Airstream, Where Magic and Reality Collide….

We are relatively new to the recreational vehicle culture, having experienced a little over three years traveling from one RV park to the next. Along the way we have met many fascinating people, a few cranks and a smattering of eccentric types who are entertaining to say the least. The RV industry has exploded over the last five years as folks take advantage of a nomadic lifestyle that opens up America to a new level of exploration. In the course of this expansion, many manufacturers have set up shop and the industry offers a myriad of RV types for the eclectic crowd that participates in this pastime. Should you need to stimulate a lively conversation while sitting around a fire miles from home, bring up the topic of RV preference, or if your tastes include dramatic declarations of loyalty, throw in a preference for tow vehicles. These generalizations gel when the Airstream, a true RV legend , is the topic of conversation. Airstream addicts are tenacious, can be stuffy and tend to elevate their preference to the top of the travel trailer pyramid. We just sold our Airstream, still under factory warranty, to a very nice doctor in Mobile, Alabama. This is at least the second Airstream the doctor has owned so he is among those who understand the brand. We have managed to break our addiction to Airstream magic without the interventions that have become popular with so many other addictions. Let’s have a look.

Airstreams have “ramp presence”. No other brand of recreational vehicle will elicit the adoring commentary of a Airstream when it is properly set up in a park. Folks will invariably comment that an Airstream is their dream, and often ask to look inside your trailer. The aura that surrounds these sleek, aluminum tubes includes their low slung, tidy airplane look, replete with huge deeply tinted windows. Most folks understand that you will pay easily three times as much for an Airstream as other brands of trailers, and naturally assume their systems and construction merit this kind of cash outlay. They are meticulously constructed, relying on a labor intensive riveted system to join the equally expensive aluminum panels together, however the same appliances, HVAC systems and fixtures are now found in much of the industry’s offerings. The engineers who design Airstreams are geniuses at maximizing the use of the precious little space in them. Their profile is such that towing is easy, with little wind resistance and the solid aluminum underlay, just inches off the road surface, further guarantees ease of towing. Airstreams hold their value very, very well, comparatively speaking. If you take care of them, your children and grandchildren will enjoy “camping” in them for many years. The furnishings and upholstery are top tier and the fit and finish simply outstanding. Such is the magic of Airstream. Now for the rest of the story.

Airstreams are low slung, necessitating that you crawl on your belly to reach the low water drains that must be used to winterize the trailer. This low slung aspect also results in your sewer hose often being at or near the same height as the sewer drop, all gravity fed, and less efficient than a trailer that sits just a few inches higher. The tongue weights in Airstreams tend to run heavy, presenting a problem for the lighter tow vehicles popular today. (This was not a problem for us as we rely on a 3/4 ton diesel as a tow vehicle.) Airstreams are aluminum, inside and out which results in the direct transfer of heat and cold, as the case may be, from outside to inside. We were forced to rely on pillows to insulate us from contact with the walls on cold nights, unless you prefer cuddling with a cold slab of aluminum. Yes they are insulated, but the thin layer of insulation cannot possibly mitigate the cold transfer through the side of the unit, exacerbated by the aluminum ribs that form the framework. The roof of an airstream is virtually off limits. The roofs will easily bend if you do not carefully step on the ribs, assuming you somehow are able to execute the incredible gymnastic maneuver necessary to step over the curved portion of the roof. The ends of the roof will collapse if you step on them, thus precluding access from that angle. The roofs of RV’s are busy places and access is necessary for a variety of reasons. Speaking of the aluminum, Airstream owners spend inordinate amounts of time watching the weather, as the mention of hail in a forecast will send them scurrying for a bottle of Jack as they search their contacts for their insurance agent’s number. Airstream has done about all they can do to isolate the air conditioners from the trailer, however they are mounted on an aluminum roof, supported by aluminum ribs, which sits over an aluminum ceiling. The air conditioners are loud. The clever ceiling ducts for air exchange do help…a little.

The aluminum interiors look great, however; are not as attractive when condensation forms on them. All RV people know that moisture in their unit is not good, and this problem must be closely monitored. The disqualifying consideration for us is space. Many RV’s today rely on “slide rooms” to dramatically increase the living space within the unit. Airstream does not. In a word, they are tight inside necessitating clever maneuvering to pass one another when moving about. I am old and cranky, and insist on a recliner at the end of a day canoeing, and there is no room for recliners in all but the biggest (very expensive) Airstreams. The inside storage is compromised by the curved roof lines and lack of slide room space. You become clever at packing for an extended trip. The exterior doors on an Airstream are awful. I have yet to enter an Airstream through a door that operates smoothly, especially when closing it. We had ours adjusted at the factory in Ohio, involving a clever technique where the door is bent over a 2X4 wedged in the jamb! If I were the CEO of this company, I would find an engineering team to resolve this problem, cost be damned. You run the risk of waking everyone around you in the middle of the night, when on a dog run, as you forcibly slam the door upon your return. The outside storage is also a challenge especially when compared to the storage in conventional RV’s. I am a neat freak, necessitating the washing of my RV prior to every trip. The aluminum skin on an Airstream must be carefully washed with a soft brush or very clean mitt, as the soft, coated, metal will scratch very easily. Swirl marks are not becoming.

When we decided to buy an Airstream, the dealer who sold us our original Grand Design trailer suggested we would love Airstream quality, but would chafe at the size. He predicted that in three years or so, we would be back, wiser for the experience, but anxious to return to comfort as opposed to ramp presence. He was wrong, of course, as we will be in his office after only two years, hat in hand eating the crow that I talked about a week or so ago. Please note that I am not indicting Airstream, as their rabid following will insure their success for years to come, and my commentary will elevate me to the position of a deplorable traitor in their eyes. The magic of Airstream will guarantee their position in the RV industry. Below is our Airstream on our last trip.

That is the beauty of magic, a concept that defies reality. Long live Airstream…..just not in my garage!

Have a great weekend!

SR

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