Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Return to the Mother Ship - The Tiffin Experience

Well, well, well - the last week has been quite an experience!! We have been ‘camped out’ at the Tiffin Allegro ‘Campground’ in Red Bay, AL having a few things done to Magic.

For those who don’t know all the finer details of our Magic Bus here it is - our coach was made by Tiffin Motorhomes, Inc - a family owned business owned and operated by Bob Tiffin and his three sons and based in Red Bay, AL. They now produce 5 ‘models’ - Allegro Bay, Allegro Red, Phaeton (this is our model), Allegro Bus and the Zephyr - and are producing 10 coaches a day out of the plant (this is their total production right now - the max is 20 per day and they went to 3 a day when things were really bad!).

Red Bay is a VERY small town - population of approximately 2500. Their main street is much smaller than our Park City Main Street - and NOT near as vibrant! Their main reason for being is Tiffin! There is one restaurant - Gabe’s Grill (which is very good) - no movie theaters (which means no other activities) - 2 grocery stores, a car wash, an RV wash, a hardware store AND TIFFIN.

We arrived at the ‘campground’ Tuesday evening to a sign posted at the check-in that said “FULL - DRY CAMP ONLY”!!

Notes of explanation. I keep putting ‘campground’ in quotes - this is for a reason. Bob Tiffin bought the Red Bay airport and turned it into his service/campground facility. The runway and taxiway made the camping areas (there were 100 full hook-up spots, about 15 electric and water spots, and about 12 ‘dry’ camp spots (no hook-ups - you are on your own!)) The ‘hangars’ were turned into service bays - 43 in all plus the parts warehouse, shipping, wood working shop and the service office which included a customer lounge.

Tiffin tower, this is 32 BUS, ready for take-off . (Note the major storm
clouds in the distance).

NOW - I go back to our arrival ‘greeting’ - FULL - all 115 spaces!!!!!

Gary and I looked at each other and said “What does that mean”???? We scampered into the office and asked the same question. Only to be told, we could have a place to park - we would probably move to one of the 15 water and electric the next day and one of the 100 full hook-ups the following day. The rest of the ‘good news’ is that our ‘number’ was 401 - we were to have our list of ‘issues’ back to him by 7PM (it was now 6PM) - Norris would review all the lists and start knocking on doors at 7AM tomorrow morning (Wed.) - and we would go from there. Oh by the way - don’t come back to this office because once we handed in our ‘list’ it was up to Norris and they had no more to do with the process until we checked out. Got it.

Off to our ‘dry camp spot’ to print our list (believe me this was already made out and growing day by day on our trip!). After handing it in we made our walk around the lot. What a trip - never seen so many Tiffin’s in one place!

Wednesday morning we were up bright and early just in case we were one of the first doors that Norris knocked on (what incredible wishful thinking!!). Never thought that our number of 401 and the fact that we were parked out on the ‘dry camp’ spots might mean that we were NOT first in line! Anyway - about noon I did make a trip back to that office to say - “I know we aren’t to bug you - and you said Norris starts knocking on doors at 7 - BUT, what time does he stop knocking on doors?!?!?” Response - “OH - with your number of 401 he will not get to you today!” Now - Gary started working the system and I retreated with my head hung low. By the end of the day we had a ‘promise’ that Norris would be knocking on our door at 7:30 the next morning (Thursday). Wednesday night - another trip around the lot - this time talking to people. AND - found that some people had been here for 3 and 4 weeks! NEVER going to happen - I would go MAD after 2 weeks here!

Thursday morning we were up bright and early for Norris’s visit at 7:30. At 9 - Gary went back to the office to say we really wanted to do the factory tour at 10 - BUT, wanted to talk to Norris before we went - any chance of that?!?!? Then - there was Norris! Gary and I went thru our list - Norris said he would let us know when we had a service bay. Probably Friday or Monday:-( Gary and I went to the factory tour.

THE FACTORY TOUR - this would NEVER happen in California (or many other parts of this country)!! We were issued a pair of protective glasses and a headset so we could hear our tour guide in the factory - then headed to the assembly line in the factory. We saw the whole process from the bare chassis coming in the back door to the final product (short of the exterior paint) out the front. We walked right up to the chassis - examined it - asked questions of the workers who were nailing, glueing, soldering, etc - looked at the various components lined up ready to be installed, etc. - FULL ACCESS!! It was most interesting to see our Phaeton from the bare bones up. Now we know what all is under/over/through the floor/walls/ceiling to be able to understand how things work or what might be wrong when they don’t. Incredibly interesting and informative -

82 year old Red is leading the factory tour
They start with a Freightliner chassis

Then they fabricate the floor

The side walls are lined up for mounting

Now they are ready for the slide-outs to be added

Boy there are sure a lot of wires in this thing!

Everyone (our dealer, factory rep we saw in FL and various other owners we have talked to - as well as the campground office and our tour guide) said that Bob Tiffin is very ‘available’ and after the tour we should go over to his office and talk to him. SO - our next stop was his office. Gary had a few ‘suggestions’ for him.

Bob Tiffin WAS very assessable! He spent about 30 minutes with us discussing everything from Park City (which he had visited and loved) to the factory tour and the campground. Then Gary gave his suggestions after asking if he was open to such a conversation. This led to our problems - blah, blah, blah.

It is very interesting that by the time we got back to the campground - we had an appointment for 7AM Friday morning. Don’t know if Bob made a call - but we were VERY happy:-)!!

SO - this is how it works. You are assigned your time and bay number. At the given time you line up and wait for the bay to open - when it opens you pull in and disappear. Then the work begins. In most of the bays you are able to watch and even be in the coach while the work is done! And, you move your coach from bay to bay for the different types of work to be done. Again - a very interesting experience -

7 am. Jockeying for position at your assigned service bay.

Ahhhh. Happiness is being in your service bay.

OK Billy Bob let's see if we can get these leveler
hydraulics working correctly.

These guys are amazingly well organized.

By the end of the day we had all the work done except the body and paint work - which we determined could be done Monday ‘off campus’ (by a local paint and body shop that does contract work for Tiffin - all ex-employees that worked for Tiffin for 10-20 years then left and started their own businesses assisting Tiffin with their excess work).

This meant we had the weekend to play and investigate the area. We packed our bags - left Magic at the campground - and visited the largest town in the area, Florence with our Marriott points! There are 36 holes of the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Florence that we thought we would take advantage of. Silly us! We spent the weekend ‘dodging’ tornado warnings, which means in and out of ‘safe places’ in the hotel. On a very serious note - we were very fortunate as someone was watching out for us. With all the deaths and flooding in nearby areas, each wave of storms and tornados seemed to move just north of us and more importantly north of Magic! We really did escape a couple of bullets!!

We had Magic at the body shop early Monday morning to get the rear back panels that tried to mate with a yellow pipe looking like they did originally. This meant we had another day to ‘investigate’. So - we were off to Tupelo, Mississippi (just had to spell that out as Deme has just learned that spelling and thought it would be fun!) and the birthplace of Elvis Presley. We travelled a portion of the Natchez Trace Parkway from Red Bay to Tupelo - which is a beautiful road that closely follows ‘trails’ that were originally used by Indians and wild animals as much as 8,000 years ago to get from the gulf coast to the Tennessee valley.

As we entered Tupelo, we made a stop at the Tupelo National Battlefield (another stamp in our National Parks passport!), the site of the last major engagement of the Civil War in Mississippi.

Battle of Tupelo, War Memorial

Then - on to Elvis. We stopped at the Tupelo Hardware store, which is where Elvis’ mother bought him his first guitar. At the age of 10 he wanted a 22 cal. rifle for his birthday - but that is NOT what his mother wanted him to have. So - the salesman showed him a guitar and let him play it for a while (he didn’t really know how to play - he had just seen his minister at his church play one). I guess the rest is history! Gary and I both stood on the very place where Elvis stood while pleading for the rifle - no divine experiences while there:-( You may be asking - how does one know all of this really?!?! The hardware store is a family owned business and the daughter came down to talk to us and give us the story. Also, the salesman has documented the story for all to read. By the way - his name is Forrest L. Bobo - really.

Next stop - his birthplace. Elvis was born in a very small two-room house built by his father, grandfather and uncle. I always forget that Elvis was one of identical twin brothers. His brother, Jessie Garon, was stillborn and is buried with him and his parents at Graceland. The church where Elvis spent his early years - and where the pastor was who played the guitar and taught Elvis to play preached - was acquired from down the street and moved to the birthplace grounds. The area is very small - but, very moving.

Elvis slept here (actually he was born in this house)

Life size statue of the 13 year old Elvis (That's him on the left)

Hmmmm. The Presley loo.

It was time to return to Red Bay and retrieve Magic - which looked as good as new (except for all the dirt from the various storms!). One more night at the campground and we would be on our way to begin our trip home. It was an evening of saying good bye and good luck to our companion campers - especially those that might be there a little longer:-(

Tuesday we planned to drive until dusk and see where we ended up. Noticing that I-40 ‘brushed’ by Cotton Plant, Arkansas - we thought a slight detour might be in order. So - here it is -----

Biaett roots

We made it to the Fort Smith, Arkansas/Sallisaw, Oklahoma area and are now off to investigate Fort Smith and all it has to offer.

All in all - we have to say that Bob Tiffin has a wonderful, organized, efficient organization and we are happy to be a part of it via Magic;-)

Happy Campers - Elizabeth & Gary

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