Mont. Firm Expands RV Restoration Business

July 26, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Vintage Airstream trailers will always have a place in Rory Burmeister’s heart and in his business, according to a report in The Missoulian, Missoula, Mont.

But after three years of polishing up the silver bullet-shaped relics of adventures past and making them roadworthy for the modern world, Burmeister was inspired to do more than bring these travel icons back to life.

“We are taking what have learned from that process and we are building our own trailers, taking what we know works from the Airstream and changing what doesn’t,” said Burmeister, owner of Mintage Airstreams, an East Missoula company that restores vintage travel trailers. “Beginning in August, we will begin building vintage-looking trailers that have a modern twist.”

Partnering with CTA, a Montana-based architectural and engineering firm, Mintage Airstreams will begin producing a high-end travel trailer, and also the Mintage “Canned Ham,” a smaller travel trailer whose name is inspired by its shape, and the Mintage “Teardrop,” a petite travel trailer light enough to be hauled behind a Subaru.

“CTA is helping us design our own high-end trailer that is Airstream traileresque – something that is our own shell and is built from scratch in our shop,” Burmeister explained. “There isn’t anyone doing deluxe high-end traveler trailers like we envision, so we believe we will really fill a niche.

“What will make ours over the top is the attention to detail – everything from having fireplaces in these trailers to custom-made materials,” he said. “Every detail will be perfection.”

Such luxury accommodations come with a high-end price tag, starting somewhere around $60,000, Burmeister said. But Mintage is also catering to more modest budgets.

That’s where the “Canned Ham” and the “Teardrop” come in. The Canned Ham, which is 12 feet long and 8 feet wide, has a bathroom, a kitchen, can sleep four people and can be pulled by a small SUV, will sell for $18,000 to $20,000. The Teardrop, which is a much smaller design that is more nimble for backroads, will sell for around $5,000.

“I’m really excited to be a part of this,” said Laney Hensel, an interior designer at CTA, who along with her co-worker, architect project manager Shane Jacobs, is bringing Burmeister’s dream to life.

Normally constrained to home and office blueprints, the travel trailers are a unique and creative diversion for the building firm.

“There’s a lot of potential for high design, and there are definite challenges because travel trailers are on such a smaller scale than we typically work with,” Hensel said. “Every inch matters, but the challenge of working with such a small space is also the best part of the work – it’s like a puzzle. You have to utilize every inch and you get to be really creative.”

When Hensel pitched the project to CTA’s executives, the idea was quickly embraced, she said, and that’s made the unusual work all the more fun.

“I presented the idea to our board and got an overwhelming amount of support for doing something different and kind of edgy,” Hensel said. “The firm is all for it, and it is great working with someone like Rory who is really creative, really talented and who does amazing work.”

Burmeister started his restoration business out of his two-car garage just as the national economy began to tank in late 2008 and early 2009. Worried that he would have a difficult future as a homebuilder, Burmeister turned his hobby into full-time work.

As word spread about his skill, Burmeister soon found he had more travel trailer work than time to finish it all, so he hired several of his friends to help him grow the business.

Mintage now has its own expansive shop and sales lot in East Missoula, and with the new production line soon to begin, Burmeister has hired on more hands.

The restoration and fabrication company now has eight employees, and could likely hire on more people in the coming year.

He’s not certain, but Burmeister believes his company is the only vintage trailer sales lot in the state, and possibly the region.

As the fledgling business has grown, Burmeister has revamped the look of his shop in East Missoula, putting down green Astroturf to show off his gleaming inventory, and erecting a large eye-catching sign on the building – a waving cowgirl that was built at the shop and inspired by 1940s pinup girls.

Plans are afoot to eventually add other retro features to the unusual sales lot, including a miniature golf course.

If all goes according to his plan, Burmeister said his retro obsession will come full flower in other aspects, too.

“My dream is to have this place be like an old-fashioned American business where the guys who work here make decent wages, have pensions and get paid vacations so they can spend time with their families,” he said. “We do things old school around here, and that’s for a reason.”

It’s his own way to bring back blue collar work and pride in American craftsmanship.

“The idea is hand-make everything,” he said, “to have a man use his hands to build what we make and not to have a machine do the work.”

In and around creating their own line of travel trailers, Mintage Airstreams will continue with their bread-and-butter work – restoring and renovating Airstream trailers and other classic trailers built before 1970.

The East Missoula lot is filled with many such wheeled homes in all stages of repair, including Burmeister’s pride and joy, a 1947 trailer designed and built by Curtis Wright, the guy responsible for initially inspiring the Airstreams.

Although in need of intensive repair, the rare travel trailer has its old bones and shape of its former glory. Burmeister said he can’t wait to get his hands on it.

“It’s only one of seven left that was made by Curtis Wright,” he said. “So we are really excited about it. Supposedly it can be traced back to Howard Hughes’ girlfriend.”


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