The last day of Alumapalooza 4

Did I mention that this has been the best Alumapalooza I’ve ever had?  The attendees always seem to have a good time, but those of us in orange shirts tend to work long hours and run around solving problems ad hoc all day.  This year I have to give the credit to the absolutely awesome staff who have made everyone’s life so much easier.  We added two “orange shirts” this year and picked up about four others who have pitched in unofficially.  They’ve all been great.

APZ4 Kirk McKellarThis is making me much more optimistic about next year’s event in Sarasota FL, Alumaflamingo.  There was a lot of talk about that event. Many of our seasoned team are coming to that event, and also quite a lot of the people who are attending here.  Also, our new mascot, Sammy The Solar Squirrel will be attending.  He makes daily calls on the staff radio channel to remind everyone to put on their sunscreen and drink plenty of water.

Sammy has been a little disappointed lately.  We’ve had intermittent showers Friday and this morning, which look likely to continue all day.  Not much call for sunscreen.  Yesterday we got halfway through the Backup Derby (using a 29-foot Airstream Ambassador) and got rained out. We had some pretty major showers during the Charity Auction but since we were all under the main tent, nobody minded.  The Auction was a huge success. We auctioned off some Airstream art, a special edition “Alumapalooza 4″ Zip-Dee chair, two Airstream scale models, one of Kristiana’s silver trailer necklaces, and a Lodge Dutch Oven.  That raised $1,455 which will be donated to the Fish Pond, a local food bank.

We also announced that the proceeds from the Aluminum Gong Show reached $818, which Brett and I pledged to match dollar for dollar, so the total will be $1,636 to be donated to the Red Cross for help with tornado relief in the midwest.

APZ4 pano1

Today’s events are mostly under cover, so the rain won’t matter.  We already had yoga this morning, and Kid’s Yoga is starting soon.  The Swap Meet was huge (I sold a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff myself) and Rivet Masters was a big hit according to Alex, who emcee’d it.

In a few minutes we’ll start Eleanor’s “Aluminum Chef” demo and then if the weather holds we’ll resume Backup Derby at 2, then tonight we have some awesome door prizes, dinner, and The Trailer Park Troubadours.  Alumapalooza 4 is almost over, and I think a lot of people here are sorry to see it end.

The Aluminum Gong Show

I’m sitting here thinking about everything that happened yesterday, and it’s all a jumble of images in my head.  Too much stuff is happening to keep track of it all!  Brett and I walk around with little notepads in our pockets so we can make notes about things that we need to address for future events, or announce at happy hour.  This year our notes are considerably less than the first couple of years, which I think indicates we are getting everything smoothed out.

Yesterday everything went as well as can be expected.  Our trailer numbers swelled to 128 parked on the field, plus several more in the Service Center and the Terra Port.  We should hit about 140 today.  I heard from a few people who had problems on the road, but they all eventually pulled in with big smiles and a sense of relief.

Andy Thomson was a little late getting here to do his famous Test Drives, but by 10:30 he was taking people out for a spin in a Ford Taurus SHO coupled to a 30-foot Airstream Serenity.  I took a ride in the back seat and was impressed, as always. Eleanor is going to drive it this afternoon.

Tim Maxwell and Dave Schumann of Airstream held two seminars and packed the room, talking about Airstream maintenance topics.  We also had seminars from Phil May of Techno RV and Colin Hyde.  Despite the threat of thunderstorms most of the day, Yoga, Kite Flying, and the Bike Ride around Jackson Center all were well attended.  But the afternoon Pool Party at the JC Municipal Pool was deterred by a quick cloudburst that hit almost exactly at 2 pm, when the party was due to start.  We’ve had no luck organizing Pool Parties at Alumapalooza—every year we either get rained out or it’s too cold that day.

The weather here is unpredictable, as I’ve often said.  All you can be sure of is that there will be rain, fog, cold, heat, humidity, calm wind and high wind, often all in the same day.  We’ve had two fantastic days but today it is a certainty that the thunderstorms are coming in soon.  It’s such a shame because right now (at 7 a.m.) it’s just beautiful: about 72 degrees, moderate humidity, calm wind, and beautiful clear skies.  By 9 we’ll be getting rain, alas.

Last night we saw clouds on the horizon around sunset, and after checking the radar and with our resident meteorologist Alex, we sent a text message (to everyone who registered to receive them from us, about 70 attendees) warning them to pull in awnings.  For a few people, the message arrived too late, due to the vagaries of the local cellular network, and they had awning damage. The storm was brief but severe, dumping 1/4 ” of rain in less than 10 minutes, and the main tent suffered some light damage which will be corrected today, plus a lot of stuff was blown around.

For situations like this we have emergency procedures in place, including assistance from the Fire Dept, several First Responders on the field, and access to the manufacturing building in case of tornadoes.  We’ve rehearsed these routines every year but never had to use them, fortunately.  It’s Ohio in the summer and the weather can be a little challenging at times.

APZ4 Santa BabyThe big fun yesterday turned out to be the Aluminum Gong Show.  We had more acts signed up than we could present in the time allotted, so we pared the list down to 10.  First we gave out a ton of great door prizes, and then kicked off the show with Eleanor and performing “Santa Baby.”  I played ukulele badly, and Eleanor sang.  Neither of us could hear ourselves, and we thought we might get gonged, but the crowd sat through our act and even tossed a few dollars in the Charity Jar.

After that, we had a good guitarist, and then Brett recited Dr Seuss’ “Sam I Am” in the voice of William Shatner (he got gonged), and then we had a Human Calendar Calculator, and after that the acts got better.  It was hilarious. Alex & Charon stole the show with their duet recitation of a Gertrude Stein Dada-ist poem.  Probably half of this will end up on YouTube or our Facebook page, so you can see it eventually.  We raised a ton of money for charity with this show, and we’ll announce the total tonight at Happy Hour.

Alumapalooza jam sessionLast night’s entertainment wrapped up with Laura F singing torch songs and then a great “Jam Session” that went for a couple of hours with Kirk McKellar, Curtis Remington, Art Martin, David Winick, and several others.  Bob Wheeler of Airstream and his family showed up on the field and are camping in the Terra Port this week, so we had a chance to visit with them after the lasagna dinner at the local Methodist Church (an annual tradition).

I’m pretty sure I’m missing about ten other things that happened today and were worthy of note, but as Ramona Creel (one of our presenters) would say, “There’s just too much stuff to keep in mind head!”  So I’m going to move on. It’s time to get dressed and join the rest of the staff for what promises to be another exciting day.

Life at Alumapalooza 4

Everyone here keeps asking me how things are going for us, since we are now entering our third day of Alumapalooza.  I have been replying that his has been the easiest and best year yet.  Many of the troublesome issues from years past have been worked out, and we have an absolutely awesome team of “orange shirts” who have just nailed every problem that crops up, even before I know about them.  As a result, we’re having a pretty good time.

This is good because we are already thinking hard about the challenges of next February’s Alumaflamingo, to be held in Sarasota FL.  We’re going to be have to be at the top of our game to make that event meet our standards the first year out, especially with (likely) 200-300 trailers on the field.  Normally it takes about 12-18 months to plan a new event, and at this point we have just nine months left, so it’s definitely on my mind, and Brett’s.

But we’ll talk about that later.  You want to read about Alumapalooza, right?  What can I say—it has been great.  The weather has been excellent since the early sprinkles ended mid-day Tuesday.  We’re expecting lots of sunshine and temps in 70s and 80s through Friday, then probably a few thunderstorms will roll through.  That’s typical.

The events have been well-received.  I’m not going to go through a list of everything we’ve held, because it’s all in the online schedule, but suffice to say the attendees have been kept completely occupied, from Yoga at 7:30 through the Roving Happy Hours in the evening.  Yesterday a lot of people missed half of Marty’s talk about “Running a Business On The Road” because they were trying to chow down a little lunch between activities.  We may have programmed the day a little too tight because we had so many things we wanted to present.

Well, that’s just a warm-up because today’s schedule has a lot more on it.  We’ve got seven seminars and activities for today, plus towing “test drives”, plus the Aluminum Gong Show (Eleanor and I will be doing an act in it), plus a Pool Party, two factory tours, door prizes, Open Grill, and this evening’s Jam Session.  Eleanor and I went through today’s schedule at 6:30 just to plan what we were going to do.  She and Emma are starting their day with Yoga at 7:30.

We are taking care to pace ourselves so that we aren’t burnt out by Saturday. I’m trying to get to sleep around 10 p.m. but it doesn’t always work out.  Regardless, I have to be up at 6:30 or so to get ahead of the day, take care of email, slather up on sunscreen, and check in with everyone.  (By the way, “Sammy The Solar Squirrel” gets on the staff radio channel every day to remind the staff to take care.  Today he is going to be joined by “Harry The Hydrated Hippo,” to remind them to drink the cold water we keep in a cooler by the main stage.  We have fun with our radios …)

The new Internet system is working very well.  Instead of the marginal and occasionally slow Internet I normally get while at Airstream, my system is flying along at good 4G speeds all the time.  I’m getting a consistent -73 dBm.  Brett has a similar system with a different antenna and he’s also getting awesome performance and a better dBm rating (-59 dBM) so I think his antenna is a better one. I may switch later.  Colin Hyde has one too, and he’s very happy.  Alex is next door to Colin and finding poor reception so I suspect he’s the next one to upgrade.

Gotta go — the day has already started!  For more about what’s coming, check the Alumapalooza Facebook page.

Pre- Alumapalooza 4

The blog has been quiet the past couple of days because we’ve been deep into the Alumapalooza pre-event routine. We’ve settled into a pattern for the set-up of these events, which started before we arrived.  This year we have a slightly larger staff than before, and they are all really excellent, so the workload for us has gotten much lighter.  When we pulled in to Airstream’s Terra Port on Saturday, everything was so well under control that there was little to do but get updated, and on Sunday instead of joining the goody-bag assembly line, I was able to spend the day with Super Terry doing some maintenance to our Airstream.

Airstream Safari CircleThe maintenance was primarily about inspecting our tires and wheel bearings.  It has been over three years since the bearings were re-packed, and many miles, which is far beyond the usual RV industry recommendation.  Paradoxically, our heavy and regular use of the trailer is one of the reasons we’ve gotten away with it. Sitting still isn’t great for the bearings, as it offers an opportunity for condensation to get in.  I’ve also periodically checked the bearings to ensure they are running cool, and whenever a wheel is up in the air I check for smoothness & quietness of rotation.

Still, it has been nearly two years and probably over 12,000 miles since the last time Super Terry and I took the wheels off to check things out, so it was definitely overdue.  We found that the Michelin tires are still doing well, but wearing more on the outer edge of the tire tread, so we took them over to the Wal-Mart Super Center in a nearby town to get them flipped.

Airstream Michelin tire wear 2013-1

Now the white-letter side of each tire is facing out, and the tires have been swapped from side to side so that they will have the same direction of rotation.  This should even out the wear a little.  Based on the wear I saw, I’d guess we could get about 50k miles out of them.  They’ve already gone over 30,000 miles, and the date code says they are five years old so they are probably going to “age out” before they wear out.

Airstream Parbond caulk-1Our inspection revealed that the brake pads were fine except on one wheel, where the disc caliper sliders had gotten dry.  When that happens, only one brake pad gets all the wear, so we replaced that set of brake pads and re-lubricated the caliper sliders.  Otherwise all was good.  Super Terry re-packed the wheel bearings, and re-applied gray Parbond (a sort of thin caulk used for small seams on the exterior) to a few spots that needed it, and that completed our day of maintenance.

Over the weekend I had a few minutes to look around Jackson Center to see what has changed.  We knew that the Cafe Veranda, the best restaurant in town, had closed.  The building is still for sale.  I hope someone buys it and turns it back into a B&B.  It’s a gorgeous house and has some interesting history.  I’ve heard that Wally Byam used to stay there many decades ago.

The one-screen downtown movie house, the Elder Theatre, is in danger of closing for the same reason as many other old independent screens across the country.  The mandatory change to digital projection is too expensive for this little Mom & Pop operation, and so they’ve launched a Kickstarter effort to raise $25,000 to save the theater.  Check it out and pledge if you love the little village of Jackson Center, OH.  This country is going to lose hundreds of little downtown theaters if they can’t make the digital conversion this year.

Phil’s Cardinal Market, the old grocery store, has been replaced by a spankin’ new Family Dollar store.  It’s nice to see some investment in the downtown.  It just opened last week and seems very fine.  This week the Alumapalooza-goers will flood it and probably clear it out of milk and bread, as they usually do.

On Monday the big deal of the day was the arrival of the tent.  Normally the tent crew arrives in the late morning and has it up by 2 or 3 in the afternoon, but this year things ran late, so we didn’t have a chance to get in there and set up our stuff (lights, sound, kitchen, Internet, refrigerators, etc) until after 6 p.m. This was an inconvenience but really not much more than that, so overall I would say setup went extremely well this year.

All weekend we’ve had early arrivals showing up and parking in the Service Center parking lot.  At this point I think we have about 25 Airstreams there, plus another ten or so staff trailers in the Terra Port, and probably 6-10 more service customers.  Everyone gathered on the grass for the Memorial Day cookout, which was a huge success.  The rain we had gotten in the morning cleared up for the afternoon and early evening.  It rained again last night and there is still the occasional patter on the roof as I type this (at 6 a.m. Tuesday) but the forecast is calling for improving conditions all day and fabulous conditions through Friday.  Only a little rain and not too much heat is a pretty good week in JC this time of year.

Airstream guitar Yesterday Dave Schumann showed up and took a few of us into his office to show off a new Airstream guitar.  So far only two have been made, but Airstream will get more and sell you one for $2,250 if you are interested.  One of our attendees is going to play this one on stage this week.

All week Eleanor and I have been practicing for the new Aluminum Gong Show, which is a featured part of Alumapalooza this week.  We’ve got a little routine which involves both of us and a ukulele.  If the performance is not great, at least it will be entertaining.  I am hoping a few more people sign up to be in the show.  Any act is welcome, even pet tricks.  It just has to be a minimum of 90 seconds long and a maximum of four minutes.  If you are attending Alumapalooza you really don’t want to miss this show, trust me …

It’s time to get moving now.  This is going to be one of those days where we do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.  By 8 we will have a caravan of staff trailers heading out to the field, and by 9 parking of the general attendees will begin.  Alumapalooza begins now!

Arrived at Airstream!

We’ve completed the final leg of our long long trip to Airstream headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio, at last. Yesterday we towed 330 miles from the Great Smoky Mtns to a spot somewhere between Dayton and Cincinnati to crash for the night, then the final 100 miles or so this morning.

I was pleased to see that even though our battery was severely depleted after three days of shaded camping, we managed to pick up 47.5 amp hours through the solar panels while we were towing. It was a beautiful day, and with the battery back up to about 76% it was no problem to spend another night without plugging in.

We’ve been lucky to avoid a lot of weather trouble along our route this year. Normally we’d follow a route across I-40 or I-70 to get to Ohio, and if we had, we’d have risked tornadoes and nasty thunderstorms. This year we opted for I-20 to I-30 only because we were heading for The Great Smoky Mtns National Park, and coincidentally lucked out on the weather. All we had to deal with was a lot of heat across Texas, and some humidity in Arkansas and Tennessee. Now it’s just about perfect in Jackson Center, OH, with days peaking around 70 degrees and dry air.

That won’t last, of course, because there’s nothing as changeable as Jackson Center weather. All I can hope is that the inevitable thunderstorms won’t be too severe, and right now the long range forecast seems to support that. We shall see, because even a 48-hour forecast really can’t be counted on for much. Every day’s a surprise.

The rest of the crew are here, and by the time we arrived they had the field all staked out. Tim & Alice were busy arranging the water system and checking on the power. Brett and a small crew were marking the tent locations (they’ll be put up on Monday). In other words, business as usual. Tomorrow we’ll stuff the goody bags and Terry & I have plans to do some service on our Airstream, but it’s generally light work. Nobody is too busy yet.

I see four Airstreams belonging to attendees who have arrived early; they’re all in the Service Center parking lot. Little impromptu Happy Hours and get-togethers seem to be forming, which is nice to see. Tomorrow it should pick up quite a bit, and by Monday we expect at least 25 Airstreams to be boondocked in the lot for the Memorial Day cookout.

It’s nice to see Jackson Center again. It’s always like a Homecoming. We have a lot of memories here and of course it’s the home of the company that my entire business is based upon. It’s a tiny village in the middle of a lot of corn & soybean fields, and I never would have come here if it weren’t for this amazing phenomenon called Airstream, but since I have it has become a place I think of fondly.

This afternoon has been spent settling in, and catching up with friends who we haven’t seen in months. There’s a lot more of that ahead, I’m sure. If Alumapalooza is anything, it’s a giant social occasion—and Airstreamers are very social people. This promises to be a very fun week.