Our trip today was a relatively short run up to Spartan, the builder of the chassis our Entegra Aspire rides on. Spartan Chassis is located in Charlotte, Michigan which is only about 100 miles north of Middlebury, IN and the Entegra facility.
Spartan manufactures armored military vehicles, fire engines, buses and RV chassis plus other specialty vehicles. Currently, Spartan is providing RV chassis for the Newmar Essex and King Aire, the Tiffin Zephyr and tag axle Phaeton products and all Entegra models. The Entegra Aspire and Anthem are built on the Spartan MMGT model chassis and the Entegra Cornerstone on the top of the line Spartan K3.
Because of its relatively close proximity, it just seemed prudent to head up to Spartan and get a chassis checkup via their offered 44 point inspection. Even with a brand new coach, problems may exist with the chassis, some serious. Consider that the chassis hangs around for a while waiting in the production queue, then the basement framework and structural bridging gets welded or bolted on and then it experiences assorted other hazards found on the coach builders assembly floor. It turns out that it is very common for some issues to develop with the chassis after all this that might not get noticed by the coach builder. After our experience with the heating, we wanted to feel confident that everything was working properly on the chassis and what better place to go than the factory itself?
Just after crossing the border from Indiana we were presented with the banner “Welcome to Pure Michigan”? Huh? Does that mean we were now in a “Pure” part of Michigan undiluted by other states? Or maybe perhaps that it was very clean part of Michigan? Or?? Well naturally I had to whip out my Smartphone and Google it. Apparently, in 2006 an advertising campaign was launched using Tim Allen’s voice with a goal to lure more tourists to the state’s apparently pristine attributes. I guess the name stuck!
Aside from distant past excursions, Michigan is new territory for the two of us. Since we’ve heard all sorts of reports about how lovely (and “pure”) it is, we definitely want to go back and explore further when we have more time and a fully provisioned coach.
Luckily we had been forewarned about limited access into Charlotte due to construction at I-69 Exit 60 (Shepherd St.) and took exit 57 instead – good thing, Shepherd St. is completely shut down! We arrived at the Spartan campus (there are several buildings) around 2:30 pm and easily found the overnight hookup area (electric only) at 920 Reynolds Rd. We picked out a site (#15) that didn’t have a cone or other marker indicating the coach owner would be returning later after a day in the shop.
There are at least 30 sites here, about 20 or so with permanent power posts where we parked, although they were so narrow that all the coaches had to have an empty site between them or there would be no room for the slide outs. It was difficult to get completely level on these sites but we managed to get close. There are also another 10 or more sites but these are provided power via a string of weatherproof outlets and above ground cabling – these appeared to be properly laid out but obviously were temporary.
We had been advised that it would be a good idea to get our service write up completed the day before our appointment (Wednesday 7 am) so we headed over to the service building. The customer lounge area was quite crowded with other coach owners and no seats were available. When we checked at the window, we were told that it might be a little bit of a wait to see the Service Manager and maybe we would want to come back around 4 pm. OK, no problem – back to the coach we went to hang out. A little before 4 pm we headed back to the service lounge where we were told that Chris, the Service Manager, would be with us shortly. NOT! Finally, shortly after 5 pm, we were called into Chris’ office to fill out the paperwork for our appointment. Apparently, the long wait time was not typical – they were short handed on this particular day.
The rest of our day was uneventful. The following morning Chris personally came out around 8 am since he wanted to take the coach for a test drive based on the feedback Rob had given him. After the test drive, we hopped in the van and went out to breakfast at a small restaurant, Eaton Place, in downtown Charlotte. Breakfast was good, nothing special.
Despite the rather gloomy weather and the threat of rain, we decided to kill some time and take a ride to Lansing where we drove around the Capital Loop. While we were driving, we stumbled across a very pretty park on the Grand River so we sat there for a while watching the geese with their goslings.
We arrived back at Spartan mid-afternoon where we waited in the lounge area striking up conversations with other people who were having service. Our coach was ready around 3 pm. Overall a good report with just a few minor (but not insignificant) items that needed to be corrected.
For one, the differential was down 6 pints of lubricant (out of around 30) – fortunately no damage done and no leaks. Apparently the entire axle is oil filled and Chris speculated that they might not have “burped” it properly during assembly. The other issue was some chafing going on between some of the brake air lines and the tag axle air bags – this was corrected.
We also had the rear U-bolts re-torqued and the tire pressures recalculated and adjusted for the weight measurements that Entegra had taken – the coach is not loaded yet so this will need fine tuning later, but we wanted to get a baseline on the weight distribution. In addition, Entegra sent over the front end alignment report done by the local shop in Middlebury and Chris confirmed that originally there was a problem there, but that it appeared to have been taken care of.
One other issue Rob had was some drive train noise (whine) at speeds over 50mph. The coach is so quiet otherwise that this seems more obvious than it perhaps would be on other coaches. Chris acknowledged the noise but indicated there was nothing wrong – apparently some of the Meritor “quiet” gears are noisier than others. Chris indicated Meritor makes you jump through hoops with such warranty complaints – we have not decided yet if it is worth the aggravation.
So, it seems this was a definitely a worthwhile trip and we were happy that everything checked out!
On the way back to our coach, we stopped to talk to one of our neighbors, Jim who owns a 2008 Newmar London Aire. During the conversation, he mentioned that the coach was a custom prototype with a sale price in the 7 digit range. In the picture to the right, his is the one to the left of ours with the “toy hauler” used to haul 2 motorcycles and his Toyota Scion iQ “mini car”.
All of it was custom – granite floor, granite counters plus a lot of other whiz bang things. Unlike most diesel pushers, the floor plan is arranged with the entry door amidships. Jim and Carol own a site at Hearthside Grove which is a Class A Motorhome Resort in Petovsky, MI so he invited us to stop by any time we were in MI. We will probably do that some day!
That night as we watched the news, we were alerted to the threat of severe weather heading across Michigan. What made us nervous is a tornado warning area just a few miles west of Charlotte! Local TV was interrupted with a warning that rotation was being observed in the area. In the end, they didn’t come near us but it was pretty nerve wracking for awhile. We did have high winds and torrential downpours however which lasted most of the night. To keep our minds off the storm and to have notice of an emergency, we watched the Stanley Cup Playoff game until 1 am since the Boston Bruins were playing the Chicago Black Hawks. Even though the Bruins lost in OT, it was a pretty exciting game.
By Thursday morning we were done with all of our service visits and it was time to hit the road to head home.