Naval Aviation Museum

Friday September 30th 2016

Today I went to the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola. I followed the signs in from Interstate 10. It was a very circuitous path to the appropriate entrance gate to the air station. I had to show ID at the gate and at the entrance to the museum. Bags were also being checked at the museum entrance. I suspect there was additional security that I did not observe.

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Blue Angle Aircraft at the National Naval Aviation Museum

I arrived at the museum just in time to join a guided tour. The tours are conducted throughout the day by retired navy and marine aviators. The tour took a little over two hours to cover both wings of the main building. The hanger building was closed for maintenance.

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A1 Triad replica. The Navy’s first aircraft.

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The guide speaking in front of a Sopwith Camel

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The tour was very good. The guide put the aircraft and exhibits in historical context. He told a story about an aircraft or some pilot that flew that type of plane. I suspect the stories were well embellished, but they were entertaining. Talking the tour proved to be a good way to see the museum at a measured pace. Without the tour, I would have hurried by some of the more interesting exhibits.

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SBD Dauntles fought in the battle of Midway. It was found at the bottom of Lake Michigan after crashing while being used for training.

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PB2Y Coronado

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Plymouth navy staff car

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Primary training aircraft

The museum in general seems to focus on telling the story of individual aircraft or types of aircraft. Often times the type of aircraft and its use is hard to find behind a story of accomplishment. I’m used to a museum like the Smithsonian Air and Space museum that provides the facts and little else about the aircraft in the exhibit. I’m not sure which I like better.

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Skylab Apollo type spacecraft

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Overall I enjoyed the museum. I took 75 pictures that can be found in my Google Photos shared album National Naval Aviation Museum.

 

Weird Travel Day

Thursday September 29th 2016

I departed the campground in Montgomery about 10AM for the Pensacola Florida area. It was not one of my better travel days. Nothing bad happen, just many “weird” or annoying things kept cropping up.

My research identified several RV parks in the area, so I didn’t make reservations. I plotted my course using Google Maps and took the time to put my desired campground into the GPS. The first weird thing happened when I chose to follow the GPS directions instead of my Google route. This is the first time I’ve let the GPS control my route. The GPS sent me much further south and a little west in Alabama than Google did. I spent a good period of time contemplating where I was going to enter Florida. As it turns out my route intersected Interstate 10 half way between Mobile Alabama and Pensacola Florida. I entered Florida on I-10 from the west.

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Blue Angel Aircraft Model at the Florida Welcome Center near Pensacola.

The Florida welcome center had the typical couple of ounces of orange or grapefruit juice as well as tons of brochures. I picked up a few for the Pensacola area. The unique element at this welcome center is a model of a Blue Angels Aircraft in front of the building. It is a reminder that the Pensacola Naval Air Station is the home of the Navy Blue Angel flight demonstration team. One of the things I’d like to do while in the area is go to the National Naval Aircraft Museum that is also at NAS Pensacola.

The second annoyance of the day was caused by my wandering mind. I usually listen to Podcasts while traveling. They keep my mind occupied while I drive. Today I was out of new podcasts. I need to download more from the internet. In place of the podcasts I had the radio tuned to various music stations. Music does not keep my attention. Instead I heard every rattle and squeak as I went down the road. On several occasions I had to resist the urge to stop and find out what was making the noise. It really made for a paranoid travel day.

Next up on the hit parade of “weird” was an error code on my auxiliary car brake. This is a box that sits between the brake pedal and the seat of my car that applies the car brakes when it senses the motorhome braking. It uses power from the car battery. The error code indicated that the car battery was to low to apply the brake. When I stopped at the Florida Welcome Center, I check the cat and the brake controller. Everything had power and once I reset the controller everything was fine for the remainder of the trip.

The last item of the day was at my intended destination. The campground was full. A fact that I only found out after exiting the highway, navigating a narrow road and reaching the office at the back of the campground. Once again I was reminded that traveling without a reservation has risks. A call to the next place on my list determined that only one night was available. The third place was open for the weekend.

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Site D-4 at the Milton Gulf Fines KOA.

I am at the Milton Gulf Pines KOA. This campground is 15 to 20 miles east of Pensacola. It is also more expensive than the other two campgrounds. Perhaps those are the reasons they had available spaces. For the higher price a free breakfast is served every morning. I just have to get up in time.

Service Complete Heading South

Wednesday September 28th 2016

I’m back at The Woods RV Park and Campground on the south side of Montgomery AL. This is the same park I
stayed in last Thursday night on my way north to Red Bay. It was 50 degrees when I got up this morning and 90 when I stopped here in Montgomery.

I got up before 7am as the campground came alive with people getting ready for service. It’s a good thing I did because the service techs were at my door shortly after seven with my shade ready to be installed. Five minutes later the service was complete. I was free to leave Red Bay Alabama. I packed up and checked out by 9:30, but I spent another half an hour at the local gas station filling the fuel tank. It was an old and very slow pump.

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Site 403 at The Woods RV Park and Campground.

As I drove south on the same set of roads I arrived on last week, I had a chance to consider my travel pattern. Since I left New England in July, I’ve been traveling in just get there mode. Long travel days with little time spent to enjoy the areas I’ve been traveling through. This not what I want to be doing. It has made sense up until now, but I don’t have any hard deadlines at the moment.

This evening I’ve been researching better stops along the way back to Florida. If I had this thought last night, I’d have stayed in northern Alabama and checked out the Mussel Shoals area and the Rocket Center in Huntsville. Now that I’m in the southern part of the state, I’m considering stopping in the Mobile AL or Pensacola FL area for the weekend. I’ll make some calls in the morning to see if I can find get a reservation somewhere in the area.

Another consideration is the track of tropical storm Matthew. The current track has it turning north toward the US mainland toward the end of the weekend. I don’t want to sit out another hurricane. Whichever way it decides to head, I plan to head in the opposite direction.

My goal is to slow down to 200 miles or less travel each day with at least two nights stay at each stop. Over the next few weeks, I need to do more domicile related business in the Jacksonville area. I also want to visit the Food & Wine festival at Disney World. My next reservation is in the middle of November in the Fort Meyers area so I have plenty of time and options.

RV Service Day

Tuesday September 27th 2016

Today was the first day since I departed New England at the end of July that I didn’t run the air conditioner. The temperature peaked in the low 80s with low humidity. I opened the windows and vents and enjoyed the weather.

I was surprised by a call at ten this morning. I was directed to bring my RV to service bay 32 for service. Based on everything I was told, I expected the call tomorrow morning. It only took me 15 minutes to store or tie down everything, get the slides pulled in and get to the bay. Every minute I delayed would eat into my three hours in the express bay.

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Some of the service bays at the Tiffin Service Center.

The two techs went right to work on my list of issues. I had prioritized my list of 10 items with the critical items that I couldn’t fix myself at the top. They added their knowledge of the way the system at the service center works to the prioritized list. They got the night shade that wasn’t working shipped off to the mystery shade fixer somewhere in the service center. Then they moved on to the other items on my list.

The biggest fix was an actual manufacturing defect. It wasn’t something that just broke. When the floor was put down during construction, the hose for the black holding tank flush was crimped between the floor and the frame. They tried to pull it loose, but couldn’t make it happen. The solution was to cut the line and splice in a new piece.

I was able to stay with the motorhome during the service and ask any questions I had. While I was in the bay the horn blew for their 40 minute lunch break. The techs excused themselves and went off for lunch. I sat in my motorhome and waited. It was really quiet and strangely peaceful in the service center during the lunch break. After 40 minutes the techs were back at work and the buzz of activity resumed.

They completed everything on the list before the 3 hours limit was reached except fixing the night shade they sent off at the start of the work. I sat in the motorhome and watched the techs in the adjoining bay while we waited for the shade to come back. At the 3 hour limit the shade still hadn’t come back. I returned with my motorhome to my campsite with their promise to bring the shade to me as soon as it was ready. They thought it would be ready at the end of the day, but that didn’t happen. I expect to see them with the shade in the morning.

Assuming I get the shade in the morning, I’ll head back toward Florida tomorrow. If I don’t get the shade until after lunch, I’ll probably stay here another night. I’m not in a rush.

Tiffin Factory Tour

Monday September 26th 2016

Things got started early at the Tiffin Motorhome Service Center. Motorhomes scheduled for service today were getting underway before seven this morning. They were lined up at the bay doors when they opened.

The service representative showed up at my RV a little after eight to go over my list of warranty repairs. We decided my fixes can be done in an express bay. Express means 2 guys for 3 hours to work on all of the items on my list. If I needed a regular service bay, I’d have to wait close to a week. The express bay should be only be a two or three day wait. I’m guessing Wednesday, but will be ready tomorrow.

After getting the service planned, I went into town to take the Tiffin factory tour. The tour is held every weekday at 9:30am. This morning there were about 25 people so they had two groups. Each group had a man and women leading the narrative using radio headphones. The tour starts with the history of the company and a marketing video featuring the founder Bob Tiffin and his sons.

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Cabinet shop

With safety gogles and radio headphones on, we were lead across an open area to one of the old cotton warehouses that has been converted into the cabinet shop. We were shown the raw lumber being milled to size, planned and assembled into cabinets for the motorhomes. We walked right by all of the crafts people doing their jobs, sorting, gluing, running computer controlled equipment and assembling cabinets. We stopped at many of the different workstations and the tour guides explained what was happening and what type of motorhome the product for.

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Some chassis waiting for assembly

After the cabinet shop we went across the yard to the beginning of the main assembly line. We got an opportunity to see several chassis that had already completed being welded on the chassis line. All of the chassis were diesel Freightliner chassis waiting to start down one of the three lines. Inside the assembly building there were motorhomes in all different states of assembly. They are currently operating at a rate of twelve motorhomes a day. It takes five days for a motorhome to finish the line, then it is driven to the paint facility in Belmont Mississippi for another five days of painting.

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Floor sub-assembly ready to be installed.

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Workers on the roof of a gas motorhome

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Gas motorhome before the front cap is installed.

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Slide rooms with the cabinets pre-installed waiting to be inserted into motorhomes.

The tour ends after about an hour and a half at a final assembly and inspection area that receives the motorhomes when they return from the paint facility. We were allowed and encouraged to go into any of these motorhomes for as long as we wanted. Some people went in an out of each unit.

I enjoyed the tour, but it was not what I expected. The length of time spent in the cabinet shop was excessive. Seeing that they make their own cabinets out of real wood using quality wood working techniques is great. I didn’t need to see sub-assembly after sub-assembly being built. On the main assembly line they kept the tour moving so we weren’t in the way of workers or the heavy equipment moving large pieces around. This meant that you didn’t get to see as much actual work. By necessity the areas we slowed down in or stopped had less activity taking place. On the other hand, outside the scope of the tour, buyers are allowed to follow the progress of their future motorhome down the line.

The tour proved one thing that I already knew. Tiffin makes a high quality motorhome. They manufacture more of the components than many of their competitors to have better control on quality and cost. I continue to be happy that I bought a Tiffin product.

Life in Red Bay

Sunday September 25th 2016

It was another hot day in northwest Alabama. The high 90s temperature made it more conducive to stay in than going out, but I made a foray into town for a bit.

Around noon I went for a drive around town. I had two objectives, get gas and get food. The gas part was a little more difficult than I had anticipated. The first couple of gas stations I found were closed. Lots of places are closed on Sunday in this community. I found a Chevron station on the other side of the center of town that was open.

The two grocery stores in town were open. I chose the Big Star grocery store. It had more cars in the parking lot than the Piggly Wiggly and it turned out to have a good selection. The prices were Ok for the few things I purchased. I’ll probably stop in again Tuesday or Wednesday.

Conversations I over heard in the Supper Market prove just how much of a small town this is. In two different areas of the store, by two different groups of people the conversation was the same. The topic was, why was the congregation at some church asked to donate money for some particular family. I don’t generally eaves drop but these were very open and loud conversations. Everybody seems to be concerned about the family in need, or just curious about the issue. To me, this was a good indication that everybody knows everybody.

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Empty parking area at the Campground. The parts store is closed on the weekend, but the laundry had on the right had more activity on Saturday.

The campground is full tonight. Many rigs that arrived for service were sent off to the other campgrounds in the area. They need to drive by my motorhome to turn around so I started to keep track. It has been very quiet here today. Not as many people have been out of their rigs walking about. Many of the cars were gone as well, so people probably went off to tour the area. The heat kept me at home. Cooler temperatures are forecast during the week.

Red Bay Alabama

Saturday September 24th 2016

The temperature is in the high 90s during the day here in Red Bay Alabama. Today is my first full day of waiting for service at the Tiffin Service Area Campground. I stayed at home all day and got a few things done around the motorhome.

This is an interesting place. All the people here for service seem to have a very positive attitude. For some people it is an annual pilgrimage. It’s not that the service can’t be done at other locations across the country. The attraction here is the simplicity and quality of the service. At other places you have to make appointments well in advance, then often wait for parts and leave with unsatisfactory results. Here, you can’t make reservations, the technicians are well qualified and most parts are on site. It is worth the effort to come to this rural section of northwest Alabama.

The town of Red Bay has a population of around 3,500 people. The Tiffin Motorhome Company and supporting service companies dominate the town. The large influx of people to get service also feed the local economy. There are signs and other advertisements for many different local businesses all around the service center campground. Almost all of the ads are for small business, not chain stores. There is a McDonalds and a CVS, but the nearest Walmart or other big box stores are 20 to 30 miles away.

Over the air television is also sparse. I can get a PBS station and occasionally a CW station. Luckily the wide open parking area I’m staying in has a clear satellite shot. I’ve got all of my Directv stations. Those have kept me company all day. I need to find a local radio station for the weather, but that seems to be a non issue for a few days.

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Map of the Tiffin Service Center Campground and service bays.

I’ve met a number of my fellow campers. Most conversations seem to start with “What are you in for?”, “How long have you been waiting?” or “Is this your first time here?”. Some people have very serious issues like broke slide out rooms, but others are here for simple things like a broken cabinet door hinge. My list is somewhere in between those extremes.

The campground has a very nice and inexpensive laundry. I got caught up on my laundry tasks. It was only a dollar per load of washing and seventy five cents for the dryer. I should try to find what else needs to be washed before I leave.