Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Making of a Motorhome

Red Bay, Alabama is not a travel destination for many people, unless you are interested in Tiffin Motorhomes (or unless you want to see Elvis’s birthplace in nearby Tupelo, Mississippi!).  We made the journey because that is where our moho (a Tiffin Phaeton) was manufactured.  When we discovered that you could tour the plant, we had to go to witness first-hand just how you put a house on wheels. 

The company was started by Bob Tiffin in his hometown of Red Bay and seems to be what keeps this town alive.  Bob Tiffin started making motorhomes in 1972 and called his first model the “Allegro” a name given by his wife, Judy.  Bob wanted a name that started with the letter “A” so it would be listed first in any RV directory.  Judy thought of the musical term “allegro” which means brisk, sprightly, and cheerful.  The family business has survived for 40 years and proudly boasts of their reputation for making quality motorhomes and standing behind their product.  And we can attest to that.  They produce 5 of the top selling motorhomes in the country, including the Phaeton - the number one selling diesel motorhome. 

A very unassuming entrance to the factory.
The plant and factory tour are fascinating and not just for the RV enthusiast.  Building a motorhome starts with the chassis.  This is the spine of a motorhome that allows you to drive your house.  The chassis begins with interwoven pieces of steel that are affixed with the engine, steering column, wheels, and other mechanical guts that we don’t know what they are. 

This is what a moho chassis looks like.  
A tubular steel frame is mounted on top of the chassis and now you are ready to start assembling the house.  Throw in a moisture barrier, insulation, strand board, and flooring of your choice (ours is porcelain tile) and you have the floor that is ready to support the rest of the house.   

Tiffin makes their own chassis
called the "Powerglide" - specifically
designed for there specifications.

Assembling a chassis.
Tires - very important.
Hey Mister don't leave, your motorhome is not finished yet!
Here the floor is being added to the chassis.  
The porcelain tile floor is laid on top and the house part of the motorhome starts to take shape.
Now is when the motorhome’s interior comes to life and this is where constructing a motorhome differs from that of a conventional house.  With a motorhome the walls and roof are added later rather than in the beginning as if you were constructing a house.  The interior is built in modules.  Some are attached to the floor, like the kitchen cabinets and bathroom, and others are attached to the slide-out mechanisms (which are those things that extend outward when you are parked in order to add more space inside).
Interior components are added and secured to the floor.
Bedroom slide out moving into place

The inside of the bedroom slide out.



















The big open holes are for slide outs - the one on the left is for the living/kitchen area
(note the refrigerator covered with blue tape and cardboard).
These men are loading a couch into the living/kitchen slide.  Behind the man in
green is the kitchen area.
One of the most impressive aspects of Tiffin Motorhomes is the quality of construction, especially that found in their solid wood cabinets – a strong selling point for us.  Tiffin prides themselves on their cabinet shop.  Their cabinets start with raw wood.  Now you readers who do not have motorhomes may find that statement a little weird but many RV manufacturers use imitation wood for a variety of reasons including cost and weight, but not Tiffin.  Wood pieces are sorted for quality and any knots or splits get discarded.  Cabinets are constructed by hand right down to the sanding, putty, and nailing.

Cabinet making.
This worker is hand sanding decorative
pieces that go on the ceiling.

Nice handy work.

             
Finished kitchen cabinets.  Tiffin even makes their own countertop.
After cabinet pieces are assembled, they are moved into the general factory where they find their rightful place.  Some are attached to the floor directly (kitchen cabinets shower, etc.) and others are attached to the slide outs (bed, overhead cabinets, couch, etc.). 

Now it is time to start adding some walls to this house.  The outside is made up of multiple pieces…a roof, two walls, the back, and front.  Slide out mechanisms are made separately and fit into cut outs in the walls.  The interior is finished with drawers, decorative lighting, televisions, etc.

The rear of the mothorhome.
The front end with a windshield waiting to be attached to the body. 
The roof being assembled.
The all important holding tanks
assembled in the basement
 In the “basement” or belly of the motorhome are some essential components, such as wiring and holding tanks (freshwater, grey water, and black water).  With those components in place the rest of the basement is storage.  The assembly lines are always moving and the goal each day the week we were there 11 motorhomes each day rolled off the line.  There is a special building for painting the moho and once all of the  beautiful colors with their swirls are dried, the coach is ready for final  inspection.  Teams of employee’s fine detail everything and give the go ahead for delivery.  When you order your coach (like we did), you can follow the entire process by sitting along the assembly lines and watching your moho come together.  It takes about 2 weeks from start to finish.  We spoke to several people who were from around the country who were sitting and following their coach in production.  Tiffin says they have nothing to hide in the construction and welcome people to witness the assembly of their coach or any other one being constructed.  We were even free to walk around the factory after the tour was over.
After one week, the motorhome is ready to go to the
paint shop. 

These people are watching their motorhome
being built...they were having lunch while
 the work crew was on their lunch break.

The wiring harnesses are pre-assembled and then added during construction.
We learned so much and were so engaged in the entire process.  We are so glad that we went to Red Bay and took the time to watch a house appear on wheels ready to roll down the road to new adventures like the adventure we are on every day!  Thank you Tiffin.
Tiffin encourages visitors to walk around the factory and ask questions.  The motorhomes
on the left are going through the "punch list" and are open to for people to tour and ask questions.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A QUICK VISIT TO THE “SWEETEST PLACE ON EARTH”

Betsy and I decided to visit a real chocolate city on our RV adventure.  And no, I’m not referring to New Orleans and that infamously stupid phrase uttered by the then mayor of New Orleans (Ray Nagin). I am talking about the town defined by Mr. Chocolate himself, Milton Hershey.  Hershey, Pennsylvania is not just a  chocolate city but one that would receive the distinguished honor of being coined “The Sweetest Place on Earth.”  Before going to Hershey, Betsy and I did not know if the Hershey Chocolate Company was named after the town or the town was named after the company.  But when you go to this little country town flanked by Amish farms and pretzel factories you will know that the town most certainly got its name from the man behind the company. 

The town of Hershey is very Disney-like with lots of activities for families.  There are resorts, an amusement park, museums, gardens, stadium, amphitheaters, water parks, and everything else the American family wants for summer vacation.  Throw in some chocolate and golf and the moms and dads are happy too.  We came in the off season so the amusement park was closed but we still got the feel for the area.  “Chocolate World” seemed like a likely place to start.  There we experienced a 3-D movie that was supposed to explain the history of the Hershey Company but rather seemed to entertain our child-like senses with dancing Kisses, Tootsie Rolls, York Peppermint Patties, and gyrating Twizzlers... all accompanied by an occasional burst of chocolate smell and splattering of melted chocolate in your 3-D glasses.  Upon exiting the theater, we were treated to free samples and funneled into the gift shop.  There you will find Hershey everything…pillows, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, lunch boxes, purses…and of course candy.  The subliminal (and not so subliminal) messages that bombarded us in the movie worked.  We could not pass up the 5-lb. Hershey bar which we thought would make a nice gift for our friends at Sherman RV.  It was the world’s largest Hershey Bar! 
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!
We were going to buy the red Twizzlers pillow but decided it wouldn't
compliment the motorhome decor.
Very dangerous for customers when they provide shopping baskets and bags.
Do not leave Chocolate World without taking a ride on the “Great American Chocolate Tour.”  The ride is a mix of Disney “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” meets factory tour with dancing milk cows.  The ride takes you through the evolution of chocolate.  It begins in a tropical rainforest where cocoa beans grow and are harvested and takes you through a make believe factory where you witness their transformation to a bar of chocolate wrapped in brown paper into the desirable chocolate bar.   Again, you are treated to a free sample when you exit!
The dancing cows sang a catchy jingle explaining the importance
of quality milk in making chocolate.
After the entertaining cows, you are funneled through a make believe
factory showing how Hershey candies are made.
Downtown Hershey has Kisses on the light posts, streets called Chocolate Avenue, and buildings named Hershey this and Hershey that.  We made our way to The Hershey Story, a museum which tells the serious history of the company through a wonderful mix of modern exhibits and historical artifacts.  Like many successful business men, Hershey experienced failure and decades of business failure led to bankruptcy.  Finally success came in the caramel candy business.  Hershey was determined that there was a demand for fine chocolate like those he had experienced in Europe and added a chocolate component to his Lancaster Caramel Company.  He sold the caramel business, but kept the chocolate subsidiary and invested 1 million dollars and went all out with his new chocolate venture.

The "Hershey Story" is a museum telling the history of Milton
Hershey's business ventures.
So why did he choose a small town in rural Pennsylvania called Derry Church to start his business?  Simple:  It had four ingredients Hershey felt were keys to success – water, railroad access, milk and water.  Water from the creek was necessary in the factory operation, railroad access meant goods would be transported to and from, milk was needed from the dairy cows for chocolate production, and there were plenty of potential factory workers with affordable housing nearby.


Milton Hershey’s legacy is long-lasting and engulfs more than chocolate.  He wanted to provide a clean, safe, happy work environment for his workers so he built parks, theaters, gardens, and schools.  His town was a stark contrast to the dirty, over-crowded towns established by business empires in other parts of the country.
The museum has a timeline that compares significant events in Hershey's history
with those of US and world events.
When Hershey's caramel business grew rapidly, he improvised
and used bathtubs to make the candy.
The museum has a great collection of memorabilia and history. 
Hershey was so successful he gave his fortune away...twice.  One of his lasting legacies is the school he created for orphaned boys in 1909 which was created to provide “children with the education and loving guidance needed to overcome economic and social hardship.”  This Milton Hershey School now has over 1,700 boys and girls ages pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Milton and his wife were unable to have children but extended their love to thousands of them through their creation and endowment for the school.  Milton’s second large gift came in the form of $50 million dollars which was given to start the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.  Not bad for a man with limited education and numerous business failures.


“One is only happy in proportion as he makes others feel happy” – Milton Hershey

Betsy is reading a book, The Emperors of Chocolate, Inside the Secret World of Hershey & Mars by Joel Glenn Brenner.  She said that if you want a great read about the history of these companies, pick it up.  We left Hershey, PA high on chocolate and oh so glad that we took the time to experience all that was offered.        

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tupelo, Mississippi

If you are ever in northern Mississippi, don’t overlook the little town of Tupelo.  We were first introduced to the town a year and a half ago when we picked up our motorhome from a dealer located just outside of town.  But, long before we picked up the motorhome we knew of Tupelo as the birthplace of Elvis Presley.  Needless to say, Betsy was all too happy to spend some time in the birthplace of the hip gyrating, rock and roll pioneer that she loved.  Elvis’s childhood home is a stark contrast to his mansion built on a hill in Memphis but entertaining all the same.

Henrietta coming to introduce herself to us and make sure we
paid the admission fee. The large house on the
left is the "dog trot" cabin with the school house
and chapel in the background.
I happened to stumble upon the Oren Dunn City Museum while reading Trip Advisor’s “Things to Do” list in Tupelo.  Knowing that a “city museum” would not get an enthusiastic reception from Betsy, I kept the museums identity hidden and told her that I wanted to go by a wine and liquor store on the way home so that’s why we were on a different road.  Under false pretenses, she drove to the concealed destination willingly.  When we arrived at the museum, we were greeted by a wonderfully, friendly tuxedo cat named Henrietta.  Museum items are housed inside a brick building and outside on the grounds.  It was the outside exhibits like the old diner, fire trucks, and wooden buildings that attracted our attention.  Factor in the price of $2 and I had Betsy in the door before I knew it.  The museum housed interesting and eclectic exhibits representing the history of Tupelo and the surrounding area. There were Indian artifacts, civil war memorabilia, a railroad diorama depicting the area from the 1940’s, and even a polio chamber – just to name a few. 


An old bookmobile.  Remember when those were around....before i-readers and the internet?
The highlight of the outside village was an 1879 “Dog Trot” cabin and a one-room chapel and school.  But don’t overlook the outhouse, grist mill, caboose, and sorghum mill.  The dog trot cabin is defined by two rooms divided by a breezeway and an upstairs loft that runs the entire length.  The breezeway and porch provided cool breezes and a relief in the summer heat.  The unique name was derived from the behavior that farm dogs exhibited by trotting through the breezeway to find a cool, shady spot and beat the “dog days” of summer.


The "dog trot" house.

Betsy learning about quilting.  Hope she
doesn't want a sewing machine for the motorhome.
The museum also housed a quilt exhibit that featured quilt stories and specimens made by local people.  A special feature that weekend was the talk and book signing by Lisa-Marie Sanders, the author of Quilting with Aliens who also had some of her quilts on display.  Now, Betsy and I are about as far removed from the world of quilting as possible but were intrigued with the display and conversation we had with Lisa-Marie.   After talking with her we learned (and as she describes in her book) that the stereotype of a “quilter” does not always hold true.  In fact, we did not even know how to define a quilt if an alien asked.  Now, we can confidently say that a quilt is defined as a coverlet or blanket made of two layers of fabric with a layer of cotton, wool, feathers, or down in between, all stitched firmly together, usually in a decorative crisscross design (or something like that).  We had a great conversation with Lisa-Marie and the museum curator Janice and left enlightened.
A chapel and schoolhouse.  

Inside the schoolhouse.  The high chair in the far right corner was where children
sat when being disciplined - they had to wear a tall, pointy hat.

This chapel had the luxury of a wood stove and piano.  Many did not have either.
Lastly, we found time to make the peaceful drive along part of the 444-mile long Natchez Trace Parkway (a scenic byway), a piece of American history dating back centuries.  The Trace is a travel corridor that was used so regularly by people on foot and horseback that its definition still remains to this day.  Mid-westerners floated their goods down river to Natchez or New Orleans to sell or trade.  After they sold their goods and boats for lumber, they started walking the long path back up north.  Today the road mirrors the original path and pays homage to the history that shaped our country from the Delta south to the Appalachian foothills. There are no commercial vehicles allowed, the speed limit is 50 mph, and there are no billboards – it is just a beautiful tree-lined road winding for miles through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.  What you will find along the Trace are scenic overlooks, historic gravesites, burial mounds, battlefields, and missions.  The natural landscape includes falls, creeks, bluffs, sloughs, and springs.   The Trace provided us with a lovely fall drive that occupied our time and relaxed us.  
This original part of the Trace is known
as the "sunken trace."  So many people used
the path that it became worn down. 

The Natchez Trace Parkway follows the
original route but looks much different.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Where Are We?

Betsy and I have made our way down south – Tupelo, Mississippi to be precise. Lots of driving and crisscrossing states has even forced us to ask “where are we?” Our departure from the Blue Ridge/Appalachian Mountains was sooner that we had wanted but our motorhome was in need of some repairs and routine maintenance (a.k.a. tender loving care). Months ago we had an air conditioner/heater that had broken. Normally, not a problem in the cool summers of Maine except for when the weather turned unusually warm and sent the mercury up to 100 degrees. On the flip side, we were hit with frigid weather in Virginia that forced us to buy a space heater to keep the coach at tolerable temperatures. (Thanks to some fellow RV’ers in Maine who suggested we buy one.) We now call the heater our fireplace and enjoy the warmth it provides for our toes. (My Dad asked if we can roast marshmallows in front of it. What a great idea!) Since there were no authorized Tiffin Motorhome service centers in Maine, we decided to wait and have repairs done at a place we trusted - Sherman RV.
A few days at Sherman RV and we will be good as new!  Thanks Benny and Karen
for all your help and professionalism.
Along the way, we have had other things break, misalign, surge, beep, and decided it was definitely time to head in for repairs. These ailments that our coach is suffering are typical for these sophisticated, computerized motorhomes and nothing out of the ordinary. Since it has been a 1 ½ years since we bought it, time had caught up with us. Sherman RV is where we bought the coach and have built a relationship with them over the last 18 months of owning the coach. Every time we meet people interested in buying a Tiffin Motorhome, we eagerly recommend Sherman RV. Karen Cornelius and Benny Johnston have been our life-lines.

Betsy's birthday present - a dish washer.  Somehow I knew she would
wiggle her way out of doing dishes.
We have lots of posting that is needed to catch you up on our travels and hope to fire some off soon. Meanwhile, we are still doing and seeing all we can. Sometimes it is nice to take a break and spend a whole day hanging out at the campsite. While in Virginia, we were without cell service, internet, and television. We were perfectly content to hike, read, and sit by the campfire. We really enjoyed the isolation in a gorgeous National Forest, not to mention that the site costs only $12 per night.

Not a bad site for $12 bucks. And we sat between two beautiful lakes.
When we leave Tupelo, we are headed to the panhandle of Florida for a few weeks. We will travel down the gulf coast thru Florida’s “Nature Coast” to see manatees and blue water springs. We anticipate spending the winter in southern Florida and then head out west next spring.

Stay tuned we want to catch you up on our travels and hope our paths will cross someday.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The White Mountains of New Hampshire

The White Mountains region is a great year-round playground for outdoor enthusiasts providing an expansive array of activities. Bring your fishing pole in spring, your hiking shoes in summer, camera in fall, and skis in winter.  There is so much to do and you will not get bored!  Oh, and in case you are not an outdoor enthusiast, bring your credit cards because there is plenty of shopping.


Our time in the White Mountains was split between hiking and sightseeing. The U.S. Forest Service owns a big chunk of the area, in fact 800,000 acres. Add to that the wonderful state parks and you have accumulated a large amount of protected land. Highlights of our trip included hiking to waterfalls, admiring the spectrum of fall colors from mountain peaks, and satisfying my sweet tooth.

Our adventure started off with a trip to the Flume Gorge and tram ride to the top of Cannon Mountain, both located at Franconia Notch State Park. The “Flume” is a natural gorge of cascading water that forced its way through the hard granite rock by scouring out the softer basalt layers interwoven in the granite. This Flume is well visited and commercial so expect to see many tourists on your venture. The visitor center at the entrance has a great movie that explains the areas natural and cultural history.

 















After visiting the flume, we hopped over to Cannon Mountain (still in the state park). We elected to ride the aerial tramway up to the peak of this 4,200-foot mountain rather than taking the hiking trail. (Baxter State Park really did us in!) The views from the top of the mountain are spectacular and the tram ride was well worth the money (and your legs will thank you). There is an observation tower on top of the mountain which is just a short walk from the tram station and if you are there on a clear day you can see Cadillac Mountain in Maine and the Green Mountains of Vermont. At the base of the mountain lies the New England Ski Museum. We were entertained by a movie on the history of skiing and took a peek at Bodie Miller’s Olympic medals. Miller is from the area and Cannon Mountain is his “home” mountain where he learned to ski. By all accounts, my favorite exhibit was the evolution of women’s ski clothing. If that doesn’t dazzle you maybe the evolution of skis and bindings will.

The ride to the top of Cannon Mountain is well worth it.  Great views and
there is a bar at the top!
I'm smiling because (for a change) I did not have to walk up the mountain.
Nice digs ladies!  The picture on the upper right shows three ladies skiing - Ms. New Hampshire,
Ms. Vermont, and Ms. Florida.  Ms. Florida is in the middle wearing a bikini.  Bet she caused some
people fall off the chair lift.
Fascinating to see how skis have changed over the years.  The man on the left is "ski patrol" about
30 years ago.  He is very dapper but doesn't look like he could save your life.
After a tough day of hiking up Mt. Willard, we decided to rest our legs and drive the famed Kancamagus Highway. The Kancamagus HWY carries the designation of one of “Americas Scenic Byways” – a term given to a collection of 150 distinct and diverse roads that celebrate our country’s natural beauty, scenic vistas, and cultural heritage which lure millions of travelers to them every year. Historic Route 66, Seward Highway, The Great River Road, A1A, and Big Sur are just a few of these amazing byways that crisscross America. The 34 ½-mile Kancamagus HWY stretches across the White Mountains and bears the honor of being the nation’s first designated Scenic Byway in 1959. The road climbs to nearly 3,000 feet and offers exceptional mountain vistas, especially with the onset of fall. Maples, ash, and birch trees dazzle the eyes with their spectrum of reds, yellows, and orange. The Kancamagus HWY is not very long, but can be an all-day adventure if you stop to admire the sites along the way. There are trails, historic sites, and spectacular viewpoints. We took a short jaunt up to the Sabbaday Falls for a look at one of the many waterfalls in the region (there are approximately 100). The short hike provides a more peaceful experience than the crowded flume gorge.

There are many pull-offs along the highway.  Some have scenic views and others
historical points of interest.
Sabbaday Falls is a great stop along the highway.  The falls were named for
the "Sabbath Day" and over time became shortened to Sabbaday.  Workers building a road decided to
halt construction for the season due to winter rapidly approaching.  Before leaving on
Sunday morning, they hid their tools and planned on returning to the area they named "Sabbaday."
The name stuck but the road was never finished.
Once the leaves reach their full peak, thousands of people rush to the area to catch a glimpse.
Our trip to the area would not be complete without going to the nearby town of Littleton. We went to the town on a rainy day to find out just how good the food was at the much talked about Littleton Diner which has been around since 1930. The Littleton Diner has been made famous over the years because it is the spot that all politicians campaigning in New Hampshire stop in to shake hands and eat real American food. The diner provides the perfect photo opportunity for the campaigning scoundrel who needs to appeal to the blue-blooded, hardworking American voters. The diner is an old railroad car turned into restaurant. We decided to sit at the counter and read the local paper for an authentic feeling (and wait for a politician to come make empty promises). Betsy had the meatloaf special and I had the most delicious corned beef hash I have ever eaten. Despite being “stuffed” we had another food stop to make. We headed down the street to Chutter’s – a penny candy store that’s claim to fame is the longest candy counter. One hundred and twelve feet of sugar and sweet. I stocked up on candy cigarettes, Smarties®, Tootsie Rolls®, and Jordan almonds. Walking down the street with my hand in the white candy bag made me feel like a kid again. Unfortunately, the overdose of sugar that I felt soon after eating too much candy made me feel like an irresponsible adult. Oh well!
The yummy diner that just looks like politician heaven.
As verified by the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest candy counter at Chutter's.
Who knew candy necklaces were first introduced in 1951?  
We did not know so much candy existed!
View of the old mill in Littleton (taken from a covered bridge).
More pictures follow.......


This stream overflowed it's banks during Hurricane Irene and caused
road and trail closures.
A heart carved long ago stayed as a scar on the tree.
Peaceful walk up to Sabbaday Falls.
We decided to hike up Mt. Willard, elevation 2,815 feet.  Luckily we did not start off at 0 elevation.
The train station at Crawford's Notch.  Still used by the scenic railroad tours.


The Appalachian Trail Club's Highland Center which is a lodge, restaurant, and visitor
information center.
All this land and not a single moose.