Airstream, which bills itself as the most recognized RV manufacturer in North America, visited its No.1-ranked U.S. retailer – Colonial Airstream – last week to formally present the dealership with a special recognition award for its 1,500th trailer sold and delivered in April of this year. This milestone was met in just over 10 years since they took on the iconic Airstream product lines, Airstream announced Aug. 22..
“Like so many of our dedicated dealers, Colonial Airstream understands the importance of fostering a relationship with their customers so they’ll return again and again – for routine warranty service and for their next travel trailer or touring coach,” said President and CEO Bob Wheeler.
Overall, Colonial leads Airstream retail sales in both the touring coach and travel trailer segments due in part to the 27 employees that provide exceptional service during the sales process and beyond.
“A little more than a decade ago, my brother John and I took on Airstream and never could have predicted just how far a small dealership in New Jersey could come in selling the most iconic RV in the world,” said Jim Lenzo, co-owner of Colonial Airstream. “Our success wouldn’t be possible without the great partnership between the wonderful people at Airstream and our entire staff. It takes a team effort to ensure success and my brother John and I would like to thank our entire organization for this award as it truly belongs to each and every one of our employees.”
Airstream, based in Jackson Center, Ohio, is a subsidiary of Thor Industries Inc., based in Elkhart, Ind.
Editor’s Note: The following is an in-depth profile by Autoblog exploring the legacy of Airstream Inc. and how it blends the small-town culture at its home base in Jackson Center, Ohio, with an eye for high-tech and innovation. To view the full story along with accompanying photos and videos click here.
There is no hotel in Jackson Center, Ohio. Leave your smartphone on for too long, and the battery will die searching for a cell signal. And if you’re driving through on State Route 274, make sure to drop your speed from 55 to 35 – there are children at play.
The two-square-mile town may look and feel like any other small town in America. But located right on Jackson Center’s main drag is the home of one of America’s most iconic brands: Airstream.
Airstream and its silver bullet-shaped trailers came to Jackson Center in 1952 from Los Angeles where they had been made since the late 1920s. Airstream founder Wally Byam showed up in town eager to find a Midwest manufacturing location for his business, which was booming as the country started learning to relax after World War II and the Great Depression.
Byam set up shop in an old factory that just ten years earlier had been making bazookas for American troops fighting in the war. The shop is still in use, mainly used for molding aluminum end caps for the Airstream trailers. But the company has spread across Jackson Center and employs around 400 people today.
What drew Byam to Ohio was simple – land was cheap and the workforce was eager. But that was then, and this is now.
Most of Airstream’s competitors are in Elkhart, IN about 175 miles away. If the company had decided to move and grow where there industry had taken roots, they’d have much easier access to parts and ready-trained labor. But Airstream is still in Ohio, and it’s thriving. So what is it about Jackson Center that has kept Airstream here for more than 60 years?
Looking at Airstream’s main production floor from above is like looking down at a hive. A woodshop studio that builds furniture for the trailers sits in the middle, while all the metal work is done around the perimeter of the building.
Hundreds of workers move seamlessly, as if in a dance, to assemble their specific part of the trailer. Thousands of parts must come together to make an average of 45 of the company’s signature silver trailers a week.
he view is a favorite of Airstream’s president and CEO Bob Wheeler. His office is on the mezzanine looking down where he can see everyday what makes Ohio and Jackson Center important to his company.
“Trying to move it somewhere else, it’s hard to imagine finding a workforce who can build an Airstream to the quality we’d expect,” he says. “We’ve got a great set of blueprints, but it takes hundreds of hours of experience to stretch and cut the aluminum, drill and place a solid rivet – it’s an absolute art form. You can’t put those in a blueprint, you can barely teach it.”
Wheeler joined the company in 2002 as vice president of product development and engineering. Three years later, when his predecessor and mentor Dicky Riegel left the company, Wheeler took over – just as the country was moving into another recession.
While Wheeler can never imagine moving Airstream anywhere else, he is, after all, a businessman. So staying in Ohio – and weathering a recession – has meant learning how to maximize efficiencies, cut costs when possible and minimize waste. It’s here that the home field advantage comes into play.
For the full story click here.
Sean Hannity is going to paste us for this one: Today (May 30) and Friday, Washington, D.C., residents who aren’t embarrassed by allegations that the nation’s capital has become too swanky for the rest of the United States can hop inside a chrome Airstream recreational vehicle filled to the roof with premium champagne, dcist.com reported.
Veuve Clicquot, the pioneering champagne house, is bringing its RV tour through D.C., for the sheer purpose of selling people glasses and bottles of champagne from inside a company-branded RV. The trailer’s futuristic body is mostly the recognizable silver of the Airstream line that launched the RV industry in the 1930s, painted with a large yellow stripe reminiscent of Veuve Clicquot bottles.
The Airstream started a national tour in March in Florida, and has since passed through Texas, California, Washington State and New York. It is stopping in D.C. for two days before wrapping up its route in Annapolis, Md. on Saturday.
The Veuve Cliquot trailer will be parked outside the Dupont Circle Hotel (1500 New Hampshire Ave. NW) from 5 to 10 p.m. today, and outside the W Hotel (515 15th St. NW) from 5 to 10 p.m. on Friday. Eager champagne sippers can take their drinks back inside those locations, though they are also welcome to quaff their flutes inside the van.
In his “Boomtown” special lambasting the D.C. area for its recent luxury splurges, Hannity, the Fox News bouffant, criticized locals for being the nation’s most voracious consumers of fine wines. Today and Friday, we can do that one better by drinking decent champagne — bottles of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin brut go for about $50 at local wine shops — in a chromed-out RV.
The Land Yacht is back.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Airstream Inc., the maker of distinctive aluminum-skinned premium travel trailers, is expected to announce that it will build a new generation of its trademarked “Land Yacht” trailers, based on a concept developed with Italian yacht designer Mauro Micheli.
The recreational vehicle industry overall has revived during the past several years as the U.S. economy has recovered from the recession and fuel prices have stabilized.
A subsidiary of Thor Industries Inc., Airstream has focused under CEO Bob Wheeler on expanding its appeal to affluent consumers with silver-skinned trailers that look retro on the outside, but have modern interiors with colors and materials rarely found in the utilitarian trailers of the past.
Airstream’s Land Yacht concept was first shown at last year’s Louisville Show. At the time, Airstream said the company hadn’t made a decision to build the 28-foot model, which has LED lighting, boat deck style floors and a powered bed that lifts up to reveal storage bins.
Airstream said it will start building Land Yachts at its factory in Jackson Center, Ohio in July. The company didn’t set a price for the model, but indicated it will be the “top of the line.” Current Airstream trailers can list for up to $90,000.
Airstream has produced Land Yachts in the past, including motorhomes. The new Land Yacht will be a tow-behind, silver trailer with an interior designed by Micheli, best known for his work with Riva Yachts, and Italian cabinet maker Technoform S.p.A.
Fans of the B-52’s might be inspired to roam — if they want to — all the way out to the Mojave Desert. That’s where the lead singer of the quirk-pop act has brought her bee-hived sensibility to a new Airstream hotel that opened in November.
Co-owned by B-52’s vocalist Kate Pierson, Kate’s Lazy Desert invites visitors to “rocket through the wilderness” in a collection of six vintage Airstreams, the interiors of which riff off the kitsch of the band’s best-known material. The Lava trailer, with its orange-blob paint job, mimics the gooey movement of the ’60s-style lamp, whereas the Hairstream is a fantasy version of a B-52’s dressing room, and Planet Air is cast in an otherworldly pink light to recreate the aura of Planet Claire.
“Visiting the desert is like a little mini trip to the moon,” said Pierson, whose design sensibility is every bit as far out as her vocals.
The same could be said of the motel’s Airstreams, which are the perfect architectural compliment to the band’s space-age surfer vibe, looking, as they do, like lunar modules with their studded sheet metal siding.
Kate’s Lazy Desert is the west coast adjunct to Kate’s Lazy Meadow, an equally quirky, in-the-sticks collection of cabins tucked into the Catskill Mountains outside Woodstock, N.Y., where Pierson lives with her romantic and business partner, Monica Nation, who’s been running Kate’s Lazy Meadow since 2004.
The Airstreams in the Lazy Desert were originally situated along the Hudson River at Kate’s Lazy Meadow, and were always the first rooms to be booked, Pierson said. But when the trailers flooded during last year’s Hurricane Irene, she and Nation decided to wheel them off to the Mojave.
To read the entire article click here.
More and more glowing aluminum trailers will dot the St. Johns County Fairgrounds in north Florida this week as a group of Airstream enthusiasts set up camp there, the St. Augustine Record reported.
Members of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International Florida Unit will camp at the fairgrounds off State Road 207 through the holiday weekend and enjoy shared meals and entertainment at their campsites, said Frank Carson, the director of the rally.
“The facilities here are knock ’em dead,” Carson said. “We really couldn’t ask for better.”
By Wednesday afternoon, several dozen of the round, silver trailer rigs were set up across the large lawn of the fairgrounds. Their shimmery casings were easily visible from the roadway.
The caravanning group has returned to St. Augustine this year, even though some tension with county commissioners almost canceled the trip completely, Carson said.
According to a letter to the editor in November, “St. Johns County instituted a new rate schedule on Oct. 1, 2010. The resident rate skyrocketed more than 200% for the week. We had to set our rally fee by Sept. 1 and did so based on the proposed rate schedule and published it.
“Now unknown additional costs, loss of kitchen facilities due to fire code violations, and the intransigence of the county fairgrounds administrators will cause us to lose money. We have no alternative but to cancel the rally.”
“The county is really just shooting themselves in the foot,” Carson said.
Carson said the raised rates are what almost canceled the trip completely. Members who live in St. Augustine were able to secure a discounted rate, however, which allowed the group to still afford the trip.
“They have one price for people who live in St. Johns County and another for those who live somewhere else,” Carson said. “By doing that, they’re only hurting themselves.”
This particular rally is the most expensive on the group’s schedule for the year. Members are paying $225 for six nights of camping with 30-amp electric and water, and three meals.
Also included are Matanzas River cruise passes, tickets to the Fountain of Youth and four days’ worth of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! trolley tours.
Other weeklong rallies set in other Florida cities range from $10 to $175.
The group has traveled to spend the Easter holiday in St. Augustine for the last 15 years, Carson said.
“It wasn’t that the fees went up; it’s that we waived them in the past,” said Karen Pan, public information specialst for St. Johns County. “We’re making decisions like this in departments across the county because of the tough budget.”
Pan said that fees are being charged at properties like the fairgrounds because there are costs associated with just operating the facility.
Yvette and John Landry spent a few days pulling their 1993 Airstream classic from Kaplin, La., to St. Augustine. By Wednesday afternoon they were happily settled among many other silver rigs at the fairgrounds.
“Isn’t that aluminum just beautiful? You could use it to put on your makeup,” said Yvette Landry, 80.
The Landrys travel with their Airstream a few times a year. This was the first time the couple traveled to St. Augustine.
“Everything we do here helps your economy,” said John Landry, a retired band director. “We’re out spending money in your town.”
Editor’s Note: Airstream is one of the best-known names in RVs. So it only makes sense that the maker of those sleek, loaf-shaped trailers would try to make a splash in motorhomes. James Bell, president of the Motor Press Guild in Los Angeles, decided to give motorhome living a try. His report on the Airstream Avenue Class B motorhome appeared in USA Today:
For starters, there is the vehicle. Airstream says this is no normal motorhome, but rather one that brings the best of the brand to bear. CEO Bob Wheeler says, “We designed every detail of the 2011 Airstream Avenue to bring our customers a touring coach that combines value, performance and comfort. With the Avenue, travelers can enjoy the drivability of an automobile yet have a true home on wheels.”
So we gave the new Airstream a whirl. And we were the perfect candidates, since our idea of “camping” usually includes airport shuttles and infinity swimming pools. With the Avenue begging to go out and play, we quickly chose a destination in the hills outside of Santa Barbara and packed for unknown adventure.
We were not exactly “roughing it.” The Avenue is equipped with with a stainless-steel kitchen, bathroom, shower and refrigerator. On the comfort side, soft leather lines all of the seating areas including a lounge area that conveniently turns into a bed for two and finished with styling details to be expected from this famous brand. My daughter was happy to discover the high-definition TV, and my wife and I were equally pleased to see the controls for the 13,500 BTU air conditioner and 16,000 BTU furnace – both of which were used to keep all of us comfortable.
While the Avenue is not inexpensive, with a list price around $95,000, the experience we had that weekend was priceless and made easy by its “all-in-one” attitude. With rising fuel prices and economic uncertainty guiding many vacation plans, getting out and enjoying local attractions continues to be an attractive alternative for many families, and the responsibly sized and fuel efficient Avenue is ready to roll.
Editor’s Note: The following story was written by Todd Bianco of West Hollywood, Calif., and appears in the current edition of WeHo News. It is about the “Modernism Week” display in Palm Springs, Calif.
While Palm Springs boasts some of the most stellar examples of Mid-Century Modern architecture, the wide open desert also was a mecca for travel trailers.
One of the icons of the mid-20th Century is the aluminum travel trailer, the most famous of which is the Airstream. Airstream Life Magazine sponsored this year’s travel trailer show.
You needed sun glasses just to look around the parking lot of the Riviera Resort & Spa where shiny aluminum jellybean-shaped trailers reigned supreme.
It was a a different time in post WWII America. We had won the war, but we were now in the Atomic Age and the Cold War cast a chilling shadow over the free world.
Highways like Route 66 and the Lincoln Highway had connected many states and cities, but that was only a hint of things to come.
As part of a big national security push, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the construction of the Interstate Highway System began. The building is still going on, but it took at least 35 years and billions of dollars to complete the original plan.
In the days before credit cards and the internet, families bought trailers, hooked them to a pickup truck or station wagon and went on family vacations to all points throughout the country.
It was a way of life that cemented our love of the automobile, the travel trailer and the freedom to go anywhere with the excellent and ever-expanding interstate highways. Countless roadside motels, diners and attractions popped up to service this growing segment of the American population.
As I toured these dinosaurs of decades past, I couldn’t help but long to get a trailer, break the shackles of domestic home ownership and just travel around the USA with my kitchen, bathroom and bedroom trailing my gigantic SUV with a powerful gas-guzzling V8 engine.
However, when you look at the cramped quarters and less-than-attractive bathroom options, reality smacked some sense back into my head.
Still, you could park one of these beauties in your back yard and use it as a guest house. At first, your friends will think it’s fun, but after a few days, they may decide it’s time to go home or move to a hotel.
We are spoiled these days, and these relics remind me of just how much we rely on modern appliances, fixtures and amenities.
The Samuelson Wylie Associates Marketing and PR agency was asked to devise a program of promotional events across Europe for an U.S. medical company, with the organization choosing a Land Rover Discovery 4 and an Airstream travel trailer as a mobile exhibition unit, Auto Evolution reported
The journey had two legs, covering 6,200 miles in 40 days and 5,000 miles in another 19 days. The itinerary was comprised of 15 cities, including stages Vienna to Milan, Zurich to Barcelona, Madrid to Paris and Moscow to Kiev, with customer and media events being held in the Airstream and its awning during each stop.
The interior of the airstream was modified by Samuelson Wylie to include a treatment room and luxurious meeting facilities, with over 300 VIPs being entertained as part of the program.
“Due to the high profile of the client and the demands of the program, we really couldn’t settle for anything less than the very best,” said Martin Cranshaw, who heads up Samuelson Wylie’s Events Division. “We’ve been fortunate enough to work with Airstream for three years now and have undertaken a lot of press and marketing work for them with Land Rover so we knew how stunning they would look together and how faultlessly they would perform,”
The Vintage Airstream & Trailer Show is scheduled to begin Friday (Feb. 25) and conclude with a party Sunday at the Riviera Palm Springs in Palm Springs, Calif., as part of the annual Modernism Week festivities, The Desert Sun reported.
The three-day event will feature a variety of vintage travel trailers from the 1930s through the ’70s.
The show begins Friday with the lecture “California’s Route 66: Facts and Folklore” from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. with a free exterior trailer viewing in the north parking lot from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
On Saturday, interior trailer tours in the north parking lot are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cost is $15.
The Riviera Starlight Lounge Vintage Trailer Awards and Cocktail Party is then set from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday featuring trailer cocktail and appetizer specials.
A Just Fabulous book signing with David Winick, author of “Airstream: Custom Interiors” is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
On Sunday, the interior trailer tours continue from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cost is $15.
And the show ends with a Plush Patio Party at the Riviera Sidebar from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. featuring live music by the Art of Sax.
Riviera Palm Springs is at 1600 N. Indian Canyond Drive.
Modernism Week, the only such event in the country, is a nine-day celebration of mid-century modern design, architecture and culture. This design aesthetic, originated in the 1950s and 60s, was typified by clean, simple lines and celebrated elegant informality which came to define desert modernism.
Auto shows are mostly about what’s new and hot. But a small oasis in the sprawling 2011 Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place is reserved for true connoisseurs of the iconic.
Yes, we’re talking about the instantly recognizable Airstream recreational trailer, encased in the same gently rounded, airplane-grade aluminum frame that has been the travel trailer brand’s hallmark since the first one was built in California some 78 years ago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported
Airstream founder Wally Byam’s motto was “Let’s not make changes, let’s make only improvements.” Most of the improvements over nearly eight decades have come on the inside of the trailers, where, amazingly, almost all of the modern conveniences of today’s home are found in a very compact space.
Take the classic Airstream Flying Cloud, built to be pulled by a mid-sized or larger sports utility vehicle or truck. The 25-foot-long Flying Cloud sleeps six, comes with stove, sink, microwave, coffee maker, a full bathroom, walk-in shower, flat-screen TV and we could go on. But you get the idea. The Flying Cloud lists for $56,900, according to John Dresselhaus of Airstream of Chicago in Joliet, a principal dealer for the trailers in the Chicago area.
A smaller version of the Flying Cloud, called, cutely enough, the Bambi, is pegged to appeal to travel trailer renters, who might want one just to pop out of the city for a weekend at the Wisconsin Dells, or maybe to take in the Kentucky Derby. Even though it has a smaller footprint, the Bambi comes with almost all the conveniences found in the Flying Cloud — just packed even more tightly inside.
With the economy rebounding, Dresselhaus said sales have begun to pick up for Airstream trailers. Sales at Airstream of Chicago were up 40% in 2010 over the previous year, and Dresselhaus anticipates a similar upswing in 2011.
Over time, Airstream trailers have proved to be remarkably sturdy and a good investment. About 68% of all Airstreams ever made are still on the road, and according to Dresselhaus, owners who can bear to part with their travel trailer can trade it in after 10 years and get back a large chunk of their initial outlay.
Airstream’s marketing is pitched toward those who like adventure — “restless spirits,” as the slick brochures put it. But there’s another important reason Airstreams are selling well. “People get to sleep in their own bed when they travel,” said Dresselhaus. Sweet.
Click here to see photos from the dealership’s display at the Chicago Boat and RV Show, held earlier this year.
The recreational vehicle industry, a gauge of Americans’ ability to splurge on adult toys, has been stuck in the slow lane of the road to recovery. Now, RV makers are trying to move things along with more fuel-efficient trailers aimed at frugal travelers tired of airports and motels, the Wall Street Journal reported.
U.S. sales of RVs — ranging from towable campers costing as little as $4,000 to bus-like behemoths with two bathrooms and king-size beds for $300,000 or more — boomed from 2000 through 2007 as Americans tapped their swelling home equity to buy shelter on wheels. The industry built bigger and fancier models, catering to those whose idea of getting away from it all involves taking a lot of it with them.
But RV sales began plunging in 2008 and last year were about 46% below the peak level in 2005, to around $6.2 billion, according to market researcher Statistical Surveys Inc. Several big manufacturers have gone through bankruptcy, and at least 200 dealers in new RVs, or 8% of the total, have left the business.
The industry is fighting back by offering lighter vehicles aimed at a broader range of buyers, while expanding advertising that touts the affordability of RV travel. It is also hoping that people put off by security pat-downs and other air-travel nuisances will turn to RVs.
“We have survived tough times in the past,” Richard Coon, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), said in a pep talk to members of the trade group at its annual convention last month.
One priority is to make more converts like Tim and Jennifer Tracy of Pennington, N.J., both lawyers. They bought their first RV — a 27-foot Airstream, with a list price of about $70,000 — last January. “We wanted to make memories for our boys,” ages 2 and 6, says Mr. Tracy. His idea of a vacation is backpacking; his wife prefers resort hotels. The RV was “a sort of compromise,” Tim Tracy says, and has proved a hit with the family.
Manufacturers are cutting the weight of RVs by as much as 25%, partly by using plastic composite materials instead of wood, to improve fuel economy and help counter fears of rising gasoline prices.
They also are trying to make RVs look less like white boxes. EverGreen Recreational Vehicle LLC recently introduced a sleek new trailer called the Element, which starts at $38,000 and is light enough to be pulled by a minivan. The RV industry gets a large share of its sales from buyers over age 50, but EverGreen’s 37-year-old engineering director, Dan Rodabaugh, hopes the Element, with its simple and uncluttered interior, will appeal to younger buyers like himself.
Airstream Inc., a unit of Thor Industries Inc., recently teamed up with the retailer Eddie Bauer LLC to design and market a model aimed at younger and more active people who want to haul kayaks or mountain bikes inside their trailers.
The industry association spent about $8.25 million in 2010 to buy TV and other ads using talking animals to tout the economy and family-friendliness of RV trips. It plans to increase that budget to about $11 million in 2011 and run the ads in movie theaters as well as on cable TV, online and in print.
“Our best commercial for our industry is the airlines,” Robert J. Olson, CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., told analysts recently. “If you haven’t gone on an airline lately, it’s a real hassle.” Meanwhile, the recent bed-bug scare helped make people warier of motels, says John Lenzo, an owner of Colonial Airstream, a dealer in Lakewood, N.J.
The industry’s biggest manufacturer, Thor, was founded in 1980 when Wade Thompson and Peter Orthwein acquired an ailing Airstream. Since then, Thor has made a series of acquisitions that, along with organic growth, have given it about a third of the RV market in terms of sales. In 2009, Thor also shored up the industry’s largest retailer, Camping World Inc., by lending $30 million to the owners of that chain so they could put more capital into the company.
Camping World, which has 78 stores, accounts for around 15% of Thor’s total RV sales. “It would have been pretty messy if they had gone under,” says Richard Riegel, senior group president of Thor. Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, says his company could have survived without the loans but wanted a “more flexible and comfortable balance sheet.”
In the first nine months of 2010, U.S. retail sales of new RVs totaled about 152,000, up 5.5% from the depressed year-earlier level, according to Statistical Surveys. Manufacturers’ shipments of RVs in 2011 are projected to rise 4%, to about 246,000 units, the RVIA trade group says. Thor’s Riegel says shipments will grow to 300,000 annually by 2013, which would still leave them 23% below the market peak in 2006.
RVs have never appealed much to urban hipsters, and sales tend to be concentrated in smaller cities, towns and rural areas. The RVIA estimates that 8.3 million American households, or about 7%, own RVs. At this point, it remains largely a domestic industry. It’s too costly to ship the big products around the world. Some of the manufacturers do have vague hopes of implanting themselves in China at some point in the future, but that’s just talk for now. They say China lacks the infrastructure of places to park RVs.
Makers of RVs say the 76 million Baby Boomers remain a very promising market, though many have lost their home equity and savings and aren’t in a position to buy now. As a result of those financial pressures, many boomers are likely to rent or share RVs rather than buy them, says John W. Martin, CEO of Boomer Project LLC, a market-research firm.
A restored 1977 Airstream travel trailer has been outfitted to promote the Peacock Alley collection of fine linens in the Southwest.
The Airstream, owned by Dallas-based Peacock Alley’s Josh Needleman, vice president of business development, has hit the road, conducting a national tour in a vintage Airstream decked out in the company’s luxury linens.
The restored 1977 travel trailer is making stops in Dallas, Solana Beach (San Diego), Jackson, Miss., and Houston as part of Peacock Alley’s Silver Home Tour.
Among the items outfitting the Airstream are fall 2010 bed and bath linens, decorative pillows, table accessory linens and 100% bath robes.
The types of people and where they travel on a Wally Byam Caravan, like the one that stopped in Helena, Mont., recently, are as different as the variety of styles of Airstreams they drive, but nearly all have one thing in common: they all camped in a tent once.
Times have changed for these friendly, travel-loving campers who believe that as we age, our bodies need more amenities like water and electricity, as well as some cushion under the covers, the Helena Independent Record reported.
“We were once flat on the ground, until our bones needed a pad or a blow-up,” said Phil Glassey, wagonmaster for the caravan of about 50 Airstreams on the National Landmarks Caravan, which started in Hardin, Mont., in early July and will end some 45 days later in Arcata, Calif.
Participants wear name tags that include their hometowns, making it apparent that Airstream zealots come from all over — New Jersey, North Carolina, and Ontario, Canada.
Cecil and Kathryn Childers are from Corpus Christi, Texas. Cecil retired from psychiatry two weeks before they set out on their first caravan tour. Kathryn was one of the first female agents in the U.S. Secret Service, has hosted her own television show and most recently started a publishing company.
Bob and Nancy Russell are from Diamondale, Mich. Bob is retired from the state’s highway department. The couple began Airstreaming 30 years ago and have done 25 trips.
John and Cissy Thibadeau are native Atlantans and have been married 42 years. Cissy is a retired teacher who still substitutes when she can. John is a mechanical engineer who spent four years on active duty in the Navy nuclear submarine program. He started a real estate company, development and construction company. Today, he manages investment properties and tries to work one day a week, unless a better opportunity to play golf or tennis comes along.
The group visited Montana’s capital city about 10 days into the trip and set up camp at the Lincoln Road RV Park. During their first group outing, they enjoyed a wagon-train dinner ride at the Last Chance Ranch, 9 miles south of town up Grizzly Gulch. The next morning they headed north to ride the tour boat through the Gates of the Mountains and visited the Historical Society in the afternoon.
They traveled in their Airstreams north to Great Falls and are scheduled to be in Glacier National Park this week. From there, they’ll head west to Washington, then south through Oregon and end in California.
Airstreams were first officially made under the name in 1934; each trailer was custom-made because developer Wally Byam didn’t have a production line. In 1936, Byam built a riveted aluminum shell that looks similar to modern models.
In 1942, the War Production Board ordered the manufacturing of house trailers to be halted, except when making them for government purposes. When the war was over and the ban lifted, Byam struggled to get his business going for lack of capital.
There were two Airstream factories in 1952, one in Van Nuys, Calif., and another in Jackson Center, Ohio, where the corporate office is today.
During the following 10 years, the company grew. Byam and his wife, Stella, led every caravan between the winter if 1951 and the spring of 1960.
The Wally Byam Caravan Club is now one of the largest clubs in trailering. There are currently 19 planned caravan tours listed on its website.
It’s not a requirement to be retired, but because the trips are sometimes months long, it helps.
The only person not at or nearing retirement age on the caravan is 11-year-old Michaela Heese, of Arkansas, who was spending time with her grandparents, Florene and Selwyn Heese.
The trip appealed to the soon to be seventh-grader because, she said with a giggle, it got her away from her three brothers.
Michaela didn’t seem to mind not having access to video games, a cell phone or online chatting with friends. She was happy enough to test her creativity by taking pictures using a red Vivitar.
“I loved going to Yellowstone because I saw stuff I haven’t seen before,” she said.
Kathryn Childers says part of the charm of the caravan is the pets that accompany the group.
“Everyone brings their animals,” she said.
When entering the Childers’ 25-foot Airstream with pink flamingos painted on the side and chili pepper lights strung outside, Ellie, the happy cocker spaniel, greets you at the door. When it’s time to travel to the next stop along the way, Ellie is even buckled in a seat belt before they push off.
Kathryn says traveling the country was a “bucket list” item.
“I wanted to get it done before I’m not able,” the vivacious author said.
Visiting new places with an Airstream was more appealing than traveling by plane, staying in hotels and renting cars, she said.
“It’s like every night you go home,” Kathryn said.
Many say it’s nice to have the trip organized by someone else.
Glassey, an outdoor enthusiast and mountain climber from Olympia, Wash., is just that person on this particular trip. He’s been Airstreaming for the past decade, and started leading caravans in 2008. It’s his job to organize and plan the entire trip, not to mention be the “go to” guy for everything.
An Airstream caravan will likely become an annual tradition for Bernie and Doris Goldstein and Tom and Nancy Harrington, who have been close friends since 1965, when they were neighbors in Bakersfield, Calif.
Today the Harringtons reside in Sunlakes, Ariz., and the Goldsteins in Ventura, Calif., but they’ve managed to plan a trip together nearly every year since they first met. They can’t remember ever having an argument.
“We just stay together long enough not to get in an argument,” Nancy said.
The Goldsteins got their Airstream first, but it wasn’t long before the Harrington’s got the bug and joined them.
Nancy says that when she thinks about the Airstream caravan, the word “hospitality” comes into her mind, followed by “fun, fellowship and adventure.”
Today’s Featured Video is a slide show from last month’s Airstream Alumapalooza Rally in Jackson Center, Ohio.