“Stop!” reads the large red and white sign at the entrance to the Pierce County Fairgrounds. “Please wait here for the Wagonmaster.” The Wagonmaster? Visions of pioneers in broad-brimmed hats and sunbonnets complete with homespun clothing come to mind. But when Wagonmaster Ginger Snyder arrives driving a John Deere Gator, he is toting not a six-shooter but a cell phone, and wearing a wide grin. Apparently it’s not the prairies of the nineteenth century and these are not the Forty-niners on their way to the gold fields. So much for mental images.
But it’s obvious something big is happening at the fairgrounds this week even if it isn’t the Gold Rush. They aren’t packed into a tight circle, but hundreds of travel trailers, fifth wheelers and motor homes are parked around the grounds for a gathering of the Good Sam Club of North Dakota, their annual convention called a Samboree.
The Good Sam Club is an international travel organization with branches in many countries and many states in the U.S. A Samboree is held annually in each state and this year Rugby was chosen as the host city for North Dakota. Members are not looking for gold but for a good time according to Ginger, of Williston. “It’s not just camping,” Ginger says. “It’s like a family reunion only better because we’re not related and we don’t fight.”
State Director, Linda Albright and her husband, George Thomason, are in charge of arranging the Samboree and worked with the Rugby Chamber of Commerce for nearly four years to find a location that met their needs. The construction of a large steel structure at the fairgrounds, along with existing buildings there, meant all official Samboree events could be held within walking
distance of the parked RVs.
Organizers of the week-long campout lined up a schedule jam-packed with activities for every taste–card tournaments, a pie social, musical jam sessions, a pancake breakfast, morning fitness walks, seminars and tours of local businesses. North Dakota has eight regional Good Sam chapters and each of them helps plan and execute a Samboree according to Linda and Ginger.
George and Linda have been Good Sam members since 2000 and enthusiastically endorse the club and its activities. “We’ve been the State Directors since 2007,” Linda said. As such they spearhead organizing the Samboree and trouble-shoot issues that arise. Need handicapped access? Talk to George and Linda. When will the honey wagon come? See George and Linda. Want to know where to put your items for the white elephant auction? George and Linda know. The job is nearly non-stop during a Samboree, but they handle all problems without panic. “It’s definitely a couple’s job,” Linda said. “I’m the director and George is my assistant. He is irreplaceable. He does all the computer work and just makes things happen.”
The Good Sam Club got its start in 1966 when a group of RV owners put ‘Good Samaritan’ bumper stickers on their rigs and dedicated themselves to helping travellers they saw stalled along the road. Before long a more formal organization was begun. Word of the club and their good deeds spread rapidly and today membership stands at over one million families. Some Good Sam members travel full time and have no home base, but many are on the road in the summer only. Linda and George maintain a home in Minot and travel only in the warm months. Since joining they’ve visited states from California to Wisconsin and have also been to Canada.
North Dakota’s organization was founded in 1972. According to Linda, the ages of members range between early sixties to mid-eighties, although any ages are welcome to join. About half travel with pets, mostly dogs and cats. “Goldfish would just be too hard,” Linda said with a laugh. “Aquariums don’t travel well.”
Wagonmaster Ginger Snyder and his wife Verlee, of Williston, have been members for nineteen years. They like the informal and unstructured atmosphere and enjoy meeting folks from other parts of the country. Even though this Samboree is billed as the official North Dakota campout, Good Sammers from many other states are in attendance. After Rugby was chosen, Ginger and Verlee made a couple of trips to town to figure out the optimal parking plan for the many sizes and shapes of RVs The orderly campground reflects their dedication to their job.
The club lives up to its name in several ways. In addition to helping stranded motorists, members support several charities. One of them is Dogs for the Deaf which trains and places dogs with deaf and hearing impaired individuals. The North Dakota group supports a dog training center in the small town of Jud. Good Sammers also give to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In Rugby non-perishable food items have been collected for the local food pantry. The Good Sam Club thinks it is important to support charities in the towns where they camp.
“We make it a point to support local businesses also,” Linda said. Restaurants, gas stations and many Rugby retail establishments have benefitted from their presence in town.
The effort put forth by Rugby to host the get-together is appreciated by the Good Sammers. “I can’t even begin to tell you how fantastic the people of Rugby have been,” Linda said. “Nobody has any complaints.”
Chamber executive director Don Sobolik has spent a considerable amount of time getting the Samboree off the ground. The biggest hurdle was finding a location that met their needs but the new building at the fairgrounds solved that issue. The club also needed at least 30 more electrical hookups than were available, but the Rugby Park Board arranged for them to be installed and threw in an extra 20. “The fair board has been very helpful'” Don said. “The park board has been great to work with. The Convention and Visitors Bureau was a major funder, but many businesses and individuals saw there was a need and just got the job done. Businesses have donated vehicles, gasoline, and prizes for drawings. It’s that kind of community support that makes this a success,” he added. Because of the hard work and all the improvements made at the fairgrounds, Good Sammers decided to hold next year’s Samboree in Rugby also.
For a week now the campers have made Rugby their temporary home, but following the church service tomorrow (Sunday) morning the group will tidy up and break camp. “We always try to leave it cleaner than when we came,” Ginger said.
Good Sammers, who took several days to trickle in, will be out of town in a flash. “In two hours everyone’s gone,” Linda said. “But we’ll be back next year.”
And Ginger Snyder will take down his sign, park his borrowed Gator, put away his cell phone and, in the best old west fashion, ride off into the sunset. Wagons, ho!
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