It was like going back to a time when Forester travel trailers were rolling off the production lines at Forest City Industries in the 1960s and 70s. Crystal Lake Park was filled with all varieties of Foresters as far as eyes could see on Sept. 16-19, and many arrived days earlier.
There were potluck meals, campfires, and long conversations at this Vintage Forester Travel Trailer Rally. A majority of rally goers came from Iowa and other Midwest states, but some from as far as California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Tennessee.
“We provided the main dish for three evening meals this year,” said Kerby Hanson, who helped his father start the growing annual event five years ago. “People really appreciate that because it is hard to just roll in, park your camper, and cook.”
Perseverance by the whole Hanson family and many others made it all possible. Kerby said Marlen first attempted to start this new rally tradition when like interest was expressed by a number of other Forester trailer owners.
“Dad and I tried organizing a rally about seven years ago, but it ended up being basically just our family camping that year,” Kerby said.
Kerby said he saw a positive change in his father after showing him the 21-foot 1968 Forester trailer he had purchased for himself. He said Marlen had his 1970 Forester 16L trailer shuttered away in storage at the time. Kerby, who is a clinical social worker at Orchard Place in Des Moines as well as an adjunct instructor at the University of Iowa, noted that his dad still seemed somewhat sore yet sentimental about the Forester plant in Forest City having closed.
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“He said this really takes me back when I got that trailer,” Kerby said. “Then he joined a (Forester) Facebook group and his outlook improved. He became so interested in helping these people and talking to them. Not right away, but maybe after a year or two, he got his trailer out again.”
Kerby started Kerby’s Store online for Forester rally goers about two years ago. Some of the thousands on the Facebook group helped him come up with logos by providing him Forester decals. He said the website company provides options for various products like T-shirts, caps, and mugs to which several different logos can be applied. He noted there is really no profit margin and said any money above costs goes toward rally overhead costs.
Both Kerby and Marlen touted the efforts of Jo Clark in making the rallies ever more successful. The southern Iowa resident organizes rally events, and posts information and photos to social media.
“She organizes it and keeps things rolling every year,” Marlen said, noting that his daughter, Julie (Hanson) Hensley, and other son, Kris Hanson, with his wife, Joan Hanson, serve on the organizing committee. The group even has photographers that record every rally memorable moment, Delores “Dee” and Stan Hanson of Belmond.
“It’s amazing how many people read about this year’s event online in the Globe Gazette, Marlen said. “We had a guy from Charles City who is in the process of tearing up his (Forester) trailer and rebuilding it that heard about it. He and his wife came over and visited.”
Historical clippings, documents, and photos were provided for all rally goers and visitors to enjoy. They included photos of a long line of houseboats being produced by Forest City Industries at the time.
“Big houseboats on pontoons were built there for a number of years,” Marlen said. “It may have started in the early 1960s and we were probably building them until that operation moved to Mankato (Minnesota) in the early 1970s. We built about 125 of them a year.”
In addition to good foods and conversations, rally goers participated in a myriad of games, including a popular saran wrap ball game and a quiz game to see how much owners really knew about their own trailers, as well as a raffle. Fifty percent of raffle proceeds were slated to go to the lucky winner and 50 percent to two select Hanson family charities – the Good Samaritan Society and Orchard Place where Kerby has helped children and families in Iowa with their mental health needs for more than 20 years. Marlen’s wife, Karen, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, is a resident at GSS-Forest City. Marlen said he sets aside special time every day that is devoted entirely to being with Karen.
However, all proceeds from the raffle went to those charities after raffle winner Scott Shobe donated his winnings. Kerby and Marlen said they cannot thank Shobe enough for the additional donations. Some other rally winners included: Best restoration or rebuild - Scott and Meredith Shobe with “Jenny,” Best glamper - Jackie and Harry Allsup, Best outdoor display - Mark and Shelley Smith, Most original camper - Steve and Cindy Onken, Best-Most unique feature - Jocelyn Meservey, and Best interior - Brian and Bonnie Beutner.
More than 40 rally goers toured the Mansion Museum in Forest City on Sept. 18 with many of them proceeding to the former Forester factory site afterward.
“It was quite an event,” Marlen said. “We try to have a different kind of tour every year, but they always want to see the old factory.”
An old-time country western band was also featured at the rally, Bob and the Raiders. The band is headed by Bob Mary of Forest City, who worked many years at the Forester plant.
“I'm pretty sure no one had a better time than I did,” Marlen told rally goers at the conclusion of this year’s event. “I'm looking forward to the 2022 rally already; we are a great Forester family.”
Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.