Classic RVers Attend Winnebago-Itasca Rally

July 22, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

John and Jean Tessman entered the Winnebago-Itasca Travelers (WIT) Rally grounds this week in Forest City, Iowa, and told a gate official they would park their RV in the “Iowa” row.

“Whoa,” he said.

A “Mary Kay” pink 1972 Winnebago Indian? With more than 100,000 miles?

It’s the “Classic” row for you folks, the Mason City Globe Gazette reported.

So the Indian sits beside a 1992 model Winnebago, which looks like a 2025 in comparison.

The Tessmans love their blast from the past. It’s been everywhere, man.

“We’ve enjoyed it,” John said. “We’ve done a lot of traveling in it. We’re not sorry that we’ve done it.”

The Garner couple is among the first members of the newly formed Classic Winnebago Club.

Club leaders Jeff Barth of Mulciteo, Wash., and Greg Boman of Castle Rock, Colo., are out to restore Winnebagos age 20 and older to showroom condition.

Barth owns a 1973 Indian. Boman’s 1970 D-22 Chieftain has an 8-track tape player, Naugahyde drapes and cushions with a floral pattern designed by Luise Hanson, wife of Winnebago Industries Inc. founder John Hanson.

Although the original 3-inch avocado green shag carpet has been removed, the Chieftain screams of 1970, when Boman and Barth were kids running wild in their native Forest City.

“It’s part of the heritage of Forest City,” Barth said. “We were the birthplace of mass-produced RVs. It’s really important to have that back here, for future generations to enjoy.”

The Chieftain is a popular stop for other WIT campers.

“They run inside and say, ‘We had a ’72!’” Barth said. “The kids love the old funky look.”

The Tessmans adopted their RV in the summer of 1992. They first saw it at night, and declined to buy the lonesome beast.

“The guy kept bugging us until we finally bought it,” John said.

In the light of day, “We knew we had a job ahead of us,” Jean said. “We were a lot younger. I don’t think I’d tackle it again.”

The Chieftain now sports a microwave oven, a nice TV set, window blinds instead of the old curtains and carpet over the old linoleum.

She has guided the Tessmans around the Midwest and to Canada and Niagara Falls.

In 1994 she almost took them to oblivion.

About seven people were aboard when the brakes went out near Vets Auditorium in Des Moines.

The RV was headed toward a steady stream of cross traffic.

John, at the wheel, knew he had to hit a car or swim in the Des Moines River.

He had chosen a car to hit when the traffic parted.

The Indian sailed through the break and John coasted to a stop.

“You don’t believe in God?” Jean Tessman said. “He was there.”

On the other side of WIT life is a 42-foot 2010 Winnebago Adventurer owned by Charlie and Ellen Zucker of Port Charlotte, Fla.

Among the amenities: Comfortable swivel arm-rests; nice wood paneling; a huge master bedroom; Corian countertops; two flat-screen TVs; a dishwasher; 1½ baths; a shower; a privacy door; and an exterior entertainment center (flip it open to watch TV outside your RV).

“It looks very spacious,” Charlie said with a big smile. “And we like it.”

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Women Learn to Drive Big Rigs at WIT Rally

July 20, 2010 by · Comments Off on Women Learn to Drive Big Rigs at WIT Rally 

Entrance to the Winnebago-Itasca rally underway this week in Forest City, Iowa.

Entrance to the Winnebago-Itasca rally underway this week in Forest City, Iowa.

Click here to watch a video on the following story.

Mary Ford looked ashen.

The Macungie, Pa., woman was at the wheel of a 42-foot, tandem axle 2011 Winnebago diesel pusher, a sleek castle on wheels slowed and stopped — gently! — it’s a demo model! — company-owned! — by whooshing air brakes.

“I’m very nervous, actually,” Ford told the Mason City, Iowa, Globe Gazette. “Especially the backing up part.”

Then she was off and rolling, the second willing victim in a women’s driving class Monday (July 19) at the 41st Annual Winnebago-Itasca Travelers (WIT) Rally in Forest City, Iowa.

Ladies rotate like baseball players. One’s up, one’s on deck, another’s in the hole.

They learn to use those big mirrors, turn both directions, drive in residential areas and on highways, rough roads and unmarked pavement, and back up squarely between four orange traffic cones.

“And to use signals that are not ambiguous,” said instructor Sue Argabrite of Cartersville, Ga. “‘Oh, no!’ doesn’t tell you which way to go.”

Neither, she said, does someone standing outside near the back of the rig, frantically, mysteriously, revolving his hand.

The intensive training comes in handy.

Last year a woman from Alaska took the WIT driving class and safely drove her family rig 4,500 miles home when her husband left the WIT Rally because of an emergency.

“It gave her the courage to know that she could do it, that it would be all right,” Argabrite said. “They can do this if they want to. Every woman has the capacity to drive these coaches. We’re partners in these coaches. We own them as much as our men do.”

“And with the class, we are given the encouragement to do that,” said Carolyn Fontenot of Lebanon, Mo., who rode shotgun while Mary Ford drove.

Ford said her husband wants help driving their 35-foot diesel motorhome.

He’s got excellent help now.

The air brakes whooshed and Mary slowly and capably backed that beast precisely in between the final two cones.

Back in the diesel pusher, she was awarded an A-Plus.

And a nice round of applause.

Meanwhile, Winnebago rolled out the red carpet to welcome 1,240 coaches to Forest City as they celebrate Hollywood Legends at the rally, which began Sunday and runs through Friday.

“We’re off to a fantastic start,” WIT General Manager Doug Formanek said in a news release. “We’re in the process of getting reacquainted with old friends and meeting some new ones as well.”

Held at the rally grounds across from Winnebago Industries Inc. headquarters in Forest City, this year’s rally is full of movie stars – both past and present. John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Frank Sinatra and even Elvis have been sighted at the rally!

Rally attendees are participating in a number of activities this week, including tours of Winnebago Industries’ state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, informative seminars, and of course, lots of entertainment. There are even some rally firsts, including the filming of their very own movie, “Hollywood Endings,” as well as a new activity tent that is scheduled to host group gatherings for such events as woodcarving and banjo jam sessions.

Select vendors also participate in the GNR through displays and informative seminars throughout the week. In addition, new 2011 Winnebago and Itasca motorhomes are also on display. Winnebago Industries features 24 model lines and 76 floorplans for 2011, 45% of which are new or redesigned. Rally participants looking for that hands-on feel, are also able to ride and drive some of the new 2011 units while they’re here.

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