I received a phone call one fine day from our friends at Freightliner Custom Chassis who suggested that I come up to Gaffney, South Carolina for a visit of the Service and Manufacturing facilities to which I replied a resounding , I’ll be right there! Come Wednesday, it was finally time to check everything over one last time, make sure the tires were aired up, hook up the toad and make revs and point the motorhome’s nose into the wind.
We took to the road at about 10:00am and ran out on 501 toward Florence picked up on the 76 westbound and continued to the 327 which put us on I-95. We figure that no matter where we need to be on I95 it takes about an hour to get there. Going south for a few miles we picked up I-20 out to Columbia. Running out to Columbia one will find a brand new rest stop at about an hour out of Florence and just up the road a few miles more there’s a “Hook.” We stopped at both not being in any hurry as Roxy definitely is a big tourist and takes the opportunity to stretch her legs at every opportunity. We topped off our gas tank and moved forward and setup to take on LP. I will normally open the hatch, turn off the LP, crack open the bleeder a bit to see that it works and unscrew the fill cap. On this occasion 2 men came out to the filling station one which I found out was being trained. The price of LP at the Flying J was $3.20 per gallon which indeed got my attention.
The KOA’s Mini Golf and Shady Resting Places The Park also has a fenced in doggie play area
Continuing on through the Columbia area one can take notice of the signs for Fort Jackson on the I-77 which runs to the I-26 South toward Charleston the jewel of the South and North up to Charlotte, NC the capitol of motorsports. Crossing over the Broad River the I-26 begins the northbound climb toward the highlands of South Carolina. The Interstate is a series of uphill hump backs as it winds toward the Sumter National Forest. Approaching the I-385 split toward Greenville, the highway is closed as they are reconstructing a new overpass which crosses over the southbound lanes on the I-26. I-385 will be closed until mid August 2010.
Campsites at the KOA, Clean Shady Sites, and feature pull throughs with 50A, Water & Sewer Connections
Continuing on for another 50 or so miles Spartanburg’s City Limit sign came into view and shortly thereafter we picked on the I-85 and began the final leg of our trip past Cowpens, SC. The Cowpens National Battlefield is the site of a famous Revolutionary War battle which was waged in January 1781. In this battle, the Continental Army’s Colonel Daniel Morgan’s 300 men Army defeated the British under General Banastre Tarleton’s Light Calvary in a rare but effective maneuver called double envelopment. This victory gave confidence to our soldiers at the time which were later pressed on toward service in Yorktown. It is quite remarkable that there were more Revolutionary War battles and skirmishes fought in South Carolina than in the other colonies.
The USS Cowpens, CG-63 is the 7th ship built in the Ticonderoga Class of guided missile cruisers which commemorates the 1 hour victory achieved at the site of the battle.
Arriving at Exit 87 we followed the signs to the Spartanburg/Gaffney KOA formerly Pine Cone Campground. We were greeted by the staff and while we were checking in we received a briefing as to what we could expect in the morning in regard to Camp Freightliner. The KOA staff attempts to park all the attendees together. I was told that on the days when camp is in session, a mini-bus is sent over to pick up the attendees at the KOA exactly at 7:30am and if you’re not there, the bus will leave you in the dust.
Come Thursday morning, I was up at 4:00am and yes for once I was up before “Al.” I guess I was just apprehensive about going back to school and all that but when 7:30 came along I was ready to go.
Colleen saw the shuttle first and told me that the bus is here. Just about forgetting everything I had prepared for, including my phone, I left having patted Colleen on the head and kissed Roxy. I began walking toward the Freightliner logoed shuttle which was in the street behind my rig. Just as I was approaching the shuttle it began slowly moving forward and I’m thinking “no way!” I waved and with a bit of relief he stopped and I climbed aboard in the passenger seat. I put my bag on the floor and introduced myself.
The uniformed driver introduced himself as Mike Cody. I happened to see that Mike was working from a list. He had names, registration numbers and phone number so there was no missing anyone. On this day I was the only pickup and after checking his list and driving around the sites we weren’t able to find anyone else. Mike got on his phone and made a call and found out that one person he was concerned about was not going to be able to make it. Having gotten through the list we made our way out of the campground and we were on our way to Camp Freightliner.
Camp Freightliner is located on 103 Campus Drive, in Gaffney, SC. We departed the campground via Sarratt School Road by taking a left out of the campground and made our way toward Campus Drive which is North off of the Chesney Highway at Exit 90. The Camp is adjacent to the Spartanburg Community College campus. As we drove into the facility I saw where this is actually the Freightliner Oasis Service Center. The term, “Oasis Service Center” is applied nationwide to those centers that have achieved an elevated proficiency score derived from customer surveys by demonstrating excellent technical ability and skills and by providing continuously hi standards of customer satisfaction.
While driving onto the property you pass right by the customer service entrance. A large comfortable waiting lounge is available as is coffee and a wide screen TV. Continuing around the back of the building there are a number of hookup sites where water and electric are available for customers staying overnight. The service center is equipped with lifts in just about every bay and I believe they have a 10 bay facility. I was later able to sneak a peek into the service bays and it was impressive to see a line of motorhomes standing up on a lifts. A quick observation showed me that the floor appeared to be quite clean which is what should be expected from a quality motorhome repair facility. By working on a lift, the technician’s efficiency is improved which equally reduces the labor cost to the customer.
Mike and I continued around the building and past the overnight hook up sites and pulled into a parking space on the opposite side of the building. I grabbed my bag and exited the vehicle and followed Mike into the building. There was a small office space that we walked through and a left turn put us into the classroom. There were already some folks in there and greetings and handshakes were being passed around. There were a couple of owners up from Florida and one of the participants just wanted to attend the class and learn about Freightliner Chassis because he is tasked as a tail ender on caravan tours. In most cases the class attendees were there to have service work accomplished and they were able to kill 2 birds with one stone by attending Camp Freightliner at the same time.
In the back of the class room was a large pot of fresh perked coffee with all the sundries and there was an option for bottled water or soda. We were told when one could get fresh ice just outside the class from a dispenser on a refrigerator and while we were out there to note the locations of the bathrooms which were very clean I might add. Having just poured a hot cup of coffee I made my way to a seat and made myself comfortable. On the table in front of us was a 3 ring binder with a Camp Freightliner logo on the cover and a souvenir pen. Opening the binder there are 342 pages of material which are covered within the 2 day length of the course. Mike addressed the class and in his opening comments said that we would have a lot of ground to cover but that there would be enough time to discuss any type of issues that came up. The class begins at 8:00am and continues to about 4:30 pm with an hour off for lunch including an AM and a PM break.
After Mike’s introductory comments we began the course. I was asked not to go into too much detail here about what was taught however I will share some of the content of the course and what was covered. Mike said that if I were to write word for word about what was taught I might be taking the fun out of it for those folks reading wanting to attend the Camp. Believe me; you want to be in Mike’s class. He is a professional instructor and when he is not teaching owners, he trains dealers and other persons in the RV business. In Mike’s long career at FCCC he began working on the production line and moved up in skill and ability and now has advanced into his current position. Mike loves his job and it shows in both his attitude and his patience with any issues that were presented by the class.
One of the biggest challenges that confront an owner of a complex piece of equipment is the lack of being prepared to deal with common everyday occurrences and how to manage your ownership. It’s one thing to be able to turn the key in the ignition and head on down the road without a care in the world however there are real time challenges in daily operation that have to be fully understood. This class is not so much about stocking a tool box and fixing your RV by yourself however you will be given enough information so that you can chose whether to task the maintenance of your vehicle on your own or be in a position of being an informed consumer. When it comes time to deal with any issues or service requirements you will have a thorough understanding about what needs to be done.
The very best mechanics do not know the answer to every possible situation that they will encounter during the day. Parallel that to an average RV owner and you can see the challenge. What levels the playing field in most cases is not so much in having memorized a the technical skill to do a service or maintenance procedure but to know where you can get the right information about how the procedure is done. Knowing where to look, the location of the components in question and the correct part numbers for the replacements makes servicing one of these complex machines more manageable. Once a person has the information at hand they can better determine how to approach a resolution or whether it would be a process best left to a professional technician. Knowledge about any process can be equated to the money that stands a good chance of remaining in your pocket. Camp Freightliner achieves that goal.
What makes the school curriculum special is all about the instructor. Mike is not only completely competent with the materials that he instructs but more importantly he relates well to an RV owner because he is one himself.
Mike is positioned in front of the class and is surrounded by a dozen or more of pieces of equipment arranged loosely on a table in front of him. When during the course Mike needs to quickly show something; there’s a good chance that the component in question is somewhere on his desk. The course is presented via an overhead projection device and materials in the camp binder along with Internet searches are displayed on a screen in front of the class.
Mike also draws out examples on a board and admittedly has stated that art is not his strong suit however in my opinion Van Gogh would have been jealous. For discussions outside the provided materials, Mike has several hundreds of files on his machine that he makes references to when they are needed.
By the time the 1st morning break has occurred the class has a good idea about where to go to obtain answers. Any information that an owner needs about their rig is completely documented on www.accessfreightliner.com. The requirements are that a Freightliner motorhome be owned and that the new owner login to the website and enter their ownership information. In a few days perhaps as much as 2 weeks a password to access the system will be returned via eMail. Once you log back in with the provided password the resources in the “Access Freightliner” will become available. In regard to how quickly a password is returned in real time, one of the students in the class reported that a password was returned to him within a few hours after he registered. One other resource that is instilled into all the students is that in the event all else fails there is always 800-FTL-HELP.
Mike shared with us that from his on-road RV’ing experiences that if you were to make an emergency replacement parts kit that he would bring a fuel water separator, a fuel filter and a serpentine belt. Storing these items was also an important part of the discussion because those parts could be in the coach for quite some time. During this discussion, Mike presented practical solutions that RV’ers can immediately relate to and in this case how best to protect the replacement parts.
Freightliner owners will be pleased to know that the 6 month maintenance intervals have been dropped. In diminished use are also the terms M1, M2 and M3. Service requirements are now broken down into 1, 2 or 3 year intervals which extend the time that maintenance is required on motorhome chassis. As we continued, we covered all the engine types that are used on the motorhome chassis, how the XC types of chassis are named and began covering emission controls and understanding SCR.
The morning was full of information and before we knew it lunch time rolled around. Directly outside the classroom, tables were setup and a buffet lunch was provided which consisted of a large salad plate, chicken strips, fries, onion rings, cookies and beverages. During lunch we all took the opportunity to become more familiar with one another and we shared some stories and situations that occurred while we were on the road. After a few minutes, rather than making a last call on lunch, Mike told us that the shop mechanics would be coming through shortly and whatever was left on the lunch table would shortly be cleaned up so we took the opportunity to secure seconds.
Lunch concluded at about 1:00pm and we were back into the books. Mike began by describing the differences and benefits of both a compression type brake like a Jacobs brake and an exhaust type brake that we might see from Pac Brake. Each of these systems has precautions that need to be considered to employ them efficiently and safely. The use of these devices assists the driver in controlling the deceleration of the motorhome. Shortly thereafter it didn’t take long for Mike to take us down the road of understanding exactly what Selective Catalytic Reduction is all about but just before that we covered the operation and fundamentals of turbo charging. On the Cummins ISB 07 we learned about VGT or Variable Geometry Turbo. The VGT is an important component which not only provides all of the air that is required to make the power that is expected from a diesel engine but is also an important component that assists both EGR flow and after treatment efficiency.