The Airstream Thing….

Sharon and I entered the world of RV travel just about two years ago. I have a long standing aversion to camping, honed by a testy year in Vietnam, communing with nature and a million or so guys doing their damndest to kill me. I prefer clean sheets, air-conditioning and a lazy evening watching the Cardinals on the tube. To break the monotony, I will occasionally stroll into the kitchen for a salted caramel and a beverage. So it was with trepidation that I agreed to give the RV thing a try, figuring that at least I would see a little more of America, with some guarantee that I could retire after a days travel with an acceptable level of comfort. In today’s world of RV travel, believe me when I say, camping it isn’t!

With both of us unwilling to risk a huge capital outlay without first testing the water, we began with a relatively small but excellent RV built by the Grand Design Company near Goshen, Indiana. It was a terrific trailer, well made, economical and offering the conveniences we had established as a minimum. We shopped like Eva Gabor on a shoe buying junket, climbing in and on virtually everything on the market before this selection. Along the way, we were very favorably impressed with the silver bullets manufactured by Airstream, beautiful trailers that reflected true excellence in their sturdiness and use of space. They were expensive however, and neither of us were sure this adventure would be to our liking, and it would be catastrophic to risk a major investment in something that occupied space in a storage facility with little use.

We loved RV travel from the first day we hit the road. The people we have met along the way are some of the nicest folks you will meet anywhere, and are from every imaginable walk of life. They are helpful, honest and considerate. I have enjoyed conversations with career public defenders, aerospace engineers and a couple of inner city Cleveland police officers who kept me entertained for hours in an Amish park in Ohio! Our trailer seemed to do very well on the abominable roads we sometimes found ourselves on, and provided a climate controlled environment to rest in after a day strolling through civil war battlefields absorbing history. The air conditioning was adequate, but barely so on scorchers, and was extraordinarily loud. The towing characteristics left a little to be desired as it was a tall unit with wind resistance being very noticeable. We were still drawn to the Airstream and finally sold our Grand design and began a search for the Airstream of our dreams.

After a national search, we wrote a contract on a 2017, 28′ rear twin Airstream at Bill Thomas Campers in Wentzville, Mo. We have never looked back. Just this past week we stopped at the “mother ship” or Airstream factory in Jackson Center, Ohio where I went on a tour of the plant. The tour did not disappoint! Aside from the expense of building an all aluminum trailer, on an aluminum support structure that is totally aluminum lined, the expense associated with producing these trailers is very evident. The exterior walls are riveted with buck rivets requiring two workmen, one inside the shell, the other outside the shell. The interior rivets are blind riveted, better known as “pop” rivets . There is a lot of aluminum in an Airstream and the assembly is very labor intensive. Every cabinet is made from scratch in their cabinet shops, all out of plywood such as seen in residential construction. The appliances are the industry standard. Everything in an Airstream comes in through the door, while other manufacturers often erect the walls around a finished interior. The aluminum panels are laser cut on huge plasma cutters and the rivet holes are match drilled thus insuring proper fit when panels are joined. These trailers are very well insulated with a proprietary, brown insulation that resists moisture and is installed in bats resembling the pink stuff we are familiar with. The rivet patterns resemble the patterns used in aircraft manufacture, thus insuring maximum structural integrity. The windows are all glass, protected by plexiglass screens that fold up and out of the way when visibility outside is desired. Airstream, and recently some other manufacturers, rely on ducted air-conditioning which is significantly quieter and more efficient. This assembly line hums, turning out 100 or so Airstreams a week, all pre-sold! Recently, Airstream has acquired a fiberglass manufacturer of small units, added Airstream quality, and in it’s first year of operation has pre-sold the entire years production! This little trailer, called a “Nest” rolls out of the plant with a price tag of just over 40 thousand.

When considering Airstream, we attached particular significance to the potential for resale. In this regard, airstream is legendary, with the various models retaining the highest resale value in the industry. The tow-ability of an Airstream is also legendary, with minimal wind resistance and an all aluminum under pan which further enhances the aerodynamics. The fit and finish in an Airstream is the industry standard in towable trailers, a standard that adds expense in the production phase. If there is a downside, other than expense, it is that comparable length units produced by other manufacturers, often have slide out rooms which greatly increase the square footage in the trailers. Airstream, after abandoning the concept some years ago, intends to again begin production of trailers with slide outs in the near future. Predictably, the workers and staff at the company headquarters are exceedingly accommodating and very pleasant to visit with. I enjoyed talking with line workers when I could escape the attention of the tour guide, in an effort to further understand the techniques that go into production. These men and women are true craftsmen.

As a final note, Airstreams have to be built with tremendous structural integrity, especially those that are delivered to the west of Jackson Center, thus crossing I-70 in Indiana. This poor excuse for a wagon trail would shake the dents out of an anvil. We came home on US-36 as I have vowed to avoid I-70 at any cost. That is the beautiful aspect of RV travel, as we rolled through gorgeous farm country and tidy little towns the entire journey.

RV production is at an all time high in America, and quality runs the gamut from abysmal to excellent across a broad number of manufacturers. If you are considering this pastime, give Airstream a look. You will not be disappointed!

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