Immediately after retiring from the United States Navy Frank started a blog he named On The Road With Frank. The purpose of which was to share the travel experiences he and his wife were to have as they wandered around North America in their motorhome. While On The Road With Frank certainly fulfilled that goal, it also provided a venue to display some of Frank's photography. With the emergence of Frank Madia Photography, it was fitting to move the blog to FrankMadiaPhotography.com.
Following our trip to Pinehurst and the repairs to the coach, Connie and I returned to Kings Bay, Georgia for a short respite and a few appointments. Then we were off to Perry, Georgia for the first of two rallies.
Actually, the Perry rally was really a Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) International Convention. It was a big deal. There were some 4,000 coaches parked at the Georgia Agriculture and Fair Center. There were another 300 to 400 vender coaches and about 200 show (to buy!) coaches. So, all together there were a bunch of motorhomes in the neighborhood. From the sky it was a pretty impressive sight. Actually, from the freeway it was pretty darned impressive. At ground level it was absolutely amazing. I went for a run during the late afternoon of the second day of staging. My run took me around the perimeter of the grounds and I was pretty much in awe of how many coaches were parked and how many more the parking committee had marked spaces for.
We were parked in long rows two coaches deep. The coaches were back to back with a one space stagger between each unit. We were able to park our towed vehicles between coaches keeping the area between the rows clear to be used as roads for people to drive, walk or ride shuttles on.
Our arrival time was Saturday before noon. The convention did not start until Monday, so we had the weekend to get the lay of the land and start to get to know our temporary neighbors. The fun began as soon as we were parked and the engine was shut-off. Connie and I jumped out and joined the crowd that had formed in front of our neighbor’s coach. As it turned out there were three, couples who had come together and were able to park in a little cluster. Our immediate neighbor was a retired rental store owner who while not a full timer, he and his wife certainly spend a lot of time on the road each year. He and his two friends had all bought pretty much the same motorhome, so there was a lot of talk about the differences and similarities among the three coaches. We learned from Greg that this was his second FMCA convention, so he tried to show us the ropes so to speak. He didn’t want us to look like rookies. However, FMCA made sure we looked like rookies by giving us special badges that said we were first timers to one of their events.
There were something like 8,000 participants at this gathering. There were another 1,000 folks or so who were vendors and factory representatives. The agenda included about eight or nine seminars going on at any given time throughout each of the three days of the convention. As first timers, Connie and I were very interested in going to as many of the technical seminars as we could. We really loaded our daily schedules and for the most part we did not go to the same seminars in order to maximize our learning opportunities. By the third day we were exhausted and had made on-the-run changes to our schedules in order to buy back some time so we could rest a little.
On Monday we wanted to get to the information center early so we could sign up to get our coach weighed at each wheel position. There were a limited number of spaces for the weighing so we wanted to get in line early to ensure we got one of them. That meant that we were walking to the fairgrounds before dawn. As we walked past Gregg’s coach he commented to his wife that we must be crazy. He was enjoying his first cup of coffee while still in his PJs.
I wanted to attend the Allison Transmission Seminar for a lot or reasons. Not the least was that I did not fully understand all the features of this very complex component of my motorhome. I was one of about 300 people who wanted to know more about transmissions. When I walked into the room I was taken aback by how many people were there. I round a row that was only partially filled and made a bee line for an open seat. Two seats to my left was Greg. Figure the odds of running into your neighbor when there were ten venues that we could have been plus two great halls with vendors and all those display coaches to be walked through. Here we are in a room with 298 other people and we end up three seats apart. Greg gave me a lot of grief for getting up so early. He reminded me that we are retired and as such we need to sleep longer. I told him why we had gotten out so early and he agreed that we had an honorable reason and let it go.
We would continue to run into Greg from time to time throughout the week, including at least one restaurant out in town. I kept telling him that had we tried to plan to meet up we likely would not have been able to find one another. In fact, Connie and I had a terrible time trying to get back together once we had gone off to separate seminars.
The convention was wonderful and we learned an incredible amount about our motorhome and general safety issues. Additionally we had an opportunity to shop among the 700 or so vendors who were on site. There were a number of things we really wanted to get for the coach to make it either more comfortable or to sort of “trick it out”. We were able to get custom fitted privacy/UV screens for the front and pilot/co-pilot side windows. What a difference those things have made. We also got a remote pressure monitoring system that monitors the air pressure in all the tires on the motorhome and the towed car. This was a must buy as far as I was concerned. We both have known for years that the tires are the weakest link on any vehicle. Keeping them properly inflated not only improves the life expectancy of the tires, but also improves the safety of the entire system. We did not immediately install this system as we felt we may have to adjust tire pressures following our weigh-in. More on that later. We found a rear ladder mounted flag pole. I had wanted one of these in order to be able to fly the Ensign that was presented to me at my retirement ceremony. Unfortunately, since installing the flagpole we have experienced nothing but wind, wind and more wind. So, the flag has been flown all of about eight hours to date. Finally, we bought a set of mini flags for an in ground flagpole and name stand that we were having built by a fellow camper in Kings Bay. We also bought other “stuff” that may make keeping the coach clean easier, or at least make the vendors lives a little more comfortable now that they have some of our money.
Like I said, we really wore ourselves out during this convention. It was very much worth the drain though. After the final event on Thursday evening, which was an Oak
Ridge Boys concert, people started to pack up and leave. Connie and I went to bed fairly early and all of our within-sight neighbors were still there. We got up early on Friday as we had an appointment to get weighed and were surprised to see how many people had slipped out under the cover of darkness. I wanted to dump our waste tanks before we went to get weighed so the weight would be more representative of how we normally travel. I failed to mention that this event was a dry camping event for us. For those who don’t know that means that we had no electric, water or sewer hook-ups. We came to the fairgrounds with our freshwater tank topped off and the two waste tanks empty. Our fuel tank was at or just below three-quarters full. This is an important note, because every evening we ran the diesel generator to recharge the batteries and to watch television. The rules were that generators could be run between 7:00 AM and 11:00 PM. That worked out well for us. However, we learned that if we are going to continue to do dry camping and I think we both want to, then we need to spring for an inverter so we can run the TV off the batteries. You will likely read more about this subject before the summer is over.
Anyway, we broke camp about an hour before our appointment at the weighing station and headed for the dump station. I was sure we would have to wait in a long line, but was pleasantly surprised to see only two coaches in front of us in line. So, with a fast dump we found ourselves in line to be weighed at least a half hour ahead of our appointment. Luckily the appointment times were just place markers. Once in line you got weighed when you got to the scales. The weighing deserves some discussion. Motorhome manufacturers build these magnificent coaches on chassis that are balanced over the axles. By that I mean that the stripped down chassis has the weight evenly distributed across the front and rear axles. In our case, all the chassis mounted components are mounted on the centerline. The coach manufacturer then builds the coach to a floor plan that does not necessarily take into consideration weight distribution. In our case we had pretty much equal storage volume on each side of the coach, but not equal available weight on each side. Shortly after we bought and loaded the coach we had it weighed fore and aft. We found that we had plenty of weight available so, we added more nice-to-have stuff on board paying attention to not overloading the front of the coach as we were closer to the limit in the front than in the back. At the convention we were able to get each wheel position weighed individually. In order to ensure that no individual tire or pair of tires is overloaded individual wheel position weighing is very important. The scales are precision devices that are placed in front of the wheels and then you simply drive up on them and then each scale is read and recorded on a chart by wheel position. In our case, we had not overloaded any axles, but we had in fact overloaded a few tires. We had a bit too much weight in the front left side and the rear right side was also heavy. I was able to move things easily enough to remove the overload in the front. The back was fixed by adding more air to the tires. I had aired the tires based on an even distribution of weight across the rear axle. With more weight being on the left side I needed to pressurize all the rear tires to that which was required to support the weight on the right side. Now that I know what pressures to run all the tires at I can now install the pressure monitoring system and calibrate it to the proper pressures.
The weigh-in was the last event of the FMCA convention so we left the weigh-in site and headed for Lazy Days RV Sales and Rally Park at Seffner, Florida for a Florida Freightliners Frolic.
The Florida Freightliners is an organized club of owners of Freightliner Chassis. This rally was much smaller. There were 250 of us at this event. The rally was far less jammed with seminars than the FMCA convention. The organizers had also included dinners each night of this rally that were served prior to evening entertainment which preceded evening door prizes.
Connie and I had an opportunity to explore the Tampa area a bit while not missing many of the scheduled events. We were also able to rest up a bit from the previous week. I think that one of the best parts of this event was the socializing that went on during the event. With the exception of one field trip dinner, the dinners were served in a large banquet room with eight top tables. Each evening we sat at different tables and with one exception met different people. Since the pace was so much slower at this event we were able to get to know the people we were seated with each evening.
There were a couple of more memorable events that occurred while in Seffner. Two of the first people we saw as we were registering were Greg and his wife, our neighbors from Perry. We would eventually eat dinner with them and two other couples from their home base area the last two nights we were there. There was another couple we met at dinner one night who looked really familiar to me. As we talked about where we had all spent the winter we came to realize that this couple had spent several weeks at Kings Bay and were just down the lane from them during two of our visits to Kings Bay. In fact one of the things I remembered about this fellow was that he is even more anal about keeping his motorhome and car clean as I am. I watched him dust his car off each morning to get the dust and pollen off the finish. I don’t do that. I thought it was sort of strange behavior. But then I also watched a guy dry his car after it rained one day. The next morning he was drying the dew off the car. So, I guess when you are retired and you don’t like to golf you have to do something with your time.
Both of these events wound up being very educational for Connie and me. We picked up a lot of technical knowledge that has made us even more comfortable as we navigate this big rig down the roads. We also met a lot of really nice people and I dare say we continued to validate our decision to live this lifestyle.
That said, we got back to St Mary’s, Georgia just in time to close on the sale of our home in Woodbine. We now own just one home and it has six wheels. What a life.