Sunday, July 30, 2017

Our first Winnebago Grand National Rally

Odin the Winnebago returns to his birthplace in Forest City, Iowa

When we purchased our coach in Florida, The Colonel quickly determined that we’d be driving by the Freightliner factory in Gaffney, SC and they taught classes about the chassis (everything under our Winnebago “box”).  YEAH!  But they were booked for the year.  BOOO!

When I got the email with the 2017 class schedule, I quickly signed The Colonel up for the class at the Winnebago Rally as a birthday present.  “Maybe we can catch a few days of the rally beforehand.”  
What is a rally?  The aviation equivalent would be the yearly Women in Aviation convention or the EAA Oshkosh airshow.  For sailing, we attended the Chicago Sailboat Show.  The bonus is the Winnebago Grand National Rally is at the factory in Forest City, Iowa.  (This is unusual as very few manufacturer’s host a rally like this at their factory.)

A great start to the rally

Things you should know about a rally:  
  • Like any convention, some people come to rally’s for the socializing (Kickoff Party, golf tournament, bean bag tournament, trivia night, a parade, coffee social every morning, an ice cream social, and state row parties), others for the live music throughout the day and finally the people hoping to get service at the factory (No appointments taken.  You sign up on a list and they call you.  They anticipated servicing 600!!).  As new RV owners, we came for the seminars & to meet with vendors.
  • Parking is in the Winnebago’s Rally Grounds across from the factory, ie. a farmer’s field (Don’t be scared.  There were brand new 45 ft Grand Tours & Ellipse’s parked out there!).  They open the grounds up for $20/night for the week before the rally, so that people can trickle in (to avoid the crush of 1000 RV’s arriving at the same time!).  The same applies to departure on Saturday morning—you can stay until Tuesday for no extra charge (or Friday if you’re in Camp Freightliner).
  • Services:  You share a power pedestal with your neighbor for electric.  There is a water spigot at the end of every other row.  We have two hoses but that wasn’t enough so they encourage a “water brigade—great way to meet your neighbors”.  Our neighbor, a veteran rallier, had multiple hoses laid out for sharing.  And yes, we did end up meeting all our our neighbors on Day 2 as everyone filled their tanks.  I’m sure sewer for a group this large is challenging.  We can go 4-7 days depending on amenities.  Electing to shower in the coach instead of walking to one of two shower houses, we ended up paying $25 for the “honey wagon” visit on day 5.  They drive up & down each row every morning in a truck and stop if you have your coupon taped up (leave locker unlocked, open, and empty of all personal possessions).  For the first time this year they installed campground wifi for the rally.  It had it’s aches & pains, which was to be expected.  Many were having trouble getting the log-in page (a common problem, but we know to look for it), it dropped out occasionally (understandable) and most interesting—the seventeen antennas installed around the grounds were plugged into power pedestals and several were “mysteriously” unplugged on the first day.  Overall, it was tolerable considering, but bring your own hotspot if you NEED to be connected (it's "Verizon country".  AT&T users were grumbling about only getting a few bars.  We have T-Mobile and it showed Iowa Wireless.  We were streaming the Tour de France & British Open).
  • We paid $340 for “50-amp & car parked next to coach” ($20/night x 5 = $100 + free Women on Wheels course) because it was going to be HOT and we’d heard about how cramped it could be.  Next time, I’d sign up for 50-amp.  (There is a shuttle into town that includes the grocery store.  We did take the car into town a few times but the bike path also that takes you directly to the grocery store.  Unless you want to go out to dinner in the evenings, you don’t need a car).
  • Arrival is much like the EAA airshow at Oshkosh with published arrival routes, greeters, and parkers (one difference—it’s assigned spots so they guide you all the way into your spot and then say “Don’t move!”.  Many of these people are volunteers.  Be nice!  (Departure is "a free for all"!)

Sunrise over a field of of Winnebago's

Highlights for us:  
  • Much like attending a conference, it’s awe inspiring to be around so many like-minded people.  The wide variety of Winnebago’s (class A’s by far the biggest number of attendee's but tons of class C’s and even a Winnebago 5th wheel as a neighbor) and especially JOURNEY’s of all vintages.

The Colonel inspecting a Freightliner chassis that just rolled off the line (Forza)

  • Special Building” Tours:  We had hoped to attend ALL the behind-the-scenes tours, but pooped out after "Motorhome Assembly" and "Chassis Prep & Metal Stamping".

Our final swag pile

  • Vendors:  The Colonel probably already knew this, but having a conversation with the people who built your components can be more enlightening than the manufacturer.  Additional service info, troubleshooting and change of service recommendations (see future blog post about Camp Freightliner).  We scored a Thetford Level Gauge sample (review to come), spoke to the AirxCell (Coleman) air conditioning vendor (check for leaks.  Replacement units ARE available), and HWH who did many of the early slides (until they switched to Lippert).  I also attended a Michelin tire seminar.  Even more interesting, many vendors have roaming techs for installation (Blue Ox & Safety T Plus), upgrades (Airxcell fan blades) and troubleshooting (HWH tech visited Odin & said, “Yeah, it’s broken.  Either some wiring or hydraulic lines switched.  Could be the controller.  Visit the factory.  They can overhaul your controller instead of buying a new one.”)

Learning to drive a 42-footer

  • Women on Wheels” (WOW) is a free course offered at the Winnebago Grand National Rally (there are rumors of it being expanded).  You need to sign up in advance, so watch for the rally magazine with contact info.  They divide the group into gasser’s & diesel.  We scored a brand-new Tour 42QD diesel-pusher with a tag axle and only 104 miles on it.(  Our instructor was Carol Leigh & there were three students in our group.  Carol drove us to the high school from the Visitor's Center then I was quickly nominated to go first (I don’t know why!).  We started out with practicing stopping in the parking lot, then left & right turns in the neighborhoods, a campground simulation at parking lot—90 left turn, 90 left turn (with trees on the right), drive between 2 cones (10 ft), then back into cones, followed by a road with a sweeping curve, then a narrow country road at higher speed.  Then there was a separate ground school session with Sue (a former truck driver & RVer)--some men also attended.  (Watch for the separate "What I learned" blog). The third segment was the “Outside of your Coach” walk-around which The Colonel attended (and resulted in some lively albeit educational conversation afterwards).  Note:  we have an older coach so you have to ask questions or adjust accordingly.

An older Journey paint scheme

An older Journey with a newer paint scheme

A mid-age Journey (logo is cursive)

  • Where else are you going to see this many Journey’s or Winnebago’s in one place?  Taking pics of Journey paint schemes was another goal.

If we went beige...

A new Journey (note modern logo).  This paint scheme caught both our attention several times (I ended up with multiple pics of the same coach!)

A new simplified Tour paint scheme in grey.  We likey.

While working on a homemade pizza, we noticed lots of our neighbors outside stowing loose items.  The radar didn't look too bad, but then a wind gust got my attention.  The big awning was in, but I headed out to put the small bedroom awnings in when I saw our neighbor's flag pole bend over 30 degrees.  INSIDE, INSIDE, INSIDE!

The biggest storm in recent rally history

Our last stop on the way back to Odin, the Freightliner tent.

All of the tents on the rally grounds were damaged.  Fellow rally attendee's said that is the worst storm they'd seen (the average # of year's attending?  15!)  The next day’s seminars were cancelled while everything was evaluated (the focus of work seemed to be on the main entertainment tent which had a pole poke through).  Instead, we walked through new Winnebago’s on display.

The seminar tent I was in earlier that day

More tents down.

The last official day of the rally

Saturday morning was the official end of the rally.  A lot of people in our area left on Friday.  Sunday was a rest day and after beating the crowd to the laundromat, I drove our coach from section C-50, through the dump station and into our spot we picked out in section A (a required move for Camp Freightliner.  Close to water and short walk to class so we could pop out during breaks).

Another Iowa sunrise

  • For me, the Women on Wheels was worth the trip to the rally.  I just needed the motivation to throw him out of the driver's seat.
  • As we know from aviation, the rule of thumb is you don't want to buy an aircraft with less than 100 hours on it and not just because of depreciation.  Like the RV forums we frequent, the people we met at the rally confirmed new coaches are going to require some warranty work.  After walking through new RV’s, if we we upgraded we’d buy a Forza, but there also things we prefer about our older Journey.  
  • There is lots of info you could learn elsewhere (some we already knew) but other things we didn’t know to ask.  
  • Overall, highly recommend you attend a rally!

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