Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Thursday, June 18, 2020

An Eventful Trip to Red Bay - Lunch with Bob Tiffin!

At Red Bay Downtown RV Park, Red Bay, Alabama...

Sometimes I forget that new readers may not have looked back through all the posts I've made about Red Bay, the tiny town in northwest Alabama that is the home of the Tiffin Motorhome factory, so I'll take a moment to explain that we have a long history of visiting Red Bay. A few years ago, Tiffin had to limit its factory service to newer motorhomes because of the constraints on their ability to expand and acquire technicians to fulfill the demand for service. Tiffin currently has 53 service bays, but these are still not sufficient to handle the ever-increasing number of their popular motor coaches.  When Phannie became too elderly to qualify for factory service, we simply began to turn to outside service providers in the local area who, in almost all cases, are former Tiffin employees and whose work is often superior to that of the factory. 

After an uneventful trip to Red Bay, it felt good to step back in time once again--the feeling we get when we arrive in this tiny rural burg. It is a place where there seems to be little concern with Covid-19. Yes, most of the businesses have installed little plastic screens and marked off some tables in restaurants, but we've rarely seen anyone wear a mask, and there doesn't seem to be much social distancing taking place. The pandemic apparently isn't terribly worrisome to the inhabitants because there appears to be little, if any, incidence of the disease here. No one to whom I've spoken knows anyone who's been sick. Yep, rural America has a lot going for it. If you don't watch TV news (which I generally don't anymore--and feel much better because of it), it's easy to forget the strife and turmoil that seems to be everywhere else in the outside world.

Our first order of business was to get parked at the downtown RV parking lot next door to Bruce Deaton's Custom Paint and Auto Body--probably the premier facility of its kind anywhere when it comes to quality work. Bruce's lot holds four motorhomes with full hookups, and we selected our spot and backed in alongside two other rigs awaiting service:

We couldn't help but be amused at Bruce's whimsical attachment of the rear cap of a Phaeton to the brick wall at the rear of his lot, giving the appearance that a motorhome had run almost fully into the building. It certainly marked Bruce's territory but, since it is a much newer model, it made our Phannie seem quite outdated. I hope her feelings weren't hurt.

Prior to our arrival, we had been instructed to have Phannie ready to go into the shop at 6:00 a.m.! Yes, you read that correctly. We were shocked to find that hour is indeed on the clock and, in my Zombie-like stupor, it was lucky that the shop was only a half-block drive from the parking lot! This also meant that we needed to vacate Phannie for the rest of the day. So, we hopped in Mae and drove over to the Ole Country Store in nearby Belmont to have breakfast, which is served in the back of a convenience store.  One of the large tables was occupied by a gathering of older men who obviously knew each other, judging from their friendly rapport and constant chiding of each other. We sat at a separate table and took it all in. The banter was humorous and clearly a daily staple of these guys. This was a place and a ritual untouched by the strife and concerns that seem to be everywhere else in the country. We lingered over our breakfast, not wanting to leave and go back to the real world.  The breakfast? Eggs, bacon and sausage, perfectly cooked, with biscuits the size of a cereal bowl, and all of it ridiculously cheap.

After breakfast, we drove over to Tupelo to pick up one of Sandy's prescriptions and do a little shopping--her idea of how best to kill time. We also had to stop in at a favorite bakery, Simply Sweet by Margurite. We picked up a couple of treats that we won't mention to our doctors, but the goodies there were, oh, so good. (Yes, it's on our list of favorite restaurants on this blog).

We slowly made our way back to Red Bay to see what was going on with Phannie and saw that she had been pulled into a bay and was already taped for painting the top of the rear cap. The engine access doors had also been removed for painting. Over the years, the tops of the front and rear caps, along with the tops of the engine access panels, had had some sun damage to the paint. (The cap is the front or rear of the motorhome--these are attached at the factory as a single unit and are, for that reason, known as "caps.") 

After leaving Bruce's shop when the job was done, we took a good look at his handiwork. In these photos, you can see that the discoloration on the top of the rear cap is gone and the rear engine access doors look like new. I didn't get a photo of the front cap, but it looks great, too:

I also asked them to repair my right front wheel well, from which a chunk of fiberglass had been gouged out by an unfortunate parking incident in Palm Springs back in the winter. No, I didn't feel a need to take a photo of the damage, as it was too minor to report to insurance, but my embarrassment may have been more the reason. Anyway, you can see from this photo that the repair is perfect, so no one will ever know that I did something stupid. Well, I guess you'll know, won't you, but I'm counting on you to keep it to yourselves.

The next item on the agenda was a visit to Bay Diesel, right there in Red Bay, my most trusted chassis service facility and probably the most experienced. I'm sure they lost count many years ago of the thousands of Tiffin motorhomes they've serviced. They are meticulous about checking everything mechanical, and they can tell immediately if something is not as it should be. Fortunately, Phannie's drive train and chassis components looked very good, with only a couple of minor parts changed out besides the engine and generator oil and lube service. Bay Diesel's shop isn't much to look at, but their work is beyond reproach, in my book:

If you've read this blog for a long time, you will have seen many entries about Phannie's meticulous servicing. At more than 100,000 miles, the old girl runs today better than ever, and her mechanical problems have been remarkably few. The key to her dependability, I'm convinced, is my obsession with proper maintenance done on schedule or perhaps even before it is due. I also carry some spare parts (filters, belts, etc.), just in case they may be needed sometime.

We had the good fortune to meet up with Don and Linda Cochrane, members of our RV club, who were also in Red Bay for some work. We've had a few dining-out experiences plus trips to some of the more quaint attractions in the area--the first of which was the Coon Dog Cemetery. Since we don't have any pets, and our interest in animals is not what you would call robust, this is probably not something we would have gone to see had it not been for the energy and exploratory bent of the Cochranes.  However, we did find it quite fascinating that there would be a cemetery anywhere devoted entirely to coon dogs:

Here's a photo of Linda, Don and Sandy near one of the more elaborate gravestones:

Here is the inscription on that gravestone. I didn't understand everything I was reading, but this dog's history appeared to be impressive:

I don't know if you can read the last lines of the inscription, but it says, "Dottie produced 25 titled pups which is more than any English female, past or present." Dottie's life was short--only nine years--but she left quite a legacy, I would say.

Here's another example of a unique gravestone we saw:

I'm not sure if "Grnitech" was the name of the hound, but I'm glad he or she had a longer life than Dottie.

I especially liked this gravestone, as it had photo of the hound.  Nice touch.

Here's an overall view of about half the cemetery:

Here's the gravestone of "Troop," the first dog to be buried in this cemetery in 1937:

The requirements for a coon dog to be buried in this cemetery are strict. He or she must have had at least three witnessed treeings, and there may be some other requirements. So these were not just run-of-the-mill hounds; they were stars in their own way and obviously loved by their owners during their lifetimes. It's apparently a big deal around here, and we were appropriately respectful.

After visiting the graveyard, Don and Linda took us to the Rattlesnake Inn for what could only be described as a unique dining experience. The restaurant is inside a cave in the middle of nowhere and can only be accessed by walking down a very steep hill or be transported down and up the hill in the back of a pickup. We chose the pickup, of course.

The restaurant was laid out with proper social distancing in the mouth of a very large cave where it was shady and cool, even though the temperature atop the precipice was in the 90s.

Sandy, Linda and Don had some delicious large burgers, and I had chicken wings. It was all very good. Here are some photos:

Inside the cave looking out:

Nice carvings of the restaurant's namesake rattlesnakes:

Naturally, there has to be some bathroom humor:

It was all great fun and a part of rural Alabama that we would otherwise have missed.  Thank you, Don and Linda!

You thought I'd never get to the lunch with Bob Tiffin, right?  Well, if I had mentioned it at the beginning of the post, then you probably wouldn't have read anything else up to this point, missing all the valuable? information up to now.

Before we get into that, I have to hand it to my friend Don, who has certain qualities that make it difficult for people to say 'no' to him. I won't go into those qualities here, but just trust me on this.  Like so many of our friends, he and his dear wife, Linda, have hearts of gold, and I'm pretty sure there's not anything they wouldn't do to help someone in need. I will never forget the time about a year ago when Sandy and I took a terrible fall in Fredericksburg, resulting in my right shoulder being wrecked and the loss of most of the use of my right arm. Don and Linda came over to help me prepare Phannie for travel,  and Don even offered to drive the bus to Houston for me where I could get medical help. Perhaps not too wisely, I turned down his offer, feeling that I had just enough use of my arm to make the trip. Other friends in our group were equally helpful in other ways during this mishap. The kindness of these folks will be something I will always remember and cherish.  

I'm not sure how he did it, but Don wrangled a lunch at Subway with Bob Tiffin and his grandson, Brock, who also works at the factory. Now, if you don't know who Bob Tiffin is, you don't know much about motorhomes, so I won't bother with an introduction here:

Ugh! My incompetence in taking a selfie photo certainly shows here. I wish I had gotten a photo of everyone at the table, but my mug in the photo provides proof of our dining with motorhome royalty. It was our first meeting with Bob, as he insists to be called, and I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to eat lunch with him. Thanks again, Don.

I might offer this advice to any reader who runs a business that is dependent upon the loyalty and goodwill of customers: The fact that Bob Tiffin would take time from his day to have lunch with strangers like us who don't own one of his top-end coaches is all that needs to be said about how to win customer loyalty. On the way out of the restaurant, he thanked us profusely for having lunch with him and for our business. He may be one of a dying breed, but he is the real deal when it comes to making a customer feel like a friend. This was a lunch I won't soon forget! 

Our next maintenance adventure involved a trip out in the country to Craig Ozbirn's shop, where he works on tile flooring in motorhomes. Craig works at Tiffin during the day doing the same thing, and he does motorhome floor repairs on the side after his workday ends. We had a few cracked tiles, and he started to work right away when we arrived:

The work is quite laborious, taking about an hour per tile, so this was not an inexpensive repair, but much needed.  When he finished, he sent us away with blue tape around the new tiles with an admonition to avoid stepping on them until the next day:

Judging from Sandy's assessment of the look of the new tiles against the older ones, it appears some grout cleaning is in my future. However, that sounds like a job for a grandson, doesn't it? Grandpa pays pretty well. 

We feel very lucky to have had the company of Don and Linda during most of our stay in Red Bay. We hope to see them again soon.

We will be beginning our trek westward from here--ending up in the Rocky Mountains for most of the summer. Be sure and ride along with us. We'll even have a little surprise for you on the way!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Saturday, June 6, 2020

On The Move Again

At Hitchin' Post RV Park, Hallsville, Texas...

So, whaddaya think about the new cover photo? The old one at Winchester Bay, Oregon was nice, but even I was getting tired of it.

Yes, I know it's been a while since we announced our arrival back in Texas, but when we get back with the kids, there is usually so much going on that it's not easy to find time to write a blog post. This visit was especially short because our nurse daughter wanted our exposure time to be short in the Houston area. We couldn't miss grandson Mason's birthday, however, so we just tried our best to keep our distance from people and keep our hands washed and sanitized. I don't think our hands have ever been cleaner--so much so that I've had to use some lotion to help combat the dryness.

Up to this point, we've felt quite good about staying mostly in small towns and away from crowds, and it seems to have paid off. Even though our time at Thousand Trails in Conroe was short, we were able to get together with nearby friends. We had an enjoyable lunch with Ed, Dave, Janice and Debi:

We have a number of friends whom we didn't get to see this time, but we're hoping for better times ahead for visits.

We were delighted to take a tour of Ed's and Debi's new property on Lake Conroe, of which they are rightly proud. They have some big plans for improvements and even a boat house:

We also had to catch up on some medical appointments, but the real quality time was spent like this, with Sutton (1), Pryce (6) and Mason (11).

I think I'm pretty lucky to have grandsons to hug on me like these do. There may be a small chance they think I'm a pushover, but I'm really very strict. Why, there was this one time when I actually thought about saying no to something they wanted!

After a tearful goodbye, we are now on our way to Red Bay, Alabama--Phannie's birthplace--to take care of a few cosmetic items and some routine maintenance stuff.  After that, we will be heading toward the Rocky Mountains to escape the Texas summer heat.

By the way, I need to bring you up to date on Sandy's foot problem. It seems that the orthotic we received, while somewhat helpful, is not very effective in easing her pain. Luckily, we have found a surgeon in Houston who has high confidence that her condition can be alleviated through surgery. That will take place in late September, after we return from this trip. Meanwhile, I'm going to try to keep her off her feet as much as possible.

Now that we're on the move again, I'll have more to share, so hang in there, y'all!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Goodbye Arizona, Hello Texas

At Quiet Texas RV Park, Hondo, Texas...

After a such long sleep in Prescott Valley, Phannie's Caterpillar diesel engine came quickly to life on the cool morning of our departure for Texas. I don't know why the eagerness of the engine surprises me slightly, for it has been quick to fire up every time for a thousand starts during our ten years and 100,000 miles together. I get the feeling Phannie tires of long downtimes; she seems more than ready to get on the road!

 After maybe five revolutions, the engine starts and settles immediately into 700 RPMs, barely audible 40 feet behind me. Due to the lack of engine noise, I sometimes have to check the engine gauges and the absence of warning lights to confirm a successful start. More than once, I have, absent-mindedly, attempted to start the already-running engine after leaving the coach briefly, forgetting that I left it on.

After hooking up Mae, we turned eastbound out of the beautiful but lifeless campground, still having met none of the hunkered-down employees or guests in person. A few days later, we received an email from some disembodied person, thanking us for our stay.  The absence of the human element in all this was still unnerving, to a degree. What an isolation it was--more than six weeks in this local area that had few cases of the virus and no deaths, yet one would get the impression that a nuclear blast had occurred and everything in the park was radioactive. Such is the power of today's media and the fear that it is capable of provoking. 

Nevertheless, we are definitely in the vulnerable age group, so we have decided to avoid larger cities for a while and stay away from crowds at all costs. It occurs to us that traveling by RV is probably as safe as you can get--self contained as we are. It wasn't long until we sadly left the Arizona mountains behind as we slowly descended into the flatlands of New Mexico and the rising outside temperature.

After a brief overnight in Clovis, New Mexico, our first stop in Texas was in tiny Lockney, to visit longtime friends Bubba and LouAnn, as well as two of their daughters, their son-in-law and three grandsons. It was a great visit, and we were treated royally. It was so good actually to interact with people again--especially these good friends. Naturally, I forgot to take photos but, in my defense, I was out of practice since we hadn't been around people for so long! We also didn't pay any attention to social distancing; cases of the virus are almost unknown in these remote areas of the Texas panhandle. 

Our next stop was in equally tiny Spur, Texas, where we had a nice visit with Sandy's brother, Rick, and his wife, C. J.  Since they had recently relocated here in west Texas from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we were eager to see their new manufactured home of the brand we may be considering when we exit fulltiming. You may be aware that Spur is a community known for welcoming tiny homes, offering inexpensive land and all the amenities of modern utilities. You couldn't really call Rick's and CJ's home a tiny home, though, as it occupies almost 900 square feet.  Here's a photo:

"Manufactured" housing almost always leaves the impression of a mobile home or park model on wheels, but that's not what this is. It has no wheels, but it arrives by truck from the factory and is set on a foundation that is installed beforehand to fit the structure. Rick and C. J. added a garage and a storage building. It has all the amenities found in a site-built home only, in our opinion, it is even better in many ways--for example, with foam insulation completely encapsulating it. The finish work is beautiful inside and outside, and we couldn't tell the difference from a site-built home.

There are several models of these offered and customizable at Leland's Cabins, built near the Dallas/Fort Worth area. We were so impressed that we have looked into the company ourselves. We are so done with the big houses we've owned in the past with all their upkeep and expense, and this might be an answer for us. The older we get and the more physical challenges we have, the more certain we are that we have more fulltiming days behind us than ahead of us.

Rick and C. J. gave us a nice tour of their town and the surrounding area, and I must mention their passion for photography, especially that of west Texas scenery. Having worked in the tech area and in education for many years, they are now free to pursue their talent for photography--even turning it into a side business, Texas Big Sky Photography. 

I thought I would include just a few of their west Texas photos here; there are many, many more available--scenes of Texas and other locations--on their website. It takes a degree of artistry to see through a camera lens certain things of beauty that may not be evident to many. These images were taken in Spur and nearby areas in west Texas and treat the viewer to the concept that those things that appear old and worn--even small, sleepy towns themselves--can be charming and beautiful, especially considering the stories of the past they could tell if they could only speak. In these cases, they are speaking through the artistry of the photographer:

I confess to being guilty myself of seeing things superficially and failing to behold the beauty and the essence thereof. I have taken hundreds of photos that appear in this blog, and I have to confess that the really good ones are mostly accidental. Not so with these.

Having had a great visit with Rick and C. J., we left for the San Antonio area, where we will find another small town to stay safely away from the masses of humanity and enjoy the feeling among the townfolk that life goes on as it always has. We are looking forward to remembering Covid-19 as a bitter episode in history after it is vanquished. We will also be more keenly disposed to appreciating life and looking for the hidden beauty in things that may not be evident at first glance.

Thank you, family and friends, for treating us so well.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Places We Would Revisit

At Orchard Valley RV Park, Prescott Valley, Arizona...

As we approach the end of our lockdown here in Arizona, I figure it's time to send out another update. Being able to include something interesting is a bit of a challenge, since nothing very compelling has been going on here. In 15 years of RVing, we have never before had the experience of having no significant interaction with RV neighbors in nearly two months. I guess the virus has everyone spooked, although I don't think anyone else has checked into the infection statistics in our location. In the zip codes covering the towns of Dewey and Prescott Valley that border our park, there have been fewer than 10 Covid cases and no deaths. That makes for astronomical odds against running into anyone who is contagious, but such facts don't seem to make much difference when there's nothing but 24-hour doom on the TV. It's pretty sad.

One thing to which we've become accustomed is cooking in Phannie. In all this time, we've had only three takeout meals. All the rest have been cooked in the coach by me, since Sandy is still waiting on the orthotics that, hopefully, will relieve some of her arthritic foot pain that she has when she's on her feet.  We have two meals a day--brunch and supper--and you certainly couldn't call any of them gourmet or even mildly complicated, for that matter. Although my grub is simple southern cooking, we have a surprising variety of dishes that I found I could cook, and, since I also wash the dishes to keep Sandy off her feet, I don't get any complaints from her. The only thing I don't cook is cornbread and baked goods like cookies, cakes and pies. I would never try to compete with her on such things, and I don't particularly enjoy baking stuff. Besides, we definitely should not be eating these sorts of things so, although I miss these goodies, it's much better that they aren't available. I will admit that I've talked Sandy into fixing cornbread a couple of times; I help as much as I can, so she can stay off her feet as much as possible. 

The Arizona governor still has the whole state closed down, which I think is ridiculous for rural areas like this. I don't know why it has to be a one-size-fits-all situation but, since we're not Arizonans, we really don't have any say in the matter--just an opinion.

Now, let's get to the real topic of this piece--places we've been that we would definitely revisit.  Most of these have been in the western U. S.--probably because of the scenery and open spaces. 

Number one would probably be the Grand Canyon. We never get tired of the wonders of this immense place:

Then, of course, we would have to go back to Glacier National Park, as we only saw half of it when we were there, due to forest fires at the time:

We need to go back to Yellowstone, all of which we still haven't seen because the park is so large:

Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. We're hoping to go back here and to Yellowstone this summer, if things work out:

Monument Valley. Who could get tired of these vistas?

Moab Area: Arches and Canyonlands N.P.s:

Big Bend Area:

Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg and the Smokies:

Arizona. We didn't get to see everything here we wanted to visit this winter because of the pandemic. We definitely must return and do this.

The Oregon Coast and the Pacific Northwest:

The Gulf Coast:




As I'm writing this, I am overwhelmed by all of this beloved country and Europe that we have seen--some of which occurred before digital photography was in use, and I haven't digitized those photos! I simply cannot include all of the places we would like to revisit. But I find that I'm getting ahead of myself, because there are still so many places we haven't seen yet!  

God willing, this plague will go away and we can get busy again!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood