colors as much as we do), even as I am scampering around to get better angles to shoot. After a few minutes, Jeanette herds the tour away from the building, leaving Richard with Barbara and me to get a closer look at our future home. Richard says, “Go ahead, take a look inside. Take your time. We don't want these other folks thinking they can just open doors and walk inside coaches being painted”. It was dark, with no power in the coach, but nothing ever looked better to us.
After detaching ourselves from the inside, we drool over the outside once again. Richard tells us, “You've found what you came looking for. If you folks just want to head back home it's OK.”
So we did.
We didn't get to spend all day long in it, and the pictures are a bit dark due to being taken in an unlighted building, but we think we have ourselves a winner here in the looks department. We hope you all think it's as beautiful as we do. In about 2 week's time, it will finally be ours, and we'll get some better pictures then.
With apologies to Frankie Valli, we managed to avoid a situation where a big girl was going to cry.
Dawn broke hazy and hot in Tupelo, MS on Friday. I know this for a fact, because I had spent most of the night researching something that had upset Barbara the previous night as she was perusing the pictures I took during Day 1 of our 36LA build. Why was she so upset?
It sounds trivial at first, but when you know how these motor homes are built, if wallpaper has to be changed, it is a major deal, mainly because the wallpaper is applied BEFORE all cabinets and trim are installed, so once those cabinets are installed in slides, there's no going back.
Unless you want to rebuild the entire motor home and set yourselves back 4-5 weeks.
So when Barbara took a look at the wallpaper on the walls of the living area, Ol' Eagle Eyes noticed that the wallpaper Tiffin used in previous years had changed from a creamy color to a fairly dark gray. If you remember an earlier post we made about having to rush over to Red Bay to pick out all the new colors for floor, upholstery and trim, Tiffin made changes to their basic palettes from 2019 to 2020. What they didn't tell us is that they changed the color of their wallpaper as well, which when you couple a dark gray with dark mocha cabinetry, the look becomes a bit darker than originally planned.
And this is what had Barbara (rightfully) upset.
My research that night, which cost me some significant sleep, was trying to figure out if this was common across all 2020 units, or whether Tiffin just goofed on our wallpaper. Looking at pictures from about a dozen or so new units (and lighting can be all over the board on these dealer units), it was inconclusive. That required an email and a phone call to Danny Inman, they guy who showed us all the décor boards the last time we were in Red Bay. Once again heading back to his office, he explained that Tiffin had, indeed, changed their default wallpaper to a gray this year. Oops!
We confirmed that every model on the “Yellow Brick Road” that we had looked at the previous day did have gray wallpaper, but the proof was in seeing it in OUR unit. So it was off to the manufacturing floor – thankfully during their morning break – where we could spend some time figuring out if this would actually work, as well as seeing it in person. It helped that they had the lights on in the coach and the roof installed, so we could get a much more accurate idea of what we were looking at.
In the end, Barbara was able to accept the new color, and we could move forward.
The changes in our future home were significant from the previous day, in that the roof and front and back caps were now installed, making it look much more like a motor home and not a train wreck, but the interior hadn't changed much at all. Nevertheless, I was able to take a couple of more pictures of the interior.
Feeling much better, we grabbed some lunch and headed over to Belmont, MS to the Tiffin paint plant for a tour. That will be covered in our next post.
Today, our new home has completed the main manufacturing process, and will have it's first test drive as it makes it's way to Belmont to go from ugly gray duckling to beautiful swan. Less than a month before our scheduled pickup date, 1 month, 3 days before retirement, and way too much to get accomplished as our calendar gets compressed!
Thursday, July 25th began at 4:00 AM EDT. It was time to head to Red Bay, AL for the Tiffin Factory Tour.
Our original intent was to take a leisurely drive 5 ½ drive during the day, but since I was awake and the early departure allowed us to take the Tiffin tour on both Day 1 and again on Day 2 of our build, we figured we might as well strike while the iron is hot.
For those of you who haven't been following our journey towards retirement, Tiffin Motorhomes used to allow new owners to actually camp themselves out on the manufacturing floor for all three days of the build process, but that ended last December due to insurance concerns. But Tiffin still gives escorted tours of their factory every Monday – Friday at 9:30 Central time, so now, as long as you tell the tour guide which station your new coach is supposed to be, you still get a chance to see your motor home while it's being built. It's just a taste, but it's heady wine nevertheless.
After gaining an hour by crossing into Alabama, we arrive at Tiffin's headquarters with about 20 minutes to spare. Replacing our sandals with sneakers (no open toed footwear on the factory floor, thank you), we walk into the visitor center to get our very stylish neon yellow vests, safety glasses and headsets, because the various places Tiffin takes you can be very loud. Jeanette and Harold, two retired schoolteachers who tease each other like an old married couple (but they're not), will be conducting our tour today. After a short introductory video and presentation, where we find out Tiffin has the #1, #2, and #3 best selling diesel models and the top 5 selling gas models, we head to the areas that make the woodwork (only hardwoods like alder and cherry are used in Tiffins – no press board or soft woods in the interior), assemble and stain the cabinetry, cut out the huge segments of plywood for the subfloors and then head over towards the welding shop where various naked chassis sit waiting for their turn in the factory.
Tiffin uses three different chassis in their products based on the models they make; a Freightliner chassis for their entry level and mid-level diesel coaches, their own Powerglide chassis for their high-end diesel Buses and Zephyr models, and the Ford F53 gas chassis for their Open Road line of coaches. The F53 is what will drive our 36LA down America's highways and byways beginning next month if all goes well. At the chassis stop you get a tantalizing glimpse of some coaches in various stages of completion.
Tiffin has three production lines; the inappropriately named GAS line which makes most of their Phaeton and Red diesel models, Line 1 which makes their higher-end Bus and Zephyr coaches as well as some larger Phaetons, and Line 4 – the line we're most interested in – because it makes all their gas models and their smaller Breeze diesel models.
But before you get to see the build process up close, you get to see where Tiffin laser cuts and assembles their one-piece fiberglass roofs. Watching them haul finished roofs of up to 45 feet in length and over 9 feet in width with dozens of suction cups attached to them is pretty awesome!
Now, full disclosure: Barbara and I had taken the Tiffin factory tour about a year or so earlier, so much of this was familiar territory for us, and even though it was still impressive, we really had only one goal in mind; find Unit #119312 on the Open Road / Breeze line. Based on the production schedule I showed you in a previous post, our home was supposed to be early in the build process as the tour came around – maybe Station 3 out of 8 – so Barbara and I weren't expecting to see much. Maybe a chassis with a floor and a few components sitting on it.
But Tiffin puts out 11 coaches per day across all lines, and while things move deliberately, they sure do move! Our guide helps us find our 36LA by peeking under the engine compartment of a motorhome that doesn't yet have a front cap with windshield on it (that's how you'll easily identify your coach later on), and suddenly Barbara and I are staring at our new home – and it's further along than either of us had imagined it would be! Lots of stuff left to do, but side walls are up, slides are installed, and the craftsmen and women at Tiffin are working on the interior. It's weird to see them moving around in there without a roof over their heads!
Harold says, “Go on in!”, and so we do. I get to snap a couple of pictures, Barbara and I get to thank the folks at this station for doing such a great job, and just like that, our first look at our new home is over all too soon.
I gave Barbara a brief hug and we looked at each other for a moment. You see, over the three years we've been researching living on the road in an RV, and all the product shows and dealers we've visited, we've always stepped into someone else's home – never ours. This was different. This wasn't some random coach built for some unknown couple or family to take on vacations or weekends.
This was . . . ours.
The feeling was similar to when Barbara and I had a home custom built for us one time, where we had picked out colors and styles and design features to make our new home uniquely ours, but this was different. It was more emotional for me because of the total lifestyle change this new home will bring to us. A new freedom. New experiences, new places and new people to meet almost each and every day. I'm not ashamed to admit I came close to crying as we had to leave our new home behind.
Now when you're done with the official Tiffin tour, you're really not done. The folks leave you at an area where completed coaches sit, just waiting to go through final Quality Control. They're all open and visitors are welcome to check them out as long as they want. Barbara and I find a couple of new 36LA's just calling our name, so we open the door to the first one and head on in. The Open Road 36LA was first introduced in 2012, and it's Tiffin's second-most popular gas model. As with all Tiffin's, it came out with loads of features at that time, but one thing we've learned in all our research is that Tiffin doesn't stand still and let these motor homes age gracefully. Each and every year they find new ways to improve on each model, and we've become pretty adept at spotting the upgrades and changes from one model year to another. The changes we found in the 2020 version of the 36LA will be highlighted in a future post, but we left Tiffin once again amazed at what we'll be getting in just 1 month and 6 days (thanks for asking!).
With Day 1's tour finally over, Barbara and I then head over to Tupelo, MS for a good night's rest (or so I thought). I send the pictures I took on my phone to Barbara, and Ol' Eagle-Eye spots something that immediately makes her sick . . .
To be continued . . .
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!
Previously, I posted about our trip through the Great Midwest and back again to Georgia. But the sole purpose of this trip was to become residents of the great state of South Dakota – mecca to full-time RV-ers across this nation and a pretty cool state as well (as we came to find out).
Our destination was Rapid City, South Dakota – home of America's Mailbox. The folks there know all about handling mail issues on the road, because their owners (Don and Barb) are full-timers who travel the country enjoying life, and stopping occasionally at RV shows to set up their vendor booth in order to help inform people like us about how to best tackle mail while traveling. We spoke to them at the Hershey RV show 2 years ago, and again at Tampa the following January, and we were convinced they were the ones to use.
Don is a pleasant guy, but a no-nonsense guy who isn't afraid to tell you where he thinks you're going wrong when it comes to setting up residency, or using the various services his company provides. In fact, they have specialists that cover residency, auto licensing, driver's licensing, RV insurance and an online parts store to handle most of a full-timer's needs. In addition, he has a small campground onsite where RV-ers can stay for their required one night to establish residency, or a small 3 room hotel where we stayed since we don't have an RV yet. And without sounding too much like a commercial for them, their rooms are better appointed than most hotel chains, and about $30-$50 a night cheaper.
The key thing for us is that (like other mail services across the country) the folks at America's Mailbox establish a PMB (private mail box) for you instead of a PO Box. The most important thing about a PMB is that it is a physical address where mail and packages can be received, and for U.S. Government purposes, a legal address where a U.S. Passport can be sent. They do not recognize a PO Box in the same way.
When you check out, the folks at America's Mailbox make sure you have a receipt for each person establishing residency for the hotel stay and your mailbox rental receipt. Both will be needed later at the Pennington County Treasurer's Office for your plates, and at the Driver's Exam building for your licenses.
Now, a word to the wise: Don't stay overnight on a Sunday. This is because the Driver's Exam building is closed on Mondays; so unless you want to spend an extra day in the area (not a bad thing, as there are lots of things to do), make sure you stay overnight on Monday-Thursday, because the Treasurer's office is closed on Saturdays. If you time everything right, you can get to the Treasurer's office at 9 AM when they open, and be on your way to the Driver's Exam building for their 10 AM opening. The folks at America's Mailbox will walk you through all the paperwork you'll need to bring with you (originals – not copies) to make the process go flawlessly. And don't forget to download the Affidavit of Fulltime Travel from the SD DPS site so that you won't get called for jury duty while on the road!
At the Pennington County Treasurer's Office, we were helped by Nathan. Nathan has this rare quality, in that he speaks faster then most human beings on Planet Earth. As native New Englanders, Barbara and I tend to talk faster than most people, but Nathan is in a class by himself! The good news is he also works faster than most people on Planet Earth, and had everything done in about 10 minutes (even while handling two phone calls). He even let us borrow a screwdriver so that we could immediately change out our Georgia plate for our new South Dakota plate.
And the same pleasant, personable efficiency was enjoyed at the Drivers Exam building for our licenses. Waited all of about 10 minutes for Barbara to get called to a station, and I was about a minute after that.
“Do you have this document?” - “Yes, yes I do.”
“This document?” - “Yes, yes I do.”
“How about your DD-214 for Veterans purposes?” - “Here it is.”
“Stand back at the blue curtain and look at the middle circle.”
A quick flash and a minute later, a still-warm South Dakota drivers license was handed to us. Barbara had a slight delay when a guy next to her photo-bombed her first attempt at a picture when he left his station and walked in front of her just as her picture was being taken!
One of our more interesting stops heading towards Rapid City was at a rest area about halfway across I-90 which featured a sculpture called 'Dignity: of Earth and Sky'. Standing 50 feet tall, she is is, in a word, strikingly beautiful. You can read more about her origins here.
Needless to say, we'll be heading back to our new home state for some quality time, and sooner rather than later.
3203 miles round trip.
8 states. Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota.
10 billion bugs.
Why did we subject ourselves to this motor vehicle torture?
Setting up residency for full-time RVing, using South Dakota as our state of record, that's why.
As I may have explained before, South Dakota is one of three states that caters to full-time RV-ers as Barbara and I are going to be in 2 months and 17 days (Thanks for asking!). The other two are Florida and Texas. All have low or no income taxes for retirees, low sales taxes and registration fees on vehicles, and all have very limited laws in place to maintain residency and limit paperwork.
In short, there's very few requirements to keep pulling you back into their states on a regular basis, which is important for full-timers.
We chose South Dakota for a number of reasons, but primarily because the people who will be handling our mail while on the road (America's Mailbox) are full-time RV-ers themselves, so they understand what works and what doesn't for us travelers. South Dakota also has the least invasive registration and residency requirements of the three, and NO income taxes. There's a need to setup this residency BEFORE we buy our RV, so that the lower sales tax can be paid to the right state. Hence, the trip to South Dakota. (More on the Rapid City portion of our trip in the next blog post)
I've got to say, if you have to do 3203 miles in 4 days, doing it in a Mini Cooper convertible in late Spring is certainly the way to go! While nights were too cool to have the top down, days were comfortably warm without being too hot, and next to a huge front windshield on a Class A motor home, nothing beats the views of our Midwest and Great Plains states like having the top down and the cruise control on. And while there was really no extra time in this particular trip to stop and enjoy some local color, we were able to take note of some places we'd like to visit (and a couple we'd like to avoid) once we get on the road in the RV next year.
Until you experience it, you don't really get an idea of the vastness of the middle part of our great country. It's HUGE! For instance, on the way back home, we drove on I-90 from Rapid City, SD to Albert Lea, MN for more than a third of our return trip time. One road, 2 partial states, and almost 8 hours with stops. And maybe for about an hour outside of Rapid City, it's flat as a pancake.
And the bugs! We ended up using more than a gallon of windshield washer fluid on the trip up and back, with much of it used in South Dakota and Minnesota, with an honorable mention to Iowa. Don't know if it's the time of year for that area, but the Mini needed a good scrubbin' once we got home, and every gas stop featured yours truly using a ton of elbow grease just to keep seeing safely between fill-ups.
One of the rare detours we made along the way was in Sac City, Iowa. Now, Sac City, Iowa isn't known for very much, but they do have themselves the World's Largest Popcorn Ball sitting just 3 miles west of State Route 20. Having nothing else better to do at the time (State Route 20 is notable for it's lack of turns and elevation changes), when a sign popped up saying 'World's Largest Popcorn Ball' next left, by God we were going to take that left! I guess there's a lot of leftover corn in the great State of Iowa each year, so popping a couple of tons of the stuff isn't too much extra work, because they had themselves quite a large popcorn ball just off of the Sac City downtown area. It literally is a must see! Frankly, it came as a welcome relief to the torture of State Route 20's mind-numbing sameness for mile after interminable mile.
On a sad note, the floods that have devastated communities along the Mississippi, Missouri and Arkansas rivers are simply unbelievable in scope and severity. To drive past vast acreages of fields that should have been planted by now that are still underwater, to have to take detours of dozens, if not hundreds of miles due to road and bridge closures; well, the devastation is simply epic. The cost to livelihood and property is too large to wrap your hands around.
On a positive note, Barbara and I were both impressed with the use of wind power in the states we traveled through. Huge wind farms are the norm in these states, and given the topography you can see why. We saw as little as one solitary wind turbine to what looked like hundreds clustered as far as the eye could see. It's clean, quiet, and allows the land to still be used for farming. A win-win for everyone. They ARE a bit disconcerting to see at nighttime, when their red anti-collision lights blink on and off in orchestrated unison. With very few other lights around, and just a darkened roadway sitting in front of you, you're not sure if your going to be driving into these things down the road!
All-in-all, a great trip, a productive trip, but an exhausting trip. What we did in 4 days in the Mini would have been a much more relaxing 10-12 day trip in the motor home, but that's for sometime next year (maybe).
Next post: Welcome to The Mount Rushmore State!
No, not the motorhome . . . our new Big Berkey water filtration system!
Water on the road can be of a questionable nature. Out West, it can be very hard with lots of minerals and heavy metals in it. Down South, there's lots of iron in our water. Up North? Who knows what lurks in the older campground water systems.
So one nice thing about the Tiffin 36LA we've ordered; there's a whole house water filter built right into our "wet bay" - the area where all your liquids come in and go out while on the road. Many RVer's also attach a secondary filter to their fresh water hose to double filter the water going into the coach in an effort to protect the plumbing and keep the various bathroom and kitchen areas cleaner. Some folks also install filtration systems under their sinks for better drinking water, or install whole house reverse osmosis systems in their wet bay, and while these work great at purifying the water coming into the coach, they also waste fresh water performing their task.
Barbara and I have been drinking filtered water for the past 5 or more years through a small Aquasana system installed in our kitchen tap, but that system cannot be used in the RV. We hate the waste of bottled water with all that disposable plastic, but we also hate the taste of chlorine in our drinking and cooking water. And given the fact that I am NOT going to be drilling a hole in our brand new countertop to install a filtered water faucet, we were forced to look elsewhere for our filtration needs.
Enter the Big Berkey. It's about as easy to use as it gets. As you can see from the picture, it's a filling reservoir on the top half and a filtered reservoir on the bottom. You simply take the sprayer attachment on the kitchen sink and fill the top, and in less than a hour, 2 1/2 gallons of great tasting water has filled the bottom. For travel days, the two sections can be separated and sit in the galley sink wrapped in towels. It's just that simple. We've had it for a couple of weeks and we couldn't be happier with it.
You can get bigger versions or smaller ones at Amazon.com, but this one seems to be just the right size for two (or the occasional four) people. Another great addition to our future 36LA.
What a long (but fruitful) day!
OK, so we're literally a day or two away from finally ordering our 2020 Tiffin Open Road 36LA, and after 3 1/2 years of investigation including dozens of RV shows and visits to dealerships from Florida to New Hampshire and points in between, memorizing and comparing stain, floor and upholstery colors and knowing what we'd pick when we ordered our unit to be built . . .
. . . Tiffin comes out with new exterior, flooring and upholstery colors just in time for the 2020 model year.
Which is the model year we are now ordering. Three out of the four things needed to make our new home look the way we want it to look, and we've never seen them before (they never look the same on a computer screen as they do in real life - more on that later). After all our years of preparation, how ironic is that?
So with time running out on the 12-week timeframe to get an order in for delivery in mid-August (when our lease runs out on the apartment we're renting), it is now incumbent upon us to make the 5-hour drive to Red Bay, Alabama to the Mothership - Tiffin Motorhomes, Inc. We had already made the pilgrimage about a year and a half ago to take the tour Tiffin offers of their manufacturing plant, where they literally show you everything from start to finish, including some time on the manufacturing floor watching these talented folks assemble a home on wheels from the chassis on up. Red Bay is the very definition of a company town; Tiffin's presence is all over the place. But while it's a big operation, the nice thing about virtually every Tiffin employee we've met is that they are still small-town American in their willingness to help you, from the founder and CEO Bob Tiffin to the folks on the manufacturing floor and everyone in between.
Our dealer had called their main contact at Tiffin, Danny Inman, who probably knows more about how Tiffins work than almost anyone, and let him know we'd be driving over the next day. No appointment time, just "Hey, can you meet with these folks and help them out?"
Danny has all the new Decor Boards for the 2020 models just now being built, and more importantly, has access to those models awaiting final QC on Tiffin's "yellow brick road" where finished units are parked undergoing final checks before being shipped to their respective dealers. We show up about 9:30 CST, get our visitor passes and extremely attractive neon yellow safety vests at the guard station, and are pointed to the building where Danny's office is. Once there - "Just walk on back, take a left and he's the second office on the right" - Danny finds the Decor Boards we're looking for and after we pick what we think we like he does the unexpected. "C'mon", he says, and we follow him out the back door of the office building about 200' away to the yellow brick road, where both 2019 and 2020 model Open Roads are sitting, every one of them unlocked and available for inspection. We find examples of the new floor color (Sand Castle) and upholstery colors (White Maple) with our chosen Mocha cabinets, but nothing with the Cashmere window treatments and kitchen backsplash included.
"C'mon", he says, and it's out to the manufacturing floor, where two units are at the stage where the interiors are already installed, and there is our Cashmere interior! Takes us into another unit where the darker Sea Oat flooring has been installed with the Mocha cabinets so we can see whether we want to go with that combination (thought we did last year, but seeing it live changed our mind). All-in-all, Danny took about 45 minutes out of his day to shepherd us around to make sure what we ordered was going to be exactly what we wanted.
I'd call it great customer service, but no one we've met at Tiffin has ever treated us like a customer - they've treated us like family.
After thanking Danny, we decide to take an impromptu visit just 10 minutes away to Belmont, Mississippi, where Tiffin has their world-class paint facility. Just the day before, Melissa Pounds, Tiffin's Custom Paint Coordinator, had sent us a rendering of our new paint scheme. Custom paint scheme #0529 changed one color from Barcelona Red to Pacific Blue, and kept the other three colors (Anthracite, Ice White and Silver Sage) the same as their new Barcelona paint scheme. Looked great on the computer screen, and we were ready to approve the change. But since we were only 10 minutes away, and Melissa had said to stop by if we were in the area, we decided to take her up on the offer.
Are we ever glad we did! And this is the disaster averted.
Once there, she shows us the actual paint chits of the four colors included in the David Richard Custom Paint Scheme #0529. On the computer screen Silver Sage looks like a light gray something halfway between the Ice White and Anthracite (a dark, sparkling gray) color, yet on the chits she's showing us, Silver Sage is actually darker than the Anthracite, and is not so much gray but greenish/brown, and it's a color being used across the lower half and back of the motorhome, and does not go well at all with the Pacific Blue we've chosen!
Fortunately, Melissa knows her colors, and comes up with a Sterling Silver chit that actually IS a light gray between Ice White and Anthracite, and will compliment our Pacific Blue perfectly. There's a fairly accurate computer rendering of the new David Richard Custom Paint Scheme #0530 below.
But it's funny how things work out in life. We hadn't planned on stopping by Belmont to see Melissa, but since we were in the area, and had wanted to thank her personally for her help the previous day, we were able to make a change that, had we hadn't done so, likely would have had us crying once we saw our new home being delivered - the Silver Sage color was just that wrong on the screen.
Disaster averted, and all because the Tiffin folks we've interacted with treated us like one of their family. If she hadn't gone out of her way the previous day, we might not have gone out of our way yesterday to thank her in person.
And in about 12 weeks, we'll have the custom motorhome we've dreamed of having for almost 4 years. With financing (finally!) secured, the order goes in tomorrow and the REAL work begins.
Now that we're officially down to less than 2 months before we order our 36LA, it's time to separate the "nice to haves" from the "need to haves". On my previous post, I posted in a comment to another reader a list of things we'd have to pack in our Mini Cooper convertible to take with us to our Pre-Delivery Inspection (PDI) and 3 day shakeout cruise to a campground near our dealership in order to test out systems and live for a few days in the RV.
Today is a list of things we specifically NEED to have ordered or purchased to either bring with us or delivered to the dealership that are RV-related, and our rationale for these particular products. So in no particular order, here is - The Need To Have List!
Super Slider Adjustable tube for stinky slinky storage - Sure, I could stuff our sewer hose in a heavy duty plastic bag for the short term, but I'm getting this tube to install once we get back from our first trip, so why not just bring it from the beginning and store it in the double basement bay next to the wet bay? This product keeps the messy stuff away from the wet bay, which needs to stay clean as a whistle.
Pro-fill battery watering system - Probably could get away with waiting on this one, but since we'll have some free time on our hands the first few days exercising the systems in the 36LA, I might as well take the time to install this at the campground. This makes it easy to keep your house batteries full without having to pop tops and pour water by using a single fill point for all four batteries. Since house batteries are so important in an RV, this is something that needs to be taken care of each and every month.
American Car Dolly - can't take the Mini anywhere without towing it behind the motor home, and based on our research, this is the best car dolly for price, performance and weight. Comes in at 455 lbs, which is right in between it's two major competitors, and gets delivered and setup right to your site. Can't ask for anything better than that! Removable ramps which store under the front of your car, protecting it from rocks being kicked up while going down the road, and has a swivel pan which makes tracking behind the 36LA much easier.
Hughes Autoformer and Surge Protector - There is a built in surge protector already in the Tiffin 36LA, but it only protects the coach from power surges, not low power situations which can frankly harm electronics in the coach more than surges will. There are two third-party surge protectors that are widely used in the industry - Surge-Guard and Progressive - both of which protect in low power situations, but we want something a bit different, even if it is more expensive. The Hughes Autoformer takes those low power situations and actually increases the voltage to the RV, allowing us to run on 30 amp circuits as if we were on a 50 amp circuit, so actual low power situations don't need to be protected, because power is being boosted by the Autoformer. It also allows us to camp in 30 amp spots and still run all our electronics, which will come in handy when 50 amp spots are not available. The latest version has a removable surge protector in addition to the voltage booster.
Awning Lock - might not be the first thing I install, but it will be close. Awnings can and do pull away from the RV depending on mechanical failure and high wind situations. A $100 investment to keep a $2000 awning safe strikes me as being money well spent.
Camco Rhino Extreme Flex Sewer Kit - this is one of the best sewer hoses on the market. Tough, with clear swivel elbows and three different size attachments to handle most every campground. Add in the "Rattlesnake" graduated support structure to keep things flowing and off the ground, and you have a real winner when it comes to waste.
Pressure-Pro Tire pressure monitoring system - I like this system because it's made in the USA. Anyone who full-time RV's without a TPMS is going to find themselves in trouble eventually when it comes to pressure and temperature, and it's crazy not to invest a few hundred $$ for this kind of peace of mind when going down the road.
Genturi Exhaust system - nothing says irritation when camping in close quarters like sending your generator noise and exhaust into your neighbors camp site. This product sends a lot of the noise and all of the exhaust up and over your rig, making for good neighbors and peace and quiet.
Snap Pads 8” (4) - These are literally what they say they are. Pads which snap onto the feet of your hydraulic levelers. They provide better stability, disperse weight, reduce the extension length of your levelers, and keep you from getting under your coach to put pads down when you get to your site or take them away before leaving. One less thing to worry about when setting up and breaking down camp.
Used Apple Mac Book Pro - How else am I going to edit videos?
Refrigerator lock - Don't want even the meager contents of our refrigerator to spill out on our first trip, so this $10 addition is a no-brainer.
Safe-T-Plus - This is installed on the front end of a Class A RV to help with ease of steering, especially during high wind conditions, but more importantly, this helps to keep the RV tracking straighter in case of a front tire blowout. A $650 addition which could keep the RV out of a ditch, or prevent a rollover situation.
Drop tow ball - Gotta attach the American Car Dolly to the 36LA in order to tow the Mini, and in order to have some stability and safety, the standard hitch height needs to be lowered between 4" and 6" from the back of the motorhome.
Little Giant 17' ladder - Might need to get up on the roof or work on the side of the 36LA in the first couple of days. Better have the best ladder in the business to help me.
So there it is - The List. If any of you RV-ers reading this see any glaring omissions or think there are better products we could, or should, use - sing out! It's not as if we've done thing kind of thing before . . .
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.