Family & Friends
By Pamela Selbert, F195400
On a warm, sunny day in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, a rural community just north of Chattanooga, the door to Horsin Around, the only carousel animal carving school in the United States, stands wide open. Inside, sunlight floods the 1,500-square-foot studio, illuminating rows of shelves laden with carved wooden animal heads “” horses, dogs, giraffes, and more “” many of them works in progress. Other animals that are closer to completion, and nearly ready to take up residence on a carousel somewhere, stand on the floor.
One of these creations is a gorgeous horse measuring six feet tall. Its head, canted at a graceful angle with nostrils flaring, and its arched, plumed tail are painted white, as are its delicate legs. Elsewhere, along the flanks and chest, where more carving remains to be done, the sculpture is still unpainted, revealing rich caramel-colored basswood.
Deeply engrossed in her work, Julie Caton, 40, a full-time motorhomer with her mother, Nancy, F210536, is bent over the horse. Working ever so carefully with a small chisel, she plows a tiny furrow, curling a ribbon of fawn-colored wood away as she sculpts muscle. “Before this I had never carved anything,” she said. “Now I have about 700 hours in this horse, and it’ll still be a couple of months before he’s done.”
For parts of the past year and a half, Julie and her mother have kept their 34-foot Fleetwood Southwind parked at a Chattanooga campground. From there Julie drives her red 1997 Lincoln towed car 15 miles north to Soddy-Daisy to her dream job, where she puts in nine-hour days sculpting her horse.
Nancy has multiple sclerosis, which makes getting around somewhat difficult. She typically spends her days in the motorhome with their black poodle, Penny, reading and playing computer games and cribbage online. The arrangement seems to work well for both women.
The Catons are originally from Astoria, Oregon. Julie said she first fell in love with animals at the age of 12 when she became a volunteer at a veterinarian’s office. She earned an associate’s degree in livestock technology; then, on a whim, she moved to Kaneohe, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, in 1987. For the next 10 years, she worked there as a veterinarian’s technician and dog groomer. But she said that motorhoming “was always in my blood.”
“I grew up in a family of six, and every year I can remember since about 1973, we all headed out for two weeks in our type A Escapade,” she said. “We were packed pretty tight in the 20-foot coach, but we had wonderful vacations, traveling mostly in the Great Northwest and Canada, fishing for crawdads, seeing neat things, having fun.”
Julie believes vacations such as her family took contribute to family cohesiveness. “You have no choice but to get along,” she said with a grin. “Today, my family is very close and my mother and I have a wonderful relationship “” so I knew when she called me in Hawaii and suggested that we full-time, it would work out well.”
While Julie was in Kaneohe, her parents moved to California, bought the Southwind, and joined FMCA, planning to become full-timers after her father, Ron, retired. But in 1996, just before their dream was to become a reality, Ron died.
“My mother moved to Washington then to stay with one of my brothers, but after six months had passed, she decided to travel as she and Dad had planned,” Julie said. “That’s when she called and asked if I’d like to come along.”
Since March 1998, mother and daughter have put thousands of miles on the motorhome’s odometer and have covered the country from one end to the other. Julie does most of the driving. Favorite trips have included a journey to Lake George, New York, during which they took a scenic tour in a hot-air balloon; and a drive through Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin to enjoy the fall foliage. They also spent six memorable weeks in Lexington, Kentucky, enjoying the area and the horses. They even drove to Alaska, not really knowing what the journey involved until they were well into the trip.
“Once we decided to drive north from Washington to Alaska, some 2,000 miles,” Julie said with a chuckle, recalling the latter trip. “The border guard asked how long we’d be in Canada, and when we said four days he thought we were really loony.”
The impracticality of driving so far in so few days quickly became apparent “” even 10 days would have been “absurd,” she said. They ended up staying two months in Alaska, then taking the ferry back from Haines to Washington, “watching bald eagles and bears, and eating salmon,” Julie said.
“We’ve been very fortunate traveling except for mechanical failures “” our biggest problem,” she said. “Once the fuel pump went out in Spokane, and we waited two weeks for it to be fixed.” Julie said she believes things might be different if they had a man along, but prefers to concentrate on the fact that she and her mother are seeing the country and spending time together.
Although Nancy’s mobility is limited, her thirst for adventure is not. She enjoys sight-seeing, particularly Civil War sites, and visiting U.S. national parks. She’s also a “total roller-coaster nut,” according to Julie, who said they are planning a return visit to Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, this fall to ride Millennium Force, which at one time was the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world.
For the most part their travels have been wonderful, but Julie said that finding her avocation in wood carving has been the best part of it all.
Julie’s fascination with carving carousel horses began five years ago when she and her mother were en route to Florida for the winter and drove through Chattanooga. There, Julie happened to pick up a magazine that mentioned a carousel would be dedicated in the town’s eight-acre Coolidge Park the following July. Julie and her mother returned for the event.
At the carousel’s dedication ceremony, Julie heard about Bud Ellis, founder of the Horsin Around studio, where the 54 animals for the carousel had been made. Ellis, a former art teacher, had bought the historic amusement in dilapidated condition in the early 1980s with the intention of restoring it. However, since it takes an experienced carver approximately 400 hours to complete each animal, he hit on the idea to open a studio and allow students to help with the work. Ellis carved 17 of the animals, and his students, with plenty of help from him, did the rest. Since the Coolidge Park carousel was dedicated in 1999, more than 1 million riders have taken a spin.
At one time, thousands of carousels existed in the United States; today there are approximately 130. However, Julie said a carousel “renaissance” has occurred during the past few years and the ride is once again becoming popular. This means the antique animals must be restored or new ones made. “Since opening the studio, (Ellis) has taught about 450 people of all ages and from all over to carve carousel animals,” Julie said. “Beginners are welcome “” in fact, he prefers that people come with no previous carving experience so he can train them in the traditional style.”
After seeing the exquisite workmanship displayed in each carousel animal at Coolidge Park, Julie decided she’d like to sign up for Ellis’ course and learn how to carve. “I’ve always been crafty, but not really artistic,” she said modestly. “Bud is always there ready to help and does close to half the work.”
Carving a carousel horse is an endeavor that moves at a near-glacial pace, with numerous adjustments, such as adding wood blocks or wood putty to fill in mistakes or removing hunks of wood to make the horse look more realistic. This might seem a tedious task to some, but to Julie it’s “the most fun I’ve ever had.”
She’s eager to describe the sculpting process. Students begin with either a drawing or photo of the animal they intend to carve, which Bud Ellis enlarges to life-size. A carousel horse is made up of eight pieces of wood glued together. Julie explained that the basswood they use is a hardwood, but it’s soft enough to carve. Before starting, Ellis uses a chain saw to rough the pieces into the general shape of the animal, giving it definition.
“He cuts away everything that doesn’t look like a horse,” she said. “Then the student takes over, but Bud is always there “” though never hovering “” to help whenever we need him.”
Julie said she had originally hoped to sell her carved beauty, modeled after renowned Arabian show horse Huckleberry Bey, to someone building or restoring a carousel. However, the prancing pose of Julie’s horse (if anyone sat on the outstretched leg, it would break off) makes it an unlikely candidate for a carousel steed. Julie joked that her mother “thinks the horse is too big for a hood ornament,” so she’ll have to look for a buyer. But it does seem a shame after all this effort.
While Julie won’t rush the process of finishing her horse “” it’s “too much fun” “” she is looking forward to her next carving project, which she has already started: a silverback gorilla. Ellis plans to build a carousel for the Chattanooga Zoo that will have two rows of critters featuring only endangered species.
“I can’t think of better work than this,” Julie said, probing a long, thin ribbon of wood off the horse with her chisel. “It’s so relaxing, but you also must be completely focused. You really can get lost in it.”
GMC Mountainaires Circle Wagons In Cheyenne
By Steve and Gail Ault, F106024
Cheyenne Frontier Days began in 1897 as a small festival to attract visitors to Cheyenne, Wyoming, a western railroad town struggling to stay alive. How times have changed. This year’s event, which took place July 18 through 27, 2003, attracted more than 500,000 people and featured four huge parades; nine Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) events with competitors vying for a $1 million purse; an air show by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds; and nightly entertainment with performances from stars such as Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, Alan Jackson, Chris LeDoux, and more. Members of the GMC Mountainaires were there, too.
While the GMC Mountainaires are quite a bit younger than the Frontier Days event, the group is equally proud of its heritage. The chapter originated in 1986 when a young GMC owner began contacting other GMC owners in Colorado and neighboring states about starting a chapter. Through wisdom from the older members and enthusiasm from the younger ones, the chapter grew from seven to nearly 100 members and has spun off another chapter, the GMC Flatlanders, which has approximately 50 members.
One reason we chose Cheyenne Frontier Days for our July rally was because rallies tied to events tend to attract both the die-hard members as well as the folks sitting on the fence. Our first job was to find a rally site. Cheyenne is RV-friendly and there were three free dump stations at the south end of town. But campgrounds had been booked up for months in advance, and none of them had enough room for a group of our size. Luckily, a chapter member volunteered the use of his land south of town. Before the rally-goers arrived he mowed the back acre, pulled down the barbed-wire fence, dragged out 450 feet of garden hose for fire containment, and the rally site was ready.
Next the group picked the timeframe. Since Cheyenne Frontier Days is a 10-day event, we chose the final weekend, which would allow us to take in the finales of various competitions, such as the rodeo and Chuckwagon Cookoff, and to catch the big-name entertainment. It also gave the rally masters time to scout out parking, parade routes, etc., beforehand.
We used e-mail and our chapter newsletter to inform members about the rally and also did an individual mailing to non-chapter FMCA members who lived in the region. People join chapters for various reasons: some seek technical information, others like having a list of people to call for motorhoming advice, and still others like the camaraderie of attending rallies. We hoped one of those reasons would appeal to non-members.
Finding door prizes and gifts came next. Some manufacturers sponsor rallies and provide prizes, but orphan motorhome chapters like ours have a much harder time. In Cheyenne we relied on the local tourism folks for help. When rally-goers arrived, they were flooded with brochures describing area attractions. Goodie bags (provided by the local Saturn dealership) were filled with numerous gifts donated by members, proving that rallies can be inexpensive.
Food, the mainstay of any RVer’s life, was easy. We decided to enact the chapter’s LEO motto — Let’s Eat Out — and that’s what we did for most of our meals.
Rally co-hosts Steve and Gail Ault, F106024, and Charlie and Jane Wilkins, F243185, handled the planning and organizing, but had other assistance once the rally started. Brent Steinbock, F254169, our parking official, guided the motorhomes to a hillside from which the Thunderbirds could be seen by early arrivals and fireworks viewed by late-nighters. Brent’s wife, Shirley, the official greeter, passed out a packet of brochures provided by the local chamber of commerce and visitors bureau. Our security chairperson, Ray Knipp, F179557, coordinated security on the streets of Cheyenne, but found most aspects under control. We had our usual lemonade party with Jim and Olie Anstett, F44848, presiding. In all, four states (Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri) were represented at the rally, with some folks traveling nearly 600 miles to join us.
Since we were rallying on private land, we enjoyed a campfire on all three nights. We shared singing, stories, games, and, of course, roasted marshmallows.
Other group activities included attending one of the three free breakfasts put on by the second-largest Kiwanis Club in the nation. But finding parking for a motorhome and more than a half-dozen cars is tough when the entire county is coming to breakfast, so we decided to get up extra early on Friday. Charlie Wilkins, with his obnoxious air horn, provided the wake-up call at 5:30 a.m. Actually, a small contingent was awakened earlier when a passing truck’s air horn blasted at 2:20 a.m. Susan Knipp, F179557, reported that she showered and her husband shaved before they checked the clock. And Ted Smith, F169732 (who has muscular dystrophy), already had his leg braces on when his wife suggested he check the clock. In spite of the early-morning fiasco, everyone was up and ready to leave by 6:30 a.m. for breakfast.
The free breakfasts during Cheyenne Frontier Days typically feed 10,000 people each on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This amounts to 520 gallons of coffee, 475 gallons of syrup, 630 pounds of butter, and 3,000 pounds of ham, not to mention 100,000 pancakes. Incredibly, we waited in line for less than 15 minutes.
Breakfast was followed by an hour-long trolley tour of downtown Cheyenne, the first city in the nation with streetlights. We saw the site of the world-famous Cheyenne Club, where influential men who lived in town during the Wild West days gathered. We also passed by famous residences once owned by the town’s wealthy citizens, and the famous Big Boy train in Holliday Park. After that, we toured the collection of Bill Hinkle, a longtime Antique Automobile Club of America member.
After lunch at a local restaurant, the group was off to do its own exploring. And there was plenty to see among the seven museums and Frontier Park’s carnival/midway, Wild Horse Gulch, and Indian Village. For those interested in the rodeo, the wild horse and chuckwagon races provided lively afternoon entertainment. Grandstand entertainment was held each night, and fortunately there were a couple of tickets left.
On Saturday we slept in until 6:00 a.m. The more ambitious members walked to the 40 windmills — each one 213 feet tall and 159 feet in diameter — that graced a nearby hill. By 8:30 a.m. we all headed to the parade, which was a grand event with the governor of Wyoming, the mayor of Cheyenne, and other dignitaries riding by either on horseback or in a vintage car. After the parade, rally-goers were left to explore town again and many shared a table at a local eatery, returning to the rally site by evening. A spontaneous salad potluck was arranged by the women, and most people had their plates full before the rain fell, cooling the temperatures down for the best night of sleeping.
This was an opportunity for chapter members who seldom dry-camp to test their self-contained motorhomes. It brought together new faces and old faces, and cemented our common joy of RVing.
Check the Association Calendar in Family Motor Coaching for more information about our next dry-camp rally, planned for January 4 through 7, 2004, at Pilot Knob BLM near Yuma, Arizona. We’ll have unlimited free parking space, and the weather should be great. The rally fee could be under $20, so plan to join us and enjoy a fun weekend.
On-Road Quilters Bring Cross-Country Comfort
By Lorrie Petersen, F221459
If your mental picture of a quilter is a sedate granny settled over a quilt in a log cabin, you obviously haven’t met the dynamic group of FMCA women who call themselves On-Road Quilters. Although not a formal chapter of FMCA, the club boasts more than 500 members. The group was organized in 1998 by Sharon Eversmann, F240000, during FMCA’s 35th annual summer convention in Ogden, Utah, and meets at each international convention. Sharon publishes a semi-annual newsletter to keep the group informed, and all that’s required for membership is a love of quilting.
Quilters are, by tradition, giving people, and that generosity is evident in the On-Road Quilters’ service project. Quilts for babies and children at risk because of medical conditions, poverty, or abuse are lovingly made and brought to each convention to distribute through local charities. This tradition began at FMCA’s Perry, Georgia, convention in March 1999, when 10 soft and colorful quilts were given to brighten the lives of local children.
As the years have passed, these donations of comfort have grown in both type and number, thanks to the generosity of FMCA members. The Buffalo, New York, convention this past July surpassed everyone’s expectations, when 280 quilts and fleece blankets, plus 61 knitted and crocheted afghans in various sizes, were collected. Although most of the blankets benefited children, some also found their way to nursing homes in western New York. Approximately 80 quilts were made by members of FMCA’s New York Centrals chapter alone for donation in their local area.
During the past five years, more than 700 quilts and blankets have been given by On-Road Quilters to bring cheer and solace to people from Maine to California, returning to these communities some measure of the generosity they have shown to FMCA visitors.
But don’t think for a second that On-Road Quilters don’t have their own brand of fun at their convention meetings. Show and Share is usually the highlight, which features the myriad quilt projects made by this talented group of women. With so many quilters in FMCA, it’s no wonder the quilt seminars are packed full, with more being planned for the future.
So if you’re a quilter, or even a wannabe quilter, you’re invited to join us at the next meeting of On-Road Quilters during FMCA’s 71st International Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in March 2004.
Don Tallman, L1956
FMCA’s Governing Board voted this past July in Buffalo, New York, to give a Life Membership to Don Tallman, L1956 (left), pictured here with outgoing FMCA national president Jeff Jefcoat, L118344, who presented Don with a “feather for his cap.” The Sacramento, California, resident has belonged to FMCA for 36 years. He serves on the association’s Governmental and Legislative Affairs Committee and was instrumental in promoting passage of legislation in California that permits motorhomes more than 40 feet in length to be driven legally in that state. On the chapter level, Don was the organizing chairman and first president of the Gold Diggers; charter member of the California Pacers; founder of Golden Spike; a national director of several chapters for 11 years; and wagon master of the Northern California Elk. He also served as northern vice president of the Western Motor Home Association for six years.