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Bands of Brothers: Belonging to an RV Club

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

Do you like to travel in a pack, or are you a Lone Wolf? It doesn’t really matter — even those of us who normally enjoy vacations with just our family and a few close friends still appreciate the camaraderie shared by a group of like-minded travelers, which is why RV clubs are so popular. Clubs offer a welcome forum for meeting new people, exchanging ideas, and asking (or offering) advice.

Belonging to an RV club doesn’t mean that you have to travel with others; they simply make caravanning an attractive option. Depending upon the size of the club and the active participation of its membership, RV associations hold group rallies a dozen or more times a year at an ever-changing array of interesting locations, and may even host a “national” event.

There are other perks of membership, as well. Some provide mail-forwarding service, while others host monthly luncheons or may schedule weekend retreats. Larger clubs oftentimes also offer a monthly or quarterly magazine, but even the smallest groups can usually create an impressive Web site presence to disseminate information.

And then there are the “mega-clubs,” such as the nearly one-million-member-strong Good Sam Club, which by virtue of its numbers can offer members-only deals on everything from insurance and fuel to parts and coach repairs. In fact, it’s not uncommon for an RVer to join the Good Sam Club only to take advantage of such programs as discounted camping, free trip routing and Emergency Road Service.

As proof of the brotherhood shared among fellow “clubbers,” membership in the Good Sam Club also brings with it a directory of more than 1,500 “Standby Sams” — members who volunteer to provide emergency advice and referrals to fellow members traveling through their local area. Because the need for such services often overlaps the need for camaraderie, it’s not unusual for an active motorhomer to hold concurrent memberships to multiple clubs and organizations.

While coach clubs number in the hundreds, their combined membership still pales in comparison to the number of registered motorhomes parked in America’s driveways. If you don’t yet belong to such a group, take the time to explore all your options. It’s an oft-mistaken assumption that club membership demands undying loyalty to a specific brand, but in truth the majority of clubs aren’t organized to pay homage to a certain motorhome make or model. Sometimes, the coach is just a conveyance.

For example, membership in the Cape Codders (mtrhm.com/capecodders) is loosely based upon residing within 50 miles of Fall River, Massachusetts, while the Coastal Tarheels (coastaltarheels.com) is comprised of residents of the eastern half of North Carolina. By sharing geography, or a love of motorsports, or even, like the Great Lakes Coaches for Christ (michiganknights.com/cfc) a common religious bond, there’s an immediate affinity between travelers. There’s even a club chartered for owners with a special interest in Saturn dinghies (Saturns In Tow), while the Golden Spike chapter (fhmed.com/goldenspike.htm) is made up of railroad enthusiasts!

You don’t have to own a new rig to join a club, either; many vintage motorcoaches still command a loyal following. The popularity of some out-of-date marques has given rise to great numbers of localized groups. For example, the vaunted GMC hasn’t been produced for more than a quarter-century, yet GMC aficionados support not only a national organization (gmcmi.com), but more than a dozen regional clubs from California to New England.

Clubs are an invaluable asset for vintage-coach enthusiasts, because they provide a network of resources for information and used parts. And for anyone on the outside, looking in, they also are among the first places for buying or selling older makes and models.

In an effort to reward owner loyalty (and, at the same time, recognizing that it’s easier to sell a new coach to a confirmed motorhomer), many motorhome manufacturers now directly or indirectly sponsor marque-specific clubs. Joining such a club has unique benefits not enjoyed elsewhere, including factory tours, discounts on replacement parts and apparel and free limited service at rallies.

Depending upon the age, popularity and production runs of different models, clubs can have from a few dozen to many thousand members — and that oftentimes translates into more perks, and more events. With about 2,000 members, the Beaver Ambassador Club (for Beaver Motor Coach owners) had 35 major rallies scheduled last year — and even those impressive numbers are overshadowed by Bounders United, which claims in excess of 2,800 members, spread across 46 separate chapters.

The Holiday Rambler Recreational Vehicle Club is another heavyweight, with more than 300 active chapters. The 600-pound club gorilla, though, is the Winnebago-Itasca Travelers Club, open to anyone who owns a motorhome built by Winnebago Industries. The club reportedly has more than 19,000 members.

The popularity of motorhome travel has also spurred the creation of clubs where the focus is on just a portion of a specific coach. Freightliner was the first of these “component clubs,” by supporting the Freightliner Chassis Owners Club. Chartered in 1995, it has more than 5,500 members (though, to be honest, qualifying coaches are not strictly Freightliner badged; the group also accepts coaches with John Deere or Oshkosh underpinnings).

The latest component club is the Cat RV Engine Owners Club. Founded two years ago, it was chartered to provide fellowship for owners of Caterpillar-powered motorhomes and currently boasts more than 600 members.

As these figures suggest, motorhome clubs — like the coaches themselves — are escalating in popularity. Do the math. There’s strength in numbers — even if those numbers only get together to enjoy each other’s company.

THE NATIONALS While plenty of regional and even local RV clubs abound where you can make new friends and find companions for weekend jaunts, organizations with a national scope tend to offer more bang for the bucks. Besides, if you’re a “joiner,” the possibilities range wide. You can, for example, hook up with an all encompassing organization such as the Good Sam Club, plus the national club for your coachbuilder, its chassis and even its engine!

50 YEARS OF LAZY DAZE AND NIGHTS During the late ’50s, a group of eight Lazy Daze RV owners got together for a leisurely weekend of camping in California’s High Sierras, and came up with the idea for a Lazy Daze Caravan Club. The only requirements for membership would be a love for the great outdoors and ownership of a Lazy Daze. From its inception, the group shunned formality — no officers, bylaws, business meetings or elections. Outings would take on the flavor of family reunions, and complaints would be resolved around the campfire. This relaxed style earned it the title, “the most ‘unorganized’ organized club we know of,” noted

Trailer Life in a June 1967 “Club of the Month” article. “This club has managed to maintain the highest of standards, yet outwit formalities which hamper freedom of the open road.”

Fifty years later, Lazy Daze Caravanners are still enjoying relaxing evenings “circled up around the campfire, singing, telling tall tales, and just talking over the activities of the day.” This summer, the club is celebrating its golden anniversary with a 50th Anniversary Caravan Club Campout at Frontier Park in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The weeklong rally runs June 24-July 1, 2006 and includes seven days of dry camping and five days of activities and entertainment. For more information, go to lazydazecaravanclub.org, or call (760) 743-0846. — Eileen Hubbard

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