FMCA Converges on St. Paul, Minn.
How many motorhomes does it take to fill the Minnesota State Fair’s Mighty Midway?
That’s no joke.
More than 2,000 motorhomes or motorcoaches are calling the Fairgrounds home this week as they gather for the Family Motor Coach Association’s 80th International Convention, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Huge – and hugely expensive – rigs from across the country cover Machinery Hill, the Midway and every parking lot around the Fair.
Here are some scenes from the upper Midwest’s biggest – if temporary – motorhome park.
The freedom to travel, see the country, make friends is a trifecta espoused by folks with motorhomes.
A lot of them give out business cards, with names, hometowns and phone numbers on one side and a big glamour shot of their rig on the other.
Harlan Sundholm, 77, gives out pens. They are inscribed with the name of one of his businesses in Iowa, GH Construction.
“When people ask what that stands for, I tell them the ‘H’ is for Harlan and the ‘G’ is for God,” he said. “If you’re going to have a business partner, it might as well be God.”
He said he once gave a pen to a guy on the East Coast and years later ran into him at an airport in Las Vegas. The guy still carried the pen.
“I’ve given out thousands,” he said.
As a father of nine, Sundholm said, he and his wife, Pat, could never find time for a real vacation. They did go camping once in a while, he said, and started off by towing a camper.
“Then it was a 27-foot motorhome, then a 33-foot, a 38-foot, a 42-foot,” he said. Now he’s behind the wheel of a 42-foot Monaco Signature.
The couple put about 10,000 miles on the rig each year. The husband wishes it were 50,000.
“You’ve got to really like to do it,” Pat Sundholm said. “Both the husband and wife have to like it. If you don’t, get out right away.”
The Gas Issue
Most convention goers were quick to dismis concerns about high gasoline prices dampening motorhome fun.
But the economy is having a tangible – and negative – effect.
Conference attendance is down from previous gatherings – 2,300 vehicles this year versus a peak of more than 7,000 in 2000. And association membership is flat at about 114,000 dues-paying members, down from a high of 130,000 a few years ago.
Meanwhile, new motorhome shipments declined by about 10% last year, with 353,000 hitting the market in 2007. Numbers are expected to decline in 2008, too.
Owners said they would take shorter – but not fewer – trips if they needed to make any concessions.
“Honestly, the industry is struggling right now,” said Pamela Kay, an association spokeswoman.
She said members have urged the group to push the message of motorhomes being a great way to travel.
“You can take all the comforts of home with you,” she said.
Longtime motorhomer Tom Lippincott said there’s no way, based purely on cost, to justify motoring.
“It’s a lifestyle. You either like it or you don’t,” he said from the living room of his $580,000 2009 Monaco Executive. “We happen to like it.”
Lippincott, a 70-year-old petroleum distributor from Nebraska, and his wife, Janice, 68, spend about five months of the year on the road.
Janice Lippincott said the adage about entertaining in motorhomes is that they “fit six for cocktails, four for dinner and two for sleeping.”
She said she blew the equation out of the water once when she hosted 14 people for dinner. Just last week, she prepared drinks and appetizers for 80 people during a pre-convention rally in Willmar, Minn.
“We entertain a lot,” she said.
You can get just about anything put into a motorhome, from ceramic tile floors and flat-screen TVs to remote-controlled blinds and all-in-one washer-dryer sets.
The license plates also are amendable. A sampling of some personalized ones:
2 C USA
The make and model names of the coaches likewise inspire thoughts of deep, deserved leisure: the Diplomat, the Windsor, the Scepter, the Executive.
“We worked hard for this,” said Jean Hagenbrock of Black River Falls, Wis., outside her 45-feet-long chrome and green Prevost bus. Her husband, John, retired a few years ago after a career running eight grocery stores.
The couple said they used to feel sheepish about driving their $700,000 rig through town when folks were complaining about the price of groceries.
“And that’s one of the nice things about camping,” John Hagenbrock said. “Being around people you know.”
Jean Hagenbrock said she and her husband had been camping since about 1970, starting with a pull-behind trailer.
“We worked our way up,” she said.
John Hagenbrock said all the differences in everyday life disappear when motorhome owners get together.
“You can be parked next to a judge, an attorney, a banker or even a factory worker,” he said. “Some might have fancier motorcoaches, but you all get along.”
“It all amounts to sitting outside in your chair, talking,” his wife said. “I’m dreading the day John can’t drive anymore.”