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Cowboy Up! Great North American RV Rally

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

Blame it on Brewster. Until the affable author penned the words to Home on the Range, most Easterners’ impressions of the Wild West came courtesy of dime novels. Brewster Higley’s 1873 verse, however, painted a new picture of frontier living, replacing images of gunfights with comfortable country life.

But Brewster wasn’t pining over Arkansas, or Oklahoma, or even Texas — he was writing in a cabin in Smith County, Kansas. Years before the Great Oklahoma Land Rush, Higley’s remembered sights and sounds of the Sunflower State were enticing homesteaders — and Kansas has been having the same effect on visitors ever since. Granted, what was once the edge of civilization is now the geographical center of the United States — but as participants in this summer’s Great North American RV Rally will discover, the roots of the Old West still run deep in Kansas.

Not that you’ll need boots and a beaver-felt hat before heading to Hutchinson for the biggest RV roundup of the year, June 21-24 (early-bird days June 19 and 20) at the Kansas State Fairgrounds. Since the date coincides with the 150th anniversary of the founding of Kansas Territory, however, you might want to dust off the denim.

We plan to. This fifth Great North American RV Rally is sponsored by MotorHome/Trailer Life, Woodall’s Publications, the Good Sam Club, Camping World President’s Club and Coast to Coast Resorts (all units of Affinity Group Inc.), and — as in the past — special programs will be conducted daily by each of these.

MotorHome/Trailer Life and Woodall’s Publications will jointly sponsor RV Publications Day on Monday, June 21. Although much of the program will be a surprise, we can tell you that you’ll feel, well, right at home on the range.

Other programs include Camping World Day, scheduled for Tuesday; Coast to Coast Day, Wednesday; and Good Sam Club Day, Thursday. Each promises to deliver as much fun as a country hoedown with two fiddle-players — and all the events are accompanied by prize drawings held throughout the four-day show.

It’s said that outlaw Sam Bass robbed the Deadwood Stage four times, only to net a total of seven peaches and $50. With prizes that include a 2004 Suzuki Grand Vitara, attendees at the Great North American RV Rally will fare a lot better!

True, not every person will win a prize and only one lucky participant will drive away in the Suzuki, but it’s a safe bet to say that everyone attending the rally will leave with more than they came with. That might translate into material possessions — more than 400 exhibitor booths will offer everything from the latest RV products to cooking utensils, clothing and even jewelry — but it also might just as readily be a reflection of the wealth of information to be disseminated on site: Seminars are scheduled on hundreds of subjects of interest to everyone from the novice to veteran RVers.

Among the most popular seminars is the one on Tech Topics led by MotorHome/Trailer Life Associate Publisher (and Highways Technical Editor) Bob Livingston. Seats also figure to fill up quickly for MotorHome columnist Gaylord Maxwell’s talk about the RV lifestyle, as well as a session featuring Highways columnists Joe and Vicki Kieva, who will offer practical tips from their experience. Other knowledgeable speakers will address everything from how to select the right RV to RV maintenance, from adventure travel to healthy cooking.

Hands-on sessions of another sort come courtesy of an amazing array of brand-new RVs sprinkled throughout the fairgrounds’ 280 acres. More than 1,000 vehicles of all sizes and types, both motorized and towable, will be on display — many for sale at special rally prices and most accompanied by manufacturers’ representatives eager to chat with
interested browsers.

Fun in the Sun

Though Brewster Higley wrote the words to what has become Kansas’ official song, it remained for Dan Kelly to put them to music — and, 131 years ago, it was no small feat to assemble enough musicians to play it.

By contrast, the Hutchinson shindig’s Rally Idol Contest — loosely patterned after the popular American Idol TV show — simply requires that participants step up on stage with their own music, the ability to carry a note and enough nerve to sing in front of an appreciative audience. First held at last summer’s Great North American RV Rally, the contest will include last year’s winner, Noel Byers (near left) — this time, as a judge.

Nerves of another sort are needed for the popular Oreo Cookie-Stacking Contest, which (as you can discover by practicing at home beforehand) is a lot harder than it sounds. Hutchinson also will be the site of the annual rally’s first-ever dog show, plus an attempt to break the world record for the largest group hug. In 2001, Sweden set the standard with 4,703 people — and a lot more folks than that are expected to drive through the gates of the Kansas State Fairgrounds!

The event also features more traditional treats, including a free ice-cream social, along with special programs designed for children ages 5 to 16 (led by Good Sam Club Sambassadors Ira and Rosemary Bates).

The Entertainment Lineup

Each evening, attendees will relax while enjoying top-notch on-stage entertainment. Opening night’s performers are The Temptations Review Featuring Dennis Edwards (below, right). Edwards is one of the last survivors of The Temptations, the legendary rock-and-roll group that earned five Grammy awards, 14 gold albums and 38 Billboard Top-40 hits. His soulful voice carried the group to hit after hit, from I Can’t Get Next to You to the Grammy-winning Papa Was a Rolling Stone.

The rest of the entertainers are pure country. On Tuesday, Bobby Bare (below, left) takes to the stage, celebrating a career that kicked off with 1959’s The All-American Boy, that went to No. 2 on the charts. Bare, who has recorded duets with many of country’s top female singers, including Skeeter Davis, Rosanne Cash and Lacy J. Dalton, had a dozen Top 10 hits, including Detroit City, Daddy, What If and Marie Laveau, which topped the charts in 1974.

Ronnie McDowell (near left) is Wednesday’s entertainer. In 1977, McDowell wrote and recorded The King Is Gone, a tribute to Elvis Presley, that charted all the way to No. 3 and spurred a career now stretching into four decades and 30 albums. McDowell’s string of hit songs include Older Women and In a New York Minute.

Headliners Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers (above, right) will bring the rally to a foot-stomping close on Thursday night. Grammy-winners for Best Country Song in 1976 for Broken Lady, the group’s memorable hits include Houston, Somebody’s Baby and All the Gold in California. World-class performers for nearly four decades, brothers Larry, Rudy and Steve are renowned for their vocal harmonies and showmanship.

Early-bird entertainment will be provided by the Texas Fiddlers on Saturday night, with an arts-and-crafts fair set for Sunday.

TallGrass on the Side

Along with the rally’s full schedule of events — plus the opportunity to wear out saddle leather on your own — there will be a number of optional half- and full-day tours available during the four-day get-together. Some of the more interesting side trips within driving distance that you can enjoy with rally buddies:

• The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center — right in Hutchinson. This world-class facility features the nation’s most comprehensive collection of space artifacts outside the Smithsonian Institute (plus, it has an Imax Theater and a planetarium).

• The Eisenhower Center. Though a Texan by birth, President Dwight D. Eisenhower grew up in Abilene, Kansas. There, you can see his boyhood home, a museum documenting his military and political careers, a research library, a chapel and Ike’s and wife Mamie’s burial site.

• Dodge City Days. Wyatt Earp, “Doc” Holliday and “Bat” Masterson once hung their hats in historic Dodge City. Those wild days are remembered year-round at the Boot Hill Museum — and during Dodge City Days (July 30-August 8) when a professional rodeo and country-music concerts add to the sagebrush flavor.

• The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Located near Strong City, this is the last virgin prairie in North America (and one of only five left in the entire world). Tours of the preserve help visitors imagine what the vast prairie looked like when 19th-century wagon trains rode along the Chisholm, Santa Fe and Oregon trails.

• Other optional tour destinations include: Fort Larned and the Santa Fe Trail Center; Lindsborg (known as Little Sweden) and the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge; the Smokey Hills Winery and Rolling Hills Zoo in Salina; the Sternburg Museum of Natural History in Hays; Wichita’s Old Cowtown Museum and Mid-America All-Indian Center; and the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon experience.

To ensure getting a prime RV site for this not-to-be-missed event, make your reservations before rally prices increase March 20. The dry-camping price for two adults/one rig is $119; for one adult, $99. Sites with electric hookups are $249 for two adults/one rig; $229 for one adult. Early-bird campers pay $30 for two days’ dry-camping, $15 for one day; two days with electric hookup is $62, one day with hookup, $31.

For registration information, call toll-free (877) 749-7122, visit rv.net/rally.

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