Monday, June 29, 2015

Loving the The Shoals in Northern Alabama…

The Shoals, AL 001The 35 mile drive northeast to Heritage Acres RV Park in Tuscumbia, Alabama was pretty easy. We had hoped to stay at McFarland Park in Florence, Alabama about 6 miles further but it was booked because of the Helen Keller Festival happening this weekend. We were sad not to have a site overlooking the Tennessee River and had to settle for a gravel lot overlooking a grassy meadow. It is a nice park but we would have preferred staying at McFarland.


There are four little towns with lots of history here in Northern Alabama known collectively as the Quad Cities or The Shoals. They are Sheffield, Muscle Shoals, Tuscambia and Florence. As a result there was lots of interesting architecture and plenty of historic plaques of interest to see as we walked around each of the little towns.

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Sheffield is a small town and the oldest of the four here. In 1815, General Andrew Jackson and his troops crossed the Tennessee River at this place. By 1885 the area originally known as York Bluff was incorporated as Sheffield, Alabama. In the 1950’s though a lot of top songwriters and entertainers had records made at Jackson Highway Studio and in a nearby Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

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The town of Muscle Shoals got its name from the abundance of mussels in the area and the fact that the natives said it required a lot of muscle to paddle a canoe through the shoals in the are. However, founded in 1923, it is more widely known for it music recording studios. At the FAME Studios singers such as Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding recorded there and at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio singers such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and the Rolling Stones cut vinyl.

Tuscumbia is best known as the birth place of Helen Keller, born on June 27, 1880. While we were in town they were hosting the annual Helen Keller Festival. We attended the festival a bit on Saturday seeing lots of vendors selling crafts and food items. There was a decent music lineup and the setting at Spring Park where the man made waterfall and large pond with geese made it nice visit.


Florence, Alabama is the largest of the four towns and is the only one north of the Tennessee River. The downtown area of Florence has been revitalized and is a nice place for a historical stroll. Just north of town is the University of Northern Alabama. The oldest state chartered institution in Alabama is a small yet picturesque university and it even has its own zoo… well actually it has a lion enclosure for its lion mascots.


There is a lot of neat things to do and to see in and we were able to walk around each of these small towns. We are glad we spent some time here exploring The Shoalsl. We even got in a good game of disc golf at McFarland Park and visited the only brewery in Florence, Singing River Brewery. But, on Monday we headed on down the road a bit further northeast. We plan to stay at a friends farm for a few days before heading over to a state park to hide out for the fourth of July…

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Escaping From Red Bay Alabama…

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Our time finally came a close here at Red Bay, Alabama. They finished up with our cap rails and the next day they were painted causing us to spend one last night before heading on down the road. They did a great job on the cap rails and the paint job was exceptional as the colors match nearly perfectly. We will miss our new friends Greg and Chris but we traded contact information while vowing to stay in touch.

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The next morning we planned to leave Tiffin Motorhomes however our front A/C unit decided to quit working. We couldn't believe it as we were more than ready to hit the road.. I read about our Coleman A/C and pretty much surmised it was either the start capacitor of the blower motor and after watching a UTube video on each I figured I could handle this task. But before doing so I sauntered over to the Tiffin maintence bays and consulted with a technician who told me a few tricks to getting the motor out.

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Off to the Tiffin store I first bought a start capacitor and installed it after cutting power to the A/C unit. I tried to start the A/C but got nothing but the same hum. Back on top of the roof I took out the motor and went back into the Tiffin store. where I bought a blower motor and a squirrel cage. I needed the squirrel cage since mine was cracked which I noticed after I took out the motor. After about 1.5 hours of putting all back together we were in luck and the A/C worked perfectly.

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We had a good stay here in Red Bay and had some great work done by the technicians and I was able to repair lots of things on my own with the Tiffin parts store onsite . One funny story I forgot to share was when I was in a welding bay having a frame weld repaired. After repairing the weld the tech told me I was done and could pull my slides back in. As I  began the retraction of the slides I head the tech yell for me to stop!I thought he left something under the bay but then I saw another tech come out from under the slide and he looked up at me and said “You about squashed me skinny!” We all shared a good laugh over that.

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Once the air conditioner was working, we packed up our RV and drove over to the Tiffin wash bay since we really needed to  wash the RV and towed before departing. Another hour passed and with a clean RV and car we finally left Red Bay after 10 days .  We drove a whopping 35 miles northeast  where we pulled into Tuscumbia, Alabama. We plan to spend three nights  to explore this area ...


P.S. Of course it rained in the middle of the night after washing our vehicles but the good news is that the rain heralded a cold front which brought temperatures down from the 90's to the high 70's and that was a welcome relief!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Top Five Things We Did While Staying in Red Bay, AL…

Most, if not all, Tiffin owners will eventually make their way over to the birthplace of their motorhome, Red Bay, Alabama. Red Bay is a small rural town that would pretty much not exist if it weren’t for Bob Tiffin, CEO of Tiffin Motorhomes, who had a vision of converting an old Cotton Gin into a place to build custom motorhomes. What he began in 1974 was the direct result in over 15,000 folks becoming employed from northern Alabama and Mississippi. In addition there are many offshoot businesses that exist due to Bob Tiffin’s success and even today 3 of the top 5 motorhomes built in America are made in Red Bay, Alabama.

There are a few downsides to visiting Red Bay… One is that it is a dry county so if you imbibe at all you better either come prepared with your stash of frosty beverages or make the trek over to Florence, Alabama to the nearest Walmart  located in a wet county. Another is that this part of Alabama is also a bit of a cultural and foodie desert. There really isn’t much to do or many places to eat out at. s To give you an example when we asked about  good eats, our neighbors suggested going to the local Piggly Wiggly at 11 am for the best fried chicken in town!  We did go over and sure enough there was a huge line as we arrived just as many Tiffin employees were there for lunch. We ordered two chicken breasts and 2 sides for about 6 bucks and it was indeed pretty good fried chicken.

Since most people coming here will be here a week or so I thought I would put together the top five things we did while staying in Red Bay this year.

Number 5: Tiffin Factory Tour – Every weekday from 9:30 to 11:00 am there is a Tiffin Factory Tour at the Tiffin plant in downtown Red Bay. This is really a pretty interesting tour where you can see every step of the building process from from to wiring to walls and roof going up. We saw cabinets getting built, engines being mounted and slides being installed. At the end visitors are invited to tour any of the coaches out in the lot that are either done or nearly done. We saw firsthand how this invitation pays off as one of the Phaeton owners we met that was in the queu for service decided instead to trade his 2015 Phaeton in for a brand new 2016 Allegro bus!!!

Number 4: - Coondog Cemetery - Near to Red Bay is a very unique roadside attraction whcih began in the 1930’s when a fellow decided to bury his favorite coondog, Troop, on a hunting tract. Soon afterward others buried their coondogs there and over time a group was created to ensure that only coondogs were buried there. Afterall, according to their charter, what good coondog owner would want a poodle or a lapdog buried next to their prize hunting dog?



Number 3: Socializing in a sea of Tiffin motorhomes – It is always nice to compare notes with other Tiffin owners about what repairs they need or what modifications they have made to their rigs. Coffee sessions and happy hours are great because odds are you will find someone here with an RV exactly like yours.

Number 2: Tishamingo State Park – This is a fantastic getaway pretty close to Red Bay. We played disc golf on one of their three excellent courses and hiked some of the many trails in the park. Refer to my last blog for more about this scenic state park.


Number 1: Rattlesnake Saloon – This may be the most unique restaurant/saloon we have ever visited. The Rattlesnake Saloon is located down a steep hill and is mostly under an overhang within a cave. A small waterfall (only a trickle in the summer) falls from the overhang. They serve pretty good food and if you want alcohol (only beer here) they serve it only after 5:00.  All visitors are required to bring  ID as they card everyone. Many days after 6:00 there is live music and one evening we were there a band played several Jimmy Buffet songs almost making us forget we were in Red Bay.

Two places I failed to mention because we didn't repeat them this visit, are (1) the town of Tuscambia (home to the Helen Keller museum) and (2)Tupelo (birthplace of Elvis Presley). So although Red Bay is remote and dry, we found some fun and interesting ways to pass the time. 

Well we hope to escape Red Bay soon as our cap rails were installed and now all we need is some paint on them. I must add that as always the work we have had done on our motorhome while in Red Bay has been excellent and the pricing for the out of warranty work has been fair. With this maintenance visit soon behind us, we hope to see you on down the Road of Retirement…

Monday, June 22, 2015

Service, Disc Golf and Hiking at Tishamingo State Park…

Well, here at Red Bay, we got a bit lucky and got a call around 9:30 am to take our rig to an express bay. For those that don’t know how Tiffin service operates, once assigned to an express bay you hand the technicians a list if the items you want repaired within the allotted three hours of time. They will work off your list to get as many, or all, of the items done in this allotted time. Our number one item to be addressed in the express bay was our rear A/C was not draining properly so we haven’t been using it since way back when we were in Portland Oregon.


By the time our three hours had ended we had out A/C problem fixed, had two large fogged up windows replaced, a new door latch installed and had an electric issue with our tail lights addressed. I had two additional small windows I would replace myself while waiting over the weekend as well as address a few smaller items for which I had purchased parts from the Tiffin store.


Over the weekend we wanted to do a little exploring. One place we haven’t visited nearby was Tishamingo State Park just over the border into Mississippi off the Natchez Trace Parkway. The short 15 minute drive was amazing as we left an asphalt flatland to enter into a lush green rolling hilled oasis. This beauty of this CCC park,at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains was only four bucks entrance and what a wonderful respite this is so close to Red Bay.


There are three disc golf courses in this State Park so we chose one of them to play. The course we played was near the Swinging Bridge (more on that later) with most of it in the woods providing some needed shade as it was pretty warm and humid. There were a few holes in full sun and a few meandered up or down a fairly steep grade but what a fun and relatively easy to follow course it was.

When we finished our disc golf round we parked over by the 200 foot Swinging Bridge which was built in 1939. This wire suspension bridge crosses Bear Creek and is the trailhead for the 3.5-mile Bear Creek Outcropping Trail. I read this was one of the most spectacular trials in the park so off we went….

After crossing Bear Creek on the Swinging Bridge  we started climbing. Soon we were greeted by many rock outcroppings and by a series of cliffs and overhangs. The most well known one is called Jean's Overhang which is 60 feet and the largest overhang in the park. These rock formations date back to the Devonian and Mississippian epochs of the Paleozoic era and are not found anywhere else in Mississippi other than here at Tishamingo State Park After completing the hike we moved on to explore the 45-acre manmade Haynes Lake. We didn’t’ stay long as we were tired from our activities but we did pause long enough to enjoy the serenity of the lake. What a great day we had here…

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Living on Tiffin Time…


imageWe left Natchez Trace RV Park and continued on Natchez Trace Parkway for about 60 miles to our destination which is a well known RV park to Tiffin Motorhome owners.  We checked in and were assigned site number 37 at the Allegro Campground in Red Bay, Alabama. For non Tiffin owners the Allegro Campground is a campground adjacent to the service center for Tiffin Motorhomes. We now find ourselves literally in a sea of Tiffin motorhomes…

We pulled in on Tuesday, June 16th and we have no idea how long we will be here because once parked here you become on “Tiffin Time.” Again for those that don’t know, having service at Tiffin is done on a first come first serve basis… or so they say.

After checking in and filling out all of our information including our list of requested repairs we turned our packet back into Judy at reception. She explained she in turn  would communicate to scheduling our list of requests. The next morning Norris stopped by to discuss our list of requested repairs and to see first hand what exactly needed to be done.  His job is to give a vague idea of when you might possibly be seen. After our key items  were discussed we happened to mention some lesser priority items and that's when Norris said if we wanted all of the items completed we would have to wait 3 weeks or more for a full service bay or we could have our top items addressed in what is called an express bay which would be available in much less time. We, of course elected to queue on up for the express bay knowing full well we are now  on Tiffin Time meaning we will never know when exactly we will be seen.  We also know this means we must wait in the ever-ready position with our phones at our side so that we are available to pack up and go quickly whenever they call.


The next day a few guys came by to try to figure out which parts we might need explaining this would save time once we were called to our express bay. Since they will fix everything they can in three hours we reiterated the priorities on our list. We know we could (if we wanted to) get back into the queue for another three hours for repairs but who knows how long that takes? Anyway, our experience with the express bay  in the past has been that they really seem to get a lot more done than we expected, so for us, it is the way to go. We have talked to a few people who have been here several weeks.  Our goal is a week to less than ten days.

imageWith a weekend coming up we are free as the shop is closed on weekends so we plan to explore a few spots nearby we haven’t explored before. After our express bay service we will have to wait around a bit more as we our also having our radius rails replaced and Tiffin will do this on a Goodwill Warranty (in other words free). So we will for sure hang around to get that work done.

While hanging out in the parking lot called Allegro Campground at least we can try out some recipes we have been wanting to try. How long will we be here? Who knows, as we are living on Tiffin Time…

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bike Riding and Driving on the Natchez Trace Parkway…

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Before we left Jackson Mississippi we took a really good bike ride on the Ridgeland Mississippi multi use bike trail. We pulled off the Interstate 55 exit going east and stopped at the first information cabin. After taking the bikes off our bike rack we started on the trail just behind the parking lot and headed east.

Right before the north end at the Reservoir Overlook we took a spur over to the Ross Barnett reservoir and rode alongside the banks of this large body of water. There were a lot of people out enjoying the sunny day.  We saw groups of people in the park, some outside their million dollar homes perched on the waterway leading to the reservoir and others in sailboats dotting the horizon of the lake. Geese were all along the shoreline doing their best impersonation of lawn mowers as they were grazing and fertilizing the grass simultaneously.

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As we left the reservoir we wound our way back to the Natchez Trace and after another peaceful mile or two of riding up and down the undulating hills we had returned back to the CRV. The total ride was only a bit more than 8 miles but with the up and down of the hills it was a better workout than most of the recent 10 mile rides we have done.

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The next morning we left Jackson Mississippi and started on a northeastern trek up the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Natchez Trace Parkway has a maximum speed limit of only 50 mph. This is why traffic is often light on the parkway and another reason I happen to like this road. With the cruise control set a smidge above 50 we casually rode through one scenic meadow after another and some occasional areas where trees created tunnels over the parkway of green vegetation for us to ride through.

After about 155 miles on the parkway we exited to spend a night at the Natchez Trace RV Park. This is a nice mom and pop park just off the Natchez Trace a few miles outside of Tupelo, MS. Our Passport America rate was $18. per night which is a steal. Only a few sites appeared to be level and have 50 amp.  We had a very shady and scenic site overlooking a grassy area and pond. The manager was a bit crusty but we would stay at this park again in a heartbeat.


The next morning we got back onto the Natchez Trace and drove another 50 miles to our turnoff… Where are we heading? Well we are stopping at the birthplace of our RV in Red Bay, Alabama to have our roof rails replaced. Tiffin will replace these for free if we go to Red Bay so off we go…