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September 11, 2011

News & Features

Airstream mystique: Passionate local community grows with a new dealership

Special to NWautos

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2012 Airstream Eddie Bauer (Airstream)

All it took was one camping trip in a borrowed trailer for Melanie and Lee Power to know that they wanted to get their own. And it took only about half a second for Melanie to know which kind she wanted.

"I said, 'We're getting an Airstream,' " the Edmonds resident recalls. "We didn't want one that looks like every other trailer out there. I just knew."

Now Melanie, 36, and Lee, 46, are the proud owners of not one, but two vintage Airstreams. One is a 22-foot 1967 Safari they bought in 2004. The other, an 18-foot 1960 Caravel, was bought off the side of the road for $2,000 just a month after they got the Safari up and running.

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Melanie Power on a recent trip with her 1960 Airstream Caravel. She did a complete overhaul of the interior. (Courtesy of Melanie Power)

"We weren't looking for another trailer, but we couldn't pass it up," Melanie says.
Both trailers have been completely redone, with new flooring, upholstery, woodwork, paint, countertops and plumbing. "Initially, we were just attracted to the look of the trailer," she says. "But the biggest surprise for us has been the community we've found."

The local Airstream community includes at least two vintage clubs that sponsor camping trips, several online forums, a print magazine and a 61-acre Airstream-only trailer park near Lacey. It also now has its own dealership and service shop, Airstream Adventures Northwest, which opened in Covington in May. In its first two months of business, the dealership has shot to the top of the Western region in sales.

Airstream online

"I've never been on an RV lot where there's so much activity," says general manager Steve Perry, who has spent more than a decade in the recreational-vehicle business.

Part of the reason for that, he says, is the high level of interest in outdoor recreation that is typical of the region. But it's also because Northwest urbanites of an increasingly younger demographic are attracted to the styling, environmentally-friendly construction (its primary materials -- aluminum, steel and wood -- are all recyclable) and durability of the brand, he says. Seventy percent of the trailers built since the company began in 1932 are still registered today.

In 2002, Airstream began redesigning its interiors with more modern looks and features. The popular Eddie Bauer model, for example, includes a Bluetooth-enabled flat-screen TV and Blu-ray player, LED lights, filtered water and cushy bedding at a list price of $80,411.

Iain Cameron, a regional representative for the British Columbia chapter of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International, a classic Airstream club that many Washingtonians join, says that the chic look of the newer models has caused interest in the vintage trailers to surge as well -- though they're getting increasingly hard to find.

The fact that Airstreams have enthusiastic celebrity poster boys like Brad Pitt and Matthew McConaughey, and that NASA iconically used them as quarantine houses for the first astronauts returning from the moon, only adds to their mystique.

Every time they take out one of their Airstreams, Melanie Power says, someone has something to say about it, and they can't help but make new friends along the way.

"People from all walks of life get together who have this same passion," she says. "We were completely unprepared for the social event that driving down the road in one of these was going to be."

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