Posted June 4, 2008 in Oxx Tales by Jim Markel
Red Oxx once ran an ad, "Not sold at a store near you" and unless you happen to live in Montana that’s still true. The exception is when we pack up our media kit and head south for the annual trade show circuit in January. It all started here in Montana and the Dakotas.
The first trade shows were the Montana Outdoor Recreation Expo (or M.O.R.E.) show in Billings and the Varmint Jamboree in South Dakota. With each show our booth was tweaked and expanded as new products were added. Eventually we brought our travel gear to larger markets and dropped the regional shows. These early shows were a good proving ground for our travel bags and cases as well as learning the trade show ropes.
As we travel further a field each season our road show has become quite the production. Our portable "store" takes about two days to set up and has a four person staff. Compared to the days when I would kidnap a friend and press them into service.Along the way we enjoy the ride and explore the west. An army travels on its stomach and the Red Oxx crew’s no different. My quest to find the best places to eat along the path less traveled has exposed my palette to some of the finest grub out on the range.
With the land locked deep in winter’s grasp we pack the truck and trailer for our extended campaign. Heading out on the highway for an entire month requires no small amount of planning and organization. Our military background’s served us well. A rigger can pack 10 pounds of crap into a 1-pound bag. This reputation for making it fit where there seems no possible way’s well deserved.
By the time the rig’s loaded there’s stuff packed and crammed in every possible space and barely room for our personal gear! The amount and type of Red Oxx gear I use on each trip is tailored to the exact need for the journey. When traveling by land I take a few extra items along for comfort and fun.
For my show clothes and dinner engagements I pack my Flying Fortress Garment Bag (discontinued) to the gills with all of my fancy stuff. In between shows we tend to take on a more casual dress and the PR5.5 Safari Beano Carry-on Duffel is the ticket for your comfortable driving clothes.
Over the years I’ve also adopted a Laundro Bag for my laundry. When the bag’s full it’s time to stop and do laundry. This keeps your clothing needs to a minimum.
Another essential item is the Travel Tray; this little accoutrement keeps your personal effects in a safe place while you’re camped for the night. When I arrive at my room, after snapping together my Travel Tray and tossing my keys and stuff in it, I hang my Tri-fold Toiletry Kit in the bathroom.
Camera gear is stowed in my trusty Gator bag which has accompanied me on all of my travels around the globe.Metro briefcase and finally the new Rigger Wallet for my cash and cards. All in all, an impressive collection of bags and gear are required for a month of living out on the road.
For those with some trade show experience you quickly realize there are two types of exhibitors. The "suits" who roll in with the pop up display and spend all of five minutes setting up their booth. This category contains the major brand names with the huge elaborate booths that arrive by semi truck. These cats tend to swoop in on the last plane bark some orders at the roadies and then rendezvous at the bar.
The second category is the "gypsies" who transport their elaborate displays in all manner of truck and trailer. More like the traveling merchants of old, they move from one show to the next. Instead of horses and wagons it’s GMC and Featherlite Trailers. They tend to be closely held companies and the smaller niche brands. The Red Oxx crew fits right into this category and our traveling road show has allowed us to make some great friends with both groups along the way. So it’s with great anticipation that we get ready to head out to the highway.
The road can take you to your destination in the most efficient and direct course or you can follow a path less traveled. I prefer the feeling of being "out there" – no satellite navigation system for me. Just me and my trusty old tattered Rand McNally Motor Carrier Map. I can find a way to get there.
Staring at the map my mind begins to wander to a time before the Interstate System. When the roads took a more indirect route and followed the lay of the land. I’ve found in my travels that the old state highway systems follow the flow of the terrain. They wind through the countryside more like a river taking the path of least resistance.
As the new Interstate system was built it plowed straight through mountains and across valleys in the most direct route. Many towns were left stranded on well-established routes like the Santa Fe Trail. The result was the slow death of many a small town and the birth of new type of town in the west.
I imagine it was the same thing that happened when the railroad decided to bypass a town and pick another in favor. Billings, which is home to the Red Oxx was named for Frederick H. Billings, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The town has grown and prospered through the years while parts of Montana have seen a slow population decline.
Commerce is key element to any prosperous community and while the west has grown in some ways it’s also died in some of the best places. Still, there are some beautiful small towns and vistas out there in the void between the big blue lines on the map.
Dave Lundin, AKA "Mr. Happy"
Just getting out of Montana in the winter can sometimes pose a challenge. More than once I have been thwarted by impassible road conditions. They simply drop the gates on the Interstate and you’re not going anywhere until it stops snowing and the plows can make a run. Keeping a sharp eye on the forecast and being ready to leave early if need be to outrun an inbound cold front is essential. With our gear loaded and the XM Satellite Radio locked onto the new Led Zeppelin channel it was time to point the nose south and head for warmer climes.
Heading down I-90 along the Front Range is about your only option from Billings. Swooping onto the freeway and breaking orbit from these parts is quite a smooth operation compared to driving out of a major metropolis. The first day of our trek is all about getting as far south as possible. Keeping an eye on the thermometer and hoping the temperatures will be climbing as we head down through Wyoming. Two seasons ago I counted over 20 semi trucks overturned by fierce winds along I-25.
Our first stop along the trail is Manitou Springs, Colorado; a funky little tourist town with some great architecture and lots of local attractions. I spent 2 years here after my military service reconnecting with family and taking in the Colorado lifestyle. First order of business was to find a cool little shack at altitude and buy a Harley. Colorado’s a great state for motorcycling.
The mild winters allow you to ride practically year round. The biker community is tight knit and many times I’ve been helped out when mechanical issues arose. It’s a nice counter balance to the strict lifestyle in the Marines. But after not visiting a barber for two years and seeking greener pastures, I headed north to Montana to seek my fortune.
There’s a great little pizza place called Savelli’s right across from the park. Stop by La Baguette in Old Colorado City for some authentic French pastries and a fabulous omelet for breakfast. This is the last place we found to get a decent cup of coffee! So after learning the hard way, I now pack a French press along so I can get my caffeine fix when away from the Northwest.
So it’s not until I leave Manitou that I feel I’m actually heading out into dark country. These are the spots on the map with limited communication abilities and breaking down is an adventure all its own. It was not that long ago when cell phones were not commonly in use. The internet was just getting off the ground. And people communicated in a much different way. We’ve seen a connectivity revolution that has eclipsed anything Alexander Graham Bell conceived.
Finding places where cell phones have no reception is getting to be a harder trick with the turn of each season. I like my technology as much as the next person but sometimes it’s great to leave it all behind. It’s kind of funny how the further detached you get; the less you seem to care. Yeah those emails and voice mails will pile up. But eventually the word gets out that you’re off the grid and someone picks up the slack and you get a chance to recharge.
Peeling off the Interstate and down into New Mexico brings a subtle tick of excitement as small towns and farms roll by. As the 6th least populated state it makes my list of great places to travel. So much of our perception of the west lies in its storied history from the Wild West days and the Great Depression. The rugged almost inhospitable terrain has kept the population in check.
Chasing ghosts of the past is a great diversion on the road. And the best-known character of New Mexico has to be Billy the Kid. Eying the map I notice that the Kid was buried in Fort Sumner and that it’s not that far off our somewhat planned route.
The art of navigating by map is something I learned at an early age. I can still remember the day when my dad handed me his Silva compass and told me that it had saved his life many times. Three years in the jungles of Vietnam made him one hell of a navigator. Learning how to navigate with a map and compass is essential in the military and not a bad skill to have if you’re into poking around. Those early lessons in field craft instilled a desire to explore in me. With a cold wind blowing across the Kid’s grave we bid a silent farewell and piled back in the truck.
Next stop Carlsbad Caverns National Park for a bit of spelunking. The ride through the brush country of southeastern New Mexico can be quite spectacular during the winter months. Snow and cactus sitting in direct contrast to each other.
Riding in the comfort of the truck we speculate on what it was like to ride this country on horseback and wagon. Covering sixty miles in less than an hour, more miles than could be traversed in a day. Arriving in Carlsbad late in the afternoon we decided to camp at the motel and grab a bite to eat at the No Whiner Diner.
The diner serves up classic American fare and was doing a brisk trade with the locals. The staff was very friendly and you can tell this is a family owned restaurant. The food was excellent and I would stop in again for sure. Early the next morning a mild dusting of snow and fog had shrouded the land in surreal half twilight accentuating the beauty of the Guadalupe Mountains. With the wind nipping at our heels we start down the winding path into the bowels of the cavern.
Once inside the shelter of the cavern I notice that they’re practically empty. A benefit of visiting in the middle of winter that allows you the freedom to venture back and forth along the path at will. The caverns have been called Nature’s cathedral and I can see why. The massive rooms and fantastic formations will stretch your comprehension on what is possible in inner space.
Arriving in Dallas is almost a shock to the system after days of back road driving. A stream of cars envelops us in a frantic hurry to nowhere. Easing back the throttle I start trying to take it all in. The chain restaurants and hotels repeating at alternating exits is like a wild sow guarding her piglets on a grassy knoll. Another road construction project and a tar shack waiting for the bulldozer.
It all flashes by like someone hammering the remote control the TV. Just enough time to see something and then before your focus is locked it moves on to another scene. Palms slightly sweaty I guide the truck and trailer off the Interstate into the relative safety of the convention parking lot.
Jockeying for position at the loading ramp it’s time to get to work. Over the years our booth has evolved from a simple three-bag display into a monster of a movable store. The creation of a good trade show booth is really quite a process and there’s even a whole exhibit building industry that specializes in the design and manufacture of booths.
The Dallas Safari Club draws exhibitors and attendees from all over the world all in support of hunting and conservation causes. One of the greatest things about going south is the famed southern hospitality. And the Dallas Safari Club is there with over 500 volunteers to make things happen and the feeling of welcome is like no other convention.
"The mission of Dallas Safari Club is to conserve wildlife and wilderness lands; to educate youth and the general public and to promote and protect the rights and interests of hunters worldwide."
I have a simple two-step process for move in. Get the stuff out of the trailer and then head over to Sonny Bryan’s BBQ shack! The original Inwood location has a great atmosphere; this is where people of all castes gather to eat. A quick glance around the parking lot and your likely to see a mix of Mercedes and tool laden pick up trucks.
A simple menu and fast paced order flow keeps the smoked meat and slaw moving. The seating arrangements are old school desks with the wrap around arms. The businessmen with their ties flipped over one shoulder sitting next a guy covered in concrete dust. Brought together by the common bond of a love of world class BBQ.
The next 2 days are about building the booth and merchandising. In between we find time to catch up with the other exhibitors.
The sense of community with our fellow exhibitors has grown very strong over the years. Many of these folks travel with Red Oxx gear and they are always curious to see what has been going on in our world over the last year. We stay in touch via the old email but still there’s nothing like seeing them in person. A fair amount of the exhibitors hail from Africa and other far off lands.
Standing in line to get a mocha you’re likely to hear half a dozen languages being spoken. The sound of their accents never fails to bring a smile to my face at the thought of traveling to a new land. Done with the final touches on the booth; we are ready to open.
For the next few days this will become our world. The actual dog and pony show seems very short for all the work that goes into getting there. But with the first rush of clients it all comes together as we begin the dance. Trade show exhibiting is almost like theatrical production, you set the booth or stage and then you play your part.
Communicating the essence of what is so special about what you do in the world. Of course by the end of the day your dogs are barking and all you want to do is go back to the hotel and crash! But Big D has some awesome restaurants and I have had the pleasure of dining at two great ones during our stay.
The Green Papaya is a Vietnamese bistro with an awesome soup menu located on Oak Lawn Avenue and our all time favorite is the Palm in downtown close to Deeley Plaza.
After the show’s wrapping up there’s not much left to do but pack our kit and get back on the road. Our ultimate destination is Reno Nevada for the Safari Club International Convention.
We have a pretty good break between shows and a going back home through the ice and snow’s not an option. So with some time to kill and a rumor of the best barbecue in Texas we point the truck south again and head out for the Texas Hill country and points beyond.
Cheers, Jim Markel CEO