Letters From a Bus
Our bus and one remaining truck the morning after the rainstorm. 06/28/07
June 2007: Maiden Voyage
6th entry for June
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We Drive to the Birthplace of our Allegro Bus

Red Bay, AL, Day Three at Allegro Campground

Monday, July 2, 2007 — Day Forty-eight in our Allegro Bus

After we picked up our new bus at Bankston RV in Huntsville, AL it was our plan to visit our RV Mecca — the birthplace of our new coach-home.  Instead we hurried to Florida to visit my brother who was recovering from a heart attack.  So it became our joke: it took us 45 days to get to Red Bay.  Finally, this past week, we got to tour the Tiffin Motor Homes manufacturing plant where our bus was made.

We left St. Augustine on Monday morning, June 25th.  Dennis had to back out of Jerry’s driveway and A1A is a busy street so he drove a few miles away to the Flying J and I followed in the Honda.  There we spent a surprising amount of time before we were ready to leave.  Dennis had to check the air pressure in the tires, dump the tanks, fill up with fuel, and then hook up the Honda to the tow. 

When all was done we went into the Flying J Country Market for breakfast.  When we are on the road and there is sixty feet of us to park, the Flying J Country Market is one of the few places where I know I can stop and find a consistent menu for a decent breakfast.  Sad to say, it’s my new restaurant hangout.  It certainly does not replace my favorite hangout in Palo Alto, Dinah’s Shack (Dinah’s Poolside Restaurant), where I have wasted many a happy hour reading and eating breakfast or lunch under a shady umbrella by the pool. 

After early starts, we watch for the Flying J Travel Plaza sign for fuel of both kinds: diesel and food. Above: Flying J near St. Augustine, FL on 6/25/07
Parked for breakfast at Flying J after getting fuel at exit 19 on I-20W in Georgia on 6/28/07. Hooking up the Brake Buddy involves running the Honda in each gear for several minutes.

We left Flying J at 11:30 AM, and 583 miles later at 6:00 PM, we pulled into High Falls Campground in Georgia.  This is the campsite where I wanted to stop on our way to Florida but the timing was wrong.  This time I got mixed up and programmed Co-Pilot to go to a private campground called High Falls rather than going to the state campground also called High Falls.  We were just down the road from the state campground but it wasn’t the same.  However, it was too late and we were too tired to make an adjustment so we stayed where we were. 

Just off the freeway, Dennis failed to go slowly enough and passed the campground entrance.  The road became narrow and chances to find a place to turn around became less and less good.  Finally he made a U-turn in the small front parking lot of a little church.  He had to back up to make it and it was very scary.  By the time we drove back and turned into the entrance and stopped on the narrow dirt road in front of the little rural registration office I realized this was not the state campground and we were both agitated and aggravated.  It was a Passport America campground but we had just purchased this membership and couldn’t find our card so we paid full price — $20 instead of $10.  We got into our pull-thru campsite without further trouble, put out the slides and collapsed.  I resolved to do a better job of double checking my notes and planning our destination.  We dug out our Passport America card.

In the morning, Dennis examined the tow bar and decided it was slightly bent.  He had trouble disconnecting it but since then it hasn’t given us any trouble.  We drove the Honda over to the state campground and looked around but there wasn’t time to walk around and explore, as we would have done with the dogs if we’d camped there. http://gastateparks.org/info/highfall/ 

It is my contention that Dennis must learn to come to a dead stop so we can read signs and not overshoot our destination or make a wrong turn.  But Dennis has spent a lifetime as a masonry sub-contractor — driving from job to job, fighting traffic and hurrying as much as possible.  He doesn’t like people who cause traffic delays.  So he feels that he can’t stop in the middle of the road. Well, you can’t on a busy highway, but this was a rural road and there was no traffic at all.  Because he doesn’t stop or slow down to read signs, we constantly end up in a pickle.  We are going to have to learn how to avoid these difficulties….

High Falls Campground Site #10, 06/25/07 Dennis straightens the water hose and prepares to roll it up and put it away. 06/25/07
Above: High Falls Campground facing east
Right: High Falls Campground facing west — a popular spot for owners to walk their dogs.

As it happens, my fiftieth high school reunion is planned for this August.  As a result, a number of my elementary school friends have been in touch with each other by e-mail.  We graduated in 1957 in a class of more than 300 from Torrance High School.  Those of us from Hollywood Riviera Elementary, near Torrance Beach and the town of Redondo Beach wanted to arrange a mini reunion for our eighth grade class of 1953.  I volunteered to set up a website and we’ve had fun collecting and posting biographies and photos from some who participated out of our class of thirty. http://www.cutesmalldogs.com/Pages/Riviera%20Kids/53-57RivieraKids.html

Because of this, I knew that my former classmate, Ben Boegh, lived near Atlanta, GA and that we would pass near his location.  We had exchanged e-mails, so I got up my nerve to call him and he invited us to visit.  He told us that the Shoal Creek State Campground would be a good place to stop.  It is located on Lake Sidney-Lanier about two miles from Ben’s home in Buford.  He told us to avoid Atlanta rush hour and bypass that city after 10:00 AM.  It was an easy two-hour drive from High Falls and we arrived at Shoal Creek by 1:00 PM. 

But once again Co-Pilot led us wrong.  I always print directions from MapQuest.  In Buford, Co-Pilot led us one way and MapQuest led us another.  Co-Pilot is supposed to take us on the RV approved routes so we followed it.  Wrong!  We were led into historic Buford with narrow roads and narrow turns.  We managed to make three sharp right turns in an old residential neighborhood, and scraping under low-lying tree branches we turned around and headed back to where we deviated from MapQuest.  Following those directions we came to the entrance of Shoal Creek Campground.  The approach is through a residential area with imposing modern colonial houses sitting above Shadburn Ferry Road on high grassy knolls.  Sample of our conversation at this point:

Dennis:  (cranky)  This doesn’t look like we’re going to a campsite.  Is it in the middle of a town?

Elsa:  (defensive)  NO!  It isn’t!  It’s on a lake!

Dennis:  Well you don’t have to jump down my throat!

This time we pulled into a parking area at the entrance gate and agreed to disconnect the Honda.  I loved the woman who checked us in.  She was a card.  She got a call while we were registering.  Someone wanted five campsites on the water for the July fourth weekend.  She asked him what mental asylum he was calling from. (It turned out that she and her husband are retired truck drivers.)  Obviously the campgrounds were booked up but they were not full at the beginning of the week when we were there. http://www.recreation.gov/campgroundDetails.do?agency=NRRS&parkId=1417

After getting a list of available pull-thrus, we drove the Honda around to scope out the various campsites.  We chose #2 and went back to announce our decision and get the bus.  I drove the Honda and followed Dennis in the bus.  However, once Dennis pulled into #2 it became clear that it was not suitable.  The sites in this campground are odd.  They are located on ridges above the lake.  You park by the road and generally the picnic table is located down some stairs on a lower level.  #2 had three levels.  You pull in on a Y and then back into a lower site and then the table is below that.  You can’t park on the higher level because you would block the pull-thru person in #1.  Also the hook-ups were below and on the wrong side.  Why didn’t we notice that?

Dennis said he would exit the pull-thru and drive around the loop of 18 campsites and make his approach again into campsite #1 where the hook-up was on the left and it was a true pull-thru.  He told me to go back and tell them we would be in #1 instead of #2.  When I came back I found Dennis backing the bus up — half on the lawn and half on the loop road with a woman biker directing him!  What was going on?

Another mistake!  When we checked the campsite in the Honda we didn’t notice that the pull-thru exit was a sharp turn up to the loop road AND it was flanked by two tall pine trees that made the road too narrow for the bus to pass between them!  He had to back out of the pull-thru road near campsite #8.  It was too far to back out all the way — especially when these sites are all located on a ridge above the lake!  Dennis got on the loop road and drove away as I pulled up.  In a few minutes he came around again to park in campsite #1. 

As it turned out, this site was not perfect either.  It was slanted forwards and sideways and it had a dip in the middle like a saddle.  (Actually they were all like that.  The Corps of Engineers set them up for car camping years ago.  They weren’t designed for big RVs.)  Dennis let down the jacks.  He didn’t notice the red light that warned him that one of the jacks wasn’t down because the site was not level.  He put out the slides.  He noticed later that the left rear jack was not down but decided not to try to put in the slides, raise the jacks and adjust the position of the bus.  We left it as it was and Dennis raised it with great trepidation when we got ready to leave.  He was afraid he’d bent the jack, but I believe it is OK.  They have all worked all right since then. 

First fuel fill-up - $450 gift from Bankston at Texaco, Jordan Lane, Huntsville, AL 5/21/07
Shoal Creek Campsite #1. The pull-thru road is right of the bus and the loop road is far right. 06/26/07 Shoal Creek Campsite #1 with steps going down to the picnic table — as seen from bedroom window in the bus. 06/26/07
Above: Shoal Creek Campsite #1 seen from the picnic table. The dips and slants of the site, prevented the left rear jack from going down. Right: A weary Dennis takes a nap after getting the bus situated. 06/26/07
Ben and his wife, Karen, were delightful.  They drove to the campground and we sat and visited in our bus for an hour.  Then they drove us on a little scenic tour to Buford Dam and then to their home.  Karen treated us to a wonderful roast beef dinner.  Theirs is a second marriage like ours.  But he had six kids and she had five and together they raised a combined family of the youngest five.  Now they are “empty nesters.” 
Karen and Ben have two dogs and we felt very much at home with them.  Ben shared some terrific memories about his friends and his activities during grade school.  Karen is a quilter and we found we had much in common.  She had china with a lighthouse theme and I loved that.  We had a wonderful evening with them and we hope to see them again.  They’ve promised to show us the highlights of this beautiful area. 

When I woke up Wednesday morning, I knew I wasn’t in good shape.  I felt worn out and weepy.  So we decided to stay put and take a day off. 

In the cool early morning we took the dogs for a walk and ended up on a small deserted beach.  We decided to take a risk and let the dogs run free.  Oh!  Did they have fun!  They streaked back and forth along the little beach.  I threw a stick a little ways out and Rudi immediately went for it.  He is a true descendent of his Portuguese water dog ancestors.  He managed to grab his stick and bring it in.  Of course Margot wanted it so after evasive action he decided his best course was to bury it.  Both dogs were so wet and dirty that we had to stop at the dump station on the way back and hose them off.  We towel dried them at the bus and they were happy to collapse and take a nice nap. 

Reading from left to right and from top to bottom:
On a small beach at Shoal Creek in the early morning, we let the dogs run free.
They began to venture in the water.
In deeper water, their styles are different. Margo rears on her hind legs and tries to jump through the water. (Her right paw is up by her right jaw and her left paw is just under her jaw.) Rudi swims.
We threw a stick and Rudi swam out to get it.
He managed to snag it.
He swam back with it.
He brought it to shore.
Margo tried to take it from him,
Rudi decided to bury it.

My camp registration, ex-truck-driver character, told us we could get a camp discount if we had a Senior Pass — an America the Beautiful Interagency Senior Pass, to be specific.  She told us to go to the Forestry Dept. in Gainesville, 25 miles north of Buford.  So leaving the dogs in their A/C home, we took the Honda on the scenic road to the Chattahoochee-Oconee USDA Forest Service.  On the way we spotted a mall with OfficeMax, where I got a notebook to organize my various MapQuest directions, and PetSmart where we stocked up on dog treats.  A sign that said Atlanta Bread Co. attracted us and this proved to be a delightful coffee/sandwich place similar to the Le Boulangerie restaurant chain.  We bought a loaf of sour dough and stopped to drink a mango smoothie.

Karen Boegh had told us that she would be at a quilting table in an October festival in a town in the Appalachian foothills called Dahlonega.  In Gainesville, I saw on my map that we were less than 25 miles from this town so we decided to go take a look at it.  Dahlonega is an old gold town.  We toured their gold museum located in the town square in the old brick courthouse.  Gold was discovered in Georgia twenty years before the 49er gold rush in California.  http://ngeorgia.com/parks/dahlonega.html 

We walked around the town looking at the shops and had a delicious dinner at a small Italian café called Dante’s on the Square.  We really liked the scenery in northern Georgia and we do hope to see more of it with Ben and Karen next time we come to this area.

Lumpkin County — I love this name. It sounds like something out of the Wizard of Oz.

Refreshed, rejuvenated and newly hopeful, we set out for Red Bay, AL, a 317 mile trip that MapQuest predicted would take us 5 hours, 40 minutes.  I wish!  Everything went well as we took GA-20 E towards Birmingham.  We stopped at exit 19 at a Flying J for fuel and breakfast.  We crossed into Alabama at 1:32 but made good time because suddenly it was 12:32.  However we encountered a heavy rainstorm just as we hit the several Birmingham merges from I-20 to US-78 W. 

Dennis had been complaining that he couldn’t get his Spartan “smart wheel” to go into cruise control.  Now he discovered that it wouldn’t turn on his windshield wipers.  We spent a period of high stress as we tried to negotiate freeway sign merges in a downpour with terrible visibility.  We exited the freeway on US-78 and AL-4 which is a 30+ mile busy highway towards Jasper where it once again becomes a freeway.  As soon as possible we pulled into a small parking lot where we were able to parallel park beside the highway.  The parking lot was for a pawnshop.  We pulled in at 2:00 PM and remained there for two hours.  I think we were near Adamsville.

TV and Internet were both unavailable.  There was nothing to do but rest and wait.  We lay on our bed with the dogs and watched the rain through the window as pawnshop customers came and went.  We’ve learned that when it rains in Alabama it rains seriously!  I’ve noticed that the culverts by the road are built for major floods
Above Left: We parked in front of EZPawn for two hours because our windshield wipers wouldn't work..
Below Left: Dennis rests on the bed and stares at the rain. Rudi chews on a new treat: a peppermint striped "Pork Chomps."
Above Right: The four of rest on the bed while we wait for the rain to let up.

We really didn’t want to spend the night boondocking in front of EZPawn.  Our second hour there we made calls to various technicians and tried to find out if there was a blown fuse or why the windshield wipers wouldn’t work.  We weren’t successful.  There were still raindrops on the windshield but the rain had stopped when we pulled out at 4:00 PM.  By then there was a lot of rush hour traffic and up ahead was an accident.  We crawled along as we listened to the truckers on the CB saying the road had been cleared.  It took us forty minutes to go about twenty miles.  In Sumiton it began to rain again and we began to look for a suitable parking lot where we could stop for the night.  Then we saw our lifesaver:  a Wal*Mart sign.  OK, I’m not so fond of shopping at Wal*Mart, but thank goodness they have a policy to let trucks and RVs stop overnight in their huge parking lots.  We successfully negotiated the entrance and pulled around to parallel park next to a truck.  We were safe for the night.  If Flying J is my new favorite RV restaurant, Wal*Mart is my new favorite RV haven — literally a port in a storm.  (I'm told that we should have gone into Wal*Mart and bought Rain-X.)

We couldn’t put our slides out but we were able to make sandwiches.  No satellite for TV but we did have our Internet — intermittently.  We walked the dogs when the rain let up and went to bed early.  Despite the rain it was very hot.  This time I got smart and blocked the truck and traffic noise: all windows closed and shutters down with generator and A/C on!  Unbelievably, teenage boys were parked nearby and were having a noisy tailgate party.  A truck backed up nearly on top of them but they didn’t move.  Perhaps, there is not much for kids to do in Sumiton.

Dennis walks the dogs in the Wal*Mart parking lot the morning after the rainstorm. 06/28/07 Our bus and one remaining truck the morning after the rainstorm. 06/28/07
Friday morning we left at 6:30 and had a beautiful drive on a brand new freeway (US-78; future I-22) towards the tri-border area of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.  

(I’d like to say we arrived at our destination without problems, but that would be a lie.  We were given an address of 7th St in Red Bay but there are several seventh streets and avenues and the one we needed is 7th St. NW.  Big difference.  Co-Pilot led us into small residential blocks and we had tricky, tight turns until we pulled over onto a side street in town and got out to ask for help.  I spoke to a man who jumped into his pickup and led us the last mile to our campground destination.  How’s that for small town friendly?  Seventh St. NW is actually the street name assigned to the former airport runway where we are parked.)

I lounge with foot on dashboard for a lovely drive in northern Alabama. 06/28/07
We arrived in Red Bay at 9:00 AM just in time to register at the campground and catch the 10:00 AM tour of the Tiffin Motor Homes manufacturing plant.  There was also a 2:00 PM tour but workers would be gone and no one will be working the week of July fourth as it is a Tiffin holiday.  So we hustled to make this last complete tour.

After unhooking the Honda, putting out the slides and starting the A/C for the dogs we drove to the Tiffin Visitor’s Center and arrived at 9:50.  “Red” was our 80-year-old tour guide, a long-time Tiffin employee.  He wore a microphone and some twenty-five of us had to be given headsets and safety goggles.  We were supposed to arrive early to get this equipment and I apologized for being one of the last to arrive. 

Red had a standard joke.  “Don’t apologize.  I know you were held up by our Red Bay rush hour traffic.”  (In 2003, Red Bay had an estimated population of 3,293. Red Bay is named for the berries of the numerous bay bushes that grow in the area.)

We walked outside into 100º and entered the manufacturing plant.  Here we walked cheek to jowl along the assembly lines with Red stopping to greet many of the workers.  We could see everything that was being done and Red gave us detailed information.  However, about forty minutes into our tour I began to feel dizzy and faint.  Heat, noise, and no breakfast or protein caught up with me. 

I gave Dennis the camera and made my way back to the visitor’s center.  There I got a diet Pepsi and some crackers with peanut butter and sat down to rest in the pleasant, cool room.  (I was amazed to note that the can cost only fifty cents.)  Just then I got a call from my sister, Sally, so I didn’t notice the time as we caught up on news.  Then the others came back from the tour.  I missed seeing the parts of the tour that would have been of more interest to me — the completed coaches.  But maybe we can walk around the plant on our own.  Some of the employees are working this week and saving their vacation time for later.

Tiffin Motor Home manufacturing plant.
Upper left: "Red" explains the process and tour members listen with headphone sets.

Back in our bus, we filled out our work order and took it to the camp registration office.  We are not in a hurry so we said it would be fine to wait until Monday.  We have some small repair requests but the main item is the smart steering wheel — that is not being so smart.

The Allegro Campground is free to anyone who is here for repairs and only $10 a night for others.  It is well set up with 30 and 50 amp hookups.  It offers 79 pull-thru sites in three rows centered on about 3/10 of a mile of the old runway.  At the end of these three rows, there are 14 additional sites with hook-ups across the runway for a total of 93 sites.  A chain divides the campground from the remainder of the runway, 7th St. NW, which continues for another 3/10 of a mile — or more.  Parallel to the three pull-thru lanes are rows of repair bays — 21 on the camp side and 21 on the Gates Road side.  There is a place to wash your bus.  The entire setup is extremely impressive. The campground is fairly empty right now because of the holiday, but nevertheless, it is very disconcerting to see so many variations and duplicates of our own bus! 

Facing east towards town; entrance to Allegro Campground, corner of 4th St. W and 7th St. NW Facing north towards the entrace; view of the entire campground as seen from the end of the old runway. Service bays are on the left. Buses are parked right up to a chain fence on the runway.
Facing north towards the entrance. We cross the chain fence on our walk back towards our bus.
Facing north towards the entrance. In the distance is the Honda parked behind our bus. This is one of two gravel roads. In the center is the old paved runway (left of this photo.)
Facing south towards the end of the campground. The runway continues on the left next to the grass field behind me. The service bays are on the right.
Facing south. The dogs explore in the field. The old runway is on the left. The campground is behind us.
Facing south. Dennis leaves the field and walks down the old runway towards 5th St. W
Facing south on the old runway. Buildings on the right are not Tiffin. The back yards of houses are on the left. Many confined yard dogs bark at us.
Facing south. Dennis returns to the camp walking by the service bays — # 1 - 21.
In the cool of the evening we took the dogs for a walk.  We walked around the block — the perimeter of the campground.  The sight of cows in a grassy pasture on Gates Road entertained the dogs.  Sunset against a background of an old fallen barn was very scenic.  It was 76º when we left and 75º at 8:00 PM when we returned. 
Someone has decorated the side of their bus with a cartoon.
Elsa Walton, Allegro Campground, Red Bay, AL
Monday, July 2, 2007
Walking north on Gates Road towards 4th St. W. Across the street on my right are the back side of the service bays — #s 22 - 40. The dogs are very interested in cattle peacefully grazing in the field. A few woofs will get their attention.
Abandoned barn near grazing cattle. Is that the abandoned cap end of an old bus???
Elsa Walton, Allegro Campground, Red Bay, AL, Monday, July 2, 2007