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Motor homes rumble in for rally

About 2,000 motor coaches, owners and visitors will take over much of the Hernando airport for the annual rally.

By TERESA BURNEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002


BROOKSVILLE -- An aluminum-clad city on wheels, with more than half the population of Brooksville, is beginning to assemble along two runways and on 17 acres at the Hernando County Airport.

For the fifth year in a row, the itinerant members of the Family Motor Coach Association are coming to Hernando County for their southeast area rally, which begins Wednesday. Roughly 2,000 of the elaborate homes on wheels are expected. They will bring a population of at least 4,000 people.

By day, the attendees will visit with each other, gawk at the latest models of motor homes, shop in vendor tents and attend seminars on everything from quilting to keeping the homes' holding tanks odor free.

By night, they will flock into a tent large enough to hold 5,000 for entertainment.

And do not expect the visitors to stay put at the airport. Many will venture out in the passenger cars they pull behind their RVs to play golf, visit area attractions and to eat.

"Even though we have kitchens, very few of us cook," said Mary Lawler, the group's national vice president for the southeast area.

While the rally does not officially begin until Wednesday and ends a week from today, the organization encourages members to show up early to get settled. So expect to see bunches of the behemoths squeezing through Brooksville's construction-clogged roads by Monday.

About 350 motor homes, carrying 700 volunteers, are already on the property. They came to Hernando last week to assemble infrastructure for the temporary town.

It's not a painless endeavor.

By Friday, the Family Motor Coach Association's office was a claustrophobic's nightmare as volunteers wearing silk flower leis and hair wreaths in honor of this year's "Aloha" theme, crowded around computers and telephones.

Delivery people kept squeezing in through the front door. One arrived looking for someone to sign for two big-screen televisions. Then in came a Publix delivery person, closely protecting a birthday cake for one of the volunteers as he maneuvered through the throng.

Outside, a trailer-load of portable toilets arrived while volunteers installed "street" signs so the motor homes could have temporary addresses during their visit. In the huge entertainment tent, 5,000 chairs were unfolded and lined up. Other volunteers silently whirred around in golf carts and tended to other tasks.

The event will have its own transportation system. Ten trams will run through the little town that stretches as far as a mile down one runway. The 169 disabled attendees will be ferried around in six-passenger golf carts because many cannot climb aboard the trams.

The Family Motor Coach Association spends $200,000 to put on the event, said Lawler. It pays $94,000 for tent rentals alone. Then there are the costs of hiring entertainers, renting 65 extra golf carts so volunteers can get around, fire extinguishers, two-way radios for communication, and portable toilets.

But the event pays for itself. Participants pay $75 to $90 to park their coaches, and daily visitors pay $4 a person. Last year, daily visitor passes brought in $10,000, said Lawler's husband, Russell, also a volunteer organizer. Roughly 200 exhibitors pay $300 a booth, and some take as many as five booths, he said.

"We're a nonprofit organization," Russell Lawler said. "If we break even, we are happy."

At a glance

You don't have to own an RV or be a member of the Family Motor Coach Association to look at new motor coaches and equipment or marvel at the sight of 2,000 homes on wheels lined up along mile-long runways at the Hernando County Airport this week.

WHAT: Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association rally.

WHERE: Hernando County Airport. Entry is off of U.S. 41, just south of Rivard Golf and Country Club.

HOURS: The gates open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

ADMISSION: The daily entry fee is $4 per person. That does not include admission to nighttime entertainment, which is not open to the public.

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