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 now 6 months and 17 days away (thanks for asking!) from officially beginning our retirement journey, and it's beginning to get very, very real. Partly because we are just 2 months and 17 days away from having to order our Tiffin Open Road 36LA to be built (when crunch time really begins), and partially because I have now realized that there is an intricate ballet that I, and others, are now producing, directing, choreographing, and starring in.
Little things, big things and everything in between.
Was speaking with our sales rep at Marlin Ingram the other day on an unrelated matter, and find out that if you're going to do a custom color scheme (which we are), you must officially request it from Tiffin (which we knew), and Tiffin has to send you a rendering of it on paper and electronically and then you have to approve it before things get started (sorta knew that), but that it takes about a month to get everything finalized on custom colors (did NOT know that). Good thing we talked, because if we didn't get the ball rolling on that this month, we'd be behind the 8-ball on something that would have delayed the delivery date for our coach. Here's a photo-shopped look at what our color scheme should look like on a 36LA:
Which fast forwards us to the delivery date. We are set to retire on September 2, 2019. That's our last day of work. Our lease for this apartment ends on or around August 25th. The Open Road models at Tiffin are taking about 14 weeks to order, build and deliver to the dealer, and since you don't just walk onto a lot and pick up your motor home (although some people actually do this, and regret it later), we have to have our order ready and PERFECT for submission to Tiffin by May 1st. And hope that no delays occur in the build or delivery process of more than a week. We'll spend a day and night at the dealer getting acquainted with our new home, then a couple of days nearby in a local RV park to work out any kinks we didn't find at the dealer, and then it's back to Georgia for our last week or so of work.
But how do we get the Mini Cooper back to Georgia? Not like I'm going to be driving our new home around without Barbara sitting next to me, now is it? We'll be dolly towing the Mini across America in retirement, and the tow dolly we'll be using is the American Car Dolly – made here in the good ol' USA. There are many reasons why we will be using their product, but one of them is that they deliver their product to you, and set it up and train you on it's use! This is key for a towing newbie like me. It also means they have to be at the dealer with you when you're picking up the 36LA, or otherwise Barbara will be following me like a little puppy in the Mini as we leave to head back to Georgia. So six weeks before picking up the motor home, we have to order and schedule delivery of the tow dolly for the PRECISE DAY we'll be there.
And hope that all this happens without a hitch.
Did I say hitch? We need to get a drop hitch for the RV that is low enough to ensure that the dolly is level to the ground for towing, and bring that with us to our dealer.
Other need-to-haves that will be packed in that seriously undersized Mini will be an electrical surge guard type product to protect the coach from bad power, water pressure regulator, fresh water hose, a black tank sprayer hose, sewer hose and protective gloves. And that's just for the wet bay and electrical bay. Don't forget a cable and lock for the surge protector. Oh, and the tool bag and emergency kit – just in case. Check, check and check!
In between the ordering date and delivery date is not just sitting back and waiting, either.
We have to head out South Dakota for a few days in early May to establish residency there before the coach is delivered, then schedule 3 or 4 days in Red Bay, Alabama in early to mid-July to take the Tiffin tour so that we can catch a glimpse of our 36LA being built each day (since they no longer allow you to watch your build from the factory floor), and then be back in Red Bay in early August to be able to walk through our completed coach during the final QC process, where we'll be able to catch the (hopefully) few items needed to be fixed before it is sent off to our dealer for delivery. And we won't get any of these dates until the build schedule is set by Tiffin around June 1st. I'm reminded of those early Apollo astronauts who, after traveling a quarter million miles to the moon and another quarter million miles back, had to hit a tiny re-entry window just a few feet wide at a precise speed and angle or they would never see Earth again. I now have an appreciation of what they had to do to make that happen.
I figure our respective employers will be happy to see us leave once we start taking all this time off in such a short timeframe.
And did I mention that we'll be retiring? Barbara will need to apply for Social Security in early May, and I'll need to apply in mid-July for mine.
There are many nice-to-haves that we've been collecting and storing that will be transferred into our new home once we get back to Georgia, and many more we'll be buying before we start traveling in earnest beginning in January of 2020, but since we'll be retired, we can take our time doing some of these things.
All this to say that I'll be developing our own rather lengthy production schedule in the next week or two, in hopes that nothing falls through the cracks or gets missed during this very crucial time in our lives. Stay tuned, because I'll probably share it on this site.
Today was the annual Atlanta Camping and RV show in Jonesboro, just south of the city. Barbara and I have been to this show at least 3 times in the past, and while not one of the better shows to go to (the location and venue have always left a lot to be desired), it's at least been acceptable
Today was a big disappointment.
I mean, it's always fun to walk through lots of RV's just to see what's new, even looking at models or types of RV's we aren't interested in getting - nothing wrong with travel trailers or 5th wheels, but they're just not what we need for full-timing beginning in 7 months and 8 days (thanks for asking!). It's also a lot of fun following our grandson Jace as he runs from one to the other, saying' "I want to go in THIS one"! Truth be told, he wants to go in EVERY ONE, but that's another story . . .
What struck us this year was a couple of things. First, the quality of vendor booths, while never really focused on all things RV, was even lower this year. I mean, how many home improvement companies truly think they're going to get any significant business from people looking at RV's? Gutter replacement, siding contractors, bathroom refinishing - you name it. OK, I guess that maybe if someone was going to sell their house before going on the road, MAYBE they might need one of these companies to get their home ready to sell, but that's a real outside shot. And knife sets? Most people are looking to GET RID of things before going RVing, not add more stuff. I'll bet fully half the vendors there would be better served at a home show, not an RV show.
Then there's the RV dealers themselves. It just seemed as if they really didn't give a good damn what their products looked like. Only one dealer, NIRVC, took the time to present their high-end class-A diesel motorhomes as "dressed". Placemats on the table. Bowl of fake fruit or a plate with fake food on it; bedspread and pillows neatly arranged on the bed.
It's as if none of these dealers ever studied or practiced marketing to consumers in their life!
Look, I don't care what your "show special" price is (and most prices were typically not that special), if the motorhome lists for $150k or higher, dress it up! No bedspreads on most models, no presentation in the living or dining areas, doors that wouldn't close properly, one stove cover that wouldn't lay flush with the counter top; the list goes on and on. How much would it cost a dealer to get a couple of dozen fake bowls of fruit for the kitchen counters? Place settings for the kitchen tables? All these higher end units ship with pillows and bedspreads - where did they all go?
And there's no shortage of worker bees at these shows, so how about sending them through each high-end coach every hour or so to make sure someone hasn't messed up a sliding door because they thought it pulled opened like a regular door (ouch!), or to make sure that bathroom door closed without problems? Isn't the goal to sell one of these things to an interested buyer? And maybe these dealers should hire people who actually KNOW something about the products they sell. We asked the guy who was responsible for setting up the display at Campers Inn where two particular model Tiffins were supposed to be shown, and he didn't even know that they never sent them to the show!
So besides the above, why was this show so disappointing, when it was at least acceptable to us in the past? Two words:
"Hershey" and "Tampa".
Those two supershows have set the bar so high for us that the others just pale in comparison. Bigger dealers, more manufacturer participation, and more competition means folks need to do more to stand out against their competitors, and it shows. There's also a glut of third-party providers of actual RV-based accessories at Hershey and Tampa. Today we saw a lot of "trinkets and trash" kind of vendors in addition to the ones mentioned above, but not a single, solitary RV accessory provider at this show. If I've learned one thing over the past 3 years of research, the right accessory can make or break that $200k-$500k purchase once you get on the road, and this show either ignores them, or the spots are taken up with these other non-RV vendors and no more are available.
But yeah, we've been spoiled by the best. Thanks a pant-load, Hershey and Tampa!
OK, so just last month I proudly announced that "there's pretty much nothing left we must do" before ordering our future Tiffin Open Road 36LA motor home.
The one thing I've learned in life, and in researching RV-ing, is that you are never actually done learning or doing. And I should have known better making that announcement when it comes to Tiffin and their ability to produce game-changing upgrades and features into their product line. Now, understand, the 36LA model we've got our hearts set on has been out since 2012, and every year Tiffin finds new ways to enhance that model, even when you think there's nothing more they can do with it. Even in the 3 years we've been looking closely at it, Tiffin has managed to add significant improvements to the 36LA; from a slide out pantry, to slide out house batteries, to a stackable washer / dryer combo, not to mention a really cool kitchen window and a new Spyder control panel. We thought that there was literally nothing else they could do to make that unit better.
Boy, were we wrong, and this one is truly a game-changer in the gas chassis RV world.
Enter the Liquidspring suspension modification. Beginning January 1, 2019, Tiffin will be offering this rear suspension upgrade to it's entire gas line of coaches as an orderable option to be installed BEFORE Tiffin gets to add the motor home components onto the chassis. Today, it is a after market modification taking a few days of removing existing pieces of the rear end and installing a whole new replacement suspension that smooths the ride out considerably - almost to the point of having an air-ride diesel motor home. Liquidspring is also almost ready to release their front-end suspension mod as well, and it is expected that Tiffin will offer this too as an option, just in time for our 36LA to be ordered and built.
What this in essence does is take a very rigid and unforgiving truck chassis suspension and turn it into one that is much more responsive, and able to absorb the problems our bad roads throw at us. There will still be the engine up front and under our feet that will be louder than a rear-engine diesel, but the ride will be nearly as smooth, and likely better responsive in porpoising and side-to-side sway as that diesel coach.
It puts Tiffin ahead of all other major manufacturers of gas products, and for us, it allows us to finance the options over the life of our loan, rather than pay for them outright; making them much more affordable and possible. So while I knew a bit about Liquidspring beforehand, and thought it would be a very nice modification for us considering we'll be full-timing and on the road much more often than the average gasser owner, it also seemed a bit too expensive to add and might not have been done until some years down the road.
Now, we might be driving a game-changer down the road next September. Who knows?
The learning never stops. And that's a good thing.
So as I write this, we are officially 10 months and 19 days away from retiring to full-time (or any time for that matter) RV living. And except for feverishly trying to sock away money for the down payment, there's pretty much nothing left we must do.
Don't get me wrong; there's plenty of things we CAN do, but there's not a lot left we HAVE to do to start this journey on the right foot. We can (and likely will) head on over to some local RV dealers to take a couple of final measurements on certain things, and to drool once more at the prospect of living in one of these Class A RVs. Frustrates the dealers, I know, because we tell them up front we're not there to buy that day, but I hate to lead these people on in thinking they're getting our business that day. I still owe a couple of vendors a call or two directly to finalize delivery or install dates for next fall, but those calls can come in about 6 months or so.
And, of course, there's the all important ordering date 7 months and 23 days away.
But now that virtually everything is answered and researched, I was reflecting on all the time, effort and travel Barbara and I have made since that day in April of 2016 when Barbara asked me if I wanted to go to an RV show that weekend. And it's been a LOT!
Major RV shows - 3
This is where the glamorous part of RV living comes from - the shiny, new RV's all lined up in neat and tidy rows, virtually calling to you to take them out on the road. Even the front ends of these behemoths are designed to look like a smiling faces with their headlights and grillwork, just looking at you and saying, "Buy me! Buy me!". It's the sizzle, but not the steak. Hershey 2017 and 2018 were both eyeopeners and better shows overall, but I'll always remember Tampa 2018 as the show that convinced me I could do this journey by allowing me to nail a test drive of a virtual twin in size and handling to our future 36LA.
Local RV shows - 6
From the first manufacturer show at the Georgia World Congress Center where we first learned the difference between Class A's, B's, C's, fifth wheels, travel trailers and pop-ups, to dealer shows pretty much twice a year, these were where we compared and contrasted styles and quality of the different RVs. Which ones deserved a second look, and which ones to stay away from; some because they were just poorly made, and others because they just didn't fit our requirements for size and amenities.
Visits to RV dealers - 9
Barbara and I have become RV voyeurs - we admit it. Multiple visits to Camping World (we'll never, ever buy anything from them), Campers Inn, NIRVC, RV World, Lazy Days and Marlin Ingram RV. And while we're likely to order our 36LA from Marlin Ingram RV in Montgomery, AL, we still drop into the others from time to time. The Ingram folks are known for doing business the old fashioned way, and everything we've seen from them in a couple of visits looks as if they've earned that reputation - and our business.
Trips to Red Bay, Alabama - 1
Once we were about 90% settled on Tiffin to be the manufacturer of our future RV, we took advantage of their open nature and took their factory tour. Talk about opening the kimono! They show you everything from the woodworking shop to the fiberglass cutting area to the assembly line where multiple coaches were being built - Tiffin shows you everything. Then they leave you alone to walk into any completed coaches waiting for final inspection.
Hours of internet research - countless
From iRV2, where you can learn about all things RV-ing, to TRVN where you have the expert advice from real and long-time Tiffin owners who have gone through it all, to each and every third-party provider site, to dozens of blogs written and videoed by fellow RV-ers like 'Less Junk, More Journey' and 'RV Love', the amount of information available to people like us who have never done this before is virtually limitless. In short, there's no excuse to not do the research needed to begin a life on the road.
So now we enter the lull before the storm that truly begins in June of 2019, when we establish residency in South Dakota and order our Tiffin Allegro Open Road 36LA on the way back to Georgia. Then the longest 14 weeks of our lives begins as we wait for our home on wheels to be built.
This is not to say that there won't be updates along the way. Let's face it; I have no trouble writing about the beginning of this journey. Stay tuned.
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.