OK, so our first major excursion is now complete, and we're back in Georgia to drop off our 3 year-old grandson to his mother. We've spend just about one month on the road (as opposed to sitting and loading the RV for the first couple of weeks, and it's time to give the low down on how our Open Road 36LA (and us) have handled the road.
Tiffin build quality and overall quality – 4.8 out of 5 stars
After the initial leak in the shower, pretty much everything manufactured by Tiffin has met or exceeded our expectations. We've identified a couple of areas of woodwork that will need to be addressed in our first visit to Red Bay, but everything else from cabinets to floor to basement bays is pretty solid. The new dinette chairs for 2020 are wider and are more comfortable, and the extra chairs are sturdy and more than ample enough for any sized guest.
Water systems – 4.9 out of 5 stars
Plumbing is solid, and except for the exceptionally long time to get hot water to the kitchen sink or shower, works very well. The swivel on the kitchen sink is pretty free-flowing (wonder if that is normal or can be tightened down somewhat), and the wet bay works well. Interesting that the black tank flushes with significantly more force than the gray tank, but getting that part done faster doesn't bother me in the least!
Air cooling and heating systems – 5 out of 5 stars
Both A/C's cool very quickly (although we haven't had many days in the high '90's yet) and the furnaces and heat pumps work as advertised. The fireplace is pretty much essential to take the chill off of the living area first thing in the morning.
Kitchen appliances – 4.6 out of 5 stars
This score would have been higher, but the new gas cooktop, while looking great, is pretty weird with the elongated center burner. It might come in handy someday, but I'm not sure when that day will come. The residential refrigerator is great, and the new latches Tiffin uses to lock it closed are working fine (and we've been down some very nasty roads – more to come on that).
Hydraulics system – 4.9 out of 5 stars
The main slide has performed flawlessly, and the levelers have been almost perfect. One leveler in the rear seems to take more time to raise than the others. It usually takes me hitting the auto store button a second time to get the job done.
Carefree awning – 4.8 out of 5 stars
Haven't used it much due to the weather being windy where we've traveled, and it would have received a perfect score if not for the wire that got caught in the front arm support. Tore the wire out of the side of the awning when it got stuck when deploying, but caught it before it could cause too much damage. Big shout out for the automatic rain drain feature which collapses whichever end has the most water weight on it to relive the pressure on the fabric and arms.
Entry steps – 5 out of 5 stars
Hesitated even mentioning this category, because I'm sure at some point this will become a problem and didn't want to jinx things!
Truma AquaGo Comfort hot water heater – 4.8 out of 5 stars
This would have received a perfect score if not for it failing to provide hot water on our last night in New Hampshire (and boy did we need showers that night!). We were at 44% propane level in the coach, so we're not sure if it's an issue with lower pressure from the tank or not, as we filled the tank the next morning on our way out and it has worked fine since.
TV's and other electronics – 4 out of 5 stars
TV's work great. DVD player works fine, unless you want to run it via the remote. Pointing the remote at the IR receiver gets a response from the receiver, but nothing happens. A work in progress.
Liquidsprings rear suspension – 0.5 out of 5 stars
When it works, it's a marvelous technology, but it has only worked a total of 3 travel days out of 12. And when it doesn't work, you have NO SUSPENSION AT ALL on the rear end of your coach! The problem has been some faulty ride height sensors on the driver's side of the 36LA. I'm convinced now the unit wasn't working from day one until we found out it was leaning significantly to the left after leaving Hershey, PA on our way northbound. And unfortunately we were heading up to New England; home of some of the worst roads in America. Needless to say, our home took a beating on the way up, and unfortunately on the way back down, even though we had the ride height sensor changed out in New Hampshire.
Now, to Liquidspring's credit, they have shipped us replacement sensors whenever we have needed them, and done so overnight, but when you're on a schedule with a 3 year-old, you just can't add an extra night at a campground waiting for a new sensor to show up which may (or may not) work when you install it. Liquidsprings claims they got a bad batch of sensors from a third party supplier, and recently shipped us out a new one from a new supplier, so we'll see how this one works.
Unfortunately, the damage that was caused by having no suspension on the rear running on some bad roads is considerable. Minor damage to the bottom panel of the Splendide washer (the unit rocked into the bottom of the cabinet and broke off the snaps to the cover). Major damage to the exhaust tailpipe (lost it completely somewhere on our last travel day back to Georgia), which then allowed hot gasses to meltdown the right side of our wet bay, opening it up to the elements in three separate areas. I'll have to get a new tailpipe and heat shield installed before we can travel again, and figure out who takes care of the cost of the wet bay.
Needless to say, Liquidsprings is not high on out list of third-party providers right now. And sadly, I don't know if the latest sensor will work for a while, or fail again shortly. I have zero confidence in that system right now.
Adjusting to full-time RV living – 3.5 out of 5 stars
There's a certain frustration when you travel with a 3 year-old that can skew your patience level with new things, so I'm sure that this score could have been higher. I'm rolling with the punches a little bit better than Barbara is doing, but then I'm the one who has done the majority of the research beforehand in hopes that I could cope with the inevitable breakdowns and glitches that come with an RV. Not that any level of research could have prepared us for a complete disaster with our Liquidsprings. Still, I think that some of the issues would have been easier to live with if it were just the two of us and we had a rear suspension that worked.
Overall, it's a beautiful home on wheels (the comments we've received from fellow campers and campground staff are always appreciated), and it's running about as well as I imagined it would. And I know it's early. But I optimistically figure things can only go up from here.
So, driving up from Georgia to our eventual destination in New Hampshire, I began to notice a less-than-smooth ride in the rear of our 36LA. Sure, the roads weren't very good in some of the states we passed through, but I was expecting a better ride than what we were getting.
Since we only had a single night in southern Virginia, with an early departure the next day, I didn't have any chance to diagnose what the problem was. I completely forgot about it following the harrowing episode of a FedEx truck causing one of our tow dolly tires to suddenly deflate. It wasn't until after we left the Hershey RV show that I had another chance to try to figure out what was going on.
My first clue was that the Liquidspring interface by the driver kept going crazy; sometimes it showed normal lights, while other times it was flashing odd groups of lights which made it look like it was trying to reset itself. Pulling into a rest area on I-81 just north of Hazelton, PA, I walked around the coach to check everything from basement doors to the toad and dolly. Facing the rear of the coach looking forward, I noticed that our brand new motor home was listing heavily to port (the driver's side for you landlubbers). There was no space between the top of our rear tires on the driver's side, and a good 4-6 inches between the top of the tires on the passenger side and the wheel well.
Catching Wayne Wells from Liquidsping at the Hershey show, he immediately got me in touch with Chad Wilkins, a Customer Service Manager at the home office in Indiana. After a quick explanation of our symptom, Chad ran us through a couple of calibration tests on the driver interface and determined that our ride height sensor on the driver's side was toast.
The good news: they are relatively easily replaced.
The bad news: we had to make the rest of our ride up north without any Liquidspring comfort.
Chad would send our two new sensors (he wanted us to replace both sides) overnight to a friend's house, and sent us a document via email that described how to change them out.
Crawling under these coaches is not an easy task, especially if you're almost 63 years-old; even worse when your camp site is crushed rock. Not a lot of room, and the ride height sensor is above your head and situated where your arms have to curl around some parts of the Ford F-53 chassis. But the good news is that there are only two bolts that have to be removed to replace the ride height sensors, a simple unplug of the old unit, and a clip that has to be removed to put a control rod on the new unit. Plug the new unit in, replace the clip on the control arm, and it's time to calibrate the new units.
Heading inside to the Liquidspring driver interface, you hit both ride height arrows simultaneously to put the unit in calibration mode. The back end of your coach goes through a whole bunch of rises and dips, and after about 2-3 minutes (if you've done things correctly and the units are good) your coach is level and ready to head down the road in relative comfort. Shut off the coach at the key and wait for about 4 minutes, and the new calibration is locked in.
At least, that's the theory.
Not so much when your error code refuses to clear after changing out the ride height sensor.
Looking for a Liquidspring service provider is not easy. Their website shows lots of places in different regions, but once you start calling them you find out that they either only work on ambulances and fire trucks (and those don't really want to leave their comfort zone to work on an RV), or their local shop isn't certified – or trained – or hasn't even seen what a Liquidspring installation is, but some other national branch is, and Liquidspring has added ALL of them to their list.
But Chad from Liquidspring insists that just about any shop could diagnose and work on their product, and fortunately he's right. Calling a local RV repair shop in nearby Nashua, NH, we schedule an appointment for Thursday morning. After about 4 hours, the 3 folks at 1st Priority Towing and Repair have all had a look at this unique system and have figured out the sensor problem and have it fixed.
And what a difference it is! I'm thinking this system wasn't working pretty much from day one, because the difference in the ride is night and day to what we experienced, even coming back from our dealer in Alabama. It's early, but can't say enough good things about the support from the folks at Liquidspring!
I really hate FedEx drivers, but you'll have to wait until the end to find out why.
Two days into our first trip in the 36LA, and here are a few random thoughts:
Thus far, I can only say that Tiffin makes a great coach. I know it's only two days into actually driving down the road, but this particular unit has performed spectacularly.
Big shout out to the folks at Safe-T-Steer. Had a 7:30 appointment at their Austell factory location, and they got us in at 7:15, had the product installed by 7:45, and finished the road test by 8:30. Couldn't have been any easier, and the results are great! I think the best way to describe it is that it tightened the looseness of the steering, and keeps the front end tracking straight. It no longer feels as if I am wrestling a snake when trying to stay in my lane. I don't think I'd even feel comfortable driving with just one hand, but I think could if I wanted to.
Packed up our 3 year-old grandson, Jace, and headed north on 85 to the first Pilot gas station. Got each axle weighed at a CAT scale behind the Pilot, and was pleasantly surprised to find us slightly underweight. About 700lbs light on the front axle, and just over 1000 lbs light on the rear. Considering we still have camp chairs, a grill, and an outdoor table to buy, we'll need the extra capacity.
This Ford V10 really has some power. Sure, it's not some big Cummins diesel, but heading over the mountain dividing North Carolina from Virginia, I was going 50-55 mph, and passed a number of 18-wheelers. And except for glancing at my rear view camera every now and again, I don't even know we're towing our Mini Cooper and dolly behind us.
Stayed at Pioneer Village campground the first night in Max Meadows, VA. Nice campground with lots of pull-through sites, good power and water. Quiet enough, and you will hear some traffic noises from nearby I-81 at night, but they're not distracting.
Headed north on I-81 up what I've called the spine of Virginia, as it parallels the Blue Ridge mountains to the right. Jace has been very good through these two days, and we've tried to keep him active at each stop we make. I will say that setting up and taking down his bed each day is going to become tedious in a few days. Makes me wish we had opted for the drop down bunk when we had this built.
Even fellow RV-ers can be inconsiderate. Stopped for gas at another Pilot, and was pulled in behind another Class A that was just finishing gassing up. Even though the guy saw us waiting, he put the nozzle away, went into the building, and cam out 10-15 minutes later with a couple of cold drinks for him and the missus!
There can be some bad roads out there, but the worst part of driving is going over each and every bridge. It seems that transitioning smoothly from one surface to another is a lost art in state and federal governments.
So we're heading across the little portion of Maryland on I-81. Maybe 15 miles in distance, and most of it under construction. Speed limit is supposed to be 55 mph, and I'm doing 50 mph in the right lane. Both lanes have been narrowed to just 11 feet in width, with Jersey barriers on each side. All of a sudden, I feel a heavy push on the RV to the right, because a FedEx tandem rig is passing me on the left, going at least 70 mph. I manage to keep the RV off the barriers, but somehow the tow dolly holding the Mini has a right tire going flat. That's because I can see it and hear the alarm on our TST tire pressure management system. Still in the construction zone, I take the next exit and find a storage field for 18-wheel trailers on the right just as the pressure hits zero.
Finding a tear in the side wall of the tire as the culprit, we begin the task of changing the dolly tire. I had ALMOST opted to not buy a spare tire for our American Car dolly, but added it in at the last minute. Good thinking on my part, as it was sitting in the rear bay of the 36LA. Improvised using the jack from the Mini on the dolly, and got the lug nuts off with our trusty star wrench each of our cars has had since the beginning. Also had the Viair pump handy to add the right pressure into the spare tire to satisfy the settings on our Tire Pressure Management System, and away we went after about an hour. Needless to say, prior planning prevents poor performance was in play this afternoon.
But here's my rant about FedEx truck drivers. In just two days, I've seen these jokers break every speed law on regular roads with their tandem rigs, but worse yet is their gross disregard for speed limits in construction zones. The guy who pushed the Mini close enough to the Jersey barriers to kill the dolly tire was going at least 70 in a 55 mph zone, with lanes just wide enough for both of us with no extra room to spare. These drivers are a menace on our roadways.
At least the Western Village RV park we're staying at in Carlisle, PA is really nice at the end of a stressful day. Nice shady sites with lots of amenities for kids and adults.
Tomorrow it's on to the Hershey RV show!
When last we left our readers, I had finished off installing a series of upgrades to our new home, and had just finished a quick shower before heading to bed, only to discover a bit of water coming out under the shower onto the floor.
After a restful night's sleep the next morning, we let the good folks at Marlin Ingram know about this little problem, and thus begins a very long day.
These motor homes are built for the customer, but not for the service people who have to work on them. In the case of our drain problem, there is one 6” by 4” panel on the floor where someone can reach into by hand to see what is going on, and a side access to the shower after removing a set of bedroom drawers and our inside breaker and fuse panel. While the guys take apart our brand new coach, Barbara and I sit and surf the internet waiting patiently. After all, not being able to use the shower is a pretty big thing!
As minutes turned into hours, and the working area expands into our bedroom, we begin to become concerned. We had planned for an early start from Montgomery in order to miss Atlanta traffic and to get into our camping spot up in the North Georgia mountains long before dark. Morning turned into early afternoon, and the diagnosis was that the primary drain pipe had a small crack and needed to be replaced. Problem was, there were no replacements in stock! The part was ordered and was expected to be delivered THE NEXT DAY between 10 and 2. Minor problem: Barbara and I both had shifts to work at our respective stores the next day.
Seeing our dilemma, the folks at Marlin Ingram got creative. Most people would call what they did “Robbing Peter to pay Paul”. They found another unspoken for Tiffin Open Road on the lot and stole the drain pipe from that unit in order to get us on our way, and would use the replacement part in that one the next day. But they still had to install the part in our shower, and test it to make sure it was working.
At this point, you need to know that from the very beginning, our plan to full time was based on the 330 rule of RV-ing: Don't drive more than 330 miles per day, and arrive at your destination by 3:30 in the afternoon so that you can setup your spot in daylight. My goal as an RV-er was to never know if my headlights worked.
That goal went out the window on our first day. (And BTW, the headlights need adjustment)
Because once the repairs were complete, it was now past 4 in the afternoon, and we had AT LEAST a 4-hour drive back to North Georgia. Grateful for the efforts at Marlin Ingram, but a bit tired and frustrated at the loss of a day, we headed out. Figuring it was better to fill up sooner than later, we stop at a Love's about 25 miles out of Montgomery. Got my first expected sticker shock when the receipt for gas came to just under $100. After usually spending just a bit more than $20 to fill up the Mini Cooper on a near-empty tank, this half tank fill up of the motor home was certainly different.
Driving into the oncoming night, Barbara and I both realize that one of us (me) is going to be Wallydocking this even, while the other will spend the night in the apartment with Taz. Proper etiquette for Wallydocking (boondocking at a WalMart) is to check with the store manager to make sure it's OK to stay in their lot overnight (usually is, but sometimes local ordinances prevent that) before bedding down for the evening. Oh, and you should always spend some money at the store to thank them.
Grabbing a Subaru full of storage bins and boxes, I hit the bed hard, because moving day was tomorrow . . .
Ever stuff 10 lbs of sausage into a 5 lb casing? That's what it felt like bringing all the stuff we had designated for the road (and some things we hadn't) into a 37 ft motor home. The good news is, I can't be blamed for this. Even Barbara admitted she packed too much stuff. The bad news is, it had no place to go except in the limited storage facility we had left, get thrown away – or it went into the RV.
At the end of the week at Paradise Valley Campground, we finally had everything packed away – even if some of it hadn't found it's permanent home. What the heck; we're retired. We'll have plenty of time to weed out the things that shouldn't have come, and rearrange the rest. My biggest concern is our overall weight, and the weight on each axle, which we'll find out the day we head north to New England.
The good news s that our 36LA has performed flawlessly this first week, even if Taz isn't 100% sure of where she's at and why her home moves and why the slides go in and out. Barbara is very glad I took the time to do the homework I did over these past few years, because there have been no surprises or questions that haven't been answered. I'm sure that won't stay that way, but it's been a great 10 days of everything we expected.
What a day! Woke up on Tuesday, August 27th at 5:15 for an intended 6:00 start to beat Atlanta traffic. Actually left at 6:15 due to more than expected items being packed into the back of our trusty Subaru Forester. We didn't take our Mini this time, because we had company for the trip over to Marlin Ingram RV in Montgomery, AL. Due to a delay in delivery of our American Car Dolly we needed someone to drive our car back to the Atlanta area, because my DW, Barbara, was NOT going to miss that first drive in our new home by having to trail the 36LA all the way back to North Georgia – and I couldn't blame her. So our youngest daughter, Alicia and our 3 year-old grandson, Jace, were also loaded into the back of the Subaru.
Note to self: Don't wake up a 3 year-old early if you want an uneventful 3 hour drive.
Anyway, 4 hours later we arrive at our destination, and Beth Morang, our sales rep, takes us down to see our new home. It's tucked underneath one of the open service bays, plugged in and ready for inspection. No house we've ever moved into has looked as beautiful as our 36LA does with it's vivid Pacific Blue top and Ice White base with dark and light gray accent colors. Everybody agrees that it's a statement coach, and who are we to argue?
So now we're ready to do some paperwork; as in pay for our new home. Nope. Paperwork is important at Marlin Ingram, but the customer experience comes first. Time for our PDI and a test drive to make sure everything is good to go! And again, who are we to argue?
In we go, and we get our first look at a finished dark mocha interior with creamy white furniture and sandy colored flooring. Even the gray wallpaper which cause a brief moment of concern a few weeks ago is a nice offset to the brighter furniture, and all is right with the world according to the love of my life. As we take in the beauty of the craftsmanship of the woodwork and interior, Jace immediately does what all 3 year-olds do; finds buttons and switches to push – and in a motor home, there are a LOT of buttons and switches to push!
Tying him up (OK, not really, but I did find myself wishing I had brought a roll of duct tape with us), we keep Jace occupied for about 10 seconds before he finds the remote (what IS it with these kids and electronics?) for the fireplace, and now we (and he) know the way to turn it off and on for the effect and for the heat. Thanks, buddy! Now that his mom is off the phone (after also finding out he now knows how to release the catch on the sliding door to the bedroom) Alicia and Jace get down to unloading the Subaru into some of the many basement storage compartments so that she can head back to Georgia, and we can get back to discovering our new digs in earnest.
In the entirety of our inside look at the 36LA, Barbara spots one – ONE! - noticeable defect in the finish; an area of woodwork by the freezer door which will need some minor touch-up in Red Bay once we get around to taking care of warranty work before our first year is up. I find a small dollop of caulking in a dark area under the main bath cabinetry. And just like that, we're outside going through basement storage bays, and the first of our surprises.
The first front passenger bay has always, in the 3 years we've been looking at the 36LA, been just for storage and a couple of electrical outlets for when you need power outside the coach. Not anymore! Open it up, and there's the battery disconnect and a new inverter disconnect switch installed in that bay. Now, battery disconnects are supposed to be close to the batteries themselves, so we're kind of surprised to see this all the way to the front of our coach, when the batteries have, for the past 2 years, been installed in a sliding tray in the very last bay of the coach. Heading quickly to that bay, we find it empty and it's reverted to it's past use as open storage! But where are our house batteries?
Back under the entry steps, where they had been in years previous; that's where! Not a big issue, as there is a trade-off to the placement. On the minus side, having that pull out tray made battery maintenance relatively easy, but it ate up some storage which can come in very handy for us full-timers. So on the plus side, getting back that storage bay is great. Makes me wonder if the Liquidspring option we ordered for our model had something to do with the shift, since the rear end of the 36LA has some pretty significant modifications to make the ride go smoother. Maybe Tiffin thought having the power components back there was no longer a good fit with that option. We'll ask them later.
Outside inspection completed, it's time for my second experience behind the wheel of a moving RV, but THIS time it's ours – and it hasn't even been paid for yet! And I gotta tell you, it's both scary and nice at the same time. Look, these gas motor coaches will never be as quiet going down the road as a higher priced diesel model, but they cost about $100k less than a similarly equipped diesel and they're still quiet enough at highway speeds to have a normal conversation in them.
The Liquidspring option performed as advertised, as we had multiple 18-wheelers pass us with nary a shift or shimmy in the 36LA, and we were even passed by a wide load transporting a large pool! Found myself creeping past the 70 mph mark (again!) just as I did two years ago at the Tampa show during a test drive of a similar model. This Ford V-10 with the 6-speed transmission has no problem moving this 26k lb chassis down the road, especially with MY foot on the gas!
Back at Ingram, I back the motor home into it's former spot with just one adjustment, and we have a chance to just sit and experience our new home while we wait for the office manager to process the paperwork. We'll be spending the night in the coach, giving us a chance to relax a bit, and giving me a chance to install some third-party mods that will make our lives easier once we get on the road. First come the Snap Pads. These are attached to the bottom of the jacks which level the RV. It saves my back from bending over each and every time we park somewhere having to slide pads underneath the coach and making sure those things are centered. These literally snap onto the feet of the jacks and remain attached as you drive down the road. Barbara and I also get to try out our new walkie-talkies since she has to lower our jacks manually from the inside a little at a time so I can line up the Snap Pads.
That accomplished, I now move onto installing our Tire Pressure Management System, or TPMS. Six sensors are programmed into a central monitor; one for each tire. The sensors are then screwed onto each tire's air valve so that pressure and temperature can be monitored while going down the road. These systems can sometimes give the driver ample warning of a tire issue before a catastrophe can happen, and it's something I'd rather have on the RV at the start. While screwing on the sensors for the rear duallys, I find that one extender doesn't allow any air flow, while another extender is very loose. Something for the folks at Marlin Ingram to look at the next day before we shove off.
Deciding I've sweated enough, it's time to try out the shower with our Truma continuous hot water heater. Took a quick Navy shower, where you wet down, shut off the water and soap up, then hit the water again to rinse off. Think of this as practice for when we boondock for multiple days when water conservation is critical. Drying off, I notice a bit of water coming out from under the shower onto the floor. Looks like something else has to be looked at by Marlin Ingram service in the morning.
To be continued . . .
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!
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.