Archive for July, 2008

VAC at International

Saturday, July 12th, 2008
Judging a Flying Cloud
Judges are about to score this beautiful 1952 Flying Cloud owned by Pat & Linda McDowell of Wimberley, Texas.

One of the premier events for the VAC at International is the Concours D’Elegance. Contrary to what some may think it is not a competition against other participants, but is instead a competition against the scoring sheet. The objective is to return the following year with a better trailer that will earn a higher score, so participants are really just competing against themselves. Well, sort of, because there is the Bud Cooper Best of Show winner.

Best of Show Winners
The Best of Show winners were Birgit and Hans Iliew from California and their 1978 Ambassador.

Still, it is a friendly competition and this year we had 30 trailers to judge. Since my trailer won’t be eligible for the Concours for another two years (when it will be 25 years old) I decided to volunteer to help with the judging.

Herb Spies from Shalimar , Florida was the Concours steward and he kept us going on a hot day in the sun. Do you recall the Bataan Death March? I didn’t know that stepping in and out of 30 trailers on a hot day would leave me so exhausted. Okay, I admit I’m a wimp, but why was Herb wearing a pith helmet and carrying a riding crop?

Just joking, of course, but not by much, by the time we finished I headed straight for my air conditioned Airstream and announced to Patrice that it was Miller time!

“Woman!” I called out, “bring me a beer!”

“What? Is your leg broken? Get it yourself!” She answered. I guess she didn’t much care for the tone of voice I used. Anyway, two beers later I was passed out. Hey, I told you I was a wimp, what part of that didn’t you understand?

It was interesting though to participate in the judging and it was a great way to see the best trailers. The reward at the end of the day though was a beautiful Montana sunset!

Montana Sunset
The Big Sky Country has great sunsets too!

From Denver to Bozeman

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008
Welcome to Montana
It was a tough drive to get this picture.

The International Rally in Bozeman, Montana, was the best we’ve attended. We paraded and camped with the Vintage Airstream Club and that was quite a sight. The VAC was parked on the MSU grass soccer fields. Grass is better than asphalt or gravel. It’s cooler and doesn’t produce dust. The WBCCI had large but quiet generators and water lines in place prior to our arrival. The campus easily accommodated the rally. I highly recommend the ice cream shop in the lower level of the Student Union Building. Try the huckleberry ice cream. It’s like blueberry but with its own distinctive flavor.

Parked on Grass
The VAC got to park on grass at MSU. The dome in the background was the location for ceremonies, entertainment and flea market.

This was one of the smallest International rallies in decades. I don’t know the official count, but it was likely around 900. The local paper took note of the declining numbers and reported that at the previous rallies in Bozeman there were 3,461 campers in 1989. In 1973, the first Bozeman rally, there were 3,909 campers. When the club returned in 1977, there were 3,949. This was followed by 3,423 in 1982, and 3,461 campers in 1989. Still it was a well run rally, and despite the formal inauguration of officers seemed to be missing much of the autocracy and pomp of previous rallies.

The only real downside was the vandalism and theft that occurred. We were not victimized, but quite a few around us had their flag poles and flags stolen. Our neighbor’s Airstream was “keyed” nearly its entire length, but the worst was the ball peen bashing a vintage tow vehicle took.

The news media took notice of the VAC parade, but out of the 82 rigs that participated the local TV station aired footage of perhaps the only Airstream in it that wasn’t shiny or vintage – ours! I couldn’t believe it. It’s embarrassing too, with so many other beautiful Airstreams. Go figure!

As it was we barely got there on time. I thought I had the Excella back together and ready to load at 5:30 p.m. (on the 24th) but then realized I hadn’t checked the brakes. I found one that wasn’t working due to a broken wire, and all four needed adjustment. I fixed that and was finally ready to load up at 8:30 p.m. Patrice asked if we shouldn’t wait until the following morning to leave, but I didn’t want to drive in Denver’s rush hour morning traffic. I was hyped to get going and was pumped from drinking Cola all day – hey, sugar and caffeine makes the nation run so why not me? By the time we had finished loading and getting gas it was 11:30 p.m. Well, traffic was much lighter at that hour. We drove until about 2:00 a.m. and pulled into a road side rest stop, called Virginia Dale, just south of the Wyoming border on highway 287. We spent the night there and even slept in until 9 that morning.

Virginia Dale was the location of one of the largest stagecoach stations on the Overland Trail. In 1862 it was managed by the notorious Jack Slade. He was a murderer and bully. The Overland Stage Line fired him when it was suspected that he’d robbed one of its own stages of $60,000. Slade died in 1864 when he was hung by Montana vigilantes.

From there we made it to Thermopolis, Wyoming and I took advantage of the hot mineral spring pools at the Fountain of Youth RV Park. The heated water is produced by the huge Yellow Stone caldera. The least hot pool is bath temperature at 98 degrees, the next is 104 degrees but the hottest is 110! A few people were in the 104 pool, but no one was in the 110. The property didn’t originally have a hot spring. It was only after drilling for oil that it was created. Instead of getting an oil geyser they got hot water. For many years the park was owned and operated by Oscar and Etta Payne and their family. They were friends and fellow travelers of Wally Byam, and traveled with him extensively in their little 18’ Airstream.

Oscar & Etta Payne’s trailer
This photo of Oscar & Etta Payne’s 18′ trailer was taken in 1990 at the annual Antelope Rally. They were 97 and 88 years old at the time of the rally.

From there we drove to Bozeman, but it was a tough day of driving getting there. We drove over Dead Indian Pass, Wyoming. I’d looked at the maps and saw that it was about a 3,000 foot climb, and didn’t think that would be too hard. But the grade was 7 percent up and down. We did 35 mph going up, and 25 mph going down. Patrice enjoyed the scenery, which was spectacular, but I didn’t let on how tense I was. All in all though our 1985 Suburban and Excella did well, even with drum brakes (only the Burb’s front brakes are disk), but am I ever glad I worked on them before leaving.

The mountains of the North Absaroka Wilderness
The mountains of the North Absaroka Wilderness as seen from the summit of Dead Indian Pass. An eagle soars in the forground.

The real aggravation was yet to come though. At Cook City, Montana, we paid $4.45 a gallon for gas (the highest on the entire trip), got delayed an hour by road construction, and then entered Yellow Stone park. It’s the height of the season, and some tourists are more dangerous than any or all of the bears and bison. They would stop suddenly in the through lane of traffic, doors flying open and exit to take pictures of each and every animal they came upon and would do this after rounding a blind curve. The brakes got a different work out then as I had to stand on them more than a few times to keep from rear ending these idiots. Often, they would do this right next to a pull over! The following day one family paid the price by getting too close to a bison. A 12-year-old boy from Pennsylvania was hospitalized after he was flipped into the air by a bull. Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence.

Despite the delays, we arrived at the VAC “pre-parade” Rally at the Bozeman Hot Springs KOA just in time for happy hour.

The VAC Parade
The VAC lined up on a side road prior to parading into the 51st WBCCI International Rally.

About the Author

Hi, my name is Forrest McClure. I've been writing for the magazine since its inception. My wife and I travel with our 1966 20' Globe Trotter or our 1986 32' Excella. So, my primary interest is vintage travel trailers.