Polar Vortex

Arctic air. Something to look forward to over the next few weeks. Despite significant snowfall in December, the weather has been relatively mild for a Canadian winter with temperatures hovering around the 0 Celsius mark. That would be in the 30s for my American friends.

Yes. Canadians have a different scale when describing mild weather. Using the Fahrenheit scale, temperatures in the 30s and 40s would be mild, 50s and 60s would be pleasant, 70s would be warm. 80s would be a heat wave.

We haven’t seen the lake freeze over as yet although I suspect that it will happen soon.

This morning I woke up to see a hint of ice beginning to form on the surface of the water.

A bit of a different view from last year at this time. This was from the front of our motorcoach in Florida.

No idea where we might be next year at this time. Part of the adventure I suppose.

Certainly thinking about other options now. Pretty much had enough of needing to worry about where we might be able to park our coach — aside from putting it into storage for months on end.

RV Love or Hate?

We’re done RVing. No, not us. At least not yet. The pandemic forced us to hang up the keys for a season. For how long? It seems likely now that the pandemic is going to last for years. Not weeks. Not months. But years.

If that turns out to be the case then I really don’t see much point in keeping a beautiful coach locked up for half the year. With our style of RVing, Canada does not offer much in the way of Class A motorcoach resorts. I haven’t found one in our country.

Where we park our coach in Ontario is the nicest RV campground we have been able to find but it really does not compare to any of the Class A motorcoach resorts we have enjoyed in the United States.

We embraced this lifestyle so that we could travel both sides of the border without having to maintain two properties. Who knew that a pandemic would change all that?

In our province, we are locked down until the end of January. Health officials are gasping at the increase in case counts and debating new restrictions for the population. What more could they restrict?

The list of what is restricted now is so extensive that I can’t really imagine what else could be imposed. If you are curious to know all that we cannot do, the complete list is here.

Vaccines? Perhaps they might help. Right now Canada has vaccinated roughly 50,000 people. At the current pace it will take about 70 years to vaccinate the population. I expect the pace of government will improve somewhat.

The Ontario government is suggesting by fourth quarter of 2021 that roughly 8 million people in Ontario will get jabbed. Not sure if that will be one or two jabs as the individual leading the vaccination charge is already pondering whether the vaccine manufacturers can deploy a single dose vaccine. The current ones require a couple of pokes.

What if a couple of pokes in enough arms doesn’t end the pandemic? What if COVID has staying power for years to come?

This from the World Health Organization’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan:

I don’t believe we have the evidence on any of the vaccines to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection and therefore being able to pass it on so I think we need to assume that people who have been vaccinated also need to take the same [public health] precautions.

I’m not optimistic about life getting back to normal any time soon.

In my social media feed, I received this news from Marc and Julie Bennett from RV Love. I had followed them for quite some time before they decided to use their social media activities for profit.

I have nothing against people that decide to monetize their websites or their YouTube videos. Selling stuff to other people happens to everyone all the time. I sold my labour and my time for decades before retirement.

I just didn’t like the direction they took once they started making money from their followers.

They have now abandoned the full-time RV lifestyle. They bought a house. Here is what they had to say:

Many RVers are making changes right now. This news may not even be that surprising to you. After all, many of our fellow full time RVers have also either shifted to part time travel, decided to take a season off and pause their full time RV life, and some have hung up the keys on RV life altogether… we’re not saying we are stopping full time RVing for good! We’re just putting it on hold for the time being. We’ll wait for the world to settle down a bit, which will also give us time to reassess what’s next in our RV and travel adventures.

We are in a similar spot right now. Debating what makes sense for our future. We were forced to put full-time RVing on hold. We are back in a house for the winter.

Like Marc and Julie, we’ll wait for the world to settle down a bit. We really have no choice.

That wait might take a few years.

Another One Bites The Dust: THOR and Tiffin

Oligopolies. I’m not a big fan of industry consolidation. And I’m not at all happy to see Tiffin acquired by THOR. With Newmar and Tiffin out of the market as independent companies, the RV industry in North America is basically being controlled by two companies, Thor and Forest River, with a wee bit of the market owned by Winnebago.

That level of concentration in the industry is not good news for consumers.

An oligopoly is a market state where there is limited competition. The market players can engage in collusion to ensure profits are maximized. They impose barriers to entry which can stifle innovation. There is little incentive to be efficient and an oligopoly can fix artificially high prices. Customers experience poor service. There is an appearance of choice with brand proliferation however the underlying product is really being manufactured by a small set of companies.

Well, let’s take a look at this sad tale shall we?

Tiffin was family owned and operated for almost 50 years. They generated $800 million in sales for the last fiscal year. They have about 2,000 employees.

The selling price of the company? $300 million. Winnebago purchased Newmar for about $340 million. The main difference is that Winnebago borrowed a lot of money to make the deal. Roughly $290 million.

THOR borrowed $165 million. They will fund the balance from existing cash on-hand.

THOR expects to “enhance” the operating efficiencies of Tiffin’s margins to be in line with THOR’s North American Motorized segment. No material impact to earnings is expected in the upcoming fiscal year.

Be prepared for cheaply made Tiffins in the not too distant future.

The new structure is presented as an independent company within the THOR family of companies with Tiffin’s existing management to remain in place.

I read through the lengthy Stock Purchase Agreement between THOR and Tiffin. If you have an interest — and a few hours to spare — you can download the pdf here.

Fairly typical of complex legal documents that describe the sale of a business.

Many of the social media posts on this acquisition will say that things will remain the same with Tiffin. And yet that is not the practice of large corporations operating in an oligopoly. The overall objective will be to maximize return to shareholders. Increase margin. The operating model of Tiffin will change.

THOR Shareholders will benefit as limited competition protects profits.

Oligopolies are great for investors.

For consumers? Not so great.

So long Tiffin.

Tampa RV SuperShow Is A Go

We won’t be at the Tampa RV SuperShow this year. Surprised that they are still going to run it during a global pandemic. Will they attract the same crowds?

Florida government officials could possibly be in a state of denial about the severity of the pandemic:

Florida police raided the home of a former state coronavirus data scientist on Monday, escalating a feud between the state government and a data expert who has accused officials of trying to cover up the extent of the pandemic.

The data scientist, Rebekah Jones, was fired in May.

Rebekah Jones said in an email to CBS12 News that her removal was “not voluntary” and that she was removed from her position because she was ordered to censor some data, but refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

And the latest COVID-19 stats from the Tampa Bay Times:

Florida added 9,592 coronavirus cases and 89 deaths Wednesday, bringing the total numbers of deaths since March to 19,716.

The state has reported about 9,315 cases and 101 deaths each day on average this week, according to the Florida Department of Health.

More than 1 million Floridians have been infected during the pandemic. Florida has the third-highest number of cases in the country. It trails behind Texas, with more than 1.2 million cases, and California with over 1.3 million cases.

No better time, I suppose, to run an event that usually attracts about 75,000 people. Keeping people six feet apart in a motorhome will be an interesting trick. I would expect long waits to walk through the coaches on display. Unless very few people show up. Which I doubt.

Up here in the frozen Great White North, we can’t legally gather more than 100 people at an organized outdoor event. Not that we would want to be outside for any length of time in the winter.

Same pandemic. Different rules.

Here is the press release on the RV SuperShow.

While the Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA) Board of Directors voted to cancel Industry Day at the 2021 Florida RV SuperShow set for next month, the five public days of the show will still take place as scheduled Jan. 13-17 at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.

“We’ve had a number of exhibitors request extra time to set up,” said FRVTA Show Director Lesa Colvin. “Plus, the extra day will give us more time to get ready for the five pubic days. We will be instituting a lot of new measures to make sure the show is a clean and safe environment for the public as well as our exhibitors”.

Holding the show with COVID-19 prompted some changes for this year’s “Tampa Show.” Temperature checks will be done on all exhibitors and attendees. Masks will be required inside the buildings and RVs (Hillsborough County Mandate). Sanitizer and wash stations will be located throughout the show. Social distancing will be enforced and both supplier buildings and RVs will be sanitized nightly and cleaned on a regular basis during the show.

FRVTA Executive Director Dave Kelly said it was a tough decision to cancel Industry Day but the board did what they thought was the right thing. “I hope everyone can understand this is not a typical year, we are concentrating all of our efforts into holding the most successful public show we can. Any extra time we can have to make sure we are ready to welcome the public is appreciated this year.”

I suspect most of my friends in Florida will stay pretty close to their coaches for the most part and avoid the show.

From what I can tell, the Newmar Rally at the Tampa SuperShow is still a go. Except that there won’t be any Newmar service technicians in attendance. Can’t have the service techs getting infected.

As for the Newmar Kountry Klub folks decision to still run with the Tampa rally, well, they do ask you to sign a disclaimer:

All persons attending a Klub rally must agree to this disclaimer in order to participate. I/We agree, in consideration for being able to participate in the described Newmar Kountry Klub activity, to release and to indemnify and hold harmless Newmar Kountry Klub, its Directors and Officers and Newmar Corporation, its officers and employees, from all liability for injury or damages to my person or property, or the property of persons who accompany me to this activity. With knowledge of the type of risk or harm which might occur at such activity, I sign this release and indemnity as part of my application. All adult members & their guests must sign and in so doing, assume all responsibility for minors in their care.

On Fire

Knee deep in a major livestream Christmas production project. Since returning to Canada, I have recorded, mixed and produced over 100 songs. In the old days, that pace would be comparable to producing an album a month.

A few months back I was asked to do all of the audio production for another project. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My estimate going into November for this Christmas project was 175 – 200 hours. It looks like it will be closer to 250 hours when all is said and done.

I’ve become a full-time session player, audio engineer and mixer in my retirement. Spending 12-14 hours a day most days of the week to get this work done in time.

It keeps me very busy during a season where I know many of my fellow Canadian RVers are struggling with being locked up in their temporary lodgings for the winter. For many of us in the RV lifestyle, travel keeps us busy. And now, for many of us in the RV lifestyle in Canada, travel during the pandemic in the winter is no longer an option.

Stateside?

Different reality.

Lots of RVers are travelling down there. Reading through my social media feeds on the RV lifestyle it looks as though the pandemic has had almost no effect on RV travel in the states.

More and more posts on people buying expensive motorhomes for the first time.

And some of them find out the hard way that motorhomes are not like cars.

Coaches can and do catch fire. A couple from Wyoming found this out the hard way with a fire putting a dramatic end to an exciting new adventure. The event happened on December 4th. Brand new rig. Not sure if it was their first trip out or not. They were towing a Ford Raptor. The Raptor caught fire, probably due to a faulty towing configuration. This was a picture someone captured as the fire spread.

And the aftermath.

Not much left of the Raptor. The coach is likely a write-off as well.

A 2020 Dutch Star 4369 and a 2020 Ford Raptor are no more.

The couple and their dog, thankfully, were unharmed. Their new rig and their new lifestyle up in smoke.

Probable cause of the fire? The transmission on the Ford Raptor was likely not set for four-down travel.

Why do I think that was the cause?

Take a look at this video showing a user how to set their Ford Raptor to flat tow behind a motorcoach. What a ridiculous process!

It is somewhat easier to set four-down travel in our Lincoln. However, I keep a checklist in the car and I always follow it carefully. And I am always keeping an eye out for high tire temperature readings and any signs of smoke from the rear of the coach.

This is our checklist. I’m too old to remember all of the various steps and any oversight in setting the proper towing configuration could lead to a fire.