We’re in the tiny town in Ohio where the one and only Airstream factory is located; truly, all Airstreams—for dealers across the country, for individuals and companies wanting custom trailers, for Europe, Australia, Japan—all Airstreams are made here at the Mothership.
This is our third annual pilgrimage, partly because it happens to be on our midwest tour around this time each year, but mostly because their service center is by far the best in the country (we have asked them to fix screw-ups created by other service centers). This trip is our final under our warrantee, so we had a long list of items that we’ve been noting throughout the past year towing in the mountains, the desert, the rainforest, the beach roads.
We parked at the little camping area behind the service center lot, and the deal is a guy comes around on a tractor at 7:00 each morning to tow each trailer into its service bay, and then you walk to the service counter to speak with the technician assigned to you that day and discuss your list.
It should be an exciting time, seeing as how we’ve been waiting forever for the front door to work properly, for the stove-top light to come on, to be sure we don’t have a propane leak, and on and on. But, instead, it’s always nerve-wracking. We’re never sure about this list: Is it everything? Will the problems present themselves to the technician? Will we be able to get all our stuff out of the way inside the trailer so they can get to access panels and not trip over my robe, for instance?
And the very idea of being fully out of our home by 7:00, with Banjo and everything we need to be away from the trailer for a day, is also nerve-wracking. I don’t know why. For years I left the house much earlier than this with everything I needed for the day, but somehow this seems so final. Like, what if they say something is terribly wrong and we can’t have the trailer back?!? We’ve heard stories of hidden water leaks being found with damage to the floor that took ages to fix. Yikes.
Friends Always Make it Better
Once we made the hand-over to our technician, Aaron, our moods lightened hugely thanks to visiting friends: Melanie and Doug, sometimes guest bloggers here and former Airstreamers we met on the road in California last year. This year they’re begun their next multi-month camping adventure by coming to us, although staying at a nearby campground because they traded their Airstream for a handful of magic beans. (More on that below.)
It was a pure delight seeing them for the first time since we last camped together at Mars. Although, it certainly didn’t feel like it had been nine months, what with texting and blogging and planning along the way. And do we have plans.
The Airstream Replacement
So this is their handful of magic beans: it’s their off-road camper that’s a hybrid trailer/tent/transformer/amazing thing.
It starts out looking like this:
And transforms into this (and bigger, with an awning and an additional ”room,” not shown here):
We visited the KK, as they call it, right after we left the Airstream at the service center, and Melanie gave us a short tour. The trailer itself is basically a bed and a compartment of kitchen elements, with tons of canvas folded on top. You fold open the rooftop like a lid, and the roof becomes the floor of the room by the bed. Then you slide the kitchen parts out, and I swear that kitchen is nicer than what we have in the Airstream.
It’s kind of like what you’d imagine you’d take on an African safari, and it was designed in Australia for the outback. You live very much outdoors, and sparsely. Melanie showed me that they store all their clothes in one sealed bag each, and they share one toiletries bag (there is no bathroom, so Doug built a bucket toilet that beats the hell out of my washing machine bucket).
They spend all their time out hiking and exploring, so this is perfect for them. I’m not as hardcore as they are. I thought I love living outside, but they really do live outside!
That afternoon we all went back to Airstream for a factory tour, which I won’t describe in detail since it was so freaking full of details. I’ll summarize with how proud Airstream is that they use very little robotic machinery: all work is done by basically a shift and a half of local folks, all 90 years of manufacturing these suckers (70 years at Jackson Center, Ohio).
What’s weird is walking through a huge factory and seeing parts of your home stacked neatly on the floor: your kitchen cabinet waiting for hardware, your sofa cushions ready for installation. My trailer is so much my home that it’s hard to imagine it having started out not as a real boy at all.
Tracy and I walked through the history section of the factory welcome area on our own, but we zipped through. The gist I gathered was how much the founder of Airstream, Wally Byram, and his wife Stella, were into caravanning. They personally led groups of Airstreamers across the country and even around the world for decades, priding themselves on learning about the culture of where they visited as much as its natural environment.
There were a ton of old models on the floor, but they weren’t lit well for photos. Let’s say I salivated at the 1930s and 40s models with original interiors and china tea sets at kitchen tables.
Back in Shape and Road Ready
The afternoon of our service appointment, we met with our technician again, who went over each item on our list with us in the trailer, having fixed or debunked every single one (except that one damn speaker that he couldn’t get to crackle for him). Then we watched her get towed back to our little parking spot, thank goodness.
We now have upgraded rooftop fans, an outside shower that works, and even a light over the stovetop again!
We celebrated by setting out the camping chairs and roll-up coffee table under a big tree near the parking lot, and Melanie and Doug and Tracy and I started planning our next summer trip to Alaska. Serendipitously, the couple parked right beside us were on their way back from Alaska, so they joined us for a bit and described their trip as we took notes. We must’ve looked like a caricature of RVers, sitting in a circle under some random tree, everyone on their favorite camping chairs with their favorite drinks in hand, showing pictures and looking at maps.
So, goodbye to the Mothership—I don’t know when we’ll visit again now that our dear travel trailer is no longer under the new warranty. We’re off to see what happens next!