FREQUENTLY.... (OK, a couple of times) WE HAVE BEEN ASKED HOW WE GOT INTO THIS AIRSTREAM THING. So here it is. The date is around 1 April 2010, but the facts presented here are true, absolutely true.
THE AIRSTREAM THING
….being a true account of how we came to be AIRSTREAMERS in seven chapters and a short preamble .
It might have been the worst three days of our recent lives if it had not been for the absolute Joy, the closing the circle on a dream we have had for 40 years, and the accomplishment of overcoming frequent and unexpected calamities.
The wedding shower for Matt and Molly in St Louis was a spectacular success. The two Suellentrop girls were effervescent and their new spouses constantly grinning. Molly hauled in the loot; Matt scored a weed eater and vowed to register at Home Depot. Bob and Judy were rightfully proud of the matches all three kids had made and the party was boisterous with family and food—oh, the food!
CHAPTER THE FIRST: In which a seed is planted.
Leaving St Louis Monday morning, we planned to visit the big AIRSTREAM dealer, and then ride bikes in the afternoon. Before leaving Montgomery we had been negotiating for a new travel trailer of the big white box variety, but our conversation with Tom Mc Aleer let us know we were settling for a lot less than we deserved. We sat in several brand new AIRSTREAMS marveling at the fine details, refined over the years.
“There is more engineering in this door than in the whole of other travel trailers…” 20% more efficient….there is a doorbell…60% of the weight is below this (very low) line…. Sounds like a vault door closing… in thirty years this will still be running, the others will be in the landfill…” (So will we, we thought, but who’s counting?) The price was beyond our consideration, but we looked at used trade-ins. Evidently they do not stay on the market long; all three had been on the lot for less than a week and one sold while they were doing the inspections (109 points). The one in our price range was already sold. We couldn’t see inside for all the inspection apparatus and tools, but the sofa couch definitely looked dowdy compared to the honey colored, butter soft upholstery in the new ones. “Hide of the fearsome Naugha.”
We biked. We drove South to Vienna and rode another day all to the tune of Al saying “We could park our AIRSTREAM over there…They really don’t depreciate as much as…We could buy one and sell it in a few years and get back…
That Fateful night in a budget motel in Paducah, Kentucky, we found the E bay listing for a 1997 AIRSTREAM SAFARI, one owner, only 100 miles away. The pictures looked great.
“Think about it, if you want we can drive over in the morning,” she said.
Al spent a totally restless night, not thinking about whether to buy, but rather: Where will he get the hitch he’s been researching…it will probably need a total top to bottom cleaning… we could get a quiet campsite, maybe at that State Park we drove thru this evening.. we could phone in the insurance…we will have to park at Walmart completely outfit it…
The car dealership handling the EBAY auction admitted knowing absolutely nothing about AIRSTREAMS. They were amazed at the active interest in the trailer and (after qualifying us) sent us off to meet the Lloyds.
“Paul is a professor and a real talker, but he takes meticulous care of everything; he has complete records of everything; he’s a pilot.”
“I love anal psychology professor pilots”, thinks Al.
CHAPTER TWO: In which we fall in love.
She (the AIRSTREAM) was parked on her own full hookup pad next to a spectacular home on several lightly wooded acres, but it was clear she had not been there for much of her thirteen years. The outside finish was shiny, with none of the “crazing” we has seen on the other used units. She had only a very few dings from flying rocks on the lower panels.
“Oh, we always keep her in covered storage,” says Paul Lloyd.
“Why didn’t you say so,” thought Al. “I would have bought it over the phone!”
Before we could even open the door, another family from Bowling Green arrived to see the trailer. The Davenports had been talking to Paul for four days and were serious. We danced around politely (they were great folks), asking questions and poking into everything. The AIRSTREAM was flawless. Everything was spotless, inside and out. Karen Lloyd is very organized and ruthlessly neat. “Paul is not handy.” she told Pat, “but he makes lots of money, so we keep a lot of folks employed detailing and fixing.”
The AIRSTREAM was the right size, the layout was functional. (Duh, it’s an AIRSTREAM). It was better condition than anyone had a right to expect. It was just about what we were about to pay for a newer SOB (Some Other Box)… We were hooked. So we made the first multi-thousand dollar decision we ever made in less than an hour. WE BOUGHT AN AIRSTREAM!!!
CHAPTER THREE: In which the fun begins... and ends… and begins again…and…
Paul and Al drove to the dealership and did paperwork; Pat and Karen conferred and went over details of how everything worked. Al and Paul talked about biking; Karen very kindly provided sheets and offered us the use of their parking pad for our first night, even though they were leaving next morning to pick up their bigger AIRSTREAM at the dealership in St Louis. She offered the full use of her house including her ultra sophisticated washer/dryer.
Al & Paul wrestled with fitting the hitch. We begged adjustment help from the neighbor’s transmission shop, but parts of the hitch now sat too low. Not to worry, the Reese dealer is an ex student and all will be made right in the morning. Al and Pat, still in a whirl of nerves and hunger, head for town and Walmart with a partial list of necessities. Lots of “don’t buy that, we have some at home.” “We just gave all those blankets to Goodwill.” We arrived back after dark, unwrapping and stowing and finding lots of little things that just make us like the trailer better. The night was tranquil, but our minds were still racing.
CHAPTER FOUR: A day with greasy iron.
Al is up early on a mission to buy extension mirrors. The hitch guru will not be available until afternoon. The sewer pipe we bought at Walmart was too small for an Airstream. (If I was going to get anything right, I wanted to buy the right sewer connection the first time; I wanted Jim Brand to be proud). RV places (excluding the salesmen) seem genuinely friendly and helpful; we would have opportunity to test this shortly. We installed mirrors. (Pat is really great help to an addled old guy). Then we started messing with the hitch after guru didn’t make an appearance. Paul’s neighbor dropped by and lent some wrenches. We adjusted up and down but still had 6’’ of iron hanging down too low. Al went to U-haul and was told the piece we needed was over $100. Al dropped by the friendly Cape RV place. Their tech wrestled the greasy iron into the proper position but could not find a properly sized replacement. Then we had a simultaneous stroke of genius. We could just cut it off!
He knew a guy, so Al was off to Wrights Garage, a greasy little two door garage nestled among scores of mega car lots. Twenty minutes and $20 later Al was out the door with a freshly painted piece of iron that should fit. Twenty minutes after that it was clear that the greasy head must be moved up a notch. An hour later, greasy to the elbows Al was still hammering iron into place, trying to remember about ball angle from a video he watched last week. The Guru appears in the driveway, talks to us like we have never seen a hitch before, and indicates how easy it will be to adjust this thing and leaves. His advice was unvaluable. Less than none of it turned out to be correct. Pressing on, we got it all together, returned the tools, cleaned up and prepared to leave in the morning for a nice park in Kentucky. It was four hours of driving mostly interstate, but including 60 miles eastbound across the Missouri boot heel with a 20-30 MPH crosswind, just the kind of conditions we said would be a reason to lay up in a nice campsite and read.
CHAPTER FIVE: In which we nearly lose our mind along with other valuable parts.
Our first road day started peacefully. The Lloyd place is like a park –quiet and serene. Our minds were racing. Was the hitch right? How will She pull? Was our old brake controller up to the job?
After a few miles of narrow up/down to a new access road to the Interstate, everything was ok except for lots of popping in the hitch on turns. We stopped at a very crowded Walmart for returns and more purchases. Loaded up and got on the interstate heading south into a 20-25 mile headwind.
Big rig pulls alongside signaling something amiss topside. We stop, thinking we left a vent open, but NO. THAT MOTION MEANT THE AIR CONDITIONER SHROUD WAS MISSING! We drove forward to the next exit and reversed.
“There it is, on the shoulder; you can read the Airstream on the side.” Continuing the loop, we drive up to it and see that only the side with Airstream on it has survived; the rest is plastic confetti.
With big storms brewing later in the day, we needed some advice on whether the AC was vulnerable. We stopped at a big RV place, got into our specs and got a part number from the parts man. Meanwhile Pat spent 30 min on hold with Airstream parts (not real impressive). By then, we knew it was a standard part, but not available here. We called the friendly folks at Cape RV; they did not have one but thought Camper World was a Dometic dealer. The closest were Little Rock 311 miles away and Springfield, Mo at 250. George at Camper World located the part and gave us info on Paradise in the Woods RV Park just down the road since it was clear we would not get there before service closed. At this point we were just mildly hysterical. We had a problem, we had a solution, we had some miles to drive and an appointment. OK, what about the rain? Several folks had already assured us that it was ok… or, they didn’t know… or “depends”…
Enroute, with storm clouds brewing and winds whipping across the boot heel, we remembered Tony, the friendly tech guy in St Louis. Several calls and a couple “you should be ok, but ask Tony’s’’ from the Staff, we talked to Tony.
“DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES LET THAT UNIT GET WET!!!”
CHAPTER SIX: In which we conquer the elements more than once.
We were calming down and had devised another plan but we needed a Walmart. We are not sure, but we think Sam Walton offended his neighbors in the Missouri Boot Heel because no big blue signs appeared until we started up the Ozark uplift. As big black clouds and an increase of wind gusting to 42 MPH stuck us, we found Walmart. We swung the Airstream across the potted half dirt parking area, clouds of dust blowing. We checked out of the store with a roll of 50 gal trash bags, a small sturdy tarp, duct tape and a brand new 7 foot ladder. We scouted the rear of the nearby grocery and pulled back there to escape the wind. In an absolute symphony of coordinated effort and another trip back for some stout bungie cords, we were water tight. Al only wishes he had the foresight to use the silver rather than the blue side of the tarp –much more Airstreamy, not so much hurricane refugee.
The clouds opened up 10 miles down the road and it rained all the way to Paradise in the Woods, which was not in the woods, nor was it Paradise; it was 20 gravel patches spaced as close as possible in a rain drenched field. Pat had intimated our virginity and the girl on the phone assigned us a PULL THROUGH for our first Airstream Docking. It was nearly dark and raining, but we had a plan and worked the plan. Without a missed step, we leveled, connected water and power and snuggled down in our cozy new home. Cozy because we were dodging and constantly moving our new seven foot ladder.
One Nice Thing… As we were calming down this morning and before the tarp drill, we were cruising across the boot heel on a four lane road. I saw the Ford Explorer pulling around, noted the roof bike racks and returned my gaze to the road ahead. Next crosscheck, the Explorer was abreast and the passenger (a very pretty young lady) was holding up an Airstream cap and giving a “thumbs up”. As they sped away, we saw the AIR sticker on the back glass indicating an active member of the online forum group. Just a little friendly welcome to the family
CHAPTER THE LAST: In which we learn to love wind, tolerate campfires, and discover ever so many new things about the trailer we will call LOTTIE.
Camper World is a very welcoming place on a bright sunny morning. They had the part waiting, brought out a real hitch guru who diagnosed the problem quite differently and capably adjusted it. He even walked beside the trailer for several rounds of the lot to make fine adjustments.
We shopped. (Duh! It’s Camper World!!) We used their WIFI, their printer, and took their suggestion to chill out at Bennett Springs State Park. We visited this place a few days after our marriage and it seemed somehow fitting to visit there a few days after consummating our relationship with AIRSTREAM.
We drove up and down hills, crossed a couple “close your eyes” bridges and arrived at the park. Up a huge hill, we found a nice campsite, unfortunately downwind of a pyromaniac churning up a conflagration in a 20mph wind. PAT BACKED THE TRAILER STRAIGHT IN. There was much more fussing with trailer stuff, watching the trout fishermen, and then a lovely meal -- the Airstream life. (They are very tight and air conditioned, you know, and pretty much fireproof.)
Oh Yes. We talked to Pat’s sister Judy just after we made our first rain-drenched docking at Paradise in the Woods. She reports that their mother, Loretta, harbored a wish to get an Airstream and travel around the country –maybe like Lucy and Desi. We think we will name the trailer LOTTIE.