Alumafandango post-mortem

*sigh*  Like most stories, it all turned out well in the end. But I’ve just had a week I’d rather not repeat.

You might have detected some hints of trepidation in my pre-event posts.  Over the past few months the amusement park we’d selected had suffered from a serious thunderstorm that washed away much of the area where we’d planned to camp.  The management of the park didn’t give the site crew access until the event date was imminent, and that—more than anything else—put us squarely behind the eight-ball.

The site work that was started on Saturday continued through the weekend.  I made a short movie documenting some of what happened, because it was just unbelievable.  The Caterpillar scrapers hauled dirt all weekend and into Monday, moving hundreds of cubic yards.  On Sunday a water leak sprang up from the ground (an old subsurface pipe leak probably forced to the surface by the 55-ton weight of the machines), and Brett Hall spent much of the day digging with a backhoe to find it.  Sunday night the leak became a 15-foot fountain, and water to much of the park had to be shut off.

On Sunday we also found out that repair work to the Merry-Go-Round would prevent us from running the QR Code Hunt through the park, so I quickly revised the Survival Guide and Brett picked up the corrected copies at the nearest Staples.  The we learned that the blackout curtains we had expected for the Royal Grove pavilion, where we were to hold all of our seminars, weren’t going to arrive.  Our stage turned out to be a no-show too.  Brett G got busy on his phone and managed to arrange new stuff within a few hours. This was typical; we kept finding things weren’t as we had expected, and we just had to jump on every problem and find a solution as quickly as possible.

Monday the guys were still building the 30-amp power system while Brett H continued to dig with the backhoe.  Some handwritten records from fifty years ago were located, but they might have just as well been hieroglyphics.  Our excavation turned up a maze of undocumented water lines, sewer lines, valves, and telephone lines.  Brett G and I ended up in the five-foot deep pit at one point, digging with a shovel to uncover a valve and a series of ridiculous pipe connections.  Then, since the Timeless Travel Trailer guys were all busy working on the site, Brett and I hitched up all the display trailers to my car and towed them, one by one, into their display spaces.  You should have seen me moving the 40-foot “Western Pacific” railway crew Airstream.  It’s worth about $170,000 and I had to maneuver it very carefully into a space next to a telephone pole, guy wire, and a metal pipe railing, without denting anything.  I pity the guy who has to get it out of there.

Meanwhile, sitework continued in the southern park of our camping area, and the electricians continued to hustle.  I bailed out of the site at about 9:30 pm, sunburnt and exhausted, but some of the Timeless guys worked until well past 1:30 a.m. and got back at it by 6:30 a.m. the same morning.

Tuesday dawned and we still had no water, no power, and our attendees began to arrive.  We brought our Airstream over early in the morning and came face to face with the hideous reality that nothing was ready. Parking was a total nightmare.  The west gate we had planned to use was unavailable because construction at the Wal-Mart next door was ongoing.  We had to post a person all day, every day, at the published arrival location to redirect trailers to the main entrance of the park (halfway around the city block).  Lisa and Eleanor shared this job.   Worse, we had been told over the weekend that the main gate would be locked nightly at 10 p.m., and anyone who was on the outside after that would just be out of luck.

Because we had no water to the campsites and no idea when we’d have water, we set up a “water fill” location and stopped everyone who didn’t arrive with full water tanks there, so they could fill up before being parked.  Then we discovered that the site map we’d been provided with was drastically inaccurate, and in fact the net campground space would accommodate only about 2/3 of the trailers we had planned.  So we quickly came up with a plan for a new camping space west of the abandoned racetrack, although we had not the slightest clue yet how we were going to get power to them.

The bathroom trailer, named “Lucy,” was on site but nobody had time to connect her to the sewer tanks, so she was unusable.  We had a Port-A-Potty brought in as an emergency backup.  Likewise, the dump station was not ready, so anyone who showed up with full black/gray water holding tanks had to leave and dump elsewhere, but fortunately only one trailer had that problem.

All of this had us hopping around like kernels in a popper. It was in the upper 80s and we were doused in sweat, guzzling bottled water whenever we could.  We set up the pavilion, checked in dozens of guests, answered endless questions about the lack of utilities, parked trailers, and even dealt with an upset dentist (he didn’t like the trailers lining up in front of his storefront office).  The event trailer still wasn’t on site, so registration was set up in the pavilion instead. I got chewed out badly by a woman who was extremely upset about our state of confusion.  She demanded a refund, which I agreed to give her if she chose to leave.  She walked away without saying anything else, and I later discovered she wasn’t even registered, only her husband was!

Our ice cream social ran out of ice cream in 15 minutes because the supplier brought 2 gallons instead of the 5 gallons we had requested.  Nothing seemed to be going right, and it continued well into the evening.  Our 4 p.m. “Happy Hour” was probably the least happy hour I’ve spent in years, since Brett and I could do little more than stand there before a hot and irritated crowd and make weak apologies for the lack of 30-amp power to run their air conditioners.  Showing the 3-minute movie of the weekend’s dirt work helped people appreciate the situation a little, and I asked everyone to think of “how Wally would do it,” so that they’d keep perspective.  I think almost everyone got it, and they were much more patient with the situation than we probably deserved.

I collapsed into bed that night feeling like I had a total disaster on my hand.  One or two participants were already calling it “Alumafiasco,” although fortunately I didn’t know this at the time.  We were all already sleep-deprived from the crazy weekend, and I think if I’d heard that I might have been tempted to just go home.  I awoke at 4 a.m. from the sheer anxiety and sat at the dinette to write up a list of emergency measures we had to take to save our event.  Brett and I compared notes the next day and found we’d both been kicking ourselves for everything that had gone wrong.  Text messages were flying around day and night between us and Brett Hall, trying to keep after everything.

Wednesday morning the excavators were chasing another leak at the entrance to the park.  A commercial plumbing crew was on the job now, but they couldn’t find the leak.  Now water was shut off to the entire park, including our backup water fill.  We discussed bringing in a water truck if they couldn’t fix it by Thursday.  But the good news was that the 30-amp power was finally ready, so we flipped the switch Wednesday afternoon to the delight of most.

I say “most” because the power promptly fried the converters of four trailers.  It turned out that one of three legs coming from the transformer was not working right, and gave those trailers a dose of 208 volts.  The power went off again for everyone, and we dispatched electricians to get on the problem again.  So our second day came and went with only a few hours of usable power.  Timeless Travel Trailers sent Paul—one of the big heros of the week—to meet with each affected owner and replace their power converters with upgraded units with 3-stage charging, at no cost to the owners of course.  They also ended up replacing a microwave oven too.

I had a seminar to deliver in the midst of all this, which went well.  But our Happy Hour that afternoon wasn’t much better than Tuesday’s, and now we had at least four people whose trailers had burned out converters to boot. Things seemed to be getting worse.  One trailer pulled out, and I was afraid things were about to get ugly, so we begged for more forgiveness and, behind the scenes, continued chasing down problems and shooting off increasingly tense text messages to the poor guys who were killing themselves trying to get everything fixed.

At the end of Wednesday Brett & I decided we needed to make a bold gesture to the people who had paid for 30-amp power and not gotten it.  We ended up writing 21 pro-rated refund checks and hand-delivering them to all those people who had arrived Tuesday or Wednesday.  This helped ameliorate some feelings and we started to get compliments from people who noticed how hard everyone was trying to make things right.

The 30-amp power seemed fixed by Wednesday night, but on Thursday afternoon I noticed only 110 volts at my trailer and a distinct smell coming from the campground’s main transformer, which soon turned to smoke.  Off went the power  again.  A new transformer connection was made and a few hours later we were able to announce reliable power again.  This time it stayed on.

Later on Thursday the water was finally turned back on and we managed to run water to about half the campsites.  Word spread and soon everyone began putting hoses out.  By that evening most trailers had water, which was very welcome to a few who were running low.  This was our day to run tours to Timeless too, so many of their guys were back at the shop, and we were able to slow down and breathe a little while the shuttle bus did the work for the day.  Things seemed to be finally going our way.  Of course, we still had about 20 trailers to park in the heat, with minimal staff, and we had the Aluminum Chef contest to run, so it wasn’t exactly a vacation.  But since Eleanor, Brett, and I were judges for the Aluminum Chef entries, at least it was a picnic.

I’ll tell the rest of the story in tomorrow’s blog entry.  Trust me, it does end happily.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine