From humble beginnings, a coach is born

Tiffin is one of the few and possibly only RV manufacturers to allow their customers to come and watch their RV being built. I talked with my Tiffin salesman while I was in Red Bay last week and he said some folks at Tiffin — the lawyers, I gather — have tried many times to stop the practice or limit it severely. But the owner, Bob Tiffin, just says “no, this is the way we run our business and this is the way we’re going to continue to run it.” I don’t know if it will last forever, but I’m going to do my best to take advantage of this access while it’s available.

I mentioned in a previous post:

It’ll pop out the end later, obviously, but that might end up being a blessing in disguise: we weren’t able to work out the schedule to go see it built next week, but we might be able to manage it later in June.

June turned into July and, while far from ideal, I got to witness the creation of our RV from bare chassis to complete except for paint. Cat and Julia couldn’t come — Julia had a Girl Scout camp which might sound perfect for Cat and I to come, except it didn’t perfectly overlap so someone had to be there to pick up Julia from camp on Friday — which is quite a bummer. This is supposed to be a family affair, something for us all to be involved in. So far it hasn’t turned out that way. As I’ve told the girls, we have to look at this as a bit of short-term pain for what should be long term gain. But, it’s a bit of a hard sell.

Anyhow, I flew into Huntsville Airport Wednesday night at 11:00, drove a bit out of town to Decatur to get a bit closer to Red Bay, and caught a few hours of sleep before my 4:00am wakeup call. Why the ungodly hour? Our RV was scheduled to hit Station 1 of the main plant precisely at 6:00am and I had an hour and a half drive.

I got to the Tiffin plant with no drama, checked in at the guard station with a delightful elderly guard who briefly thought I was there to begin my job at Tiffin, and got vague directions — “It’s on around back,” with a finger blithely pointed and swept through about 40 degrees of tolerance — to station 1 of the gas line. I wandered around quite freely, saw a group of prepared chassis near a big door and walked up. The guys looked up and nodded at me and kept doing what they were doing. I asked the nearest guy whether I was where I hoped I was and he nodded. Then I looked at what they were working on… sure looks like a gas chassis.

Heyo! That’s ours!

Right on time! Our order number is written in marker on the air intake cover, and the order sheet is taped near the temporary chair. It even has our name on it! These guys here at station 1 were putting in the storage bay fiberglass components, the water and sewage tanks, the electrical components, and plumbing.

So my Thursday and Friday — from 6:00am to 4:30pm — consisted of watching this thing come together in leaps and bounds while trying to stay out of the way. I never felt unwelcome, and could literally stand anywhere and look over the shoulder of any of them if I so desired. I could ask questions, point out things, peek everywhere. Though there were signs posted “EMPLOYEES ONLY PAST THIS POINT” in some places like the roof installation I asked and was granted access. Throughout the day various people at the stations would ask me where I was from or whether that coach was mine. Some people were friendlier, some just wanted to get their stuff done. Lots of horseplay and each station seemed to have those guys and gals that picked at each other throughout, as people who work closely together day in and day out tend to do.

Often I was brought up. “Hey, you better do it right. The customer is watching,” or “this time he’ll do it right since you’re watching,” or “of course it had to go wrong with the customer here.” I assume they treat every coach similarly regardless of whether “the customer” is watching or not, but I imagine it can’t hurt to have a bit more caution to not take shortcuts.

I caught a few things that I had corrected early. An electrical coupling between compartments wasn’t tight and sealed against water, a vent cap on the roof that wasn’t flush and sealed well. I had more things that I thought were going to be issues that just weren’t supposed to be done yet. There was a pass-through from the engine bay through the firewall that was fairly large and unsealed where all the other ones were sealed. I kept my mouth shut for a long time for that one, and sure enough when they got the nose installed and the driver’s side mirror, they ran the camera feed through that hole… then sealed it up. I kept an eye on the drain for the refrigerator to ensure it didn’t get closed into a bad place. It didn’t.

We ran into a few issues. Early on an electrical issue resulted in dead house and chassis batteries. The dash switch for turning on the generator was wired incorrectly. The door covering the wet bay storage location was somehow half an inch too narrow leaving a gap between it and the fender, so they had to order a new door to be built. A propane leak (!) was chased down. The kitchen counter appears to either not be slid all the way in or was cut incorrectly. The kitchen slide is out of sync so it won’t get all the way out or come all the way in. Several of the wooden trim pieces got sent back for not meeting the installer’s quality standards. These are all fairly minor, but I’m glad they were caught!

I’m currently back at my hotel in Fulton, MS. There are no decent hotels in Red Bay, oddly. I’ll be back at the factory at 6:00am to see the last day in the main plant. By the time I leave it will be a complete RV, minus the paint and cleanup. From there I drive back to Huntsville, climb onto an airplane, and go back to my girls tomorrow evening.

I’m hoping to have Cat come back to Red Bay the following week to inspect it before it leaves the factory forever. I want her to be involved — and, of course, we all can’t go because it’s either too expensive for us all to fly or takes too long to drive since we’re going to probably be driving right back up the following week to take delivery, nor can we all drive up together and just stay until delivery since Julia has conflicts — and she’s also a superlative quality control person. If there’s something she doesn’t like, she’ll find it and tell them. This is the time to do it, before it gets delivered!

Without further adieu, here’s an enormous photo dump of the construction, from bare chassis to where I left it on Friday.

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2 Comments on “From humble beginnings, a coach is born

  1. Pingback: Previewing Qubie’s future? – Shallow Roots

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