2018 will go down as the winter that never ends…yes, it is April- long past the Easter holiday and we are still getting snow. We had chatted with Chuck Cayo (a.k.a Avion guru) over the winter about bringing our Pewter Palace to his repair and service business this spring so we could have a punch list of things done including the installation of a new ZipDee awning system, replacing our old Carefree system and vinyl awning PLUS installing new awning systems all way round the rig.
Chuck is the grandson of one of the two original owner brothers of the Avion (and Cayo) corporations in Benton Harbor, MI. We were in luck and Chuck said he had a window of scheduling that could put us in the ques for Mid April. Perfect! By then, Kevin would be off of his extremely rigorous and mandatory 24/7 “on call” status with NYS DOT (yes, overtime this winter was big with so much snow…but I also once again became a “snowstorm widow” not seeing him sometimes for what seemed like days on end!)
So we booked it in figuring also that perfect weather would be our guide. NOT!!! We hit the road a little earlier on Friday than originally planned just to be able to scoot out of NYS before yet another sleet, snow and rain storm came barreling through.
NY, PA TO OHIO BORDER: We got as far as over the Ohio border and found an excellent rest area/truck stop directly off Interstate 90 Westbound at exit 223. This Flying J truck stop has about 8 dedicated RV parking spots on the left front area of lot. Much quieter there than in back with big rigs. There is a Denny’s restaurant that opens at 6 AM. Nice breakfast. And the Flying J store and bathrooms were great, spotless with store having very good variety of foods, snacks and beverages even at 10 PM when we arrived.
As we approached through OH and into Indiana and Michigan the next day we caught a storm of rain, and some snow….yeah…it followed us! Ugh! There were some high winds (25-35 MPH) but Avion’s are so aerodynamically designed that honestly Kevin said that the wind is really a non issue. We cannot say the same for other RV trailers and Class A’s we saw along the route who were blowing all over the place!
A great thing we also learned was that the state of Ohio has really become RV Friendly in that they have been upgrading some of their rest areas and creating some dedicated RV overnight parking WITH ELECTRIC HOOKUPS! there is also potable water and a dump station area onsite at these special rest areas. You can pick up the info flyer on these at any of the rest areas. There is a self-pay kiosk where you pay $20 for an overnight with electric and put the chit on your dash so you don’t get rousted in the middle of the night. Bad part in their planning was the sites are quite short and close together. We are talking a parking lot folks! But honestly, with the 28.7 feet of our trailer plus our Chevy Suburban’s length we were hard pressed at the first one we checked out to be able to fit our rig. And God help us if someone pulled into either side of us because the first rest area were all straight back in’s (no angle to pull out or in) so to make that “J” turn to get out with approx. 48 feet of rolling metal- would be impossible. The photo below shows that back in only lot. Fine for small bumper pulls, vans, small class B & C’s.
Below is the flyer detailing some of the info about these special rest areas. Again, only in OH on RT 90 (wish NYS would take cue and do this!) and it is only for ONE night stays. Good in a pinch, esp. if it is so late at night that its too late to get to a campground and you want an easy off, easy on in the morning. We suspect these spots are very full in season!!! They are first come, first served. The Rest Area as Mile Post (MP) 79 on the Westbound side did have 8 pull through sites on angles which was a little better, but again we just fit nose to tail. BTW–the OH rest areas are beautiful! huge, have pay showers if needed, and you can eat off the floor they are so clean. Decent offering of typical fast food Starbucks, Burger King, etc. Nothing to write home about food wise for this gal.
new_rv_lots_brochure_2016 This is a printable brochure from the OH Interstate Authority all about the program. Check it out!
Of course the 90 degree turn in Cleveland OH is always fun! Check out the very cool building on the right but then please………Take it slow please!!!!
AT this point it is lightly snowing…
On through Indiana for a bit, still is amazing when going through the Elkhart area to see all the many manufacturers of RV parts, trailers and motorhomes just finished their assembly line and waiting to be shipped to dealerships all over the US. Elkhart is the RV capital of the world (no kidding!) and if you want to stop there, you can even go on factory tours that are scheduled (advance reservations are suggested because of set times/days of the week they are done). We did not stop this time, but had visited the RV Hall of fame during our last visit to this area last summer when we attended our first Silver Avion Fellowship Rally. The RV/MH Hall of Fame sits right off the left side of the highway as we were heading west. Easy in and out, plenty of RV parking. Worth supporting and definitely worth the visit to see some of the really rare, early tent campers on Model A’s etc right through to modern styles.
On to Michigan and nearer the “Motherland” by every passing mile! This was now Saturday, April 14 and we had made reservations to stay in Coloma/St. Joseph KOA just north of Benton Harbor MI. We had always planned to get to MI early enough on Saturday to visit the ORIGINAL AVION FACTORY AND HQ in Benton Harbor first. Onward we went, despite frigid temps and blowing winds and the occasional snow flake or two…
We had reached out to a historical facebook page of folks who love Benton Harbor history. They, along with the wonderful book published by Bob Muncy about Avion’s were key to us finding the original location. Bear in mind, to those who live in IN and MI this pilgrimage may seen downright ridiculous, but for us, who are so literally obsessed by “everything Avion” we just had to find the original site, buildings, and location of where our “baby” was born!! And we did!!!
1300 East Empire Ave, Benton Harbor, Michigan. Thanks to some clues from those facebook folks, google satellite image maps (comparing them to Muncy photos) we found the Avion Maternity Ward–still intact, but now a Cheese Factory/Importer was in the manufacturing plant and next door, the Avion HQ and Sales room was empty but perfectly intact as it was in the heyday! This was an awesome experience, brought chills to our spines (disregarding the weather!) and truly was so cool to park our rig right in front of both buildings. Kevin was in his glory!! It was so cool! Good we were there on a weekend as there were no cars to jockey around in the parking lots!
Check this out!! Here is our video as we pull up in front of the original Avion HQ
On to our KOA in Coloma/St. Josephs. Nice campground, easy access. We had the honor of being their first “American” campers of the 2018 season….yes…it is now snowing a bit with the rain! It got down to 29 degrees that night. We did have to take a different site than we were assigned because as nice as this campground is (and the owners were very nice!) the campground lies very low and many of the sites were flooded due to rains for the past few days. Since the rain was supposed to continue through our stay we did not want to have to test out the Avion’s buoyancy much less need a tractor pull competition to get her out of mud. The owners understood and were accommodating for sure.
We ventured into Coloma for dinner, cute downtown, neat boutique type shops including one very original 5 & 10 Store that functions much like it did in dime store heydays. The owner obviously loves retro and loves his G & M Variety store. You can get everything from fishing tackle and slogger shoes to makeup and very nice home decor or hardware items….and penny candy, etc. still too!! The set up is just like original dime stores (just minus the little old/ancient sales ladies following you around every corner and every aisle for fear you were going to steal some pair of socks or something)…it was very cool!I only wish it has fountain service where we could have gotten a yummy grilled cheese or roasted hot dog on a grilled bun! (ahh the memories!!). We ate at the local brew pub in downtown. Decent, but nothing out of the ordinary for us. Back to camp, bundle up and relax.
Sunday we spent day tripping in our car going to visit Holland MI. Sadly, lesson learned not much is open on a snowy, cold Sunday in Mid-April. We hit a terrible snow storm enroute and were very happy to not be towing anything. Eight cars spun off the highway in one hours worth of the trip, no DOT trucks in site. Waylaid at a great Antique shop which worked out well to let the snow pass by and melt off highway a bit. Holland was a bust, most was all closed and we got there so late due to 25 mph max on highway during storm. We did eat at a great restaurant in one of the shopping mall areas. I think the name had “Annies” or “Ann’s” in the name. Also a “wooden shoe” antique mall on outskirts heading out of town was worth the stop. Prices for antiques are alot better in MI compared to NY!
Monday morning it was up bright and early and off to see Mr. Chuck Cayo in Watervliet which was only about 15 minutes from our campground. We arrived to find the door to the main shop locked. oh no……the service door was open and in we went to meet one of his helpers “Bill” who explained to us that Chuck had been hospitalized on Friday due to emergency medical situation—clogged artery! Nearly took him to the big Avion lot in the sky! YIKES! So Bill assured us Chuck was doing well, but would be in hospital for at least the rest of the week. He took our three page (yes, three page) punch list and keys, we parked our baby the Pewter Palace, gave her a hug around the beam and wished her well. We also took time again to check out the other Avions in the lot for sale or for repair. Always fun to see after market creative fixes, additions, etc. and variety of rigs.
We had told Chuck we just need her back for Mid to Late June….seems like so far away…we miss her already but know she is in very good hands! Till June little lady!!