Highlights from FMCA’s 98th International Convention & RV Expo.
By Robbin Gould, Editor
Photos by Rachel Jochem
Singer-guitarist Taylor Corum paused between numbers while performing in the FMCA Town Center tent. Chatting casually with the audience, he looked around the grounds and said, “There are a lot of good people in one place at one time.”
This hub of entertainment and activity was occupied by many good people attending FMCA’s 98th International Convention & RV Expo, held July 18 through 21, 2018, at CAM-PLEX Multi-Event Facilities in Gillette, Wyoming. The “Wanted In Wyoming” convention was so named to acknowledge its location in the American West. It also signified FMCA’s second visit to Gillette. The first convention, in 2013, celebrated the association’s 50th anniversary.
Rally tally. The official RV count for the “Wanted In Wyoming” convention came to 1,735. Family registrations, including Passports, totaled 1,541, and 217 commercial RVs were on-site. First-time attendees arrived in 493 recreation vehicles.
First-timer Rich Sherman, F480098, summed up his convention experience: “As a newbie to both RVing and an FMCA convention, my wife and I have been blown away with the training, the seminars, the trade show, and wonderful people we’ve met both here and along the way.
“And wait, you mean to tell me there’s entertainment each night, too?”
Gillette is home to approximately 32,000 residents in northeastern Wyoming. It’s located in Campbell County, which is known as the “Energy Capital of the Nation” because of the prodigious amount of coal that’s extracted from area mines — approximately 30 percent of all the coal in the United States — along with oil and a form of natural gas. It’s a picturesque land of mountains and plains, where antelope and buffalo graze in open fields. Montana may be “Big Sky Country,” but some might argue that this panorama is just as scenic. CAM-PLEX seems well placed in this setting, between the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Bighorn Mountains.
Several campgrounds on the grounds accommodated a large segment of family parking. Plenty of seminar and meeting rooms (14, to be exact) were designated, including many in the gigantic Wyoming Center. Grassy areas provided room for additional activities.
“CAM-PLEX is certainly one of the premier event sites, and the facility shined during our convention,” commented Doug Uhlenbrock, FMCA director of events. “The grounds are fantastic, and the people who manage the complex are consummate hosts, willing to do whatever is necessary to make our stay an enjoyable one. I wish there were three or four more CAM-PLEXes scattered throughout the country.”
Education. Many attendees interested in becoming more acquainted with their RVs and the RV lifestyle came to the right place. In fact, the education commenced just prior to the official start of the convention with RV Basics, a 2½-day session designed for new RVers and others interested in a refresher. More than 115 students attended the class. Instructors included Shane Hess from the Recreation Vehicle Safety & Education Foundation, who discussed RV weight and tire safety, air brakes, driving and towing, and personal safety. Gary Bunzer, the “RV Doctor,” covered plumbing, electrical, and propane systems, plus tips on “technically choosing” an RV. Certified RV technician/fire safety expert Steve Raye spoke on fire safety. Dave Helgeson, an expert boondocker and show director of the MHRV Show Association in Washington, addressed tips and tricks for camping off the grid.
During official convention days, more than 100 seminars covering technical and miscellaneous topics filled the schedule: LED lighting, steering and suspension, RV caravans, smartphone tips, microwave-convection cooking, an FMCA secretaries roundtable, plus make-and-take crafts and more.
Entertainment options were many and varied. Four evening performances took place inside the Wyoming Center, starting on Wednesday, July 18. Thomas Michael Riley kicked things off on the first night, performing a passel of his original “Texas Americana” tunes.
The tagline “Three guys, 30 instruments” only begins to describe New Odyssey’s performance on Thursday evening. Particularly impressive was their Beatles medley, which included 10 Beatles tunes in 10 minutes played on those 30 instruments. When performing Earl Scruggs’ bluegrass classic “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” the trio switched to play each others’ instruments without missing a beat . . . literally. Gillette was New Odyssey’s last FMCA performance; they plan to wrap up an impressive 40-year run at the end of 2018.
Matthew and Gunnar Nelson presented a nostalgic evening with a retrospective of their father, titled “Ricky Nelson Remembered.” The twins sang many of the hits made famous by the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, interspersed with stories and video images. Matthew and Gunnar also shared stories about “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” the popular sitcom that starred their grandparents Ozzie and Harriet Nelson; Ricky; and his older brother, David.
On the final night of entertainment, The Flashback Boyz made it difficult to sit still as they rocked the hall with classic favorites from the 1950s, 1960s, and beyond.
In addition to guitarist Taylor Corum, mentioned at the opening of this article, daytime entertainment reflected a variety of tastes. Take the Frustrated Maestros, who could be described as the hardest-working act in FMCA show business. Musicians from FMCA’s various Frustrated Maestros chapters donned their traditional red-and-white attire on many occasions. They performed each morning inside the FMCA Town Center — site of a large circus-style tent — for morning Coffee Hour. They appeared at the Ice Cream Social and the Chapter Fair, among other performances.
Additional entertainment included a show by comedian and sleight-of-hand artist Nels Ross, with a little audience participation; several sessions of a team trivia contest; and even “Karaoke with A Keck” — emceed by FMCA member Lamar Keck.
Crowds jammed the aisles when the RV Expo opened on Wednesday afternoon. Indoor and outdoor exhibitors also greeted visitors the next three days. Approximately 150 companies were on hand to display their products and services.
Outdoors, more than 120 Type A, B, and C motorhomes; conventional travel trailers; and fifth-wheels were open for inspection. These included the 2019 Reatta, a smaller diesel-pusher motorhome from Entegra Coach, built on Spartan Specialty Vehicles’ new K1 360 chassis, that was unveiled in Gillette.
The FMCA Connections Area enabled convention-goers to renew their membership, learn about upcoming area rallies and conventions, purchase FMCA merchandise, and glean info about specific member benefits. It was hard to miss FMCA’s membership booth with its colorful “swag wheel” manned by national office staffers who came to the party in their supersized 10-gallon foam hats.
Speaking of supersized, Craig Johnson, known for his Western mystery series featuring protagonist Walt Longmire, hosted the first-ever FMCA Supersized Book Club on Saturday afternoon. It was evident from questions asked by audience members that many had read his books or had seen “Longmire,” the popular TV series that’s patterned after the characters. Early arrivals to the presentation had an opportunity to view an episode of the show.
FMCAers were encouraged to bring along a copy of The Highwayman, a book in the Longmire series set in the Wind River Canyon, near the Wyoming cities of Shoshoni and Thermopolis. Mr. Johnson signed books and Longmire memorabilia before settling on stage to launch into an entertaining discussion that ran the gamut — the inspiration for his books, the development of his characters (and whether some were patterned after real-life folks), the settings of his stories, how actors were cast for the show, etc.
Prior to Mr. Johnson’s appearance, the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office presented a fascinating look at K-9 law enforcement teams. Two human officers were accompanied by Dutch shepherds named Max and Rocky. Attendees learned some of the ways canines are used: detecting illegal narcotics, apprehending fleeing suspects, tracking missing persons, etc. Video clips showing canines in action vividly illustrated their quickness and athletic ability.
Other activities filled the daytime and evening hours. The Ladies’ Luncheon attracted 350 participants for a little “girl time.” The Ice Cream Social featured hand-dipped ice cream and toppings, served by FMCA national officers and their spouses, and Full Timers chapter members. Card bingo, a bean bag toss tourney, early morning exercise workouts . . . the options went on and on.
Obviously, an FMCA convention requires plenty of helping hands to be successful. Our cowboy hats are off to the approximately 700 volunteers who assisted with security, information, registration, trams, seminars, and many other areas during the event.
“I am very, very thankful that we had so many members who volunteered to make ‘Wanted in Wyoming’ so successful,” said Jon Walker, FMCA national president. “I do know that once you agree to volunteer at one of our conventions, you will have lots of fun, meet new people, and will want to come to the next event!”
Wanted in Perry and beyond. Registration is open for “Peachy In Perry,” set to take place March 13 through 16, 2019, in Perry, Georgia. Plus, stay tuned for news about FMCA’s 100th International Convention & RV Expo, scheduled for August 14 through 17, 2019, in Minot, North Dakota; registration opens February 13, 2019. See the magazine, FMCA.com, and FMCA’s social media for details as they become available.
For videos and additional photos from the “Wanted In Wyoming” convention, visit www.fmca.com.
Lost And Found
Lose anything during the “Wanted In Wyoming” convention? A number of items were collected and transported back to Cincinnati headquarters. Contact the FMCA Events staff (513-474-3622 or 800-543-3622; [email protected]) to inquire about a missing item or to report any items you may have found.