13 Great Centennial RVs – 1 of 13

July 6, 2010 by · 1 Comment 


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Bob Wheeler, president of Airstream

Bob Wheeler, president of Airstream

According to Airstream Inc. President and CEO Bob Wheeler, “A monocoque shell is a perfect design to build a long-lasting travel trailer.”

It is also, apparently, a perfect design with which to build a long-lasting travel trailer company.

The Thor Industries Inc. subsidiary has in fact been in business since 1936, making it the oldest continually active manufacturer in the RV industry. Not surprisingly, the riveted aluminum shape has become the unofficial silhouette of the RV industry. While “Winnebago” has entered the lexicon to become the generic equivalent of “RV,” the Airstream has come to represent the look of the lifestyle.

The Airstream wasn’t company founder Wally Byam’s first foray into trailer manufacturing. His earliest efforts — the Torpedo Car Cruiser — were egg-shaped units produced in 1931. When Byam acquired the assets of the Bowlus-Teller Trailer Co. in 1936, the familiar monocoque design soon graced the first Airstream Clipper.

The rest, to used a well-worn cliché, is history.

The consummate promoter, Byam toured the world in his Airstreams, which grew in size and complexity — and, eventually, into self-propulsion. After a series of starts and stops — and well after the debut of the Argosy, known as the “painted Airstream” in 1972 — Airstream finally plunged into the motorized sector in 1979. The company continues to offer both motorized (Class B) and travel trailers around the world.

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Thousands of RV-Dwellers Work on the Road

June 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Brad Herzog and Family

Brad Herzog and Family

Pleasant smells wafted from the little kitchen inside Brett and April Denson’s Open Range recreation vehicle parked in the Cozy Acres Campground in Virginia’s Powhatan County.

Brett, a boilermaker by trade, had come in for the evening from his job on a crew building a storage tank for a Virginia client of Fisher Tank Co., his Lexington, S.C.-based employer.

April was preparing dinner while he relaxed and played with their dogs. They had been in Virginia for 2 ½ months, and his job was nearly done.

A couple of days later, having received his next job assignment from the foreman at Fisher Tank, the Densons battened down their belongings, dismantled the satellite dish, hitched the RV to their truck and headed off to Lawrence, Kan., according to the Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch.

Brett Denson, 43, has been traveling around the country building storage tanks since he was 19, part of the time alone, other times with his wife, also 43, and their three children.

Their children are now adults — and living in the family home in Kentucky — so the Densons travel fulltime together.

“I guess it’s because it pays good,” explained Brett Denson about his career, while noting that using the RV beats staying at motels. “I don’t know how to do anything else. I took spells where I wanted to get a job at home, but I got over it.”

While some people use their RVs to chase work while seeing America, others simply live in their RVs and commute to their regular job. Some travel from place to place trading their work for a free campsite. But how many there are is anyone’s guess.

Anywhere from 25,000 to 250,000 working Americans travel around in RVs, motoring from state to state and job to job to earn a paycheck, according to Arkansas-based Workamper News, a website that caters to RV migrants.

“We definitely know that work camping is alive, well and growing in numbers,” Workamper News owner Steve Anderson said. “I know that because our subscriber base continues to grow.”

The biggest national RV trade organization, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) in Reston, Va., does not keep statistics on RV owners who travel from job to job. Spokesman Kevin Broom estimated that 400,000-800,000 people live full time on the road in an RV. “Many are also working,” he said.

Jean Daniels, who owns Cozy Acres with her husband, Larry, said RV workers are frequent residents there.

“They stay here until the job is completed and then they move on to the next job,” she said. “We had somebody building a Joseph A Bank Clothier store and one of the guys here is doing something with that American Family Fitness facility. . . . When they built [state] Route 288, a lot of the foremen on that job stayed here.

“There’s always people working in the area,” she said. “They don’t want to stay in a hotel. They have figured out that they can buy an RV and have the comfort of their own place, fix their meals and watch TV.”

Sonny Allen, manager of Americamps KOA Richmond, which is near Ashland, said about 30% of the campground’s tenants are workers traveling from job to job. They have included a computer analyst who sets up computer systems for companies, a nurse working under contract to a local hospital and an employee of a tobacco company transferred here from another state.

“The people we have in here right now — some of them are pavers,” Allen said. “They go around to different places and do paving projects” such as fast-food or grocery-store parking lots.

Erik Bjorklund, a 54-year-old carpenter, lives in a 26-foot Airstream RV at Americamps. He said he is kept busy by a small clientele of doctors, lawyers and other professionals. One job performed in 1993 for a urologist led to all the work he can handle.

“I’ve never had to look for work, and I’ve never been out of work,” he said. “I hardly have a day off.”

Bjorklund decided to live in, and work from, his RV after divorcing from his wife, who got their house in Richmond. “I’ve been here since October,” he said.

Brad Herzog of California has researched and written three books based on his RV travels.

For two months every summer, Herzog travels with his wife and sons, ages 8 and 9. He blogs and researches books.

“Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have a cell phone, no e-mail, no wireless Internet,” he said. “Now, when you hit the road, you can be as connected as you want to be. I think that’s why more and more people have found that it’s pretty easy to work from the road from an RV.”

Herzog also noted the money saved by not staying in hotels, not buying restaurant meals, not renting cars and not booking flights “makes up for what we spend in gas.”

Americamps charges $33 to $53 a day for a site with water, sewer and electricity, or a weekly rate of $275. Cozy Acres has daily rates starting at $37 and monthly rates starting at $475 plus electricity. Many campgrounds offer a variety of discount plans.

The Densons note that RV living is not for everyone, and life on the road can be tough.

A lot of the reason that some jobs pay so much is because people don’t want to be gone all the time, Brett Denson said. “Some do it for a little while and quit.”

Also, “you’re away from your extended family,” April Denson said, and “you really have to not mind being in close quarters.”

But the lifestyle offers a lot of variety. It has taken the Densons to more than 40 states.

“We really like going to different places,” she said. “We always have a good time.”

“It’s better doing it when you can take your family with you, especially your wife,” Brett Denson said. “It’s more like a regular life.”

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Airstreamers Begin Arriving at Wyoming Rally

June 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

International_Rally1More than 800 Airstream trailers and motorhomes are expected to arrive in Gillette, Wyo., this week for the 53rd Annual International Convention/Rally of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International.

Organizers say about 1,500 people are expected for the rally, which starts Saturday and runs through July 4 at the Gillette Cam-plex, according to the Gillette Record.

The club holds rallies throughout the year in different locations across the country. Some participants tour from one rally to the next.

International President Tom Collier says the rally should provide a $4 million economic boost to the local community through the use of local services.

The organization also will have an on-site blood drive and food bank, and contribute to Habitat for Humanity and Salvation Army.

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College Design Students Redo ’58 Airstream

June 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Design students will tackle redesigning interior of this 1958 Airstream travel trailer.

Design students will tackle redesigning interior of this 1958 Airstream travel trailer.

Six graduate students from the Interdisciplinary Design Institute at Washington State University, Spokane, were just introduced to an American icon in the travel industry — a 1958 Airstream Overlander trailer. They have eight weeks to delve into the world of travel trailers and transform the interior into livable space all while exploring the sustainability issues of today’s society and challenging the current image of the travel trailer industry, according to WSU Today.

The 26-foot trailer is the focus of a summer design studio — WSU Airstream Studio 2010. Led by clinical assistant professor Todd Beyreuther, students will not only redesign the trailer, but they will think about how its design can solve very global and economic issues related to mobility and living in small spaces.

“The design will likely be a fluid, digital form within an American icon of manufacturing and mobility with its aluminum skin, rivets and curves,” said Beyreuther. “We don’t want to touch the iconicity, but we do want to address some of today’s larger scale issues with the new design.”

The team of students has taken on the management roles of construction, marketing, social media, financing, digital modeling and manufacturing to simulate what they would normally experience on a construction project in their practicing professions. The course will concentrate on the design transformation of interior components of this Airstream chassis while preserving its historic exterior character.

When designing a new interior for an older object, there are many challenges. Fortunately, this group started with a blank slate — this trailer was gutted prior to arriving at  Spokane. With the latest technology in their hands, they have the means to digitally map the surfaces to 1/100 of an inch and later create a 3D digital design to give exact specifications directly to manufacturing for a perfect fit of the new materials.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students to explore global scale issues of sustainability and mobile lifestyles through a design | build project that that focuses on product design, materials and manufacturing at a scale much smaller than typically addressed in architecture and interior design,” said Beyreuther.

Marketed as one of the lightest travel trailers out there, the trailer’s original logo even depicts a person on a bicycle pulling the Airstream. This group takes that logo one step further and tackles the issues of sustainability and explores the possibility of taking this trailer off the grid.

Win the Airstream

When all is done, this newly designed trailer will hit the road for various events throughout the fall semester. At the end of its journey with the design students, it will be sold. Readers can follow the project on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and the WSU Airstream Blog to find out how they can have a chance to be the next owner. Tour dates will be announced at a later date.

Current partners of the WSU Airstream Studio are Composite Materials and Engineering Center and the Institute for Sustainable Design at the WSU Pullman campus. As the project progresses, future partners will be sought. Stay in touch and let us know if you want to help support the WSU Airstream project. Contact Todd Beyreuther or Brady Crook at for more information.

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KOA Calls Airstream Trailer Plan Successful

March 19, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

About a year ago, when the weather was getting nice and people were starting to think about going camping, the folks at Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America  Inc. (KOA) came up with this crazy idea about parking some “silver bullet” Airstream trailers at their facilities and letting campers rent them like hotel rooms.

KOA chose its recreational vehicle park at Circus Circus on the Strip in Las Vegas, Nev., as one of the first places in the United States to try the experiment, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

With fabulous hotel rooms up and down the Strip, would people really want to camp in an Airstream trailer when in Las Vegas? KOA worked a deal with Airstream, considered the Cadillac of the travel-trailer, to place 10 of its 25-foot Flying Clouds on KOA’s 366-space RV park at Circus Circus.

The concept was rolled out in Las Vegas and Key West, Fla., and gave KOA franchisees the opportunity buy Airstreams at discounted rates and rent them to campers who wanted to try out the $50,000 units.

“Even in Las Vegas, there are some people who just like to camp out,” Shane Ott, then president and chief operating officer of KOA, said at the time.

Ott considered Las Vegas to be a perfect startup location because 4% of KOA’s most loyal customers reside in the greater Los Angeles area and he thought Southern California campers would embrace the Circus Circus Airstreams.

“We look at this as the best of both worlds,” said Ott, who is now a campground liaison for Thor Industries Inc., the parent company of Airstream. “You can enjoy the benefits of camping. You can grill outside, right next to where you’re staying. You can meet up with people who share that lifestyle. There’s a well-stocked convenience store in the campground and, if you want, you can just walk over to the hotel for your entertainment.

“And then, when you’re done for the day, you’ve got very comfortable accommodations.”

And comfortable they are.

Each unit has a different décor, but they all have a galley with a stove, a refrigerator, kitchen pantries, a 48-by-78-inch bed, a flat-screen TV (with cable hookup), a lavatory and shower and a dinette that converts to a 38-by-76-inch sleeping area.

When a Sun reporter went to the Circus Circus RV Park last week, he saw only two Airstreams and surmised that the experiment didn’t go as well as KOA would have liked.

But the reality was that it worked well enough in Las Vegas that the Airstreams were shipped to other locations.

“I wondered when someone down your way would notice that there are a few less ‘silver bullets’ at the Circus Circus KOA,” company spokesman Mike Gast said in an e-mail. “We are moving them around to test the concept in additional locations. We were happy with the Las Vegas experience, even in a down economy. They did OK.”

Actually, they did better than OK, according to Greg Dunagan, general manager of the KOA at Circus Circus.

The Airstreams commanded a nightly rate of $99 on weekdays, $109 on weekends with even higher rates during holidays and special events. Moving the inventory out of Las Vegas will create greater demand for less commodity, assuring that KOA can get top rates on the units.

“It’s kind of a good thing-bad thing for us,” Dunagan said. “It’s nice having a larger inventory, but because we have fewer we can maintain our rate.”

In essence, Circus Circus KOA is taking a silver bullet for Team KOA, as more of the company’s franchises will get to offer the iconic trailers.

Dunagan said the Airstreams offer an unusual opportunity for people who are considering buying one because renting them at a KOA “is the only way you could stay in one short of owning one.”

Gast said the company earlier moved some of the trailers to Santa Cruz, Calif., and they did even better than in Las Vegas.

“That caused us to think we needed to experiment more and faster,” he said.

Today, KOA’s fleet of 25 Airstreams is scattered across the country, from Las Vegas to Bar Harbor, Maine, and from Trinity, Calif., to Sugarloaf Key, near Key West, Fla.

Although Snow Bird campers are fewer, KOA had its best year for summertime reservations in 2009, Gast said. He attributes that to the public refusing to give up its leisure time and going to a lower recreational entry point: camping, instead of expensive resort visits. The Airstreams became a part of KOA’s high-end experience.

“They are such great conversation pieces that we feel we have to maximize that exposure, even if it means we have fewer at any one location — at least in the short term,” Gast said.

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Airstream Owner Creates Restoration Business

October 26, 2009 by · 5 Comments 

Tucked in the northern corner of Tennessee’s Hamilton County, north of Chattanooga, across the street from a picturesque white clapboard church on a country highway, sits Paul Darden’s Airstream RV restoration business.

The front lot gleams in the bright fall sun as a half dozen of the iconic silver jelly-bean-style travel trailers await some tender loving care, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“People drive by, and they just have to stop and ask,” Darden said. “They see the trailers, and they want to know more.”

Until four years ago, Darden had little interest in Airstreams, which are known for their bright aluminum art deco-style exteriors. But then his wife acquired a 1973 18-foot Caravel Airstream.

It needed all sorts of work, but the Dardens imagined themselves hauling it across the country, experiencing the great outdoors while sleeping in a little piece of restored Americana.

“I had always liked fixing things,”Darden said. “I worked at an antiques shop as a teenager and I was buying, restoring and selling houses at the time.”

But just as soon as the Dardens had their Airstream restored to its original state, offers to buy the vehicle came flowing in, and a business was born.

“My wife made a lot of money on that,” Mr. Darden said. “And it was right around the time when house flipping was slowing down.”

So the Birchwood, Tenn., shop Darden had acquired as a real estate investment became a classic RV restoration enterprise. In the four years since he has refurbished two dozen classic RVs — most of the iconic Airstream variety.


Collecting the vehicles has grown in popularity mostly because of their storied link to the 1950s, when Americans popularized highway travel.

New Airstreams are among the more expensive travel trailers on the market, with a 23-foot model selling for about $60,000. Classic prices are significantly less than that, but collectors swear by their vehicles as fun investments. On ebay recently, classic Airstreams were selling for between $8,000 and $20,000.

On top of that monetary motivation to fix up the trailers, there is an entire culture of Airstream enthusiasts. RV parks that cater just to Airstreams dot maps. Two such parks are in Helen, Ga., and Crossville, Tenn.

Willa Davis is the winter host at Helen’s Top of Georgia Airstream Park. She has owned three Airstreams over the years.

“It’s all a matter of personal taste, but I just love the way Airstreams handle,” she said. “They are so aerodynamic and handle so well on the road.”

The Helen park hosts annual summer rallies that feature hundreds of Airstream lovers, she said.


Darden, who is a lover of antiques, said he prizes the vintage Airstreams for their unique interiors. He loves the old-style vehicles for their wood cabinets and walls, which he painstakingly refinishes.

It’s not a cheap venture. He charges $5,000 alone just to bring the exteriors of the bright-silver Airstreams to a mirror-like sheen. That doesn’t count the work many of the trailers require to fix rotted floors, bad plumbing and wiring, he said.

“But anything you put into these trailers is going to double in value,” he said. “You will get your money back if you sell it.”

David Hughes, director of boarding admissions at McCallie School, owns a 1990 25-foot Airstream he bought used.

“We bought ours in 1999 and have taken it all across the country,” he said. “It’s held its value remarkably well.”

Hughes said the vehicle has made two cross-country treks and goes to Florida twice a year.

The vehicles have held their value mostly because they were built so solidly, said Randy Shipp, a general manager at Camping World in East Ridge.

“It’s just like a classic car,” said Shipp, who said his RV dealership soon will sell Airstreams. “If you invest the time — and the key is the investment of time — you are going to have a really nice piece of restored American history that can be quite valuable.”

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ARVC & Thor Launch Rental-Lodging Partnership

October 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and Thor Industries Inc. have launched a strategic partnership to provide rental-lodging products at special prices in an exclusive promotion for ARVC members, according to a joint release this morning (Oct. 13).
“Three of Thor’s companies, including Airstream, Breckenridge, and Keystone, now offer unique lines of park model cabin and travel trailer units that have been specially designed to meet the durability needs of private park operators who are anxious to expand their offering of rental accommodations,” said Shane Ott, Thor’s new director of campground relations.
Ott, former president and COO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), joined Thor during the summer and developed the company’s rental accommodations initiative with ARVC.
Units from all three manufacturers will be on display Nov. 11-12 at ARVC’s InSites 2009 Convention & Outdoor Hospitality Expo in Orlando, Fla.
“We welcome this partnership and feel that the favorable pricing and unique designs of these units will be very enticing for campgrounds, RV parks and resorts as they continue to diversify their business base with rental accommodations,” said Linda Profaizer, ARVC’s president and CEO.
About one-third of the nation’s commercially owned campgrounds, RV parks and RV resorts offer rental units to accommodate families and other travelers who don’t have an RV, but want to enjoy the Great Outdoors – and the numbers are growing, according to the release.
“Private parks have long seen the merits of investing in park model cabins for use as rental accommodations, and now they have a chance to invest in both park models and travel trailers for on-site rental use at special prices that are exclusive to ARVC members,” Profaizer said. “Many travel trailer owners already leave their units at campgrounds and RV parks and use them as getaway cottages.” 
Ott said this unusual new partnership, the first of its kind involving ARVC and RV manufacturers, has enabled Thor to develop unique units using the input and experience of campground owners across North America. The “ruggedized features,” along with a variety of floorplans and cozy design elements, offer campground owners durable units built to withstand the rigors of high occupancy usage, Ott states in the release.
The lodging units featured in the promotion include four Breckenridge recreational park trailers ranging from 22- to 36-feet; two Keystone travel trailers, including one 29- and one 37-foot model; and one 25-foot Airstream travel trailer.
Ott added that while the initial promotion involves Airstream, Breckenridge, and Keystone, additional Thor companies could become involved in the promotion in the future, depending on the level of private park interest.
The world’s largest RV manufacturer, Thor has a long history of financial stability and annual growth. The Jackson Center, Ohio, company and its subsidiaries currently produce 30% of the RVs and park models produced in the United States, which Ott said should assure ARVC members of a mutually beneficial and stable business relationship.
ARVC, for its part, is the largest association of private parks in the world, representing more than 3,600 commercially owned campgrounds, RV parks and resorts across the country. The association is based in Larkspur, Col.
For more information on the Thor-ARVC accommodations partnership, contact Ott at (406) 670-7181 or or Profaizer at (303) 681-0401 or
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13 Vintage RVs Gather for Tin Can Tourists Rally

September 30, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following story was posted on the Tin Can Tourists TCT Campfire blog at describing the recent Tin Can Tourists Rally in Nashville, Tenn.

Airstream (1962) at TCT Rally in 2009The 2009 Nashville TCT Rally (Sep. 23-27) is now history. It was a very successful event, in spite of heavy rain that continued several days. There was a good mix of vintage and modern RVs: 1962 Airstream, 1976 Avion, 1976 GMC, 1977 Avion (2), 1978 Avion, 1979 Avion, 1985 Avion, 1988 Avion, 1989 Avion, 2004 Jayco, 2007 Casita, and 2007 Flagstaff. The group enjoyed lots of entertainment. Some attended the Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Star tour, Flea Market, Rivergate Mall shopping, Camping World, and almost everyone tasted the wine/cheese at the winery and heard Stu Phillips sing a medley of songs for us. Also, the BBQ dinner (with the Blue Grass Band) and a performance by Paul Hill were well attended. There were several walk-ins on Saturday to visit the RV open house. Almost everyone opened their RV for visitors.

Ronnie and Ann Mollere’s 1962 Airstream (shown above) was selected as the Most Impressive RV present. Rick and Angie’s 1976 GMC received lots of praise as the runner-up.

Needless to say, some new friendships were made. RVs came from Wisconsin, Ontario, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Arkansas. Tentative plans were discussed for having a rally in Mississippi next year.

Thirteen RVs attended. Because of the forecast for heavy rain (which was accurate), a number of those pre-registered cancelled. It is believed that if the weather had been more favorable, more than 20 would have attended. It is understandable that those who primarily wanted to “show” their beautiful restored vintage RV chose not to come. Those folks who use their vintage RV regularly did come and received a great (free) wash job.

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Unique Airstream Park Serves the South of France

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Belrepayre Airstream &Retro campground in southern France

Belrepayre Airstream &Retro campground in southern France

We know that Airstreams are all over the United States, but did you know they are quite the hit in Europe as well? Belrepayre Airstream & Retro Trailerpark, located in southern France, is an Airstream and retro campground with amazing views of the Pyrenees, according to the Airstream Inc. blog. Originally owned by two former circus performers, the park also offers rentals of nine authentic Airstreams. The park is fully-equipped and also includes the Apollo Lounge, a retro-style Airstream lounge bar (shown below). 

Apollo Lounge

Apollo Lounge

Now you can have your Airstream fix even after you’ve crossed the ocean. Airstreams are manufactured in Jackson Center, Ohio, by Airstream Inc., a Thor Industries Inc. company.

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RVers Commemorate Epic Trek Across Africa

September 14, 2009 by · 1 Comment 


Airstreams camped by a pyramid during Wally Byam's Cairo to Capetown trek 50 years ago.

Airstreams camped by a pyramid during Wally Byam's Cairo to Capetown trek 50 years ago.

Dale “Pee-Wee” Schwamborn was a 20-year-old college student when he led the way as an advance scout during the 1959 Airstream caravan from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt, a trip that took about six months to complete.

Fifty years later, Schwamborn, a California native, was again at the front of the pack as a caravan of Airstreams made their way across the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge on Friday (Sept. 11) on their way in a tribute to the original trip, according to the Southeast Missourian, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

This time they were going from Cape Girardeau to Cairo, Ill., a 68-mile trek that falls considerably short of the more than 4,000 miles of the original journey, and there were only 17 recreational vehicles in the caravan compared to the 41 that made the Africa trip.

 Still, the trip was special, Schwamborn said.

 “I can’t think it went anything but great,” said Steve Burrows, an Airstream trailer owner and aficionado who planned and led the caravan.

Burrows got the idea to recreate the trip as a celebration of the 50th anniversary when he met Schwamborn at an Airstream event in Texas.

“I thought it was a really fun idea,” Schwamborn said.

Schwamborn’s mother, Helen Byam Schwamborn, founded the international Airstream club WBCCI. Her first cousin, Wally Byam, who died in 1962, founded Airstream.

Though Burrows said Friday’s caravan was “smooth sailing,” and credited Cape Girardeau and Cairo police with their assistance in making sure there were no problems, the Africa trip was not without obstacles.

Schwamborn recalls helping to dig caravans out of deep sand as they crossed the desert of the Sudan, and everyone lending a hand as they crossed quagmires in Ethiopia.

During Friday’s trip to and from Illinois, the caravan did earn some curious looks from passers-by, Burrows said.

Tina and Mike Nelson of St. Louis, new Airstream owners, made it to Cape Girardeau RV Park for Saturday’s two-hour open house,” an opportunity to meet other Airstream owners and talk.

The Nelsons purchased their first Airstream two months ago. Since then, they’ve been surprised by how helpful and close-knit the Airstream community is, Mike Nelson said.

“They’re just willing to share what they know,” Tina Nelson said.

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Travel Magazine Cites World’s Trendiest Airstream Hotels

July 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 


Airstreams at Grand Daddy Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa

Airstreams at Grand Daddy Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa

“Airstreams are vintage, iconic, unique,” says Jody Aufrichtig, who spent months and millions to buy, import and renovate a small fleet of vintage Airstreams. The point? To put them on the roof of his four-star Cape Town, South Africa, hotel, the Grand Daddy, and create what he calls a Penthouse Trailer Park. Trashy? No way. Try flashy, notes Travel + Leisure magazine.

Airstream travel trailers, those iconic silver bullets, hit the road in the 1930s and quickly became design icons, cropping up in movies and fashion shoots as well as stylish front yards along the way. These days, the rolling slices of Americana seem more popular than ever. Google the word Airstream and you get nearly two million results-from YouTube videos of loving restorations to forums populated by thousands of rabid owners. The Airstream fan club also includes impressively high-voltage celebrities, like Tom Hanks, Sheryl Crow, Francis Ford Coppola and Johnny Depp.

Now hotels and motels around the world are adding Airstreams as a hip alternative to cookie-cutter rooms-as stand-alone hotels, as add-ons to existing inns, even as part of KOA (Kampgrounds of America) locations from Las Vegas to Maine. Style aside, features like multiple beds and fully equipped kitchens can also make Airstreams a cheaper option. Savvy travelers are fast becoming the newest Airstream aficionados.

One early-and enthusiastic-adopter of the trailer-hotel trend was The Shady Dell Trailer Court ($87 per night) in Bisbee, Ariz., which opened in 2007 with the slogan “Midcentury Modernism Is Alive and Well at the Shady Dell.” Currently the Dell has nine fully restored vintage aluminum travel trailers for rent, including a 21-foot 1949 Airstream that sleeps two .

The hyperefficient use of space (à la a Japanese capsule hotel) is partly what attracted an Asian wellness retreat in Santa Fe, N.M., to adopt the Airstream-as-hotel-room concept. Ten Thousand Waves ($99-$129, depending on the season) has a Silver Moon (a 2003 19-foot Airstream Bambi), which appeals to a broad range of travelers-from Airstream enthusiasts to guests looking for unique lodging. But it also rents for half the price of traditional accommodations, which is perhaps the real reason its Airstream had a 92 percent occupancy rate last year.

It’s style, however, that rules at the doo-wop-themed boutique hotel StarLux ($69-$233, depending on the season) in Wildwood, N.J. Wildwood is the doo-wop capital of the U.S., with more surviving examples of this classic ’50s-style design and architecture than anywhere else in the country), so it made sense for the StarLux to go retro and install two Airstreams. Each sleeps four and includes a kitchenette.

One of the latest hotels to offer an Airstream is the Lakedale Resort ($229 from May 1-October 31) on San Juan Island, Wash.. Inspired by all those celebrity Airstream enthusiasts, the resort added a fully restored 31-foot 1978 Airstream Sovereign to its existing roster of canvas cabins, campsites, lodge rooms, and log cabins. Snazzed up with Cuisinart kitchen appliances and Molton Brown bathroom amenities, it includes a private furnished lakeside deck.

The trend recently reached Europe as well with the opening of the Bel Repayre Airstream and Retro Trailer Park ($125-$167 for two people) in the Pyrenees foothills of southern France, near Mirepoix, featuring nine restored vintage Airstreams, all with kitchens and outdoor barbecues. The owners have even converted an Airstream into an outdoor bar.

But perhaps the world’s chicest Airstream installation is in Cape Town, South Africa. That’s where the four-star Grand Daddy Hotel ($117 per night) offers seven vintage Airstream travel trailers installed with landscaping (and even mailboxes) on the roof. Owner Jody Aufrichtig was inspired by the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, in which Juliette Lewis’s character lives in an Airstream, and traveled to Ohio to purchase the trailers. Today, each “penthouse” has interiors customized by different artists .

While some hotels go for vintage or customized Airstream interiors, others prefer more modern designs that complement their locations. Hotel Airstream ($149-$179 per night) in Newport Beach, Calif., offers one 2006 26-foot Airstream International Ocean Breeze edition with a full kitchen. It can comfortably sleep four, and it comes with beach-inspired décor and colors that fit right in where it’s parked – on dunes overlooking the Pacific.

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Madison, Wis., Hosts Wally Byam Caravan Club Rally

June 26, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Hundreds of Airstream travel trailer owners cruised into Madison, Wis., this week, parking their shiny, tin trailers and joining in the 2009 Wally Byam Caravan Club International Rally  festivities.

It’s the club’s 52nd annual convention, according to the Isthmus Daily Page, Madison.

Somewhere in the midst of the Airstream maze on Monday, Don McKelvay tidied up his trailer. He and his wife, Kathy, represent the northeast United States branch of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International. Together, they’re in charge of about 18 caravan units, each ranging from about 10 to 400 trailers. It’s a pretty big responsibility for a man who never thought he’d own a trailer, let alone an iconic Airstream.

“I had never intended on buying an Airstream,” says McKelvay.

Now, he couldn’t be happier. “The Cadillac of travel trailers,” he calls it, pointing to his collection of convention stickers on the trailer’s back window. His newest addition: a sticker with a red border and Wisconsin’s capital building.

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Airstream Partners with Swiss Army Knife Makers

May 19, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

airstream-interior In celebration of its 125th anniversary, Victorinox Swiss Army -makers of the Swiss Army Knife – has announced a  partnership with Airstream Inc. to produce the first “Victorinox Special Edition Airstream”  travel trailer.

 These two iconic brands have created a 19-foot trailer, production of which will be limited  to 125 units and which embodies their shared qualities and philosophies: precision,  functionality, reliability and a classically elegant design, according to a press release.

 “When you enter into the trailer, the design cohesion between the two brands is both  intuitive and natural – it’s comfortable and truly defines a luxe camping experience,” said  Scott Swaebe, director of visual merchandising for Victorinox Swiss Army.

Like the legendary Swiss Army Knife, the details of the trailer are precise and clean, the release stated. And to ensure consumers are fully equipped, a collection of Victorinox Swiss Army timepieces, kitchen cutlery, Swiss Army Knives and accessories are included with each trailer

“It’s rare to find another brand that so closely represents the Airstream values of outdoor adventure in style,” said Bob Wheeler, Airstream president and CEO. “Victorinox is clearly such a company and we were thrilled to collaborate on this very special travel trailer. Whether it’s a Swiss Army knife or an Airstream, it’s something you buy to last a lifetime.”

The specially numbered special edition units are available beginning June 15. The commemorative, serialized plaque bears the famous Swiss Army Knife cross and shield emblem. This special edition Airstream travel trailer will retail starting at $59,000 and will be available at participating Airstream dealerships nationwide. For more information, please visit

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Actor Shares RV Road Trip Memories With Regis

May 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

2007 RVIA Spirit of America Award winner Matthew McConaughey (below) appeared on “Live With Regis and Kelly” April 29 to talk about the 7,300-mile, 42-day road trip he recently took with girlfriend Camila Alves and their 9-month-old son Levi in a travel trailer.

McConaughey, who for years has lived in his Airstream, is now reported to be building a house for his family. But the avid RVer told Regis and Kelly that even though he will soon be a homeowner, “I’m not giving up the trailer.” In fact, McConaughey is currently having two additional travel trailers built to add to his collection, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry    Association (RVIA).mm21

 When Regis Philbin teased McConaughey about mingling with other RVers  at campgrounds, McConaughey said that his fellow RVers were more  interested in the gadgets on his travel trailer than in his celebrity status.

 In accepting RVIA’s Spirit of America award in 2007, McConaughey said,  “My RV means freedom,” and discussed his love for the open road.  Now that  McConaughey is a father, Kelly Ripa asked how baby Levi handles being on  the road. McConaughey reported that Levi is a good traveler, who “sleeps  one full tank of gas, which is perfect.” Kelly said, “I’ve always dreamed of  doing a trip like that with the kids.”

The edited video is available for viewing on YouTube and is also posted on Go RVing’s Facebook fan page.

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Airstreamers Converged on Columbia, Mo.

May 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

airstream-unitNearly 86 Airstream trailer owners camped out at the Boone County Fairgrounds near Columbia, Mo., as part of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International’s Region 8 rally. The gathering, which started April 29 and ended Sunday, drew Wally Byam members from Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas.

Wally Byam founded the Airstream company and designed the first trailers.

Activities featured an open house Saturday for the public and other rally attendees. The trailers were parked side by side in rows, so owners could go from trailer to trailer to compare notes and connect socially.

“If you didn’t have any in the beginning, you’ll develop some social skills,” Airstream owner Rachel Hughey said.

Some units looked modern while others had been restored to their original decor. The oldest model at the rally was from 1948. Many had flamingos, which like the iconic Airstream itself, are an integral part of Americana kitsch.

But it would be a mistake to think of the units, or “silver twinkies,” as Hughey likes to call them, as relics of the past. Hughey said most RV parks today are practically required to have Wi-Fi access and “the VAP,” or Vintage Airstream Podcast, a popular podcast that owners can tune in to about vintage trailers.

Hughey said that a new Airstream today can cost around $100,000 and that even in these times, Airstream Inc. does well financially, building on request. She said the company also makes UPS trucks and other vehicles if RV demand wavers. Hughey visited the company’s headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio, and said that more than 60% of all Airstreams ever made are still on the road.

“They are very versatile, and that’s how Airstreamer people have to be,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, try something else.”

Some Airstream owners still work, but most couples are retired and have the freedom to travel. Most importantly, however, the passion for Airstream ownership must be shared. Hughey told a story about a man she met in Tennessee whose wife wasn’t into his RV devotion.

“She said, ‘You have to choose between me and the Airstream.’ And she’s gone!”

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