Airstream Followers: The American Dream of Travel



World mirror

Status: 10/31/2021 9:42 a.m.

Round, silvery and light as a stream of air, it should be: 90 years ago Wally Byam founded a company for its lightweight camping trailer. To this day, the Airstream has cult status in the USA.

By Verena Bünten, ARD-Studio Washington

At the gas station, Heather and Davis Cook rarely get away without talking: “What, are you still making these things?” They are asked. What is meant is their Airstream trailer from 2013, with which they have already crossed the USA twice, all the way to Alaska.

Verena Bünten
ARD-Studio Washington

Like many Americans, the Cooks couldn’t start traveling until they were retired. Now they are members of the international Airstream Club, a tight-knit community. “It’s the great freedom, we feel like we are late teens,” laughs Heather. The Cooks saved 37 years to get their dream rolling. You first have to be able to afford such a camping legend – or have stamina and a talent for handicrafts.

90 years of Airstream caravans

Verena Bünten, Weltspiegel, October 26th, 2021

Comofort of a rolling living room

Inventor Wally Byam built his first lightweight trailer in the California garden before he founded his company in 1931. The Airstream, with the look of a riveted airplane, was soon noticed: It was the promise made of aluminum for the great departure.

Formative for the myth to this day: In the 1940s and 1950s Byam led so-called caravans, guided trips in a silver convoy, for example from Cape Town to Cairo. He encourages his compatriots to venture out into the world – with the comfort of a rolling American living room.

Like many Americans, the Cooks couldn’t start traveling until they were retired.

Image: Verena Bünten

Most of the Airstreams are still rolling

The riveted aluminum construction is considered to be durable: 60 percent of all Airstreams ever built are still on the road. Brad Taylor has dedicated himself entirely to the old vintage models and turned his passion into a profession. He runs the Airstream Shiny Shacks restoration workshop in Oregon.

“It’s an exciting treasure hunt,” says Taylor happily every time he tracks down an old, overgrown Airstream. “I then go to the owner and say: Let me give this trailer a new life!” With the same passion he shows off a trailer that is completely rotten on the inside and that has been used as a chicken coop for years. The outer aluminum shell, however, is intact, Taylor also wants to make this darling shine again. Four polishing passes, and then the prairie can be reflected in it again, he assures us.

Brad Taylor has dedicated himself entirely to the old vintage models and turned his passion into a profession.

Image: Verena Bünten

The riveted aluminum construction of the Airstream is considered to be durable

Image: Verena Bünten

Vintage models are particularly popular

Rebecca and Harold Seeley have shown their stamina for “Airabella”, as they christened their 1958 trailer. Two days before retirement, Harold invested $ 5,000 in the purchase – and then three years of work, every day. 5000 rivets, which he cut in by hand, paid off for the former tent camper: Harold had a meaningful project. And on special request, his wife Rebecca no longer sleeps on the floor, but in the shiny design of the 1950s: “The trailer makes us drive off and not just sit at home in front of the television,” the Seeleys smile with a smile.

$ 5,000 invested, 5,000 rivets struck – a new chapter in life began for the Seeley couple with the Airstream.

Image: Verena Bünten

Dropouts and modern nomads

The Airstream is also popular among creative people: Cate and Chad Battles have been living in it permanently for five years – as modern nomads on 16 mobile square meters. Your model Argosy from 1976 is brightly colored on the outside, artist Cate draws her travel diary on it.

The travel bloggers are on the road for several months a year, and goat Frankie is one of the fellow travelers. For their wandering life, they wanted a vintage airstream because of the design and the story: “The spirit of Wally Byam lives on in it, the thirst for adventure, the desire to always get to know new places and people,” says Cate.

The travel bloggers are on the road for several months a year, and goat Frankie is one of the fellow travelers.

Image: Verena Bünten

Back then it was the American dream of life on the move. Today it’s called glamping, that is, luxury camping. Byam’s life plan remains relevant even after 90 years: to combine the longing for the distance with a mobile home – brightly colored or classic in silver.


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