Almost ready for guests

We are in Denver and things are hectic, as the final preparations for Alumafandango are completed.  I knew that we were walking into a minefield of last-minute problems and there was going to be little I could do to affect things, but even with that foreknowledge it was still a shock to see what lay ahead.

My last inspection of the site was in May, and at that point not much had been done to improve the site where we were scheduled to camp for five days.  There were grandiose plans to bring in big loaders, dumpsters, and heaps of fill, along with water lines, electric lines, and a dump station.  In June, not much happened, and that actually turned out to be a good thing, because in mid-July the big thunderstorm came through and wiped out the area.  If a lot of earth-moving had been done it probably would have washed out to the lake.

And so, in late July when you’d think we would be all set, the real task of building a campground at Lakeside began.  It has been ongoing ever since, starting with clearing of old vehicles and dead trees, and hauling of debris and saturated soil.  At least 32 twenty-cubic-yard dumpsters were filled with junk. Screening was set up to hide what couldn’t be moved.  Four abandoned mobile homes were hauled off, the living trees were pruned, fresh concrete was poured for new lamp posts, and electrical wires were buried.

But that was only the beginning.  When I showed up yesterday to see the progress, there were two huge Caterpillar scrapers running around, moving fill from the nearby Wal-Mart construction site to our site.  Each load of those machines moved up to 31 cubic yards of dirt, and they were in constant motion.  Over the weekend they will have moved enough dirt to raise the level of the campground and surrounding area by eighteen inches.   A road grader chased them around, leveling and compacting the soil.  It was amazing to watch the place transform from junkyard to the beginnings of a rally field.

Unfortunately, things are behind schedule, and many problems have cropped up.  Yesterday the weight of the machines (about 55 tons when loaded) revealed a soft spot in the ground.  A few hours later the cause became clear when a fresh water spring popped up in the ground.  There’s a broken water line somewhere, and tomorrow a backhoe will be on the site to dig it up.  Being so late, we won’t have time to put a final covering on the campsites, so the plan is to bring in chopped hay instead.

The Wal-Mart construction next door has been a boon because we got hundreds of yards of free fill (and their excavation company to spread it), but the downside is that the construction gate we were going to use for access is not going to be available, so we had to come up with a new access plan and make up some signs to redirect traffic.  The Merry-Go-Round suffered structural damage as a result of the big July thunderstorm, and that means we’ve had to cancel our QR Code Hunt because all week a contractor will be in the park to build it a new support structure.  And I can list off half a dozen more things like that …

So this has been a test of our ability to be flexible.  As late as Sunday afternoon I was revising the official program once again to accommodate last-minute changes.  The amazing thing (to me) is that despite everything that has happened, we are still going to have a great week.  Except for noticing the packed-dirt campground, the attendees won’t be aware of everything we’ve gone through to hold this event. I am making a little movie of the weekend’s construction so that they can see what the place looked like just three days before they arrived.

Although the site looks rough now (better today than when the photo above was taken), Brett and I have learned that you can make almost any place look good once you decorate it up with a bunch of cool trailers.  Our site for Modernism Week 2012 was an ugly dirt parking lot surrounded by the concrete blocks of a dead mall.  The sidewalks were broken and there were the remains of shattered bottles in the dirt.  We brought in 22 trailers and about ten vendors and suddenly the place was festive with color and decorations. Over 1,200 people paid admission to walk around there.  That’s the power of aluminum.

Speaking of which, our official event trailer is ready to go.  We checked it out yesterday at Timeless Travel Trailers.  It’s a 1962 Globe Trotter converted to a coffee shop, and subsequently converted to be our registration booth.  It’s just one of about eight trailers that the guys at Timeless will be bringing over to show and use during the event.

I was on the site today and I’ll be there again tonight with Brett to check on things and see what we can do to help. We’ll be loading in the show trailers this evening, and tomorrow the electrical boxes should be in place, and the final cleanup and grading can be completed.  The Airstream Life trailer will go in early Tuesday morning.  We are still far from being able to relax but at this point I think we’ll be ready—just barely—for our guests to arrive on Tuesday.

Somewhere in this pile …

At one point we had thought we might be leaving for Colorado today … but it became very apparent last week that I had absolutely no chance of being ready to hit the road anytime soon.  Everything is happening at once, and I’m locked down in Tucson until I can get it under control.

For years I advocated how you can work from the road, and that’s still true.  In fact it’s even more true today than ever before, because the Internet-based software tools and connectivity options have improved dramatically.  But “from the road” doesn’t really mean from the road, it means “while parked somewhere in your RV.”

To really get serious work done, you have to stop driving, stop sightseeing, and just do the job.  The fantasy of working from your Airstream while the scent of pine trees wafts in your open window, and the Grand Canyon looms just a few feet away, is replaced by the reality that the best place to get work done is often an RV park in a city, with the doors & windows shut.  And if you’ve got to get somewhere in a hurry, it’s pretty hard to get much of anything done.  I’ve never mastered the technique of driving and typing on my laptop at the same time.

I realized that with all the things I need to get done, it was pointless to hitch up the trailer.  We’d just end up driving 300 or 400 miles and then sitting there while I pounded away at the laptop keys and raved about lousy Internet connections.  Eleanor and Emma would have to find something to do, perhaps not in an ideal location, and all told we’d probably be less productive than if we just stayed here a few more days.  So we are.

The Fall 2012 magazine got done last week, and is off to the printer, but that didn’t end my work on it.  A few other things have to be checked off the list before I can forget about it, such as cutting a postage check (a painful moment; postage is my second-highest expense), invoicing the advertisers, invoicing subscribers, updating the online store, updating the website, building the Online Edition, cutting mailing lists, and a few other jobs.  Most of that is now done.  I’m working on the Winter 2012 and Spring 2013 issues when I have time.  Fall should be in the mail by late next week.

We launched Alumafiesta last weekend and that is going well.  People are signing up quickly, which is great to see.  I think we’ve got a winner there.  I’m working on the schedule now and hope to have something to release in draft in about two weeks.

We’re going to have a Track A/B/C system for Alumafiesta.  Track A events will be “active”, meaning hiking, bicycling, and walking. Brett and I will lead most of these personally.  Track B events will be physically easier stuff, mostly museums (like Pima Air & Space) and parks (like Tohono Chul) with guided tours by docents and volunteers.  Track C will be “self guided” suggestions for each day, including driving tours, tourist attractions, and gem show venues.

This will all be in addition to the usual daily get-togethers, evening seminars, meals, and entertainment on-site.  I’m having fun picking out and researching the activities.  Today we are going out for lunch to see if a particular 4th Avenue restaurant will be suitable for an optional lunch get-together for our group, and this weekend we will go check out a park or two and inquire about guided tours.  In September or October, when the weather is cooler, I’ll ride some of the local bike paths to scout out a route we can do, with lunch stop built-in.

The Airstream renovation project is plodding along when I have time to think about it.  The upholstery shop came by for an interior tour, and their quote on re-doing the dinette came in at $1,728 (with new foam, and fabric assumed at $37/yd).  It turns out that the dinette will use about 14 yards of material, which is more than I had thought.  So upholstery is going to be a huge part of the budget. We will probably try to cut that by shopping fabrics carefully, and getting a competitive bid.  Tom M tipped us off to NewToto.com, where we can get Ultraleather at about $21 per yard.  That alone would save us $224.  But no question, it’s going to be tough staying inside of $6k for the whole project.  The Marmoleum floor is looking like about $900 for the material, and I haven’t yet got a quote on the installation.

Alumafandango is in the final stages, with far too much happening at the 11th hour, but the bulk of the details are now complete.  Over at Lakeside they’re racing to finish clearing up the site and installing the power system.  Of about 91 trailers slated to arrive (as of today), more than half need/want 30-amp power, which caught us by surprise.   The hot summer in Denver has really freaked people out.  So the local electrical shops are  being cleaned out of connection boxes by our electrical crew.  Brett & I bought the old power distribution system that was owned by the Vintage Trailer Jam partnership (2008-2009) and that’s being cannibalized to distribute power at Alumafandango too.

We had a serious monkey wrench tossed in the works a few weeks ago.  A micro-burst thunderstorm hit Lakeside Amusement Park and washed out our camping area.  An estimated 300 cubic yards of material was relocated from the main parking area, through our campsites, and into the lake.  It also washed out the track for the steam train that circles the lake.  Brett H of Timeless Travel Trailers led the heroic effort to recover the park as quickly as possible.  They’ve brought in several 4-yard front end loaders, various other machines, and 90 cubic yards of crushed concrete.  There was a lot of stored old park “stuff” that got flooded, and as a result over 30 dumpsters full of soggy material have been hauled away.

All in all this has turned out to be a good thing for us.  The campground will have little grass this year, but we will have a fresh new surface, graded with a swale to prevent future wash-outs.  A lot of eyesore debris is gone, many dead trees have been removed, and overall the camping area will be considerably nicer than it might have been.  Work is still ongoing and things are a bit messy at this point but it should be done well before the event starts on August 21. We’re in daily contact with our people at the park, and revising the parking map & schedule of events a couple of times a day just to keep up with all the new information.  I would rather this was all done months ago, but who can tell a thunderstorm when to hit?

And then there’s the “miscellaneous”. I’m supposed to be giving a presentation on “my favorite mobile apps and tools,” which I have yet to begin writing.  We’re still recruiting volunteers.  The t-shirts need to be shipped tomorrow.  We need to build the geocaches, confirm the ice cream vendor, publish the Survival Guide, pick up the awards, build a temporary dump station, finalize some catering details, order the volunteer shirts, …. At times it does seem endless.

So life is temporarily a little crazy.  We’re trying to do the work of two dozen people with a skeleton crew.  It’s all I can do to keep my desk functional. I have lists upon lists, just to keep all the ideas and tasks straight.  Somewhere in the pile of data that is my computer’s desktop I actually have a list of lists.  There are photos and maps, spreadsheets and layouts, online registration systems (two separate systems covering four events), custom reports, and all sorts of shared documents in the cloud.  If I lost my laptop this week I might as well just move to a country with no extradition treaty because there would be several dozen people looking to kill and/or sue me.  (Which reminds me, I need to do a hard drive backup today.)

This would be depressing except that I live for challenges like this.  Brett and I wouldn’t kill ourselves putting together these events if we didn’t really enjoy it.  The standard we set for ourselves is high, but when it comes together at the end and people say “You guys did a great job!”, it all seems worthwhile—and then we start planning for the next year.

In the meantime there are sacrifices, and the primary one right now is that we will not be able to get into the Airstream until at least sometime late next week.  I haven’t begun packing yet, although Eleanor has done much of the household stuff.  My packing should be simple, since I didn’t take much out of the trailer when we got home a few weeks ago.  I’ve got a small pile of clothes to add from the laundry and then my office stuff (laptop, cameras, etc).  Over the years I’ve gradually accumulated separate “Airstream clothes,” and “Airstream equipment,” so for example I don’t have to load in my flatbed scanner or printer because the Airstream has its own that never get unloaded.  This saves a lot of time. And that’s a good thing, because time is definitely something that is a bit scarce right now.

 

Something stupid under the hood

In the last blog our trip through Colorado was just beginning.  Colorado is always interesting for the many mountain passes that offer spectacular views, dramatic climate changes, and occasionally an exploded bag of chips in the closet.  Altitude changes everything, especially in a rolling house.  For example, we’ve learned over the years to be very careful when opening toothpaste after a tow up to higher altitude, as an air bubble in the container can result in you ending up with a lot more toothpaste than you needed at the moment.

This trip was uneventful except for a strange loss of power when climbing, and another Check Engine light on the car as we approached the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70.  We were at 11,000 feet, but since the car is a turbodiesel the altitude should not have affected the power quite as much as it did.  This called for an appointment at the Denver Mercedes dealer, but I also called Super Terry for a consultation once we were settled into our campground.

Super Terry suggested I look for “something stupid” under the hood, so I did and immediately discovered that one of the two cold-air intakes to the engine was disconnected.  Our home dealership had just serviced the engine last week, touching this very intake hose.  This seemed like a proverbial smoking gun, but S.T. advised having the Denver dealer check it out anyway, just to make sure the problem wasn’t something more serious.  The diagnosis turned out as I expected: the Check Engine light was caused by the disconnected air intake, which allowed hot engine air to get in where cold air was expected.  The bill for this diagnosis was $132, which I have passed on to the dealer that disconnected the line, for their careful consideration. Ahem.  [Update: they agreed to credit us the full amount against a future service.]

There was supposed to be an annular solar eclipse on Sunday evening, but clouds in Denver prevented us from seeing most of it.  A shame, as there won’t be another one in North America for many years.  We had even built a cereal-box viewer for the occasion.

But our evening was not entirely dull, as we had an unexpected visit from the Zimmer family, local owners of a 1963 Airstream Safari.  They were passing through the park and spotted our Airstream, and ended up coming in for a tour and visit.

The big point of coming to Denver was to conduct a site visit of Lakeside Amusement Park, where we will be holding Alumafandango in August.  I met up with Brett Hall of Timeless Travel Trailers and we walked every inch of the site to consider logistics such as power, parking, entry /exit points, seminar space, sewage, lighting, etc.  There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into prepping for a big event like this, and it’s doubly complicated when you are basically trying to build a campground too.  Still, it looks like we’ll be ready in time.   (By the way, there’s a new Wal-Mart going in next door but it won’t be open until November.)

One of the nice parts about walking Lakeside in the heat yesterday was the informal guided tour we got from Brett Hall.  He has been associated with the park for decades as the Consulting Engineer, and has done a lot of historical research. The place has quite a few interesting stories.  Brett will be leading guided tours of the park during Alumafandango so everyone who comes can hear the tales.

Now that the site visit is done and the car is set, we have one day to do work, household stuff, and school before we head east.  Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday will be roadtrip days either on I-80 through Nebraska or I-70 through Kansas.  That’s a drive of about 1,250 miles.  We don’t have any particular plans or stops worked out along that route, since it’s just going to be a slog if we are going to get to Ohio on schedule. I always feel badly about short-changing NE or KS when we go through in a rush, but long-time blog readers know that we did make many stops in those states back when we were full-timing.

Meanwhile, the phone is ringing like crazy lately, as people with last-minute Alumapalooza questions are popping up.  Like us, many of the attendees are already on the road, and others are packing to leave next weekend.  Everybody seems pumped, which helps us, because as close in on our big week of Alumapalooza, we can feel rising tension and excitement.  Alumapalooza is a great week but also a really tough one for those who work the event.  It feels to me like the days before the opening of a musical.  Despite all the rehearsals and planning, there’s always a fear that something might go wrong … until the moment you open the curtain and realize it’s all going to work out just fine.

Modernism Week 2012 Vintage Trailer Show

Have I finally bitten off more than I can chew?  I think so.  The blog hasn’t been updated as frequently as it should be, emails are going unacknowledged for days or even weeks, and I’ve been shelving good & interesting projects simply because I don’t have time anymore. It’s an abundance of riches in a sense —too much work to do when other folks are still looking for some, and (briefly) too many friends overflowing the driveway into the street—but drowning is still a bad thing even if it’s in a vat of hot chocolate with marshmallows.

So I’m making some tough decisions.  Brett and I went off to Palm Springs on Thursday with the decision that we would regretfully resign our volunteer positions as “Event Captains” once the weekend was over.  We’ve enjoyed organizing the Vintage Trailer Show for the past two years, but it’s time to hand the reins over to someone else, and we are lucky that a friend in the vintage trailer community has already expressed tentative interest in managing the show for 2013.

The actual Vintage Trailer Show this weekend was fantastic.  The final count of visitors was 1,935, which is a record for this event.  I was asked a few times why an owner would want to display in this show (and pay for the privilege) rather than just going to a vintage trailer rally elsewhere.  I think the volume of visitors explains why.  Nowhere else will you see such a huge volume of people who are avidly interested in your trailer, and if that’s useful or important to you, Palm Springs is indisputably the place to be.

The photo above shows Randy and Jeannet Grubb in their one-of-a-kind “Decoliner,” which was one of the stars of the show. It has a full upper deck from which you can drive the rig.  It’s for sale, and it would make an awesome promotion vehicle for those who can afford it.

My photos really don’t do justice to the event, and most of them were taken for very specific future uses, so if you want to get a better look, check out Alison Turner’s blog.  That’s a picture of Alison coming down the steps of the Decoliner. It was great to see Alison, as well as Dan & Marlene of Malimish, blog readers Kristiano and Christy, Bert Gildart (see his pictures from the event here), and about 1,930 other people.

All in all, it was a fine road trip. We met a lot of great people, enjoyed some superb weather, and had a fantastic 800 mile speed run across the southwestern desert, which always makes me happy.  We really couldn’t have hoped for a better weekend.

Next year, since we won’t be organizers, we’ll just attend the show like everyone else and that will be even nicer.  I’ll be able to bring a “date” along (guess who) and actually enjoy Palm Springs like a tourist.

Being back home now, it’s time to plunge into the remaining list of tasks.  I’m already behind the curve on the Summer 2012 issue at a time when I should have it mostly wrapped up and be planning out Fall 2012.  That’s enough to make me nervous but then atop it I have lots of work to do on Alumafandango, Alumapalooza, and a third event that we hope to launch in 2013.

Speaking of Alumafandango (our Denver event), you might have gotten an email today that says if you register for it on Wednesday February 29, you can get a free Alumafandango t-shirt. Just enter the code “LEAPDAY” when you choose your shirt size.  This code will only work on February 29.

I’ll post more soon about plans for all of the events.  We’ve got quite a few interesting things in the works, and I want to tell you about them as soon as things start to jell.  But for now, I’ve got to get back to the job …

 

Modernism Week Vintage Trailer Show 2012

We launched Alumafandango last week and I was pleasantly surprised by the response.  In the first week we signed up 11 trailers, which is impressive for a new event, especially since we have very little information up on the website yet.  People seem to be signing up for it on the strength of the reputation of Alumapalooza, which is nice but it also makes me more acutely aware that we’ve got to put on something really exceptional.

And so I spent much of the week anxiously trying to organize the details of Alumafandango.  We want everyone to be completely mesmerized by the experience, to the point that (like our other events) there’s never any desire to leave the grounds to find something else to do.  That’s a tall order.  I expect Brett & I will be busy programming the event for the next few months, even while we are finalizing details for Alumapalooza 2012 in Ohio.

Meanwhile we are nearly done recruiting for the Modernism Week “Vintage Trailer Show” in Palm Springs.  We have 20 trailers signed up and they are all really cool.  The leader of the show will likely be Randy Grubb’s “Decoliner,” which is technically neither trailer nor motorhome, but so exceptional that we felt it should be in the show anyway.  We’ve also got a rare 1965 Dethleffs Bedouin, 1954 Hille Ranger Pop-Up, 1946 Curtis Wright, 1964 Traveleze, 1954 Silver Streak Clipper, and the following Airstreams:

  • 1972 Airstream Ambassador
  • 1957 Airstream Safari
  • 1973 Airstream Safari
  • 1965 Airstream Safari
  • 1960 Airstream Caravel
  • 1959 Airstream Globetrotter
  • 1959 Airstream Traveler
  • 1968 Airstream Ambassador
  • 2008 Airstream Custom by Timeless Travel Trailers
  • 1969 Airstream Caravel
  • 2012 Airstream Sterling Concept
  • 1967 Airstream Overlander
  • 1963 Airstream Bambi

At this point we have just one space left in the show, which will probably get snapped up in the next week or so.   We’re expecting some special guests to join us, including vintage trailer restoration specialists Mike Keenan of M.E.L. Trailers, David Winick, and Uwe Salwender of Area 63 Productions.

We really do like organizing these shows, but we’ve got to stick to the core business of running Airstream Life and our own events (AFD/APZ), so this will be the last year Brett & I are involved in curating the Modernism Week show.  We’ll hand the reins over to someone else once this show is done, and hopefully it will continue growing as a special event. I’ll probably still come out to Palm Springs in future years just to attend and see what’s on display, as it is a unique chance to see some of the best vintage trailers in the west.