Seems odd that someone so focused on not only getting a Class A RV in the future, but going full-time in it has never driven the object of his retirement before, but that's me. Maybe it's the three parts analyst in me, and the one part crazy, but I've never been behind the wheel of a moving RV before. That changed this week.
The thought first occurred to me after leaving the Hershey RV last year. On the way out, we spotted the area where lots of manufacturers demos were parked just waiting for test drives. Since we were newbies to the Hershey show, we didn't know that test drives were even offered, and since we had to head further north to visit family and friends, going back just wasn't in the cards.
Enter the OTHER "World's Largest RV Show" - Tampa, Florida.
Since our visit to Hershey last year, I had come across some Tiffin employees who actually go from show to show to lend their expertise and advice to prospective owners, and got in contact with the guy who handles pretty much all the Tiffin test drives at all the RV shows across the country. He not only confirmed that there would be test drives, but let us know what models would be available in Tampa. An Open Road 36UA was going to be used for test drives, which is about as similar to our future 36LA gas model as you can get in length and weight. So we signed up at the Tiffin booth at 11:30 and waited for the 2:00 appointment to arrive.
Longest 2 1/2 hours of my life.
Let's face it; I was pretty nervous. Oh, sure, I had watched many YouTube videos and read everything I could on what you needed to know about driving these rolling behemoths, so I thought that I had the basics down. Plus, I figured the drive would be in a rather controlled environment like a large parking lot cordoned off so that nothing would get scratched and no living thing would get crushed. No, my nervousness stemmed from the potential that either I wasn't going to be very good at this, or worse yet, wouldn't like it. Given our desire to full-time, the worst thing would be if I didn't like to be behind the wheel of our home for 5-6 hours a day going from place to place, killing our dreams of a retirement we could enjoy.
Two o'clock arrived and so did our driving instructor, Marvin Carlton and his lovely wife Celia. Marvin is extremely experienced in driving Tiffin motor homes, as he used to take the finished product from Red Bay, AL where they are made, and deliver them to dealerships across the country for new owners to pick up. I think he also got the job because he's very patient with people and must have some of the lowest blood pressure known to mankind. We talk on the way to the test drive parking lot, where he finds out that the guy he's taking in a golf cart is an Class A virgin. Doesn't seem to phase him one little bit.
The test drive parking lot sits next to a small access road. Marvin says. "If you don't mind, let me pull this thing out onto the road, because they've really squeezed us in tight here". "Heck yeah!" I'm thinking, because the entry to the access road looks just slightly big enough for our Mini Cooper to go through, let alone a 9' wide motor home!
He stops and we switch seats. Barbara is going to be in her future navigator seat on the passenger side. They want BOTH of us to get used to the view and handling from where we'll be. Marvin has me check the two large mirrors on both sides, has me hit the left and right turn signals to see the side camera changes (a very neat feature, btw), and gives me his one and only tip. "See the lines on the road in the lower part of your mirrors? Make sure you have equal distance between them on both sides, and that way you'll know you're centered in your lane".
I had already told him about my knowing to wait for my hips to clear the point needed to make turns. Unlike a car where the wheels are in front of you, your front wheels on an RV are BEHIND you, so you have to turn later than when driving a car. So that's his only tip - keep it between the lines.
Marvin is the epitome of the KISS principle.
Driving down this winding fairground road, I realize that this Tiffin doesn't handle like the U-Haul trucks I've driven using the same Ford chassis. In fact, turning is very easy and responsive. We come to a stop at the end of the road, and now we're leaving the fairgrounds. I make a pretty darn good right turn (if I say so myself), swinging wide and turning at the hip point, when we come to a stop light. First impression, these brakes need a lot of time to make a stop if you're not going to shift things in your cabinets from back to front. And now Marvin is taking us onto a busy state road which cuts through Tampa proper. Tells me to stay in this lane, because we're going on the highway up ahead.
Tiffin. as with everything else they do, doesn't skimp on the test driving experience, either. So engine revving, we head onto I-4 and get her up to speed. Before I know it, I'm up to 70 MPH, a speed I have always vowed to never get to when driving my future motor home; it's that responsive as far as acceleration is concerned. Drop it back to 60-62 MPH, and notice how much easier it is to keep centered in the lane. Marvin gives me one other piece of advice; keep it in the center lane. That way I won't have to worry about people cutting me off at on and off ramps.
Now, during our waiting time for the test drive, a cold front had moved into the area, and it had gotten very windy. On the way out of the fairgrounds, I had a tailwind. On the way back it was a headwind from the right corner trying to push me to the side. Full disclosure, I used my previous experience as a pilot to "crab" into the wind like I used to do on a crosswind landing to keep the 36UA centered. Not to brag (OK, bragging a little bit), but I handled the quartering wind and passing trucks like a pro. Marvin also remarked that he never would have known that I hadn't driven a motor home before. In short, I NAILED the test drive, so much so that when we got back to the parking lot, I pulled into that narrow parking area like I had been doing it for years. Even Barbara was impressed (not an easy thing to do, let me tell you).
So what did I learn from this test drive?
1. The Tiffin product is very quiet, even with the motor sitting between and under your feet. Sure, it will scream at higher revolutions, but quiets right down once it hits fifth and sixth gears. The cockpit was quiet enough for normal conversation pretty much all the time.
2. You really have to anticipate braking on these gassers. Hitting the brakes earlier and creeping to a stop is much better than trying to stop on a dime. Because you can't stop on a dime.
3. Sumo springs minimize the rocking of the motor home on the chassis to an almost unnoticeable level.
4. That Ford V-10 has some serious acceleration.
5. Focusing on a point about 1/2 a mile distant keeps you from having to make minor corrections as much as when you are focusing just a few car lengths ahead as you would with a car.
Bottom-line, I LOVED the experience, and am now sure that I can do this on a daily basis if needed and still have fun driving. It's now full speed ahead onto retirement in 1 year, 7 months and 14 days!
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.