Our Trip to Albuquerque in March 2010 

Albuquerque is known for its balloons.  This trip was no exception.  There were balloons flying every morning of the convention.

This is the report of our trip to the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) convention in Albuquerque, NM.  Our chapter, the Sun Country Road Runners, had volunteered to work security.  We were not really sure what all the duties would involve, but one of our members, Harry, was in charge of security, so we supported him.  I seem to have volunteered to be the volunteer coordinator for our chapter.  This involved polling all our members asking for volunteers, making all the travel arrangements, and physically leading the caravan of coaches into the convention.

As the time for the convention approached, we were asked if we would work "early security".  This would mean going earlier than planned and working during the setup of the convention.  The upside was that we would be through working before the convention actually started.  I made plans for us to stay in a campground in Grants, NM. where all our members would meet up.  The following morning we would all drive the remaining 90 miles to the convention in a caravan.  Harry asked me if we could include members of two additional chapters who were also working early security.  This raised our total to 13 coaches.  This would be reduced to 12 due to a last minute illness.

Wednesday, March 17   
We left home about 7 AM on our 340 mile trip to Grants and arrived by about 3, after moving our clocks ahead an hour entering New Mexico.  Over the next few hours the remainder of the coaches arrived.  The day ended with an evening pot luck dinner.

Thursday, March 18
Promptly at 9, we departed as a 12 coach caravan and drove the 90 miles to Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque.  When we arrived, the parking crew was still laying out the parking areas.  Our chapter had signed up to park in the "full generator" area, where generator usage was permitted 24 hours.  One our our members is on oxygen, and needed this power.  After waiting about an hour, we were directed to park along the outer fence of the park.  The full generator area consisted of a small lot just on the outside of the fence and another area just inside the fence.

We were parked in the very first place along the fence of Balloon Fiesta Park.  The first five coaches on the left are from our chapter.  Of course coming in as early as we did, we were the only coaches in sight, and the first to park in the area.

We attended an orientation meeting in the afternoon.  Here we were told our schedules and duties.  We also signed up for our shifts which were on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  We each had a 3 1/2 to 4 hour shift a day.  For the first two days we would be assigned to the outdoor displays, and the third we would be at the indoor exhibits.

This convention is different from most in that is is held at a split venue.  Most of the coach parking along with the evening entertainment is at Balloon Fiesta Park (BFP), while all the exhibits and daytime entertainment are at the county fairgrounds (Expo), about 10 miles south of BFP.  Trams run at each facility to take you from area to area.  Each facility had a transfer station where a number of highway type buses would take you to the other facility.

Friday, March 19
We had signed up for the earliest shift each day.  These started at 7 Friday and Saturday, and at 7:30 on Sunday.  We met at 6:15 to be driven to the Expo by a van (the buses had not started running yet).  We were driven around the various gates where we would be stationed.  Our duties were to check that all persons and vehicles had the proper credentials to enter the area, and to redirect those who didn't.

Rosemarie and I were given two "gates" across the street from each other.  The gates were really continuous lengths of chain link fence.  The fence company was supposed to come around 8 and remove panels to create real gates.  Around 10, we were still guarding two chain link fences.  About 10 minutes after I discussed the futility of this with an FMCA official, we were moved to a real gate, with real traffic.  We spent about the final hour of our shift here.

Saturday, March 20
We woke up to light snow at BFP, which stopped by the time we went to meet the van at 6:30.  It was cold, but dry.  We were taken to the same gate where we ended yesterday.  About the time we got our chairs set up it started to snow!  We moved our chairs against the wall of a concessionaire for protection against the wind.  We had dressed very warmly and survived just fine.  It was a bit ridiculous though, as no one else was foolish enough to start working in the early morning snow.  I think we had about 8 vehicles pass through our gate during our 3 1/2 hour shift.

Rosemarie is all bundled up as it just starts to snow.  She has so much on that it is hard to see her blue vest with bright orange lettering, and her blue "Security" visor.
As the snow got heavier it started to stick to areas of the ground.
Another view of the snow from our security post.
As the snow got heavier, we moved our chairs against the wall of this food shop.  That provided us some protection against the wind and snow.

We moved away from the wall later in the morning when the snow on the roof started melting and dripped on our laps.

Sunday, March 21
Today's shift was fun!  Our duties were at the indoor exhibits.  Rosemarie was assigned an entrance door of the main exhibit hall and I was at a large roll up door.  During my shift I watched as Camping World emptied 3 semi trailers of fixtures and goods.  These were brought in through my door by endless trips of a pair of fork lifts.  The Camping World displays were at the far end of our hall and consisted of a full double row of booths.  In addition to the Camping World equipment, many smaller vendors set up their booths, mostly using hand carts and wagons.  A lot of these smaller vendors entered through Rosemarie's door.  With the end of this shift, our duties were complete.  It was a most interesting day!

The view from my security station was of many totally empty booths.  During my shift, many of these started filling up.
Looking out through the large roll up door, I was able to watch them unload 3 semi trailers filled with Camping World merchandise and fixtures.
The traffic inside was almost continuous.  There were two fork lifts running constantly between the trailers and the booths.

Monday, March 22
Today we will take the train to Santa Fe for a fun outing.  Several years ago the Railrunner Express was created.  This is a commuter train running from somewhat south of Albuquerque to Santa Fe, with a number of runs each day.  As senior citizens, we could buy our day pass for $6 each.  Had we bought them online, they would have been $5.  This gave us a round trip to Santa Fe.

Early in the morning there were a number of balloons flying.  This one made a landing in a field just across from us.

We drove about 1 1/2 miles to the closest train station and boarded the train.  It is a very modern train with about half a dozen cars.  The cars actually have three levels of seating.  There are two levels for most of the car, with a single mid level at the transition areas near the doors.  We pulled out of the station and passed some very interesting landscape.  We appeared to reach speeds of about 80 or 85 judging by the speed we were passing cars on I-25 with its speed limit of 75.

About 1/2 hour after we arrived at the station, the train pulled in and we boarded.

We arrived at Santa Fe after about an 85 minute ride.  We were met by free shuttle buses that took us to the Plaza.  We spent a very enjoyable 4 hours in Santa Fe.  We walked past a number of shops to a beautiful church, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

The train has just arrived in Santa Fe.  The free shuttle buses are at the end of the block behind us.
The shuttle let us off in front of this fine arts museum.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, also known as St. Francis, is a beautiful church.
The inside of St. Francis is a beautiful as the outside.
Their baptismal is absolutely gorgeous!

From there we passed several more shops and went to the Loretto Chapel, home of the "Miracle Staircase".  The chapel was built with a choir loft 22 feet above the floor.  There was no room for a conventional staircase, and all the experts said that a ladder was the best they could do.  The nuns prayed to the patron saint of carpenters for an answer.  On the last day of these prayers, a man with a donkey and a toolbox showed up looking for work.  Several months later the magnificent circular stairway was complete.  The man simply left with no pay.  No one knew who he was and they could not locate him.  The staircase consists of two complete revolutions with no viable form of support and was built without nails, only wooden pegs.  To this day, experts do not understand many things about the construction and design of the staircase. 

The miracle staircase is not only amazing, it is beautiful!
Here is a rendering of what the staircase originally looked like before the banisters were added at the sisters' request.
The front of the Lorreto Chapel is also beautiful.

After spending some time at the plaza and exploring many shops in the area, we again caught the shuttle which took us back to the train station.  Our ride back was just as spectacular, except that toward the end, the train ran very slowly.  They explained there was a problem with the signals.  We arrived about 1/2 hour late.

As we head back to the shuttle, we get a last look at the plaza.

Tuesday, March 23
Today is the official start of the convention!  We again got up early and went over for Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee (or hot chocolate) at the entertainment tent.  From there we caught the bus to Expo and walked over to the main exhibit hall.  It was very interesting to see the result of all the fork lift and hand truck loads of equipment.  It looked very organized and well presented.  One vendor I wanted to see was Roadmaster, the maker of my towbar.  Mine is about 13 years old and is getting somewhat loose.  I wanted to see how much it would cost to upgrade to their latest model, or what I could get mine rebuilt for.  I was very disappointed when they quoted me $799 exchange!  He did relent somewhat and offered it to me for $699 exchange.  This was still well above my budget.  I decided to go to the Roadmaster service truck and see if I could get it overhauled.  We finished our first pass through the main hall and headed over to the smaller one.  This is where the bus stops, so Rosemarie decided to head back to the coach while I did the additional exhibits.  I had just started through these exhibits when my cell phone rang. 


It was Rosemarie who said she had just fallen in the lobby.  I ran out and found her face down on the concrete floor with a pair of paramedics and the FMCA safety officer around her.  She had a severe pain in her left arm.  They offered to call an ambulance to transport her to the hospital, but she refused.  She was sure it was just pulled muscles.  The safety officer drove us back to our coach where Rosemarie relaxed in the lounge chair. 

After making sure Rosemarie was as comfortable as possible, I took my towbar over to the Roadmaster semi trailer.  The technician looked at it and said that normally he would recommend refurbishing it, but due to its age, they no longer had parts for it.  That's not what I wanted to hear!  The technician did do a thorough cleaning and lubrication and said it was still safe, but to keep an eye on it.

Wednesday, March 24
I went back to the exhibits today while Rosemarie rested in the motorhome.  I ended up buying a braking system for my towed car.  I have done a lot of research and finally decided on the SMI "Air Force One".  This system has a storage tank and relay valve on the motorhome, which protects the native air brake system of the motorhome against any faults that might occur in the add-on system.  This is the only unit on the market that meets DOT standards for protecting the integrity of the air brakes.  If the tow car were to break loose, (Heaven forbid!) the broken air line will only empty the small tank that is part of this system, and the coach brakes will work normally.  Of course the breakaway switch will also set the car brakes so it will come to a stop.  In normal use the car side of the system creates a vacuum to activate the power brakes.  A small air cylinder pulls the brake pedal when the coach brakes are activated, and the car brakes mirror the coach brakes proportionally.. 

One of the other best selling systems which I considered, will leave the coach with only 3 wheels of braking should the air line to the car fail.

Thinking about my towbar, I decided to keep using mine while keeping a lookout on sites like Craigslist for a good used one at a much lower price than Roadmaster wanted.  Just for kicks, I looked up Craigslist in Albuquerque.  There was a "like new" Roadmaster Falcon All Terrain towbar for $350.  This is the exact one I want.  The ad ended with T or C.  I had no idea what that meant, so I called him.  He still had the towbar and confirmed that it was in really good condition.  When I asked about T or C, he replied he was in Truth or Consequences, NM, about 150 miles south!  I told him I would have to think about driving that far.

Thursday, March 25
I had decided during the night that I would only make the drive to T or C if he would reduce his price to $300.  I called him and after thinking about it said "Sure, you have a long drive, I'll take $300".  He owns an RV park and the towbar is from one of his long term clients who passed away with only 12,000 miles on his rig.  After making sure Rosemarie was OK, I headed of for my 150 mile drive.  First I had to find a B of A branch to visit their ATM.  I arrived at the RV park after about 2 1/2 hours.  I was on I-25 the whole way, usually with a 75 mph limit.  The towbar was beautiful!  It truly looked and felt brand new.  I bought it, filled up with gas (at the highest price in NM), and was home shortly over 2 hours later.  I am really thrilled with the towbar at well under the price of a new one, and I still have my old one.

Note of 4/27/10

After I finished getting my new towbar all set up and operational, I listed my old one on Craigslist (here in Prescott) and ended up selling it for $200.  That leaves my total investment for the new one at $100 plus a 300 mile round trip!

Since Rosemarie hurt her arm, we have not attended any of the evening entertainment.  Apparently this was a mistake!  A friend came over to chat and mentioned that at the first night's entertainment, my name was called for a free $150 hot air balloon ride!  There have been 5 or 6 balloons selling rides each morning.

Friday, March 26
The convention is officially over!  We pulled out around 8 tentatively heading for Holbrook to spend the night.  The wind was horrible.  There were very strong gusts which bounced us around much more than I am used to in this coach.  Usually the wind is almost unnoticeable.  Rosemarie was in a lot of pain with the jostling of the drive.  She finally agreed to go to a hospital.  We looked up hospitals on my GPS and decided to return to Grants, which was only about another 40 miles.  We went back to the same park where we spent our first night and checked in.  We then had something to eat and relaxed a short while, then drove into town to the Cibola General Hospital, arriving around 2.  They took her in very quickly and after a short while said she had a dislocated shoulder!  As she had just eaten we had to wait several hours before they could anesthetize her.  They gave her a very quick acting and quick dissipating drug.  Putting the shoulder back only took a minute or two.  When she woke up, the pain was pretty much gone!  He put her in a restraint which straps around her body above her waist and straps around her upper arm and her wrist.  He gave her instructions on what to do upon reaching home and discharged her.

Saturday, March 27
We decided to stick around another day and just kick back.

Sunday, March 28
The drive today was smooth and uneventful.  There was no wind!  We arrived home around 2 PM.  I dumped the motorhome tanks, unloaded the essentials, and crashed into my lounge chair. 

Now the big challenge is for Rosemarie to find an orthopedic surgeon who will take her insurance and follow up with him.

In spite of the problems, we still both enjoyed the trip and had a good time. 


Dick Mason, Prescott, AZ  7/28/09