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On a late summer evening in this small community in north-central Iowa, fireflies twinkled despite the hints of fall in the air. A line of large recreational vehicles parked in the tidy campground seemed to glow like the fireflies, lighted from within.
Between two of the motorhomes a folding table was being set for dinner. Cathie Carr spread a gingham tablecloth and arranged stoneware, silverware and glasses for iced tea. Two local specialties, picked from a nearby field earlier in the day, were on the menu: fresh corn and watermelon.
As reported by the New York Times, Carr’s next-RV-neighbor, Janice Lasko, 66, arrived with the corn, piping hot from her microwave oven. Lasko’s husband, Gabby, 83, was close behind with a heaping bowl of melon slices. Carr’s husband, Bud, who had been tinkering in their immaculate 40-foot motor home, an Itasca Horizon built by Winnebago, materialized soon after the food arrived.
The Carrs and Laskos criss-cross the country in their RV’s year-round, and they often find themselves veering off for a stop in Forest City, the home of Winnebago Industries Inc. They are not alone; thousands of other owners of Winnebago products make the pilgrimage much as swallows flock back to San Juan Capistrano.
The Carrs, whose last permanent home was near Livingston, Tex., explained to a guest — an impromptu invitee to share in this feast — that they had just driven here from western Canada, on their way to Florida. The Laskos came here from an RV rally in Gillette, Wyo. Now they have a notion, as Gabby Lasko noted, of “heading south,” perhaps to Branson, Mo., or Texas.
Never mind that Forest City isn’t really a logical midpoint on either of those itineraries.
“Forest City is on the way to everywhere,” Janice Lasko said between bites of the sweet corn.
“For full-timers, nothing is out of the way,” Bud Carr agreed, using the expression for people who have left ground-bound homes behind.
According to the Times, the lure of a stop in Forest City was potent enough to cause the Laskos and Carrs, not to mention other RVers in the campground, to add hundreds of miles to their journeys.
For owners of recreational vehicles made by Winnebago, like the Carrs and Laskos, Forest City is home — literally. As the huge blue water tower that hovers over the town reminds visitors, this is where Winnebago and Itasca motorhomes are made, and have been for nearly 40 years. To buy one is to be adopted by an extended family of like-minded RV enthusiasts, not to mention by the company itself.
“We needed to replace a plastic water tank that cracked,” Gabby Lasko said.
The company was happy to oblige.
“You don’t even have to have an appointment, although they would probably prefer that you make one,” Lasko continued. “But even if you just show up unannounced, somehow they’ll get you in, and get you fixed up.”
The Times reported that since the early 1970s, Winnebago has welcomed owners of its products to stop by for parts, service, repairs and upgrades, or just to talk shop. Across the street from the service facility, the company provides a campground where visitors can hook up their rigs for the night.
The Laskos and Carrs were staying free in the 1,544-hookup campground, where electricity, water and sewage dump facilities are provided, saving the $40 to $50 a night it can cost for an RV park hookup. Owners can stay until the parts they need arrive and their turns for service come up.
It’s not that there are maintenance issues with Winnebago products, Bud Carr and Gabby Lasko hastened to emphasize. “It’s just that every so often something needs to be touched up,” Lasko said.
“They make an excellent product,” Carr added. “And they stand behind them.”
Cathie Carr expressed some remorse that service on their vehicle was likely to be finished quickly. “Dang! I hope they don’t get that part in,” she said. “I want to stay for a while. I could spend several months here.”