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Online Edition

Spring 2010

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Editor’s Page

Great Stops From Here To Alaska Spring is coming, and that means the excitement of the new camping and traveling season is building. For those in the north, it’s time to prep the Airstream for a season of fun, and plan those great adventures. The big excitement for us at Airstream Life is the upcoming event, Alumapalooza! The first of what we hope to be an annual event, it’s part homecoming, part educational opportunity, but mostly a party. Officially sponsored by Airstream and held on the grounds of the factory in Jackson Center, OH, Alumapalooza is designed to show our appreciation for the Airstream community. Airstream staff will be camping and visiting with us during the five-day event in June, and there will be factory tours, seminars, entertainment, and much more. You can get more details on page 10 of this issue and at I hope you’ll have a great time at Alumapalooza, but just as importantly, I hope you’ll enjoy the trip to and from your home. That’s why author Tom Palesch has written an article about things to do in the area, which you can read starting on page 6. Another great stop along the road is the ubiquitous tourist trap. As Daisy Welch notes in her article, good tourist traps are everywhere, but even in this category there are a few that stand out among campy roadside attractions. She has documented some of the all-time favorites in this issue. Maybe you’ll get a chance to see one this summer. In our print edition (available only by subscription) we have started a series of articles about towing issues. Towing is nearly a “black art,” but it should be a science. Andy Thomson of Can-Am RV (Airstream’s dealer in Ontario, Canada), lends his perspective and experience to help you understand how towing hitches work, why they work, and most importantly what you can do to improve your own hitch setup. That’s in the print edition of Airstream Life, which you can buy online right now. In this issue, John Irwin has also contributed a companion piece about hitch receivers that could improve your safety. There a lot more to be had in our print edition, too! Fred Coldwell continues his spectacular series on historical Airstreams, this time focusing on the early post-war Airstreams of 1947 and 1948. Fred’s series, which started with the “Curtis Wright Connection,” now numbers three articles that document the evolution of Airstreams in a way that has never been published before. His fourth article will appear in the Summer 2010 issue. For another perspective on 1948 trailers, our print edition also has a look at David Winick’s latest project, a 1948 Airstream Wee Wind. Jody Brotherston interviewed David about the process involved in rebuilding that trailer from the ground up. There’s even more in print! Regular contributor Bert Gildart has made dozens of trips to Alaska during his travels, and with Janie Gildart spent months living in Alaska aboard Wade Thompson



The official Airstream lifestyle magazine Editor and Publisher: Rich Luhr Layout and Design: Ellicott Design Advertising Sales: Brett Greiveldinger (802) 877-2900 Ext. 2 Editorial Illustrator: Brad Cornelius Chief Financial Officer: Eleanor O’Dea Associate Contributors: Jody Brotherston Interior Design J. Rick Cipot Features Fred Coldwell History Renee Ettline Features Bert Gildart National Parks John Irwin Great Ideas Roger Johnson eBay Watch Charles Spiher Crossword Forrest McClure Cartoonist Contact Airstream Life 411 Walnut St #4468 Green Cove Springs, FL 32043 Telephone: (802) 877-2900 Fax: (802) 610-1013 Airstream Life Online Edition You can get Airstream Life online, for free! Each issue we select 15-20 pages of the upcoming magazine and make it available on the Internet to readers who sign up at It's a sneak peek, with no cost, no obligation! CUSTOMER SERVICE Airstream Life’s world headquarters are the dinette table of a 2005 Airstream Safari 30 We’re always glad to hear from you, but if you have a simple question, please check our website for help first. There you can subscribe, renew your subscription, change your address, get advertising information, download writer’s and photographer’s guidelines, notify us of an address change,and get answers to frequently-asked questions. See or call (802) 877-2900. Airstream Life (ISSN 1550-5979) is published quarterly by Church Street Publishing, Inc., 411 Walnut St #4468, Green Cove Springs FL 32043.. Subscription price is $24 per year. Periodicals postage paid at Ferrisburg VT and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Airstream Life, 411 Walnut St #4468, Green Cove Springs, FL 32043 © Copyright 2010 by Church Street Publishing, Inc. AIRSTREAM ® is the property of Airstream, Inc. Licensed by Global Icons LLC. All rights reserved.Printed in CANADA.

Airstream and john-boat alike. I can think of no one more qualified to tell the story of the great Alcan Highway from an Airstreamer’s perspective. In our Spring 2010 print issue, you’ll find the first of two articles Bert will contribute to Airstream Life about travel in Alaska, so be sure not to miss our Summer 2010 print issue as well! You can subscribe to the print edition now for just $24 per year, at I want to mention one thing of somber note: the passing of Wade F. B. Thompson, Chairman of Thor Industries. While Wade Thompson wasn’t well known to many in the Airstream community, we all owe a debt of gratitude to him. Wade was instrumental in the salvaging of Airstream back in 1980, when the company was struggling. Along with a management team and his partner Peter Orthwein, Wade is credited with helping to turn the company around, and kept Airstream afloat through thick and thin for the succeeding three decades. It is quite likely that without Wade Thompson, Airstream would be just another defunct travel trailer brand, like Silver Streak, Avion, Streamline, and so many others. Wade passed away on November 12, 2009 after a 14 year battle with five cancers. He devoted much of his final decade trying to help find a cure for cancer and prevent cancer deaths. Among many other contributions of note, he founded the Drive Against Prostate Cancer in 2000, consisting of two Airstream mobile medical vehicles. The Drive has given over 101,000 free prostate cancer screenings to men, saving about 5,000 lives due to early detection! As always, I hope you enjoy this free Online Edition of Airstream Life magazine! See you on the road,

Rich Luhr Publisher & Editor

About our cover... Our cover depicts a fantasy Airstream flying over the Ohio countryside, drawn by Airstream Life illustrator Brad Cornelius. Paying homage to 1960s concert posters, but with a bigger color palette, the fantasy design has what Brad describes as “a real ‘Hendrix at the Fillmore’ feeling.” The illustration was designed to promote the upcoming Alumapalooza 2010 festival at the Airstream factory in Jackson Center, Ohio. This art will be featured on a custom t-shirt available to Alumapalooza attendees, and for sale at the event as a signed print by the artist. For more information, see

What's Coming in our Print Edition • Airstreaming Alaska • 1949-1951 Airstreams • Checklists • Bowlus at 75 SPRING 2010



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Celebrity Trailers I really enjoyed the article about the round bed in Airstream trailer designed for Pamela Anderson (“Floorplans,” Airstream Life, Fall 2009). I watched a special about this trailer on TV and was wondering what happened to it. You may have already written an article about this, however, I understand there are several movie stars other than Matthew McConaughey that own Airstreams. I think it would be an interesting article to find these movie stars and see pictures of their trailers and try to get their comments about why they chose an Airstream. Also heard the former U.S. VP had an Airstream inside an airplane but I guess that is probably off limits to show pictures to the public. We even saw the Disney movie Bolt this weekend and noticed the trailer used for the dog looked like an Airstream. Still enjoy your magazine but miss the Tour of America Blog. DOROTHY GARNER We are always trying to get a chance to talk to celebrity owners of Airstreams, and when we can, you’ll read about it here. Not all are happy to talk about their trailers, however. A lot prefer to maintain their privacy. It’s likely that many of them don’t travel much in their Airstreams, but instead keep them as offices, guest houses, stationary getaways, pool houses, studios, etc. The executive transport Airstream used by the military for high-ranking government officials has been in use for many years. We’re working on an article for a future issue about that one, too! More Beachfront Camping [In the article on Best Beachfront Camping, Airstream Life, Fall 2009] you missed out on a very popular location by the beach. It’s “Camping On The Gulf,” out of Destin, Florida. You can reserve sites as close to the beach as the law allows. This place is expensive and during the prime summer months they stay booked continuously because it is one of the few places that actually fronts the Gulf of Mexico and allows direct access. Check out their web site. Although it is expensive, we plan on a return trip next year. JOHN BYARS Quick Vintage Restoration Tip Our 1964 Airstream Bambi had taillights that had faded to almost clear. We priced


new lenses, and looked for alternatives. Here we show the original lenses, which we sprayed on the inside with red stained glass paint. They look good, and the light shows through them as it should. RESPECTFULLY, STAN AND JUDY WISNIOSKI

Buddhist Retreat Cave Dear Rich, Guess what? I just opened your magazine that an Airstream dealer handed me—and I realized you and I met you back in 2004 when I looked at your house for sale in Vermont. I am a widow - 62 now - and never did buy another house. I bought a boat instead and lived on her for five summers on Lake Champ and one winter in Florida. I put everything that would have fit so nicely into that beautiful house of yours into storage and took DragonFly down the inland waterway. I tried recently to “settle down” here in Santa Fe and open an art gallery with all that stuff from storage, but the town and the economy already chewed me up and spit me out. So I sold my boat and now am about to buy an Airstream. It is not quite yet “My” Airstream— but it is calling me. A Safari Sport. I have just given everything I owned (17,000 pounds) to a charity called EarthCare International. They train teens to be leaders in sustainable living. So living in this little thing might just be the ticket. I intend to make it my Buddhist Retreat Cave! ANNE MOORE “Star Dreaming” Outside the Airstream Hi Rich, Here’s a pretty picture of our Flying Cloud that we picked up this year from NJ. I was born and raised in Southern Africa. My father, John Moody Sr. started the lightweight travel trailer business in South Africa in the early 60’s. These caravans (travel trailers) were so popular it became a huge industry. The popularity to own a Sprite Caravan grew with much success. Dad brought the family all over to the US when I was 16 and started a Sprite


Caravan factory in Elkhart IN, but we think he was decades ahead of his time for the US market as Americans were very fond of owning a long, long trailer that have to be pulled by a very large car. We went back to Africa, but what amazes me after all these years is that I occasionally see one of my Dad’s Sprite travel trailers on the road, and when I approach the owners and share my story with them, they usually tell me this was the best travel trailer ever built in America … next to Airstream of course! My passion is for Africa, my other home. I consult to Game Plan Africa who plans some of the most wonderful trips imaginable to Southern and Eastern Africa. My life is full, and my best moments are watching the sun rise or set over the African plains or sitting around a campfire outside my Airstream, just star dreaming. But the big dream is when I hit the 55 year mark in five years time, we are packing up the Flying Cloud and Toyota Sequoia and heading across the US for a year. Should be fun! MY KIND REGARDS, JOHN MOODY

How About A Stop In Kansas? In response to the letter from a reader who was upset by the reference to Whistler, Canada and then made reference to Colby, USA ... you, in turn, asked where is Colby, USA? Well, the Colby I know is in Kansas. Just another of those places off the interstate that is worth a stop. Exit 53 of I-70 (that’s just 53 miles east of the Colorado line) will take to you the largest barn in Kansas, the Cooper Barn, which is now part of the Prairie Museum of Art and History on 24 acres, which pays tribute to the area’s heritage. Colby is also one of the last cities on the west end of a great route through Kansas. “See More on 24” is a historic drive over the “backroads” of Kansas, which basically follows the old railroad lines. Each of the cities along the State Highway 24 have kiosks that describe the


significance of that area. Kansas has beautiful lakes and you will see many of them following this route, not to mention the world’s largest ball of twine! Those of us in Kansas want you to visit us. Please don’t just barrel down either I70 or I-35 and say “Gosh, there’s nothing to see in Kansas!” Yes, there is! After all, Dorothy did want to come back home even after seeing OZ! BETH MCCALL LEAVENWORTH, KANSAS

Green Living In Their Airstream Hello Rich Luhr, It is with plenty of interest and pleasure to read, for free, parts of your magazine online about the Airstreams. You see we have been living the life that small minorities of people seem to desire, so they have told us, during our travels of almost three years. Or perhaps, the anguished looks on their faces meant that they have just felt sorry for us, after they have learned that this is our house. We tend to draw attention wherever we travel. We never get lonely, there is always someone who wants a peek at our unit and wants to talk. We promote Airstream everywhere we stop, by being kind and giving free tours of our home, at gas stations, stores, rest stops, etc. Since April 1st 2007 we Canadians have been traveling/living full-time in our completely refurbished 19-foot 1964 Globe Trotter, traveling to places such as Mexico, United States, and Canada. All the restoration work has been done to perfection by my husband Ralph. This lifestyle change dictates to some degree the catchphrase “going green,” meaning paperless. We can only subscribe to articles online, as the longest we have set roots down, was for two months in Texas to birdwatch. The only thing we possess that runs on electricity is an air conditioner. After being forced to pay the same rates, in all campgrounds, as the big rigs, whom run their, washers, dryers, microwaves, stoves, fridges, water heaters, and air conditioner, we thought this was unfair to campers like us. But when temperatures reached 112 degrees, being “environmentally friendly” was not so amusing anymore, and when the other bigger rigs had their air running 24/7, we decided to join them at the power trough.


So, when we have no option (most of the time) to not pay for electricity at campgrounds, we can get our “monies worth” by running the beast to keep our unit cool. We are not allowed to camp in a non-electric tenting site, which we would prefer, saving us money, and promoting the pleasurable free lifestyle we have chosen to live. I have been verbally expressing these same comments to all campgrounds owners, but I don’t expect things to change as we are a few in zillion, and until we run out of coal/oil or it gets too expensive to waste the electrical energy/water as we do, meaning higher power/water bills to the user, things won’t change. JUDY GODDARD

NADA Trailer Values After reading your latest issue I must take exception with your use of NADA RV guide to value recent Airstream sales on eBay. I defy you to find a 2005 31' Classic for sale at NADA, yet you imply that the buyer paid way over book price. Have you actually tried to buy a used Airstream? My guess is no! BOB SCHMIDT Roger Johnson responds: Hi Bob. Thanks for expressing your concern. In the eBay Watch column (Airstream Life, Winter 2009), I didn’t say the 2003 Classic was overpriced; I just took exception to it being advertised as “below book.” At a $55,000 asking price, it wasn’t below any “book” value that I know of. Your guess would be inaccurate. Before my retirement, I bought, reconditioned, used and recycled fifteen used Airstreams and am happy to advise that I never suffered “buyer’s remorse” on any of them.

read cover to cover in a matter of a few minutes. I can never seem to pace myself. Maybe you need to place a suggested serving size in the magazine, maybe something like “one article every two weeks.” That way the magazine will last until the next edition comes out. I have a postcard you may be interested in. Last year at Penn Wood I was cleaning out a file cabinet and found about 20 unused post cards from the 1963 “Around The World Caravan.” I have given a few to folks that own trailers that went on that little jaunt and to some Airstream historians who did not have one. The card is 5-1/4" x 7" and the back reads: “The Wally Byam Around the World Caravan is on its’s another Airstream first! 45 Airstream Land Yachts carrying 105 men, women, and children have set out to make travel trailer history… They will attempt to circumnavigate the globe! From Singapore they’ll go across Burma, Thailand, India and the other nations of Asia, then on to Europe and ultimately into Soviet Russia! You may not be ready for the trip around the world, but there are many other wonderful Wally Byam Caravans you can enjoy, scheduled for Canada, Mexico and Europe. “Only in an Airstream can you get the most out of every place you stop in. With you at all times are stretch-out beds, complete bathroom, hot and cold water, forced air heat, lights and refrigeration… all independent of outside hookups! It’s the better way to travel here in North America or anywhere in the world. You can share in the fun and excitement of the Around the World Caravan too. Follow the Wally Byam Caravanners on the giant full color map in our showroom, complete with on-the-spot reports and photographs. Come in soon!” CARL DEITRICH

“Around The World” Caravan Postcard Rich, I just got home from hunting camp and found the Winter 2009 edition of Airstream Life waiting for me and as usual I had it



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On The Way To T

he first Alumapalooza is coming to Jackson Center, OH in June 2010, attracting hundreds of Airstream owners and future owners. Whether you are coming for that special event or just visiting the factory this year, “JC” will glisten with aluminum and people with similar interests. Often visitors come to the factory, do the tour, get some service, and then head off to somewhere else. We’re here to tell you that there’s enough excitement in the area surrounding Jackson Center to keep you busy for a much longer time. Here’s a chance to turn your Airstream trip into a journey of exploration and personal growth, the way Wally Byam intended. Jackson Center is the home of the people that built our aluminum dream machines with the sweat of their brow, and they are proud to have us back to visit while they celebrate and show their town pride. If attending Alumapalooza, you will also be here for the biggest town event of the year, Jackson Center Community Days. The headquarters of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International are also located near the center of town. Just down the Interstate a few miles, the small city of Troy is holding its 34th annual Strawberry Festival on the same weekend. The city will have a parade, many contests, displays, and no doubt you could buy a basket of beautiful strawberries to take back to your trailer for breakfast the next morning. Troy, like its big sister Dayton, has a strong aviation connection. Troy was the home of Waco Aircraft and has a museum of their airplanes that is open to the public. Troy is an interesting nearby outing during your spare time.


There's a strong aviation connection in Dayton, especially at The National Museum of the US Air Force, where you'll see aircraft like this P-51 Mustang.


Make Your Trip to the Airstream Factory an Adventure!




Closer to JC is Sidney, a town that fits perfectly in the quiet Ohio countryside. Driving the back roads to Sidney is a pleasant experience, a good destination for lunch at “The SPOT to Eat” diner, and a tour of Allison’s Custom Jewelry. The Airstream factory is not the only place in Ohio where shiny baubles and precious silver things are created! Allison’s factory and shop are open for tours Mondays through Wednesdays, and you can see creative fashion ideas come to life as you watch. While one of you is thinking about polishing your propane tank, the other of you could be adding “bling” to your collection. In West Liberty are the Piatt Castles (two) and Ohio Caverns. Both of these private commercial tourist attractions give daily tours for an admission fee. If modern history is your thing, look up the road to Wapakoneta and visit the Armstrong Air & Space Museum. The first astronaut on the moon is a native son and the town has opened a museum to celebrate that fact. There is even a touch of Airstream here with a famous photo of President Nixon greeting the returned astronauts while they were in the quarantine vehicle, an Airstream trailer (see Airstream Life, Winter 2008). Here’s a chance to salute the wonderful achievements of our early space program, its heroes and the public role played by our favorite company. As Airstream trailers are American icons of the highway, so are KitchenAide appliances icons of the kitchen. They’re made in nearby Greenville. A visit to this town could net you a factory tour and certainly a visit to their retail outlet and “Kitchen-Aide Experience Store.” Here’s a chance to visit a modern production facility and watch the manufacturing of products we use everyday. Greenville was also the hometown of Annie Oakley, made famous by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows during the early 1900’s. A short drive south is Dayton, the birthplace of aviation. In the early 1900’s two brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright turned the world upside down when they invented the first flying machine in their bicycle shop. You can visit

TOP: Glass Pavilion Display at Toledo's Libby Museum of Art. ABOVE LEFT: "Where Aviation Began". ABOVE RIGHT: USAF Experimental Aircraft Display Hanger





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The heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland.

"Chief, I'm sure you said BRAKES!"


this historic landmark in Dayton and then extend your tour to nearby Wright Patterson AF Base and visit Huffman Field National Park, the flying field where the two pioneers of aviation perfected their first aircraft and learned to control it when airborne. This all happened long before there was an Air Force, but we can thank these two brothers for the little known fact that they trained many others to fly at a flight school they established, thus popularizing this new phenomena and encouraging innovation in flying. Now located on the Air Base is Ohio’s most popular non-commercial museum, The National Museum of the United States Air Force. This mostly enclosed and free attraction displays more fighting and experimental aircraft and vehicles than you can imagine. All displays are realistic and interactive, in that you are alongside the aircraft and you can move around at your own pace. You see early fighting aircraft all the way up to the B-2 Stealth bomber and Predator Drone unmanned armed aircraft making news today. You can walk alongside experimental aircraft that we wondered at as youngsters, including X-15’s and early shuttlecraft. You can stand in awe next to or under the famous B-29 “Bockscar” that dropped the atomic bomb at Nagasaki, Japan.

There is a walk-thru exhibit of all of the Presidential aircraft that became so much a part of our history. You can be next to the place on Air Force One where LBJ took the oath of Presidential office in Dallas before President Kennedy’s body was brought home to D.C. after his assassination. Just in case there is a call for you to lead our country and the free world, here’s an opportunity to practice your “Presidential Wave” as you board Air Force One! Plan a long day here, or better yet, two days. The parking lot is large enough for your Airstream, with plenty of room to maneuver. As you can see, there are many opportunities to explore interesting places and events just a short distance from Jackson Center. From the amusement parks in Cincinnati and Cedar Point, to touring homes on the National Registry of Historic places in Springfield, Dayton, West Liberty and Columbus, you can keep yourself occupied for quite a while before or after Alumapalooza or any factory visit. While traveling along the road to Jackson Center, take an extra day and explore some of the wonderful things along your route. Remember, you can do that—you have an Airstream! For example: If Toledo, OH is near your route you can stop and explore the Libby Glass Factory Outlet Store and the Glass Pavilion at the Museum of Art. Toledo is also the home of the famous Willys Jeep. You can see the now-abandoned plant where that icon was born and built. If Cleveland is along your way and there’s a song in your heart and music in your soul, stop and visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Just south of that city is Canton, home of the famous Pro Football Hall of Fame. Both of these great museums will bring back a nostalgic memory or two, no matter what your age.





If your home is south of JC and you are traveling through Kentucky, swing into Lexington and visit the Kentucky Horse Park. The Bluegrass country is beautiful in early June, and the park has a modern campground. There are horse museums, horse barn tours, racetracks and more. It’s a great place to expand your knowledge about all things “horse.” Just to the north is Georgetown, KY with the very large manufacturing campus of Toyota Motors. Here you can spend a day at their visitor center and tour the state-of-art automobile manufacturing plant. Still on the subject of horses and horsepower, consider a stop in Louisville if you’re headed in that direction. A visit and tour of Churchill Downs should be a “given,” but also all the little boys in the group shouldn’t miss a tour of the historic factory that still manufacturers the Louisville Slugger baseball bats we all coveted when growing up. They have a hall of fame room with photos of, and bats used by, America’s baseball heroes. They also have a store where you can buy the bat for your grandkids that you never could afford when you were a youngster. Don’t pass this up. For a meandering exploration, follow the Ohio River Valley. Routing suggestions by the National Scenic Byways Program will bring you through this “Rhine River Valley of America,” tracing every bend of this historic and beautiful river. Just the Ohio section alone should take a week or so, as you pass by historic sites, museums, and monuments. In short, if you are using your Airstream to attend Alumapalooza, why not turn the adventure into an “Alumaganza”? Enjoy this dynamic and historic part of America this summer. ••• For a list of websites that will help you plan your visit, go to TOP: Canton's Football Hall Of Fame featuring Jim Thorpe in bronze. BOTTOM: Running for the roses at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. CENTER: The famous Louisville Slugger.




The Airstream Event of the Year

June 1-6, 2010 at the Airstream factory, Jackson Center, Ohio 3-5 night options • Over 15 informative Airstream seminars on lifestyle, upgrades, destinations, maintenance • Live entertainment • Factory tours • Barbecue dinner with vegetarian option • Vendors and demos • Daily door prizes • Car show • Community festival in town 3-amp electric, water & dump • Generator section Kids under 15 are free with paid adult!

More information and online booking at or call 802-877-2900 extension 4. Special $75/night rate for Alumapalooza attendees! Mention code “AIR” when making your reservation.

SIDNEY, OHIO • I-75 @ EXIT 90 1600 Hampton Court – Sidney, Ohio 45365 For Reservations Call (937) 498-8888 or 1-800-HAMPTON

Official Hotel of Alumapalooza 2010


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Indoor Heated Pool Exercise Facility Non-Smoking Rooms HBO In Room Movies


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“On the House” Breakfast Buffet All Rooms with Microfridge High Speed Internet Free Local Calls Group Rates Available SPRING 2010

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Great Ideas




he receiver, that boring little square hole that we see under the rear bumper of our tow vehicles, is easy to take for granted. Many people own a tow vehicle for years and never look closely at the receiver. However, receivers can and do fail, leaving us with anything from a unpleasant stranding to the possible destruction of our Airstream.

How Strong is Your Receiver? Most receivers come to us already installed on our tow vehicles. This is especially true in the case of pickup trucks and SUVs. Unfortunately, the receiver is very often an item where the vehicle manufacturer has chosen to save a few pennies, usually by subcontracting the part. Sure, the visible square tube looks quite sturdy, but the quality of the steel and the out-of-sight bolts and welds may not be up to the task. While the receivers on early 2000’s GM products seem to have been especially failure prone, there have been reported failures in almost every brand and year of vehicle. Unfortunately, quality information about receivers from retailers is hard to find. When I inquired at a dealer, the best answer they had was that the receiver should handle the rated tow capacity of the vehicles they sell. An inquiry at a hitch shop resulted in a blank look, advice to discount OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) receiver capacity by 50%, and an attempt to sell me a replacement receiver. Most original equipment truck receivers are considered Class IV with a 2" square opening with weight carrying rating of up to


Frame Bracket

Frame Bracket

Cross Tube

Two Inch Opening

10,000 lbs gross trailer weight and 1,000 1,200 lbs tongue weight. But many times any receiver with a capacity greater than 5,000 lbs gross weight is referred to as a Class IV. Some manufacturers produce receivers ambiguously labeled “Class III/IV.” Others advertise different weight capacities depending on whether a weight distributing trailer hitch is used. It turns out that there is no absolute criteria for assigning class ratings to hitches. Recently some original receivers have grown to 2-1/2" square openings and some of those may be rated as high as 1,800 lbs tongue weight and 18,000 lbs trailer weight. These are sometimes advertised as Class VI. Receivers on lighter vehicles are usually rated lower, often referred to as Class III, according to the towing capacity of the vehicle.

Why Receivers Fail Why do receivers sometimes fail in travel trailer use when we see equipment towed by similar vehicles without apparent problems? Heavy commercial users often remove the

OEM receivers and install stronger receivers, while most private vehicles seldom tow for extended periods and the loads typically are generally much lighter than an Airstream. Modern Airstreams have higher tongue weights than most non-commercial users will ever encounter. Airstreamers also more often use equalizing hitches, and extendedlength hitches that exert additional forces on the receiver. As we will see, your choice of a hitch affects the capacity of the receiverhitch combination. Receivers must handle two types of vertical loads: static and dynamic. Static loading is the weight of the trailer tongue and the twisting moment imposed by the weight distribution bars. Dynamic loading is the result of road irregularities and is like the “G” forces experienced by astronauts. Upward dynamic forces are generally not critical since they mostly cancel the static load of tongue weight. Downward dynamic forces can be multiple times the static tongue weight for short periods.



This GM original equipment receiver broke during towing, fortunately at low speeds and without other damage to the Airstream or tow vehicle.

The cross tube of a receiver connects the frame brackets and mounts the receiver tube. A cross tube may be round, oval, or square. The cross tube must be able to twist slightly to cushion dynamic loads as we cross pavement irregularities. Some flexibility improves the ride for the tow vehicle occupants while reducing the stresses on the trailer. An 18,000 pound, Class V receiver towing a Bambi will not flex and will result in a hard ride for the trailer.

It's All About Leverage Like the long handles of a wheelbarrow that allow us to lift heavy loads or a see-saw where a small tot sitting way out can balance a larger person sitting close in, leverage is a function of the “moment arm.” It is easy to hold a ten pound sack of sugar close to our bodies, but difficult to support it at arm’s length. Our trailer ball is located at the end of a moment arm. The hitch ball is necessarily located some distance behind the cross tube of the receiver. This distance is the moment arm that affects the twisting moment applied to the receiver. Manufacturers must take this leverage into account when designing a receiver, by making an assumption as to the length of that moment arm. A typical equalizing hitch may place the ball a foot behind the center of the cross tube and the manufacturer may use that distance in their calculations. Many Airstreamers are using hitches such as the AirSafe, Hensley, or Pro-Pride that extend the moment arm and thus exert a much larger leverage. Extended hitches can impose higher static and dynamic loads on the receiver to the extent that some receiver manufacturers will not guarantee their product when used with an extended hitch. An exception may be the air-cushioned hitches that use an air bag to support the ball where the air bag absorbs much of the dynamic peak load. The one good piece of advice that I received at the hitch shop was that if you can see the receiver distort under the static load of the trailer tongue, the receiver should be replaced with a stronger unit. Practices To Avoid The twisting moment on the receiver works in two ways. When we initially drop the trailer on the ball, the twist imposed by the tongue weight of the trailer is downward. If we use tongue jack to raise the


trailer to install the weight bars, we are lifting the rear end of the tow vehicle, which is many times the tongue weight and, thus, many times the static twisting force. Never raise the jack higher than is absolutely necessary to install the equalizing bars. Weight distributing hitch users should use a tool to lever the bars into the equalizer saddles or use a tubular bar to lock the chains rather than raising the jack high enough to do it by hand. Watch the receiver tube as you hook up. If it deflects substantially upward, you are exerting too much strain on the receiver. We may stop overnight in a sloping site and be tempted to use the hitch jack to raise the tow vehicle rear to level our rig without unhitching. This is a very bad idea, particularly with the additional leverage of an extended hitch. For hours, the receiver will support a large proportion of the tow vehicle weight, multiplied by the additional leverage. It is better to bite the bullet and unhitch the trailer. If neither the trailer nor the tow vehicle is moved, re-hitching is easy.

Hitch Pin Choices Original equipment receivers are not always made of the best steel. Each time you insert your hitch into the receiver, examine the hole where you insert the locking pin through the receiver tube. If this hole becomes elongated, there will be a sharp impact on the pin each time the load is started or stopped. Sharp impacts will further distort the hole and can cause a broken pin. Hitch pins that have a bend at one end seem to be most likely to wallow out the receiver holes. A better choice is a hitch pin with a squared end so that the mating surfaces are flat against the receiver box, such as most locking hitch pins. As a bonus, most locking hitch pins are of higher quality steel, and your hitch is secured against theft or a vandal pulling the pin in a parking lot.

Make A Regular Inspection With time and use, receivers can be overstressed, develop rust and cracks, and other problems. I inspect my receiver several times a year and after any high-impact situation. Before inspecting your receiver, clean off all dirt, especially in the area of the welds and bolts. A visit to a commercial car wash or a good wash-down with a power washer are the best options, but a garden hose, bucket, brush, and elbow grease will suffice. Arm yourself with a flashlight, and then slip, head and shoulders, under the rear of your tow vehicle. First, examine the attachment of the receiver to the frame rails or under body of the vehicle. Receivers are usually bolted to the frame rails and a common failure point is a loose, stripped, or missing bolt. Replace any problem bolts and nuts with equivalent strength or better hardware; your dealer will have the correct bolt and nut specifications or purchase the highest grade hardware available. There will be a cross tube, either round or square. Examine the welds where the cross tube intersects the frame brackets and where the square receiver tube intersects the hitch bar. If the



receiver is powder coated, a crack in the shiny coating may indicate a failing weld. On a painted receiver, look for rust at the welds. If a weld seems suspicious, use a wire-bristled welding brush to clean the surface, and the flashlight to make a close inspection. A hitch shop or a welding shop can correct a problem weld. If there is distortion, it is best to replace the entire receiver. If the receiver is rusty, a good wire brushing and a spray can of engine enamel will pay off in both appearance and longevity.

shop is generally much cheaper than home delivery and may offset a higher price than can be found on the Internet. Leading manufacturers of receivers include Curt Manufacturing, Valley, and the three Cequent-owned companies: Reese, Draw-Tite, and Hidden Hitch. All can be found by an Internet search and at hitch retailers. Prices for a Class V receiver that will handle any Airstream run from about $225 to over $300 depending on the receiver model chosen. A typical Class V receiver may be rated for 12,000# trailer

The receiver, that boring little square hole that we see under the rear bumper of our tow vehicles, is easy to take for granted. Choosing Replacement Receivers There are several suppliers of replacement receivers. These products are generally stronger than the OEM receivers, constructed of better steel, and are generally hand welded which can be better controlled than automated welding by a lowest-bid OEM subcontractor. The reputation of an aftermarket receiver supplier is dependent on the performance of its product. Because a receiver is a rather heavy and awkward to handle object, most of us would be well advised to visit a hitch shop for advice and installation. Shipping can be costly. Bulk freight to a hitch

weight and 1,200# of tongue weight. Any Airstream except a 34-foot slide-out falls well within the lower specs. Some hitch shops will offer to construct a replacement receiver. While I will trust a hitch shop to do repairs or to reinforce a receiver, I would not trust that a new receiver from this source would be properly designed. Building hitches from scratch is something of a “lost art” and few are competent to do it. If you go this route, be sure to carefully check the credentials of the company involved. •••


Airstream Postcards Did you meet another Airstream on the road? Stay in touch with these unique Airstream Life contact cards. Each card includes spaces for you to fill in your contact information on the back, and the front features “Rest Stop” by illustrator Brad Cornelius. These cards also make a great addition to your Airstream postcard collection! Exclusively available through Airstream Life magazine in our online store. Just $14 for a pack of 10, or $19 for a pack of 20 cards.





• • • • • •

Parks Showcase

North Texas Airstream Community Washington Land Yacht Harbor

Hillsboro, Texas

A 100% Airstream Community, "Full Timer" & "Winter Texan" base. New Terraport with pull thru sites & 50 amp full hookups. 153 membership lots, many with permanent villas & houses. Free Wi-Fi, new laundry in Clubhouse. Located in the heart of the Dallas, Ft. Worth, Waco triangle at Exit 368A, I-35. Pets are welcome. Winter Texan “WBCCI” Rates: Daily Parking rate $15, weekly $90 1 month $350, 4 months $700*, 12 months $1,200*

2 months $400*, 5 months $800*.

3 months $600* 6 months $900* *(plus utilities)

Reservations: 254-582-5566 E-mail:

Always open for Airstreams to visit year-round! • 163 spaces with 3-point hookups • Harmony Hall & Gatehouse available for rental • Homes for sale on leased lots • Close to shopping – Wal-Mart, Costco, Cabela’s • 2 miles off Interstate 5 • Free WiFi • 60 miles from Seattle & 60 miles from the ocean! • Close to Mt. Rainier, Mt. St.Helens & Olympic NP

PETS WELCOME (360) 491-3750 9101 Steilacoom Road SE, Olympia, WA 98513 Charter Member of Airstream Parks Association

Minnesota Airstream Park A member-owned RV resort in the lakes area of mid-Minnesota.

• 125 sites with full hook-ups on eighty acres of natural oak savannah. • Transient accommodations with daily, weekly, and monthly rates. • Tennis courts, a nine-hole executive golf course, heated swimming pool and sauna, horseshoe pits, and a shuffleboard court. • Good fishing and boating lakes nearby. Four miles from public access to the Mississippi River. • Free wireless Internet access • Clubhouse with a kitchen and meeting space. • Activities scheduled all summer long. • Ownership opportunities available. Visit us on the way to or from Madison in 2009! The park has 35 rally sites with water and electrical hookups available. Just an hour’s drive from the Minneapolis/St Paul metro area. • (320) 743-2771 8795 82nd St, Clear Lake, MN 55319




Land Yacht Harbor of Melbourne FL It's all here! • Over 300 days of sunshine with an average temperature of 72 degrees • Long term rentals, and transient sites available as well • Close to Kennedy Space Center, Disney World, golf courses and beaches • 304 sites, large air-conditioned recreation hall with a library and billiard tables • Free WiFi throughout the park Please explore our website and look at the activities and attractions we offer. Stay a day, a week, a month or a lifetime. Between exits 180 and 183 off I-95 201 N. John Rodes Boulevard, Melbourne, FL 32934 (321) 254-6398

Highland Haven Airstream Park • Mountain setting • Blue Ridge parkway less that 5 miles away • Bluegrass music every Friday night at the Floyd country store • Hiking trails with waterfall • Weekly activities in the clubhouse • Beautiful sunsets • Wireless internet 540-651-9050

Come visit us!

Top of Georgia Airstream Park Helen, Georgia



Crossville, TN •


• Located in the beautiful north Georgia mountains at an elevation of 1800 feet • Full hook-ups, cable TV, limited free Wi-Fi available • Open year round—no reservations—limited sites available during the winter months • $7/night; $180/month—during rally weeks rally fees will be an additional charge • WBCCI members only • Close to trout streams, waterfalls, hiking trails, scenic drives, Alpine Village of Helen and so much more. 14255 Highway 75N • Helen, GA 30545





America ’s


s the miles wind by, in a station wagon with an Airstream on behind, a family sees sign after sign telling them to “Stop! Don’t miss it! Snacks, Souvenirs, ice cream, fireworks! Free T-shirt! Last chance to see…!” Home seems far away, and the road long. From the back seat: “When are we going to get there?” And then another sign: EXIT NOW! Whatever it is now looks like Paradise, and so the trap springs and another family of tourists is snapped up.


Tourist traps are a part of the American roadside landscape, having grown up with the travel industry. The family car hit the roads in the late 1920’s, paused for the Depression, and then sped up again. By the end of the 1930’s, more tourists were driving along the highways. Standing on the sides of the roads, enterprising folks saw money driving by and put up signs to lure the cars to stop. Motor courts sprang up along the roads, tiny one-room ancestors of today’s motels, while restaurant chains like Howard


Johnson’s provided consistent if bland eating places. The first campgrounds appeared, as well. After World War II, the parade of cars swelled, including Airstreams and other trailers by the thousands, and the tourist industry in the US was in full swing. With all of those conveniences, only one thing remained to delight travelers: something odd, interesting, or amusing to see along the way. The tourist traps put up their signs and the owners dreamed up new and better ways to snare some money.


Favorite Tourist Traps By Daisy Welch

Wall Drug, I-90 in Wall, South Dakota Two years out of pharmacy school, Ted Hustead and his family bought a tiny drugstore in a tiny town in South Dakota in 1931. By the summer of 1936, the Depression eased and traffic to Yellowstone, Mt Rushmore (still under construction) and other wonders of the west was growing, but travelers passed the little drugstore right by. That was, until one hot afternoon when Hustead’s wife wondered if free ice water would get them to stop.


“Stop! Don’t miss it! Snacks, Souvenirs, ice cream, fireworks! Free T-shirt! Last chance to see….!”




The first sign went up, folks stopped, more signs went up and the little drug store in Wall, SD became a world class tourist trap. At its peak in the 1960s, Wall Drug had over 3,000 highway signs in the United States, and fans put up signs all over the world. In the 1970’s, Ted’s son Bill took over and expanded the drugstore into a maze of gift shops, restaurants, displays, and animated figures, but the roadside advertising blitz is still arguably more

Standing on the sides of the roads, enterprising folks saw money driving by and put up signs to lure the cars to stop.


impressive than the actual place. And yes, still free ice water.

Big colorful signs are a hallmark of tourist traps, such as Florida’s “Gatorland” (top) and South Carolina’s “South Of The Border.” For the traveler, they make great souvenir photo opportunities.


South of The Border, I-95 in South Carolina Alan Schafer, watching the traffic heading for Florida in 1949, also thought the travelers might be thirsty. He put up an 18 x 36 foot beer stand known as “South of the Border Beer Depot” on the border between the dry counties of North Carolina and South Carolina. Not surprisingly, and with the help of what would eventually accumulate to over 250 billboards up and down the east coast highways, this was a huge success. A 10-seat grill was added and it became the South of the Border Drive-In.




By 1954, twenty motel rooms were built, and a travelers’ institution was born. South of the Border now boasts 300 rooms, a 100-site campground, convention and banquet facilities, six restaurants, and 11 different shops, all decorated in sombreros, serapes and figures of “Pedro.” Everyone who drives down to Florida and back has to stop here at least once, and for many families it became a fondly remembered part of those early road trips. In sheer size, South of the Border nearly lives up to expectations — but you won’t find fine gifts or gourmet food here. It is a tourist trap, after all.

Ostriches and Alligators in Florida Florida has always been the favorite destination for folks from the frozen Northeast. And everyone who makes the trip wants to see alligators! Although the Ostrich Farm (ostrich races!), opened in 1892 in Jacksonville FL, was possibly the first tourist trap, the early trainriding tourists to St. Augustine were treated to penned up alligators in 1893 at the Alligator Farm. George Reddington and Felix Fire, two workers on the trolley line that linked downtown with the beaches, speculated that folks might want a guaranteed sight of an alligator. They housed captured alligators in an abandoned beach house and the tourists came and paid.

Finding The Traps

If you want to make a more systematic study of these funky treasures on the roads, the website “Roadside America” is your best guide. You can find out where they are, if they are still open and what to expect. You are also encouraged to submit your own tips of things you have found. See Nearly any travel guide will help you find the major sites. Look for books with the phrase “back roads” in the title to find the minor ones, especially those off the paved highways.


Later they moved to larger facilities, and today the St. Augustine Alligator Farm (which acquired the Ostrich Farm in the 1920’s) is the oldest commercial tourist attraction in Florida. You can see all manner of creatures there beside alligators, in a modern, accredited zoo with breeding and educational programs. And yes, ostriches are still part of the attraction. But St. Augustine is not the only spot in Florida where alligators have been the main attraction. In the 1930’s, in the Florida town of Rattlesnake Hammock, visitors could buy key chains, belts and other alligator skin products at the home of Owen Godwin Sr., and then walk out back to see live alligators in his backyard pit. After World War II, he bought 16 acres in Kissimmee, by a main highway and began to build what would become Gatorland: “The Alligator Capital of the World,” the 1950‘s home of “Bone Crusher” (a 15 foot long crocodile weighing 1,080 lbs) and enduring features such as the Gator Jumparoo, Seminoles wrestling alligators, a petting zoo, 110 acres of Florida wildlife and, of course, gift shops and food. Even in the land of the Mouse, SeaWorld and the rest of the Orlando tourist Mecca, Gatorland and its toothy cutout signs still reels them in. Although Alligator Farm has history on its side, the trolley riders were pretty much a captive audience, and Gatorland makes it to true tourist trap status with its ubiquitous and primitive signs, and seductively action-packed entertainment. Early on, Mr. Godwin took Bonecrusher’s predecessor, Cannibal Jake (only 13 feet), on the road in a special trailer with a heater, a bath tub and a fan — painted with a big sign, of course. All over the northeast, he would park Cannibal Jake on Main Street and charge a dime to see him. Mr. Godwin and Cannibal Jake spent several summers on the Boardwalk at Atlantic City, where in jodhpurs and a cowboy hat, telling wild tales of Florida wildlife, the pair made money and let the world know about Gatorland.

Clark’s Trading Post, Lincoln, New Hampshire In 1928, in the cool White Mountains of New Hampshire, Florence and Ed Clark opened “Ed Clark’s Eskimo Sled Dog Ranch.” The original “Stand,” or Trading Post, offered souvenirs, sodas, and




maple candy to the motorists on nearby Route 3. In 1931 the Stand bought a black bear, making the move from a mere roadside stop to a fledging tourist trap. In 1949 the Clarks’ sons started training the bears into an amusing act that still runs today, and for 2009 they added Chinese acrobats to enrich the circus atmosphere. A steam engine, added in the 1950’s, chuffs through the NH woods daily (in season) with trainloads of tourists behind it. The train disturbs a gloriously grubby and antic “Wolfman,” a hermit who roars alongside the train in a decrepit race car. Along with the bear show, five gift stores, food shops, strange buildings, museums and displays, a Segway ride, and “blaster boats,” Clark’s is a classic tourist trap. It’s irresistible, and way better than scenic views as far as kids are concerned. Don’t worry, you can’t miss it.

TOP: “The Thing?” lures in dusty travelers from I-10 in southeastern Arizona with the promise of a mysterious object, fuel, and gifts. ABOVE & RIGHT: In southern Wyoming along I-80, Little America's hook is cheap soft-serve ice cream, plus hotel, fuel, playground, restaurant and more.


The Thing?, I-10 in Arizona “The Thing?” What is it? The huge yellow signs are relentless, the price is low, and T-shirts, gifts, museum, and jewelry are calling. But perhaps the factor working most in the favor of a stop at The Thing? is that there is else to see or do out in the Sonoran desert along I-10 near the New Mexico/Arizona border. As you draw near to exit 322, the signs exert a nearly supernatural pull on the traveler, especially those from places where the roads have trees, houses, towns, and rivers. Starved for something, anything, to look at to break the monotony, you will find it hard not to take the exit and go see. The actual sights you will see wouldn’t last a minute in Orlando, but when you put something in the middle of the desert and surround it with signs promising mystery, oddness, maybe even something scary, and of course a gift shop, snacks and a rest room, people will stop. The Thing? clearly shows the old traveling sideshow bloodlines of tourist traps, where the advertising efforts far outstrip the actual attraction. The Thing? was first displayed by Thomas Prince, a lawyer and entrepreneur. The story is that he bought The



Thing? from a man passing through in the 1950‘s. The Thing (we won’t spoil it for you) that you waited to see for all those boring desert miles of nothing will probably have you thinking “Is that all there is?” and the gifts and displays are pretty hokey. But that’s why we call it a tourist trap. It is now run by the Bowlin Travel Centers and is part of a string of tourist stops along I-10 where you can buy a snack, a really classic T-shirt, and curios, but The Thing? still hasn’t lost its scruffy charm. We dare you to pass it by with kids in the car.

Little America, I-80 in Wyoming In another empty part of the west, on I-80 in Wyoming, wholesome signs will alert you to Little America. This might be the largest gas station in the world, and is certainly one of the snazziest truck stops. (The crown for the largest truck stop apparently belongs to Iowa 80 Truckstop.) Little America also offers 140 “luxurious” motel rooms, a pool, places to eat, a full repair shop for trucks and cars, and trees! And green grass! In short, it has everything for the bleary eyed traveler needing a break from the empty prairies. It’s too tidy today to be the perfect tourist trap, but there are plenty of signs along the road to seduce you. Back in the 1890’s, the story goes, M. C. Covey was a sheepherder in these parts, and survived a blizzard of 40 degrees below zero and howling winds. He dreamed of a warm bed, food and comfort, and of putting up some kind of shelter on that spot for others. When he later read about Admiral Byrd’s “Little America” encampment in Antarctica, he was reminded of his old snowbound dream, and so he built 12 guest rooms, two gas pumps, and a 24 seat café, and named it Little America. A battalion of signs were sent out along the highways, and once again a pretty good “something” in the middle of nowhere was a hit. Mr. Covey was also watching the over the road trucks as they drove by, and realized they needed fueling and stopping places, so Little America became one of the first truck stops. Mr. Covey even imported a penguin from the Byrd expedition, although the bird died on the way. Not to be denied, he had it stuffed, and “Emperor” sits in the lobby, in a glass case, on a block of ersatz ice. The early advertising featured “Emperor,” apparently because people would stop to see even a stuffed penguin, but now the signs have the American Flag on them. Penguins still adorn the building’s tower. Little America was bought by Earl Holding in 1952, the present owner, and to keep his fuel prices down, he purchased the Sinclair Oil Company (the green dinosaur) from Atlantic Richfield. Today, the original Little America in Granger, Wyoming is one of a chain of 8 hotels and travel centers, as well as Snowbasin and Sun Valley ski resorts. SPRING 2010

Ready for more? Tourist traps regularly come and go wherever the owners think they can pull in travelers. Every major vacation destination in the US will have a flock of such places. You can be fed, wet down, amused, perhaps educated and moved, and have your money removed from your wallet for a bewildering variety of mostly imported, inexpensive, and gloriously cheesy souvenirs. All along the roads between the great destinations a new crop of temptations appears with every season, and the poignant abandoned remains of the failures are there too. Cypress Gardens, for example, founded in 1936 (think water skiing beauties), was the first theme park built in Central Florida. It has been open and shut a number of times since 2003, and in September 2009 closed yet again, joining the graveyard of old tourist traps. You don’t have to work very hard to find a tourist trap. There will be signs. Even in these days of clean and tidy (and boring) interstates, they will find a way to call you back to the side roads. The signs are an art form in themselves, sometimes primitive and charming folk art, sometimes so shamelessly hucksterish they are more entertaining than the trap itself. Without the enthusiastic and often empty promises of the signs, you would miss that feeling of having more money sucked out of your wallet than the sight or curio was worth, which is the very essence of stopping at a real tourist trap. •••



Here’s what’s in the Spring 2010 print edition of Airstream Life! Subscribe today to get this issue!

Spring 2010 Inbox


eBay Watch: Is there Life after Death for an Airstream?


On The Way To Alumapalooza


America’s Favorite Tourist Traps


Old Aluminum: Postwar Airstream Liners


Floorplans: The "Build It Yourself" Airstream


Interiors: Winick's Wee Wind


Airstreams for Rent


The Alcan


Optimizing Your Trailer Hitch for Safety


Great Ideas: Receivers


Fun Page


Last Mile: Mr. Hut Breaks the Ice

eBay Watch, page 8


National Parks, page 42


Interiors, page 34


The official Airstream lifestyle magazine


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