Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Up,Up and Away

Left Sarasota and headed north on April Fools Day towards Tampa where we camped in the parking lot of the huge "Lazy Days RV" They have quite an operation with RVs for sale, an RV camp, RV sales, rows of RV repair bays(at least 100), business offices, huge waiting rooms with TVs, Internet and Starbucks coffee and a cafeteria providing free lunch and breakfast. The grounds are lined with huge trees, grass and paved paths. The roses and white blooming hedges emitted a romantic perfume. We had some repairs completed on the slides and jacks. In the waiting room, were many dogs waiting with their owners and often vocalising in defence of their territory. There were even a couple of cats, one on a leash who walked about among the dogs as if he owned the place; perhaps he knew the superstition that was in his favour of the bad luck assiociated with a black cat crossing ones path! We stayed in the repair bay for two nights and our last evening was in the camp where we played horseshoes and enjoyed a swim after dark.
We were advised at Lazy Days that we could get in to a repair bay the next morning if we high-tailed it up to Red Bay Alabama. Chris drove fourteen hours straight and we arrived safely at ten p.m. On our drive we saw a few interesting things, some prisoners doing roadwork(quite common in the south);a farm truck hauling a load of shiny green watermelons; incredible patches of wildflowers: vivid-purple, fire-red, brilliant-orange, rich-white, bold-fuchsia and quiet pink; a wild turkey foraging; a peacock strutting; possum & armadillo roadkill. We were shocked to hear what we thought was a gunshot but turned out to be the violent explosion of a transport truck's tire directly in front of us! Luckily we were far enough back to avoid the shower of shredded tire debris that scattered into the air.
Things really got tense when our CB weather warning predicted heavy rain, wind and possible quarter-sized hail in our immediate vicinity. Chris turned us around at the first opportunity and we were able to wait it out off road. Rain and wind were crazy but luckily we didn't have hail. We drove through two smaller rainstorms and another big one with small hail. Our crazy day of driving was rewarded by our acceptance into a repair bay the next day where the roof rails were replaced(properly this time...lousy job done in California for those of you who have been following our entire trip).

The Tiffin Enterprise in Red Bay Alabama is amazing. The maintenance shops and parking rows for waiting customers is built on former airport land. The three rows of Tiffin Motorhomes span the sides of the old
runway and people refer to the ghost sounds of the old airport at seven am when the coaches turn on their engines, pull in their slides and raise their jacks to drive to one of the forty nine repair bays!
Although the Tiffin waiting game, can be stressful, it is interesting comparing features, upgrades and problems that other owners have experienced. Many people arrive with an appointment but mechanics check all problem issues and often find unexpected issuess. Many Phaeton owners were waiting for "a wet bay" (leak & rot problem) and many folks were on site for up to a month. One thing we found out was that our surge protector was outdated and they installed the proper model. Our next door neighbours had new carpeting on their stairs and a carpet inset on the dashboard to cope with dirt and slipping issues. There are a variety of entrepreneurial guys who come around to "the runway" and do custom jobs and we hired Trevor to add the carpets! Some do detailing, others add awnings, a few do custom paint and there are a variety of lighting and cabinet upgrades performed on site.

The town of Red Bay depends on Tiffin Company and customers. We had a couple of meals there, once at a 50's style drive-in and at "Swamp Johns", we had a southern catfish dinner. All Tiffin owners do the Factory Tour; some even watch their own rigs being produced! It was incredible walking through the various warehouses that build the cabinetry and counter tops and one type of chassis is constructed there but most are made at Freightliner. A huge warehouse performs the welding, another applies the paint and masks for details(other companies use decals) There are folks that work on insulation and windows while others attach exterior walls and doors to the floor, do plumbing or most amazingly; work on the electrical panels, so totally mind-blowing!!! It is a family company and as such quality control is high. As many problems as we've experienced, the customer service has always been top notch!

Surprisingly, there are number of tourist sights close to Red Bay including a Frank Lloyd Wright home and Home/Museum of Helen Keller that we will have to tour next time. One fascinating visit, was our trip to the "Coon Dog Cemetery" where only officially recognized coon dogs may be buried. The dogs have been interred there since the the 1930's and graves are marked with the pooch's name carved into wood, stone or metal. Most graves are decorated with silk flowers and there are two official monuments protected (from what?) with copious amounts of barbed and razor wire. The cemetary was well worth a visit.
Easter at Tiffin was much like any other day until Chris cut his finger while cleaning the tire rims. We spent a couple of hours at the local Red Bay Hospital where he got a couple of stitches. A few of the campers had an impromptu "Easter"sing-along with guitars, harmonica and voices of whomever was brave enough to sing.

Dixie loved her daily morning and evening walks around the grassy fields behind Tiffin where the scent of  fresh apple blossoms filled the air. We saw lots of birds in "spring-mode" along the paths and on fence posts.

A place not to be missed, came recommended by a few different campers that we met. "Rattlesnake Saloon" is a fare country drive away from Red Bay. Once at the ranch, guests either hike the pathway or jump on the 'Taxi' down a bumpy dirt road to the bar. A cement floor lies beneath a cave interior and the sound of country music reverberates back & forth from the stone walls. The setting is unique to say the least and the spot is popular with the locals who come to sing karaoke and dance. Cowboy boots are the footwear of choice. We had a fun dinner and pitcher of beer alongside the friendly "suthern folk".

After nine nights at Tiffin we were repaired and ready to get away on the road again. We had the roof rails replaced, scratches painted out, stronger jack brackets installed and a new surge protector added. Our bill for the week was only $70.00, a $10.00 per night camping fee; everything else was covered under warranty! We are heading north towards Tennessee and every day we travel now,will take us up closer to Canada.


  1. Plan to be at Red Bay next February to get some things taken care of before we set out on a full-timing lifestyle. We're no longer under warranty, and except for a few known Phaeton issues that we likely will get fixed for free, our bill when we're done will be considerably heftier.

  2. We did spend some time at Lazy Days as well this past winter but it was their western division in Tuscon, Arizona. Needed a new toilet. That Tiffen facility in Red Bay sounds like quite a place. Always nice to be on the final leg of a homeward bound trip.......