Monday, August 17, 2015

A week in Red Bay

It's been a week now since we arrived here in Red Bay and
a fair amount of things have taken place so its time to play a little catch-up.

On Monday morning our first stop was the local Freighliner Shop,
Bay Diesel, for an annual Chassis Service.

This consists of the normal things like a safety inspection, then continues
with a chassis lube, transmission service, filter changes etc.

The Doodles stayed in the Coach while they lifted it so I guess they have
now earned their wings in addition to their impressive road credentials.


I took a couple of walks thru the service facility.
It consists of about 50 service bays - all quite spotless.
There are dedicated bays for specific special tasks, like slide removal,
painting etc.

I am still waiting my turn to get into a bay and it looks like about another week.


While waiting to get into a bay however I've been spending the time wisely and
visited a couple of local vendors for some other jobs.

First on my list was the replacement of the tankless water heater with a conventional one,
so on Thursday morning at 7am I was pulling into a bay at Custom RV.

While some would love the endless supply of hot water that comes with a tankless,
you do need to run the water a bit to get it to heat up at first.   Since we
spend a lot of time dry camping and water conservation is the order of the day,
it did not fit our lifestyle so I wanted it replaced.

The conventional heater is larger so this required removing the tankless, and then
cutting the opening larger to fit the bigger heater.

We opted for the Atwood heater - more expensive than the Surburban, but its
a better quality unit.  It has an aluminum tank so it is also lighter and a nice side
benefit is you do not need heater anodes so that one less maintenance task.

While at Custom RV I also had a laundry list of small repairs attended to.
They were quick, efficient, and Brannon and his crew are all ex long time
Tiffin employees so they know the unit inside and out.

Now I need to go to the paint shop to finish the job.


So Friday morning at 8am I was pulling into the paint bay at Custom Paint
and Auto Body.   They do a lot of work for Tiffin and have all the paint colors on site
so the match is spot on.


Here I am in a paint bay.


The door needed time to dry and the skies were getting dark so I make myself
a custom door for the night.


I finally installed the door today.
Voila - the finished product!


Around noon time on Sunday I decided to take a nice Sunday drive with
the Doodles so we made a big loop.  (check out the blog map link  up on the right)

We drove north to Florence and visited McFarland Park - a nice county park
on the banks of the Tennessee River.    They also have RV spaces there.


The doodles enjoyed some nice grass, and we took a long walk.


Next I headed west and picked up the Natchez Trace Parkway Southbound.
The Natchez Trace is owned by the National Park Service.  Think of
the Blue Ridge Parkway and you start to get the idea.

I'll go into the Natchez Trace History in a later blog.

The ride is very pretty which many historical sights along the way.


One of them is the Bear Creek Mound, a large earthen mound built by Native Americans
a couple of thousand years ago.  I would have had a temple on top of the mound.


Getting back to Red Bay, the skies were beginning to darken so it was time to batten down
the hatches once again.  We've had a fair amount of Thunderstorms while here
and the Doodles are never happy when they pass thru.


Needless to say - its been booming the whole time I wrote this blog and the
two of them are once again under the dining table at my feet.

Life is tough when you are a Doodle.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tiffin Motorhome Factory Tour

While waiting in Red Bay for service one of the good time killers is
a tour of the Tiffin Factory.

So today at 0930 I presented myself at the welcome center and joined
about 20 other folks for the tour.

It was quite impressive!

The first thing that I learned was that Tiffin Manufactures much of what goes
into their product themselves.

Unlike many RV Manufactures who purchase the cheapest that can be found on
the open market - Tiffin makes it all in house.

The woodworking is one example.

The carpentry shop was about the size of 2 football fields.
Tiffin builds all of its cabinetry in shop.

Tongue & groove, glued and screwed.  The cabinetry is built to remain tight and not
start to rattle itself apart in two years.


All the cabinetry is marked with the number identifier of the coach that it is destined for.


The light in the far distance is the other end of the building and it is equally wide.


In another building Tiffin assembles the roof panels.
A computerized router cuts the channels for the rooftop
electrical conduits, the Air conditioner condensate drains,
the A/C supply and return ducting etc.


A thick fiberglass  roof panel is glued on top, and the roof top
appliances (Satellite dome, A/C's etc) are installed.

Again - the roof has the number identifying which coach it will be mated with.


Elsewhere in the same building is the electrical shop.
Here Tiffin creates the 4 miles of wiring harnesses that will go into each coach.

Below each wire runs thru a computerized printer which prints the cable identifier number
on it (tells what that cable is for) plus the coach id number (again - what coach it goes to)
It cuts them to length.


Here you can see the printing on the cable.


Those cables are then taken by the guy making the harness and assembled
in the harness station.


Each wire enters the harness at a numbered spot and leaves at a numbered spot.
Below is one harness just beginning.


Below is another harness a bit further along.


Below is a completed harness being taped and wrapped with flexible conduit.

There are dozens of harness assembled for each coach.  
Each is assembled for separate systems such
as home theatre, ceiling lighting, safety cameras, etc etc.


Tiffin also builds its fiberglass end caps.
If you had an accident and needed an old cap - they have the molds and can make one.

The fiberglass end caps are made at their plant about 20 miles away in Mississippi.


Tiffin also makes their slide rooms.  (are you starting to see a trend here?)
Our last RV had all these parts made by outside vendors.   Each time there
was a warranty problem the finger pointing began.


4 Allison Automatic Transmissions...   
no Tiffin does not make those.
Thats a lot of money sitting right there in those 4 crates.


A stack of Michelin Tires.
Tiffin only installs Michelin on their Motorhomes.


So...  Now its time to put all this together into a Motorhome!

Inside the plant the Chassis will be driven from station to station.
At each, certain work will be performed and then it will be driven to the next down the line.

There are 19 stations on the assembly line.

There are two side by side assembly lines.  One is for the gasoline powered
coaches and the other is for the diesel pushers like ours.

Remember the chassis from the other day?
This one is transiting thru the welding shop and has the start of the
underside framing in place.   This will form the start of the cargo area.


Here is a chassis with all the underside framing in place.
It is finished with the welding shop and now is in line to enter the assembly line
and become a Motorhome




Now it has the underfloor plumbing and electrical harnesses in place.


The Fresh water and waste water tanks are installed.


Now the tile flooring is installed.


Next some of the internal cabinetry is installed.


Next walls and then the roof is lowered into place.


Interior work is completed, the slides are installed.


Soon it is a finished Motorhome ready for paint.


The paint shop is several miles away.  (another tour for another day)
After the paint shop - the coaches come back to the factory for some final touches
and the all important checkup and final cleaning.

One other point I learned is that Tiffin practices in line inspection and correction.
What this means is that quality exceptions are fixed immediately after they occur.  
As a result the people most familiar with a product are those who fix it.  
By the time the product gets to the end of the assembly line it
is generally good to go.



Here, at the last stop, they install the diamond coating.  
Its a thick, clear, vinyl like covering that protects the front paint 
from road hazards, stones etc.

The folks who put it on need extreme patience for when it is done there can be no bubbles.



We were encouraged to stick around, tour as much of the factory as we like on our own, and
ask any of the workers any questions that we wished.

It was quite an experience.

Outside, lining the "yellow brick road", are completed Coaches waiting for
delivery to their new owners.


This is the welcome center where you start the tour.


This is the Allegro that started it all.
This is a 1976 model, the first was built in 1972.


Note the 70's color schemes.


We've come a long way baby!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Red Bay, Alabama

Well we are back on the road again...
The Doodles & I that is.

Kate is staying home this trip and will be visiting with family.

Looking for a quick mid summer getaway, I've taken an 800 mile trip
to the Tiffin Motor Coach Factory in Red Bay, Alabama.

I've come here to have some maintenance performed as well as 
make some slight modifications to the coach.  

The nice thing about Tiffin is that not only do they build them, 
but you can bring your coach back to the factory for service by
the people who know the thing inside and out.

It has been a hot and stormy summer so it was nice to get away.

I took this picture from the back deck a few days before we departed.


We departed on Friday morning Aug 7th.
8hrs later we were pulling into Winfield Army Corp Campground
on Lake Strom Thurmund, just NW of Augusta, Ga.

The campground is beautiful.   Almost every site is lakefront.
I was able to get satellite by positioning the Coach carefully.  The
dome antenna picked up 3 satellites right thru the gap in the trees.

The campground has 50 amp hookups which right now is a must due to the heat.

Our site #76 was delightful.  
I did have to unhook the toad however as you have to make a 3 point turn at 
the end of the road to come back, and you cannot back up with a toad
hooked up to the coach.


This was the evening view right outside the door.


A view of the pull thru space from the rear.



On Saturday we continued west another 400 miles and by 3:30 (Central Time)
we rolled in the Factory RV Park.   Camp Red Bay (CRB) it is affectionately known.

The service facility and RV Park is located on the site of the Old Red Bay Airport.
We are actually staying on the old Runway.  (hows that for recycling?)
There are about 90 Full Hookup sites.

Looking down my row back towards the office (red roof)
We are the first RV on the right.
There are 4 rows of sites.


The service center works on a first come first serve basis so on Monday
I will be visited by the scheduler who will go over my work order and get us into
the que.   I do have work being done off-site by local vendors too - so while I wait my
turn in the service center my time will not we wasted.

Since it's sunday - I decided to drive around and find all the places that I will be bringing
the motorhome to during the week.   I also wanted to see where the actual
Tiffin Manufacturing Area was as I plan on taking the factory tour while I am here and
get to see these big beasts getting built.

This is the gate to the main plant.  I will come here next week to take the tour.


The plant is enormous and covers quite a lot of acreage.
In one area, they store the chassis upon which the Motorhome is built.

Tiffin builds their own chassis for some models, and others are sourced to two other
manufacturers - Spartan, and Freightliner.

Freightliner is one of the big 3 heavy truck manufacturers (Tractor Trailers etc) in the US.
My coach is built on a Freightliner chassis.

The Chassis are delivered here with engine attached and ready to drive.
Just add a seat and you are ready to roll.

Here is a Freightliner Chassis waiting for the first stop in the welding shop.
These Chassis get driven around from point to point as the coach takes form
during the manufacturing process.


Here is a chassis as it moves from the first stop in the welding shop.

Notice the metal framing between the front and rear wheels. 
That is the start of the flooring that will become the cargo area.


This area below is known as the "Field of Dreams"
It is where the chassis are delivered and are awaiting their turn to
grown into a Motor-coach.

There must be 70 chassis here.


Below are two coaches that appear complete and ready for the paint shop.
Tiffin paints and clear coats all of their coaches with BASF paints and does not use 
decals for the stripes like a lot of manufacturers.  



Tomorrow morning I have an 8am appointment at the local Freightliner Shop
for a chassis service.  Lube, grease, differentials, safety inspection, etc.

Thursday and Friday I have appointments at two other local vendors.
Hopefully in between I'll get into the Tiffin Service Facility.

The convenient thing about all of this is that while they are working,
I still have my office with me so I can work in peace and quiet too.

In the next couple of days I'll take the factory tour and no doubt have something
to blog about when I do that as well.

Until then - the Doodles and I will hold down the fort.