Time to head to Charlotte, MI so we could attend the Entegra specific chassis training class the week of June 23rd as well as have some general service performed on our coach. The week long class started on Monday and we were scheduled to have our coach serviced on Tuesday. Simple enough – or so it seemed!
Spartan Chassis is located approximately 100 miles from Middlebury so our drive would only be a little over 1-1/2 hours. It was a nice, sunny day so it would be a pleasant drive on US-20E eventually merging onto I-69N towards Lansing, MI. We would stay on I-69 until we took exit 60 onto M50 toward Charlotte, which is a straight run, then a left onto Reynolds Road. Both the first and second right on Reynolds Road will take you into the Spartan “campground” or overnight parking area.
In the materials Spartan had sent us for the training class, we were told to be sure we had empty holding tanks (yep, we did) and a full fuel tank (nope, we didn’t) in prep for getting our coach weighed which is offered as part of the class. When we pulled into the Spartan “Resort”, we hadn’t fueled up yet so we unhitched the toad and headed back up M50 towards the I-69 interchange at Exit 60 where we had seen a Meijer gas station with diesel. We figured it would be easier to maneuver the beast into a non truck stop type of station without the toad. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out where the diesel pumps are at these stations so after Rob pulled in, I hopped out and walked over to the pumps. There was a car at the only pump where there was a nozzle for diesel so I stood by the pump until he was finished, ready to punch anyone out who tried to muscle in before Rob could maneuver the beast to it. That must have scared everyone off because no one approached and Rob was able to easily pull the coach over to the pump.
Now with a full tank, we headed back to Spartan where we backed into our reserved, assigned space (#7) in the parking lot. The “sites” which only have an electric hookup are not designed for rigs with slides (??) so only every other marked site is actually useable. After we backed in, Rob tried to lower the jacks. Oh, oh, they wouldn’t go down. Several attempts later, they still wouldn’t go down. Since the “sites” weren’t particularly level, it looked like we would be spending our week at a tilt!
Funny seeing predominantly Entegra coaches parked in the lot. It didn’t take long for everyone (classes are limited to 7 couples) to congregate in front of one of the rigs, then out came the munchies, the chairs and the adult beverages. Let the party begin! What a great group of people! We could tell immediately that it was going to be a fun week!
A lot of people have asked us “what do they teach you at a chassis class?” Lots of stuff! By the end of the class (click on the link to see the agenda) you will know everything you ever wanted to know about your chassis but were too afraid too ask!
For those of you who are not familiar with RV’s, each chassis is custom built for the particular RV manufacturer. So for example, Spartan has three different custom chassis that are specifically designed to meet the requirements set by Entegra for the Aspire, Anthem and Cornerstone. Besides Entegra, Spartan also makes the motorhome chassis for high end Newmar’s, some Tiffin’s and now also Foretravel coaches. Each coach maker will spec out the individual components (tires, axles, suspension, traction control, etc.) on the chassis slightly differently. Spartan also builds fire engines, delivery trucks and military vehicles.
One reason we wanted to take this particular class was that it would be specific to Entegra – Ted Cook (engineer from Entegra) would be teaching the Entegra specific sections of the class. Plus our coach would be driven into the service bay after hours and we would get to go underneath into the “pit” with a tech who would walk through your chassis with you. After the pit tour, our coach would be driven to the scales so it could be weighed at all four corners. Our coach had been weighed last year but at the time it wasn’t fully loaded with all of our “stuff” so it was hard to know how to adjust the tire pressure. And last but not least, there would also be a driving class in your own coach with an experienced instructor. Since I had never had an opportunity to drive the beast, I was a little nervous about this – would I flunk the course?
Just as a note, when we first bought our 2006 Fleetwood Discovery, we took a similar class at Freightliner in Gaffney, SC which was quite informative. There was no “pit” or driving course at Freightliner but it would be interesting to see how the classroom portion of the classes compared.
So anyway, our training was to begin on Monday morning at 8:00 am. Similar to our experience at Entegra, on the day of your scheduled service your coach would need to be ready to be taken to the service bay by 7:00 am.
Each day Spartan would provide a continental breakfast and lunch, with a full breakfast including an omelet bar on Thursday. We had heard and read on the forums that when you attend class you are fed well. Boy, did that hold true! Lunch (provided by the food service from a college in Lansing) wasn’t just sandwiches! Among some of the dishes we had were pork roast with stuffing, pasta, prime rib (yes, you read that right), pulled pork, macaroni & cheese, mashed/stuffed potatoes, a variety of veggies plus desserts were served buffet style each day. Wow, it was so good! Trust me, by 3 pm we were all nodding off during the class. (Note that the food is for the Owners Training only, if you are in for regular service that benefit is not provided!)
Now if you read my last post about having service with kitties on board, we had the same dilemma here as we did at Entegra. Since we would be in class, there was no way we could leave them in the play pen all day. Greg Rinehart, the organizer of the class, had told us we could bring them to class but we knew there would be a number of dogs there so that probably wouldn’t work and again the meowing might be a major distraction. About a month or so before our arrival at Spartan, I had found a website for Daisy’s Pet Retreat in Charlotte which boarded both dogs and cats and had made a reservation for them for Tuesday. After our arrival on Sunday we drove there, about a 10 minute ride to see the place and to meet Anna. Looked okay, at least there was a separate room away from the dogs where the cats stay. There were tall cages with shelves – each shelf had a large hole in the back corner so the cats could climb up and down, staying at whatever level they wanted. The litter box was at the bottom. Since they didn’t have any other cats boarding, Anna told us they would have the run of the room. We thought we would only need to board them one or two days but that wasn’t how it turned out. To board them each day was $21 for the two of them, a lot less expensive than other places I had called – it was usually that much per cat.
On the first day after the continental breakfast, we were escorted over to another building to begin a factory tour which was quite interesting. No mass production line here, each chassis was different! Then back to the classroom. I won’t go into any details about the class except to say that even though pretty technical it was somewhat interesting to a non-mechanical person such as myself. When we went to the Freightliner class in 2011, being new to the RV world, I didn’t even know what a chassis was! I’ve come a long way baby!
After the factory tour, Mike, our instructor, walked us around the chassis that was in the classroom talking about chassis maintenance. In the afternoon, he focused on the chassis air and electrical systems. Yours truly now knows the difference between the air service brakes and spring brakes. Woo hoo!
Class ended around 4:00 p.m. Since we were going into service the next day, we needed to get together with Chris McCord, our service writer to go through our list of the things we wanted to have done. We had tried several times during the day but Chris was always busy or on the phone. Finally he was available. On our list was the 44 point inspection, lube, oil change, etc. and fix the following:
- the leak in the radiator that Mike at Entegra had discovered
- an air leak that we had been experiencing intermittently which of course never reared its ugly head when it was in the service bay either at Entegra or Spartan
- the overplay in the steering column causing Rob to constantly correct the steering
- the rear end whine that we could hear inside the coach. We had complained about it the previous year and were told by Chris that Meritor (who makes the rear gears) was very difficult to deal with and it was probably a lost cause trying to get them to fix it. Since the coach was new to us, we didn’t press the matter at the time, but the more we travel, the more annoying that noise becomes. Entegra advertises their coach as having the “quietest ride, period” and Spartan advertised the chassis as having a “quiet gear” but that certainly wasn’t the case with our coach (figures, right?). Chris gave us the same spiel this year. Looked like we were going to have a battle on our hands. Grrrr!
When we got back to the coach after meeting with Chris and picking up the kitties, Rob decided to try the jacks again. As he pushed the button to put them down, I was thinking to myself based on the problem we had in Shipshewanna that maybe he shouldn’t be doing this. But I figured he knew more about this stuff than I did so I didn’t say anything – down went the jacks without a problem. Ah, how nice, the coach would be level for the night.
Around 4:00 a.m. the next morning we both abruptly awoke to a tremendous ka-boom! Yikes! Well, it seemed we were having a rather nasty electrical storm. The power had gone out and Rob went out to check on things. He found that our neighbor/classmate 3 coaches over was pulling his rig out of his space with all the slides extended – what the heck?! Well it turns out the ka-boom caused the electrical service drop next to that coach to catch fire and spew sparks! Whoa! Not sure if it was a direct or indirect lightning strike but either way it was a scary situation – fortunately none of the coaches suffered any electrical damage. We heard the next day that a tree up on the hill behind us near the fire station had been struck as well.
So on Tuesday morning, even though we were up at 4:00 a.m. we had to have the coach ready by 7:00 a.m. and obviously have the kitties in their carriers in prep for their big adventure so it felt a little hectic. But everything seemed to be going well until… oh no …the jacks wouldn’t come up! This time the motor wouldn’t even run. Great, now what! While Rob continued to fiddle with the jacks, I walked down to the service building to see if possibly Ted Cook had arrived and he could help in some way. Nope, no luck there but I told Chris what had happened so he could alert service. Just in case, Rob put a sign on the steering wheel so the tech would know that there was a problem with the jacks and wouldn’t try to drive it with the jacks down.
Since it was getting close to the start of the class, we jumped in the car and drove over to Daisy’s to drop the kitties off and came back just in time to grab whatever they were serving for breakfast just as class started. Rob contacted Entegra – they would call Spartan service and work with them so the tech could manually pull the jacks up using a drill. Sounded like a plan!
Well, without boring everyone with a lot of gory details, nothing happened very quickly so I spent a good deal of the morning going back and forth to the service desk, talking to Entegra, etc., missing some of the class. But that was okay – it was more important for Rob not to miss any of the class. It was a tough situation because the problem wasn’t a result of anything Spartan did and yet they had to somehow fix it so we could go into service. It was a stressful morning for me but it did eventually work itself out.
On the agenda for Tuesday morning was a session on the Cummins engine and troubleshooting. Then in the afternoon, Ted Cook was scheduled to lead the Entegra specific portion of the training. Even though this was the first Entegra specific session, Ted did an excellent job. Ted covered most of the common questions that get asked regarding things like the batteries, inverter/charger, electrical system, hydraulic jacks, auto generator start, slide control systems, etc. and then opened up the session to questions – there were plenty of those!
Finally from the window of the classroom we could see someone up at our coach with a phone crawling around on the ground working on the jacks. Success! About 2:30 p.m. our coach finally went into the service bay. The jacks had to be retracted by using an electric drill to run the hydraulic pump. Rob had tried this earlier but his drill batteries didn’t have enough charge.
Class was finally over but our day wasn’t done yet. That night we were scheduled for our “pit” tour so we left class a little early so we could pick up the kids and put them on board the coach in the service bay. Since we would be tied up for a few hours, not wanting us to starve (fat chance of that after the very filling lunches), Spartan had a small buffet of really good sandwich wraps, chips and pasta salad. Three couples would be taking the “pit” tour of their coaches so we were each assigned our own tech.
Our tech, Brian Morrison, led us over to the service bay where our coach was located. First he walked around the exterior of the coach, having Rob open up the compartments where the batteries, generator, engine, etc. were housed pointing out various components. Then down into the pit we went. Pretty neat seeing the undersides of our coach! Of course, I wasn’t really interested in all the technical details but obviously Rob was, asking a lot of questions.
We spent almost two hours in the pit and when we were done, Brian drove our coach out of the service bay and over to the scales so we could be weighed. Once that was done, it was back to our site where we spent a quiet evening. What an exhausting day!
Before we left class, we were advised by service NOT to use the jacks that night or any night for that matter (which of course we were well aware of). Whatever changes Equalizer had made while we were at Entegra obviously weren’t working so we would have to return there so Equalizer could fix the “fix” they had made! Luckily we had already made plans to return to Middlebury again for the other issues mentioned in a previous post.
To be continued….