Thousands of RVers are converging on Phoenix International Raceway today (March 22) for the first Good Sam Rally of 2012, which runs through Sunday.
According to a press release, the entertainment lineup includes two Platinum recording artists; Bill Cosby and Martina McBride. Sha Na Na’s Bowzer will provide the opening night’s entertainment, setting the stage for Ticket to Ride, a Beatle’s tribute band performing covers of the legendary hits.
Rally-goers will also enjoy daily trade shows featuring acres of RVs on display – including a few to test-drive around the track – and hundreds of exhibitors offering a wide range of RV parts and accessories. There will also be daily seminars and tours of landmarks and activities in the Phoenix area, including a spring training game pitting the San Diego Padres against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In addition, Camping World is sponsoring a Match n’ Win game with winners being eligible for thousands of dollars in merchandise. A post-rally tour is slated for March 26-28 at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park that will include first-class accommodations aboard the historic Grand Canyon Railroad.
Good Sam is hosting two other 2012 rallies: June 21-24 in Louisville, Ky. and November 2-4 in Daytona Beach, Fla. For more information visit www.therally.com, or call (877) 749-7122.
This is a big weekend for Camping World because the Bowling Green, Ky.-based company is playing a major role in two national events on opposite coasts – The Rally running July 14-17 at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center in Redmond, Ore., and at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway where the company’s Good Sam Enterprises LLC division joins RCR as the primary sponsor on the No. 33 Good Sam Chevrolet driven by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver Clint Bowyer.
“We are excited to partner with RCR and sponsor Clint in the No. 33 Good Sam Chevrolet,” said Marcus Lemonis, chairman and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises LLC, formerly known as Affinity Group Inc. “Clint is an avid outdoorsman who understands our business and our customers. Clint’s parents have been members of the Good Sam and the Camping World President’s Club for many years.”
Out in Oregon, where The Rally’s unit count by last night (July 15) was close to 3,000, things have been going well, according to Camping World spokesmen. On hand for The Rally, one of the nation’s three key national consumer rallies for 2011 (along with the Family Motor Coach Association’s upcoming convention Aug. 10-13 in Madison, Wis.), are 361 exhibitors, including 20-plus RV manufacturers, and some 560 motorized and towable display units.
“Camping World had the best sales in one day at a rally they’ve ever had yesterday,” Terry Thompson, vice president of sales for the company’s RV consumer magazine titles, reported Saturday morning. “And guys I’ve talked to at different companies like Newmar, Jayco and Winnebago seem pleased with the initial consumer response early in the game. The early signs are that sales are going to be good for these companies, and the same goes for the indoor displays.”
Good Sam Events Coordinator Sue Bray concurs with the positive assessment, despite torrential rains that surprisingly swept across the area and delayed by an hour a Friday night performance by C&W favorite Vince Gill.
Bray, noting that a Thursday night concert by ‘60’s crooner Bobby Vinton went well, says she’s pleased with a unit count of nearly 3,000 – a decent number, most industry watchers would agree, in the post-recessionary era.
“Yes, we think we’re going to hit more than we had in Louisville in 2010 and more than we had in Albuquerque the year before, but not as many as we had when we were here in ’07 or when we were in Perry (Georgia). We’re pleased,” says Bray, noting that Camping World has three national rallies slated for next year in Phoenix, Louisville and Daytona.
Friday night, Bray added, the club recognized long-term Good Sam Club members by providing them with preferred seating for the Vince Gill performance.
“Marcus (Lemonis) last night talked to the crowd and wound up giving away a lot of stuff,” she said. “For instance, he gave away Pilot Flying J gas cards to people who had driven the farthest. We also presented RVers of the Year Don and Marilyn Buller from Fresno, Calif., with their award and a donation to their project. And Marcus actually is loaning them a fifth-wheel and gas and a Camping World shopping spree as part of what they have won as the Good Sam RVers of the Year.”
“You know,” she added, “one of the interesting things here has been using some social media. We’ve been posting a lot of stuff on the Good Sam Facebook page and, oh my gosh, did we get responses. I mean, as soon as we put it up, somebody’s on it, talking about the rally – you know, mostly people who aren’t there asking questions and that sort of thing. So, we’ve had a lot of chatter going on there.”
On tap today is a show by early rocker Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits. Bray says attendees will also attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records standard for the most people simultaneously doing “high fives.”
The event concludes on Sunday evening.
“All things considered,” says Bray, “we couldn’t ask for much better. The weather has been generally gorgeous. People are happy. You know, there is snow on the mountains; you have that gorgeous view of the Three Sisters (mountains). Oregon is really putting on a show for us.”
With a much stronger focus on and commitment to Good Sam members and their experiences, Good Sam, the nation’s largest RV community, announced today (March 30) a ramp up going forward on their rally activities.
The colossal Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona is gearing up for The Rally March 22-25, 2012, followed by charming Louisville, Ky., June 21 – 24. Historic Daytona International Speedway in Florida will fly the green flag for RVers Oct. 25 – 28 and round out the RV rally circuit for next year, according to a news release.
The Good Sam Rally sponsored by DISH Network is the largest RV gathering in the nation. Thousands of people from all over the country will gather to sing and dance to big name entertainment and legendary country music performers like Vince Gill, who headlines The Rally 2011 in Redmond, Ore., July 14 – 17.
“I really enjoy seeing Good Sam guests compare and contrast RV makes and models they’ve always dreamed of and talk to experts from top RV manufacturers” stated Marcus Lemonis, Good Sam’s CEO. “We want them to learn everything they need to know at dozens of lifestyle seminars, shop till they drop at hundreds of indoor exhibits selling all kinds of gadgets and gear and even bring the family dog along for fun!”
A great time is guaranteed for all who make plans to attend one or all of the three big RV rallies scheduled in 2012 at spectacular venues around the country.
Visit www.therally.com for breaking news on these events.
The Good Sam Rally is a product of Good Sam Enterprises and is powered by the Good Sam Club, Good Sam Ventures, Trailer Life, Woodall’s, Camping World and Coast to Coast.
About Camping World & Good Sam Club
Camping World, www.campingworld.com, is America’s No. 1 source for RVs, camping accessories, RV maintenance and repair, and the Good Sam Club, www.goodsamclub.com, is the world’s largest RV owners association, offering helpful technical tips, vacation planning, extended warranties, magazine subscriptions, roadside assistance and more, to serve the outdoor enthusiast.
Both Camping World and Good Sam Club were founded in 1966 and are partnered together today to offer more to those who love the RV lifestyle, with one-stop shopping and resources for everything RV and outdoor.
Camping World features over 8,000 quality products located at over 75 SuperCenters nationwide, easy online and catalog shopping as well as a wide selection of new and used trailers and motorhomes from top RV manufacturers. Good Sam Club members receive cost-saving benefits and services, plus loads of valuable RV information and travel tips to get them ready for their next adventure. The Good Sam Club also represents more than 2,000 local RV chapters designed to bring RVers together from similar geographic regions for group camping excursions.
Camping World is the title sponsor of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in addition to the Official RV and Outdoor Retailer of NASCAR.
Affinity Group Inc.’s (AGI) Affinity Events division has added three new RV shows to its roster in 2011 for a total of 25, including management of the RV component of the prestigious Chicago Boat and RV Show Jan. 12-16 at McCormack Place.
”The RV side of that show has really gone down hill,” said Tom Gaither, AGI Events senior vice president. ”We are taking over the RV pavilion side of the Chicago show, which is a new venue for us. They realize we can make a difference.”
Other new shows include the South Carolina RV and Camping Show March 11-13 at the Greenville Convention Center and the New Mexico RV and Travel Show March 24-27 at the Albuquerque Convention Center. Both shows previously had been organized by local dealers.
In 2010, more than 225,000 consumers attended AGI’s 22 RV shows which spanned the nation from coast to coast.
”We had a 24% increase in attendance at all of our shows last year,” said Gaither, a manufacturers’ rep for 15 years for Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., Pilgrim Inc. and Georgie Boy Manufacturing Inc. ”During the recession as customers went shopping on dealers’ lots, they saw a lot fewer floorplans. At our shows, people can look at all the RVs under one tent so they can compare.”
Gaither predicted that with RV sales on the rise coming out of the recession, show attendance in 2011 will be up across the board. ”I think dealers are finding pretty good leads at these shows — sometimes more than they will see on their lots all year,” he said.
The largest shows are the January Chicago Boat and RV Show, which draws in excess of 35,000 people, the Minneapolis/St. Paul RV, Vacation and Camping Show that brings in some 25,000 attendees and two Denver shows, the Colorado RV Adventure Travel Show in January and the Colorado RV, Sports, Boat and Travel Show, where attendance is in excess of 20,000.
Special programs are available for dealers, including posting RVs in a ”Screamin’ Deals” section on the website set up for each individual show. ”As consumers walk around the show site, they can look for the ‘Screamin’ Deals,” Gaither said.
And dealers participating in shows also can post 30 RVs for free on AGI’s rvsearch.com website for up to 30 days. ”I tell dealers to do it after the show so that they can carry the momentum over,” Gaither said. ”It’s another incentive to help the dealers sell.”
Primarily, AGI shows are staged almost weekly — sometimes more than one each week — between January and early April, and then kick in again in August through October at a somewhat reduced pace.
”The shows are mostly divided between spring and fall,” Gaither said. ”We do the shoulder seasons so that dealers can get a boost. We typically don’t do shows in the summer because dealers usually are busy with their lot traffic. The spring shows set up the summer season and the fall shows help dealers clean out inventory to help them get ready for spring.”
Two types of consumers attend AGI shows, Gaither said. ” There are people looking for RVs and people who have RVs who are looking for things to do with them,” he said.
For consumers buying RVs during a show, Affinity Events awards an ”RV Getaway Gift Package” valued at $500 that includes a one-year membership in AGI’s Good Sam Club along with a six-month membership in the Good Sam Club Emergency Road Service; a dry-camping site at AGI’s ”The Rally;” a one-year membership in Camp Club USA; a copy of the Trailer Life RV Parks & Campground Directory; and a subscription to Trailer Life or MotorHome magazines.
”It’s a nice starter package for somebody who just bought an RV,” Gaither offered.
Also for consumers attending a show, AGI presents educational seminars and activities that promote the RV lifestyle, including the Ultimate Camp Cooking Show with comedians Mike Faverman and Pat Mac; travel adventurer John Holod; and Dave Solberg, the ”RV Handyman” who advises consumers on what to look for when buying an RV, all of whom appear occasionally.
”We want to get people to want to use an RV,” Gaither said.
Here’s a rundown of AGI’s 2011 RV show lineup:
- Jan. 7-9 — 22nd Annual North Carolina RV & Camping Show, Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.
- Jan. 12-15 — 21st Annual Colorado RV Adventure Travel Show, Colorado Convention Center, Denver, Colo.
- Jan. 12-16 — 81st Annual Chicago Boat, RV and Outdoors Show, McCormick Place, Chicago, Ill.
- Jan. 14-16 — 25th Annual Washington Camping RV Expo, Dulles Expo Center, Chantilly, Va.
- Jan. 21-23 — 44th Annual New Jersey RV and Camping Show, New Jersey Convention Center, Edison, N.J.
- Jan. 27-30 — Mid-America RV Show, Bartle Hall, Kansas City, Mo.
- Feb. 10-13 — 44th Annual Minneapolis/St. Paul RV, Vacation & Camping Show, Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis, Minn.
- Feb 11-13 — 26th Annual Richmond Camping RV Expo, Richmond Raceway Complex, Richmond, Va.
- Feb. 17-20 — 57th Annual Kansas Sports, Boat & Travel Show, Kansas Coliseum, Wichita, Kan.
- Feb. 18-20 — 22nd Annual Las Vegas Sportsmen’s RV & Travel Show, Cashman Center, Las Vegas, Nev.
- Feb. 25-27 — 21st Annual North Carolina RV & Camping Show, Charlotte Convention Center, Charlotte, N.C.
- Feb. 25-27 — 16th Annual Atlantic City RV & Camping Show, Atlantic City Convention Center, Atlantic City, N.J.
- March 3-6 — 54th Annual Colorado RV, Sports, Boat & Travel Show, National Western Complex, Denver, Colo.
- March 4-6 — 18th Annual Rhode Island RV & Camping Show, Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence, R.I.
- March 11-13 — 7th Annual Virginia RV Show Hampton Roads Convention Center, Hampton, Va.
- March 11-13 — South Carolina RV & Camping Show, Greenville Convention Center, Greenville, S.C.
- March 18-20 — 22nd Annual North Carolina RV & Camping Show, North Carolina State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, N.C.
- March 24-27 — New Mexico RV & Travel Show, Albuquerque Convention Center, Albuquerque, N.M.
- April 7-10 — 6th Annual Pomona RV & Travel Show, Pomona Fairplex, Pomona, Calif.
- Aug. 12-13 — Colorado RV Liquidation Super Sale, INVESCO Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
- Aug. 19-21 — 17th Annual Summer Boat & RV Super Sale, Richmond Raceway Complex, Richmond, Va.
- Sept. 9-11 — 10th Annual North Carolina Fall RV Show & Sale, Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.
- Sept. 23-25 — North Carolina Fall RV Show & Sale, The Park, Charlotte, N.C.
- Sept. 30-Oct. 2 — 14th Annual Fall Rhode Island RV Show, Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence, R.I.
- Oct. 28-30 — 18th Annual Fall Atlantic City RV Show, Atlantic City Convention Center, Atlantic City, N.J.
Alex and Jan Alexander were in the 17th week of a tour of the West Coast in their 2006 Country Coach when they pulled into the gates of the Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center in Redmond, Ore., for the Family Motor Coach Association’s (FMCA) 84th International Convention Aug. 11-14. One of more than 2,000 motorhome families to attend the mid-week event in central Oregon, the young couple from St. James City, Fla., intended to spend the four days soaking up information.
“We’re here for several reasons,” Alex noted after exiting the Tiffin Motor Homes manufacturer’s display. “We wanted to see what’s going on in the industry — but, most importantly from an educational standpoint, to visit the displays and see the latest in engines and electronics … it (Redmond) has a little bit of everything.” And, while the first-time visitors to the convention hadn’t considered upgrading their luxury coach prior to the event, Alex did note that “we may change our minds. Right now, we’re looking at an Allegro bus.”
According to Jerry Yeatts, FMCA event director, the Alexanders’ upbeat attitude personified the 84th convention, which also was highlighted by the public debut of the new Vesta motorhome from Monaco RV LLC and the West Coast introduction of the Insignia from Jayco’s Entegra Coach division.
“We had a little over 2,000 families there, and about 200 coaches on display,” he said. “Compared to the last time we were here, it was probably comparable, numbers-wise — but as far as attitude and enthusiasm, it was amazing. The members were probably in their best mood we’ve seen in quite a while. Seems like sales were up, spirits were up, and overall it was a great convention.”
It also apparently was quite successful for a number of exhibitors. “One OEM said that the higher-end coaches they brought were sold,” Yeatts said. “Another dealer who brought in 11 coaches sold six.”
Shannon Nill, general manager of Guaranty RV, Junction City, Ore., echoed Yeatts’ assessment on the overall atmosphere of the program. “We sold 18 RVs at the Redmond rally, about evenly distributed between new and used,” Nill noted, out of about 75 units the dealership supplied to several displays including Monaco, Newmar Corp. and Roadtrek Motorhomes Inc. “Beyond the sales, however, one huge point was that the mood of the customer was really strong compared to last year’s rally. People were eager to RV. The gatherings of this kind after a slowdown are even more important than normal.”
This year marked the fourth time FMCA has held a convention at the Redmond fairgrounds, but was the first time the association kicked off the event with a Wednesday “preview” day. Gates opened at 5 p.m. on “hump day” for touring outdoor manufacturer displays, followed by access only to indoor exhibits Thursday morning. All displays became accessible at noon and thereafter.
“We really didn’t receive any comments concerning shifting the pattern,” Yeatts said. “The gate on Wednesday was greater than normal, but we don’t know if that’s attributable to starting later in the week, or later in the day.”
The Vesta, introduced to dealers two weeks prior to the Redmond convention, immediately attracted quite a bit of attention from rally attendees due to its unique aerodynamic styling.
“We’ve had a lot of customers come up to us that hadn’t really considered a Class A before just because of the size,” said Ryan Lee, marketing director for the Coburg, Ore., manufacturer. “They take a look at this, with the sleek design, and see that it’s really easy from an ergonomic standpoint to sit up there in the driver’s seat and drive that coach.”
Built on a proprietary 26,000-pound GVWR Monaco Roadmaster chassis and designed in conjunction with wind-tunnel testing, the single-slide 32-foot Vesta (a 35-foot floorplan also is planned) features a sloping front fascia, low center of gravity and tapered rear section. MSRP for the 32-foot coach is $195,000-$200,000.
“It’s pretty striking,” Lee said of the styling. “One of the things that we’re trying to do at Monaco is that, when a coach rolls down the road we want people to know it’s a Monaco; we want people to know it’s a Holiday Rambler (Monaco’s sister division). And this type of styling is going to get us there.”
Along with the Vesta, Monaco also brought several models with fresh 2011 floorplans to Redmond. “We’re showing our first 2011 Dynasty and Camalot here at the show,” noted Mike Snell, senior vice president of sales and product development for Monaco. “The Dynasty has a 500hp engine, and we’ve changed the paint scheme and have really upgraded the interiors. On the Camelot, we did the same: changed the front facia, the backsplash, put in a ceiling insert in the living room — we really dressed up the inside. We also have our slide-in-a-slide Diplomat here. We had the slide-in-a-slide in the Dynasty, and we added it to the Diplomat, which is a 43-footer.”
The Entegra Insignia, which debuted almost simultaneously at Affinity Group’s The Rally, July 22-25, at Louisville’s Kentucky Exposition Center and Redmond, is the Jayco division’s “entry-level” coach for the high-end Entegra line. Built on a 32,400-pound GVWR Freightliner XCR chassis powered by a 360-hp Cummins ISB diesel engine, the $265,000 MSRP Insignia features heated-and-enclosed holding tanks, frameless flush-mounted slideout rooms, gel goat fiberglass sidewalls and a steel-reinforced front cap and windshield frame plus interiors sporting glazed maple hardwood cabinets and leather hide-a-bed sofas.
Yet another new unit drawing a crowd was the 2011 model from Newell Coach Corp. Upgrades to the 2011 welded-steel-and-aluminum Newell motorcoaches — the first since the 2006 model year — include upgraded front caps with bright-white “string-of-pearl” LED running lights that outline the outer edges of the headlights, plus rear-body trim and redesigned side moldings. Interiors feature wood windowsill trim bordered with seamed leather, carbon-fiber instrument panels and automated air conditioning and heating.
The upbeat atmosphere at Redmond was, in the view of many dealers staffing the manufacturer exhibits, a reflection of a more optimistic viewpoint already noted at their respective dealerships.
Brian Kehoe, a sales consultant for Sandy, Ore.-based Johnson RV Sales who was manning the Entegra display, noted that the dealership “has experienced four months consecutive of record sales for the company. It’s been fantastic. All the way through, from the B class, C class, Class A gas and diesel units.” The dealership, site of the former Fred’s RV, opened under the Johnson RV Sales umbrella last year and features 12 service bays and three buildings — including an indoor showroom — on seven acres.
At the Tiffin exhibit, Rick Neat, a salesman from RV Corral, Eugene, Ore., one of three dealerships providing coaches for the display, called August “the best month in two years.
“There’s more business out there,” following the shuttering of dealers and OEMs alike during the recession, he said, adding that consumer credit is likewise on an uptick. “On the big money, it’s starting to ease up a bit. A lot of people are going to credit unions now, which are getting a lot more flexible than they were in the past.”
Mike Alverez, with All Seasons RV, Bend, Ore., concurred. “Our banks have loosened up,” he said at the Winnebago Industries Inc. exhibit. “They’ve changed on how they are financing. They are looking at people in a better light, where before it was tough to get financing accomplished. The other thing, too, is that GE, our flooring company, has backed off; they are letting us get product in here, and we’re making the turns we need to make to keep it going.”
Along with new coach designs and features, Redmond also was one of the first consumer shows to feature motorhomes fitted with new 2010 EPA emissions-compliant engines, and several exhibitors — including Gaffney, S.C.-based Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. and Spartan Chassis, Charlotte, Mich. — fielded questions from consumers and dealership personnel somewhat confused about the technical merits of the two competing drive systems developed to meet the EPA criteria. Cummins Inc. utilizes an aftermarket treatment system, while Navistar’s new MaxxForce engines employ Advanced EGR technology.
Editor’s Note: Jill Schensul, a travel columnist for North New Jersey’s The Record, wrote the following story after her 10-day trip in a motorhome in July, which included visits to the RV/MH Hall of Fame and “The Rally” in Louisville, Ky.
I’m getting one.
This was my fourth trip in a rented recreational vehicle, and at the end of every one I come to the same decision (only more decidedly each time): RVs were made for me (or, OK, probably that should be vice versa).
For anyone who loves the adventure of travel, the process of going, the freedom to follow your own schedule, to go where you want and leave when you’re finished and head off to the next oh-I-always-wanted-to-go-there place, what could be better than a house that moves with you? No packing, no stopping the mail, no begging someone to sit your dog (“she really has stopped chewing furniture …”).
Of course, it’s not quite that simple, living in what is basically a box — even a big box — on wheels. One of the missions of my recent 10 days on the road – spending three nights with some 10,000 RVers at The Rally (an annual gathering that was in Louisville, Ky., this year), visiting the RV Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Ind., and stopping overnight at campsites and other RVer hangouts – was to get advice and insight into RV tripping and the whole mobile lifestyle.
I met historians, RV manufacturers and accessory-sellers, and guys who organized group RV tours. I met “full-timers” whose only home is their RV, people who hang out wooden signs announcing their names, roll out welcome mats, set up their satellite dishes and flagpoles, and get around on everything from Smart Cars to Harleys to motorized scooters. There were also dabblers, like me. I learned a lot, including information about some basic things I never knew I needed to know. I also got a look at the advances in technology that have made life pretty cushy for RVers who want to go that route.
I don’t need a lot of space. In fact, the “open floorplan/great room house feature” makes me nervous. So a compact rig like my 19-footer was perfect. While many RV manufacturers tout their models as the “widest in the industry” (that being 102 inches, the legal limit or you’d be knocking fellow drivers out of your way), my RV was a foot narrower, which made fitting between the lines easier at parking lots (where you’ll be stocking up on all the basics for your little home on wheels, from garbage bags to coconut ice pops).
There are drawbacks, of course; especially for the overly carefree (or scattered). As Mary Reynolds, whose husband, John, is president of the Watchung Hills chapter of the Good Sam Club, points out: “You do have to be organized because you don’t have a lot of room for clutter.”
The technically challenged or perpetually distracted – as well as the first-timers – will have to deal with all the life-support systems: plumbing, water, electricity. And it’ll probably take a few incidents in which a turn of the wheel results in the flying of paper towel rolls, forks or books from shelves before you start looking at the effects of centrifugal force on your mobile digs.
And on this particular trip, I discovered several new, well, situations I just couldn’t have orchestrated in my car:
- Having the side door of your rig fly open at 60 mph, and only noticing because, looking into my rear-view mirror for Mere, the pregnant beagle rescue dog I was bringing back to New Jersey, I noticed her lying, paws over the steps down to that door, smile-panting and enjoying the breeze.
- Pumping so much gas (do I hear $80?) into my tank I had to switch off hands, because they started to hurt.
- Hooking my sewer hose to the wrong drain opening on the RV (it was just a round storage area), setting everything up to empty the tank, and when I turned the valves to open, releasing the actual tank contents in a different direction.
- Enjoying a peaceful dawn moment, only to have the silence broken by a monumental, two-minute hissing of gas from the propane tank.
- Gripping the steering wheel so hard and bracing for an accident every time you change lanes, despite the major-league size mirrors.
- Speaking of the mirrors, resigning yourself to losing one occasionally – as I did at a sudden narrowing of the road for construction.
But nobody died, or even fell out, or had to go to the emergency room; however, I did seem to acquire more than the usual travel-related bruises. And, most important, I never left anything in a hotel room (or caught anything in a hotel room, for that matter).
And of course if I practice, I will not continue to make such mistakes. I’ll make new ones.
Then again, being in an RV opens up an entirely new world of possibilities and ways of enjoying travels, from meeting like-minded people at campgrounds to being in your own little hermetically sealed nest, unplugged if you want, anonymous, taking a nap, stopping for an hour because you noticed all the stars in the sky and — let’s not forget — not having to pack and unpack (much less pay for each piece of luggage you bring with you).
I sat behind the wheel of my just-rented RV with the air conditioning on the Gale Force setting, blowing dry my sweaty face and wet hair. I’d finally transferred everything from my little car to my big rig in the furious heat. I’d put clothes in drawers and books and maps away, set up my GPS, organized my cameras in the passenger seat, popped in one of the books on CDs I’d rented.
Louisville, here I come.
Still, I sat.
The sun edged lower. The light bathed even this bland square industrial park in Harleysville, Pa., in cinematic light. The last employees got into their cars and pulled away. I remained. Looking out the windshield. Thinking about the next 10 days. Where I was going. What I needed to do for work. How fast I had to drive to get there. Hoping I’d get to provide rescue dogs a ride to new homes.
But mostly I thought about what would happen when I shifted into “D” and began to roll. I had just two definite places to be. I knew the stretches in between would be filled with possibilities. I live for these trips. The motion, the blur of images and signs, quirky attractions and ever-changing skies.
Which may have been why I was just sitting in that parking lot. My inner wheels turning as I looked out the windshield. The anticipation before the movie began, wondering what sort of film it would be. “Ben Hur” or “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”? “National Lampoon’s Vacation” or “Easy Rider”?
Over the next 10 days, the memorable scenes mounted. Here are some of the stellar RV moments:
Bedroom with a view
I awaken my first morning in the loft bed over the driver’s area of the RV. It’s not much for headroom, but I find it perfect for a cozy sleeping place. It even comes with two little windows. Which have curtains I didn’t bother to close when I pulled into the KOA Kampground in Allentown, Pa., late last night.
So all I have to do is turn my head a little to peer out the teardrop-shaped window three inches from my head. And am hit first by … green, everywhere. I am closer to the trees, which are abundant here. But quickly my gaze goes to my neighboring campsite, occupied by a small trailer pulled by a big SUV. A trailer made even tinier because standing beside it is a boy and his … well, without my glasses I could have mistaken it for a horse.
But it’s a dog. I think a Great Dane. It sits obediently by the open door of the trailer, and at least from this angle it looks like the dog will need to duck to clear it. And then, when he’s inside, how will the boy, a strapping tall kid, fit in with him and what I assume will also be a parent or two?
I climb down from my bed, fast. I have to ask the kid what happens when the dog wags his tail. But by the time I remember which drawers I used for which categories of clothing, encountering boxes of cereal and piles of maps and USB cables stored everywhere and pop open my camper door to step into this first full day on the road, boy and dog have both vanished.
Every dawn, in fact, broke upon a new scene out my windows. And, given the early morning light, the views were usually at least a bit magical, even if my overnight spot was a Walmart or highway rest stop. I remember when The World cruise ship debuted, and people bought cabins and lived year-round aboard the ship as it sailed around the world, how amazing it would be to have those ever-changing views when you woke up. Well, I might not be privy to the minarets of Istanbul in an RV, but then again, I didn’t have to shell out $2 million for my changing views.
The new America on Wheels Museum just happened to be in Allentown, and I figured it would be an auspicious first stop on my trip. The GPS first sent me down one-way streets so narrow I feared getting stuck or at least clipping the big mirrors that stuck out like cat’s whiskers on both sides. Not to mention the neighborhood was getting progressively more seedy. A museum here? Yes, actually. A big hulk of a building, gray white against the blue sky. An amazing collection of all sorts of things on wheels, not just a lot of cool old cars, but bikes, soap box derby cars, electric cars, a Stanley Steamer (I know, I thought it was a vacuum cleaner, too), and a big exhibit on Mack trucks, which were manufactured in Allentown (lots of bulldog memorabilia).
Leaving the museum when it closed at 4, I found more arty inspiration in the vicinity. America on Wheels is set on a bluff overlooking a wide stretch of the Lehigh River, with a small waterfall spanning its width. And right in the middle of the cascade was … a tire!
The museum is on the site of a former slaughterhouse, a section of which – with a cow’s head sculpture over the doorway – has been incorporated into the new building. The neighborhood features lots of abandoned warehouses (slowly being renovated or torn down) and if you’re into the aesthetics of disintegrating walls and peeling paint – especially in golden end-of-day light – you can have a field day in the area.
I got to the Roadside America exhibit in Shartlesville, Pa., only 45 minutes before its closing. Not enough time I suppose to really appreciate the incredibly detailed miniature world created by one man, Laurence Gieringer, who spent the better part of his adult life putting together what is now some 66 village scenes in a huge sort of model-railroad setup. Then again, spending too much time looking at everything would probably be one of those head-exploding experiences.
An enormous Amish couple – statues that might have been Muffler-Man knockoffs – sit with the sign out front pointing to the miniature attraction. Kind of an ironic touch.
Best of the rest stops
I had so many other things to think about I’d almost forgotten one of the best aspects of road trips. The rest stops and truck stops.
While I had to eschew back roads for main highways to get to Louisville in three days, the big highways meant plenty of rest stops. Each state had its own style of take-a-break-before-you-fall-asleep-and-kill-someone oasis. Some were major commercial affairs, some wanted you to rest no longer than two hours, and not overnight. Then again, some of the stops in Ohio not only permitted overnighting, but offered electrical hookups, as well as fresh water etc. for RVers for $15 a night. One also had gorgeous views of farms and crop fields.
But my favorites were the simple ones in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, with a little building for vending machine snacks, air-conditioned restrooms, a wall of brochures, and picnic tables out back. One stop in Pennsylvania provided the most beautiful sunset of the whole trip. Another, in West Virginia, was particularly cozy, probably because I had just picked up two rescue dogs, and we all dozed off together (they snored, I didn’t) in the quiet night, the soft glow of interior building lights providing perfect illumination for a mobile scene of domesticity with passengers of the panting, shedding and tail-wagging variety.
Seeing 4,000 RVs in one place is kind of a surreal experience, especially if you’d been in the 102-degree, swim-through heat of Louisville all day.
Everything about The Rally was a little overwhelming, from the schedule of events to the more than 120 seminars on RV-related topics to the size of some of these rigs. In future stories I’ll be getting into the ins and outs of RVing and all the stuff that’s available and what you should know. Not that I could possibly sound like an expert.
What was really coolest about The Rally (well, cool is probably the wrong word) was the amazing variety of RVers and the peeks I got of their lifestyle. My first night, having arrived too late for a campsite, I drove through I don’t know how many parking lots packed with Rally attendees, and under the big halogen lights groups gathered on makeshift patios, with folding chairs set up on big square sisal rugs, the pullout barbecue still smoking, the ladies in shorts and the men in their polo shirts talking and laughing and fanning themselves with paper Rally paddles.
RV Hall of Fame and Museum
Yes, they really do get 60-plus antique RVs spanning the history of the beasts into this big museum in Elkhart, Ind. The entrance puts you on a literal black two-lane road wending through a century of motorized vagabonding, from a 1915 Model T with 1916 telescoping apartment, bed, drawers etc. included, to tiny tin can-esque Airstreams and variations of the famous Winnebago.
Leaving the museum just before closing, I noticed a display of information on tours offered to various RV manufacturing plants. But I knew I didn’t have the time. I was going back East, along Lake Erie in Ohio, back to Pennsylvania. Time to call it a wrap on this adventure.
Thousands of recreational vehicle enthusiasts from every state and province in North America celebrated the RV industry’s centennial at The Rally, a four-day extravaganza at the Kentucky Exposition Center, July 22-25.
An estimated 10,000 attendees – including those staying onsite in 2,867 RVs and 5,000 day pass visitors – demonstrate a boom in the RV industry with consumers showing their commitment to the lifestyle they enjoy. The event also pumped more than $11 million into the local Louisville economy, according to a news release.
Attendees browsed the latest and greatest RV models from 42 RV manufacturers and dealers and enjoyed 350 product booths displaying the newest RV products, gadgets and services.
Fleetwood RV Inc., one of the largest motorhome manufacturers in the country, significantly exceeded sales projections, while Lazydays, a leading RV dealer, sold 20-plus units. Pat Terveer, national sales director for Newmar Corp., another leading RV manufacturer, said the company had good results that included selling six of the seven motorized models it displayed at the show, including its luxury new amenity-packed, 2011 Essex diesel motorhome, a $650,000 model. Camping World, which was an exhibitor in both the RV Sales and RV Accessories areas, reported strong sales results as well.
“All in all, we exceeded expectations and The Rally couldn’t have gone better,” said Mike Schneider, CEO of Affinity, parent company of The Rally’s hosts. “Our exhibitors came to Louisville hoping to have a good show and they had a great show. When you put these folks together with our consumers, it gives us a powerful buying group that spends money on the lifestyle they love.”
For more than a decade, the annual Rally event has been hosted by Affinity, the nation’s largest provider of outdoor recreation clubs, services, media and events. Affinity’s family of affiliated companies, including the Good Sam Club, and Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines, works to enhance its customers’ recreational experiences and build the communities that share and promote their fun and adventurous lifestyles. Headquartered in Ventura, Calif., Affinity is leading the industry’s rebound by connecting consumers directly with manufacturers through The Rally and its 34 other consumer shows held annually across the country.
“The Rally demonstrates what we talk about everyday – we enhance the outdoor experience through connecting our partners with consumers,” said Terry Thompson, vice president of sales for Affinity Media/RV and a key organizer of The Rally. “We provide invaluable services to our members and, in turn, help advertisers connect with their target audiences. We produced a wonderful event for attendees, which created fantastic sales for exhibitors.”
The Rally celebrated the 2010 RV centennial in two big ways.
- A special living display of 20 vintage RVs was organized in “Vintage Village,” showcasing models from 1937-1978.
- Bob Livingston, senior vice president of Affinity Media, took 50 families on a sold-out pre-Rally Centennial Caraventure, which gave RVers an inside look into RVs, past and present.
Rounding out The Rally’s extensive event schedule, RV industry gurus presented more than 150 educational seminars, while stand-up comic Bob Newhart and legendary country music artist Tanya Tucker performed during its nightly entertainment program. New this year was “The Rally’s Got Talent” contest featuring a wide variety of acts and interesting talents on Sunday evening, July 25.
The Rally Dog Show, “Kentucky K-9s!” returned for the seventh year. Pet adoptions were also held with the Louisville Metro Animal Services where 12 pets found new homes as a result. Both are popular, recurring events in which Rally-goers showcase their love for their beloved four-legged co-pilots.
For updates on The Rally 2011, taking place in Redmond, Ore. July 14-17, visit www.therally.com, Twitter at www.twitter.com/therally, and Eons by clicking on www.eons.com/groups/group/the-rally. Information and pictures can also be found on The Rally Facebook group page at www.facebook.com/therally.
The Rally is hosted by the following Affinity companies: the Good Sam Club, Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines, Trailer Life and Woodall’s Campground Directories, Camp Club USA, Coast to Coast Resorts and Camping World President’s Club.
All things considered, “The Rally,” Affinity Group Inc.’s 11th annual consumer gathering July 22-25 at the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) in Louisville, couldn’t have gone better, reported Terry Thompson, vice president of sales for Affinity Media/RV and a key organizer of The Rally.
“All in all, we exceeded expectations,” said Thompson, who’s based in Seattle and handled the commercial exhibits. “These guys (exhibitors) came to Louisville hoping to have a good show. Not only did they have a good show, they had a great show.”
And from all appearances, an estimated 10,000 attendees — including those in 2,867 RVs plus 5,000 day pass visitors — also had a good time at the seminars, dog shows and talent competitions that took place at The Rally, hosted by the Good Sam Club, Coast to Coast Resorts, Camp Club USA, the Camping World President’s Club and Woodall’s, along with Trailer Life, MotorHome and Camping Life magazines.
While performances by comic actor Bob Newhart and legendary country music artist Tanya Tucker were well received, another key player in the whole sequence of events was the KEC’s air conditioning — because The Rally was held during a sweltering Midwest heat wave. The fact that everything was held inside, from seminars to exhibits and publication day events for readers of AGI’s Highways, Trailer Life, MotorHome and Camping Life magazines, tended to drive people inside and spur exhibitor sales at a wide array of supplier and exhibitor booths, said Thompson.
There was a total of 350 booths in the supplier area, while 42 manufacturers and dealers showed OEM product nearby in the KEC, the same facility in which RVIA’s annual National RV Trade Show is held.
One other positive indicator?
Progressive Insurance handed out more corn on the cob than at any event in which it has ever participated, said Thompson.
Meanwhile, the Good Sam Club honored the recipients of its 2010 Welcome Mat Awards, recognizing RV-friendly businesses for their customer service and commitment to the RV lifestyle, at Louisville. Club members chose businesses they see providing RVers with superior customer service and meeting their specific needs. The awards reflect the diverse interests of RV owners, including their favorite sandwich shop, ice cream parlor, fuel and gas station, RV tow vehicle, golf course and favorite sit-down restaurant.
Members voted for 23 categories through online ballots submitted on the GoodSamClub.com website. Among the repeat winners were Flying J, America’s Best Campground and Cracker Barrel, a casual family restaurant with locations throughout the U.S. that has won the sit-down restaurant category all eight years that the Welcome Mat awards have existed.
Among this year’s Welcome Mat Award winners honored at a special reception and on stage on the evening of Thursday, June 23:
- Fuel/Gas Station: Flying J.
- Propane Outlet: Flying J.
- Outlet Mall: Tanger.
- Casino: Hard Rock.
- Fast Food Restaurant: Wendy’s.
- Ice Cream Parlor: Dairy Queen.
- Sandwich Shop: Subway.
- Sit-Down Restaurant: Cracker Barrel.
- Shopping Center: Mall of America, Bloomington, Minn.
- Dinghy Vehicle: Saturn.
- Tourist Attractions/Amusement Parks/Museums: Disney World, Orlando, Fla.
- Golf Course: Pebble Beach, Carmel, Calif.
- NASCAR Event: Daytona 500.
- RV Show: Tampa RV Supershow.
- State/Province to Fish: Florida.
- Good Sam Park: America’s Best Campground, Branson, Mo.
- Motor Oil: Shell Rotella.
- Pet Supply Store: PetSmart.
- Craft Store: Michaels.
- RV Accessory Store: Camping World.
- State to Visit: Florida.
- Province to Visit: British Columbia.
- Tow Vehicle: Ford.
AGI is the parent company of RVBUSINESS.com.
Within two to three weeks, Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. (ELS) plans to begin marketing Nature-ZYME, a highly effective environmentally responsible RV and marine holding tank product that eliminates odors and liquefies waste without the use of formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals.
Nature-ZYME is ELS’s private label holding tank product, which is manufactured by BiOWiSH Technologies, a Chicago-based company that has established itself as a world leader in creation of fast-acting, environmentally friendly wastewater treatment products, according to a news release.
“RVers and campground operators across the country have been quietly testing this product for months in a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions and have been amazed at its performance,” said David Kozy, vice president and director of operations of RSI RV, Home & Marine Solutions, the ELS subsidiary that is marketing the Nature-ZYME holding tank treatment product. “We really think we have identified a solution to one of the most challenging environmental problems in the RV and marine industries.”
Kozy said the fundamental problem with most holding tank products is that they use microbial inhibitors, such as formaldehyde and other chemicals, which prevent natural biological processes from breaking down human waste as they would normally do. As a result, chemical-based holding tank products can cause septic systems to overflow, potentially contaminating groundwater supplies.
He said ELS distributed 4,500 samples of Nature-ZYME last week to RVers attending The Rally in Louisville, Ky., and was subsequently inundated with requests from consumers who wanted to purchase the product.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand for environmentally friendly holding tank products,” Kozy said. “People increasingly recognize that chemically based holding tank products can pose various risks to themselves and to the environment.”’
“The new line of products we have developed in conjunction with Equity LifeStyle Properties could revolutionize the RV market and marina industry by reducing the environmental impact of wastewater discharges by these vehicles,” said BiOWiSH Technologies President Rod Vautier.
Nature-ZYME has been tested by more than 100 RVing consumers, including Thousand Trails members, since last fall in addition to being tested at 14 different ELS RV parks and resorts. A second test is underway involving RVers affiliated with the Good Sam Club. ELS also hired an outside firm to test the effectiveness of the BiOWiSH product against competing biodegradable and chemical-based holding tank products and was pleased with the results.
“We’ve been trying to gather as much feedback as possible, both from RV park operators and from consumers, and all of it comes back positive,” Kozy said.
While ELS does not plan to launch a full-scale consumer marketing campaign until this fall, the product will be available for purchase online by late August. For more information on Nature-ZYME, please visit www.Nature-Zyme.com.
Chicago-based Equity Lifestyle Properties is a publicly traded real estate investment trust that owns and operates RV resorts and manufactured home communities throughout the U.S. and Canada, including the Thousand Trails campground membership club. For more information on ELS and its subsidiaries, visit www.equitylifestyle.com and www.thousandtrails.com.
Formerly headquartered in Sydney, Australia, BiOWish Technologies recently relocated its corporate offices to Chicago in an effort to be closer to its key markets in North America and Europe. BiOWiSH Technologies owns exclusive and global intellectual property rights to the development, manufacturing, sales, marketing and distribution of BiOWiSH products that serve the needs of consumer, wastewater treatment, agriculture, aquaculture, agronomy, solid waste management, soil and water remediation and industrial cleaning industries. The company maintains international offices in Sydney and Bangkok, Thailand. Additional information about the company is available at www.biowishtechnologies.com.
After spending Saturday morning attending a seminar about ways to eat healthy while on the road in their recreational vehicle, David and Brenda Franklin of Nashville, Tenn., spent the afternoon at The Rally in Louisville, Ky., meeting new friends at a rally billed as the nation’s largest RV event.
“We retired about five years ago, bought an RV and we’ve been on the road ever since,” David Franklin told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “The only time we don’t travel is during the winter months, unless we have a wedding or some sort of event out of town.”
The Franklins were among thousands of RV enthusiasts who were in town since Wednesday (July 21) to attend the four-day rally at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
“People come for a variety of reasons,” said Sue Bray, an official with the Affinity Group Inc. (AGI) of Ventura, Calif., a leisure-industry company that organized the rally. “They come to be entertained, to learn and to shop. They also come because they like being part of a community.”
The event also is intended to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the RV industry.
Bray estimates that 2,500 to 3,000 RVs were parked at the Kentucky Exposition Center and at nearby Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium lots. She said organizers expected up to draw up to 15,000 people from across North America throughout the four-day event.
Affinity estimates that the event had an economic impact of $11 million, making it one of the more lucrative conventions or trade shows held in Louisville this year.
The annual RV rally was first held in 2000 in Wyoming; it was last held in Louisville in 2003. It was in Albuquerque, N.M., last year and is planned for Redmond, Ore., in 2011.
“We love Louisville and this facility,” Bray said of the Expo Center. “It’s really a good fit for us.”
The rally offered attendees a chance to see the latest in RVs. They could test drive and arrange to buy vehicles from among the hundreds to be displayed on site. There was also a trade show consisting of 300 booths on display, selling RV-related products and services.
The RVs on display ranged in cost from a $15,000 travel trailer to a $2 million coach.
Stephen Cooper, a salesman with Parliament Coach Corp., said attending the rally gives his company “a chance to plant a seed and get our name out there.”
“We rarely sell a coach at a show,” he said. “We just like to show people what we can do.”
The RV that Cooper brought is a 45-foot motorcoach valued at about $2 million.
“We custom-build the vehicles, just like many people do with their homes,” he said.
The rally also featured a dog show on Friday and a two-day pet adoption event for dogs and cats in need of a good home.
“RVers love their pets,” Bray said. “About 50% of people who own an RV bring their pets with them when they travel.”
Bray said four dogs and one cat were adopted through Louisville Metro Animal Services on Friday.
AGI is the parent company of RVBUSINESS.com.