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Airstream time machines

vintage-1.jpgFrom time to time I am lucky enough to receive some family photos from a friend or Airstream Life subscriber, showing their parents and grandparents (and sometimes great-grandparents) having fun with their Airstream. I always treasure these, and sometimes we run them in the magazine.

The pictures are often blurry, out of focus, or the colors have faded over the decades. The slides have scratches and the handwriting on the prints is illegible, but all that seems to only increase the quaintness of the photos, which seem to capture a very simple and fun time.

vintage-2.jpgOf course, that’s an illusion, since when the photos were taken people had things to worry about too. Instead of a mortgage crisis and war in Iraq, they might have been taking a break from the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Vietnam War. Not much has changed when you look at it that way, and even the Airstreams look pretty much the same at first glance.

But in the images all seems to be well. People are enjoying the good things in life: family, friends, a sunny day, a moment away from the care of everyday life. They don’t need much in these photos to appear to be having a good time. No satellite TV here, nor major theme parks. The novelty of buying a pineapple or having a friendly chat over a haircut can be the center of a good time in vintage photo-land.

vintage-3.jpgThese photos seem very precious now, since snapshots were less common then than now, and since so many of them have not survived. Certainly tens of thousands more are stored in attics all over the world, and once in a while they pop up on eBay. Two years ago a large collection of Ektachrome slides came up from an estate sale, and since (judging by the slide description) the photographer was an Airstream owner who had gone to Mexico on a caravan, I bought them. I was hoping that out of several hundred slides I might find a dozen or so worth keeping. In the end, only about five were really of interest, and even those were marginal. It’s a gamble trying to buy old slide collections, but I keep looking.

The best collections come from second and third-generation Airstream owners. They know the historic value of their grandparent’s photographs, and when they offer a set to me (usually in the form of scans, which is fine), it’s always a great collection of candids that portray Airstream travel as it really was. vintage-4.jpgIn addition to the usual beauty shots of gorgeous landscapes and overviews of rallies, people chatting and people playing, I will see images of people doing mundane daily tasks like eating dinner, or digging a hole for the sewage. There’s an aspect of honesty in these collections that I can’t get from official publicity shots, even though the staged images are usually more photogenic.

I mention all this for two reasons. First, I’d like to encourage people to send their vintage family photos to me for the Airstream Life collection. I’d like to run more in the magazine, but finding good images is a challenge and I need your help.

Second, keep in mind that a lot of the snapshots you take today will be invaluable to your family decades in the future — even some of the more boring ones. Your kids will look through the shots of themselves camping and remember mostly the good times. You will always look at yourself in the photos and think “How young I was then!” And perhaps someday something that seemed commonplace when you took the photo will be extinct or nostalgic, and the photo you took will be a record of it. Even thumbing through the images we took as recently as 2003 (when we bought our first Airstream), all three of the above things have happened to us.

Your Airstream is a time machine. It connects you to the 70+ years of Airstream history and your own family’s history. It may be a bit different from the ones of the 1950s or 1960s, with a flat-screen TV and a satellite radio, but the aluminum body and carefree lifestyle it enables remains exactly the same. Next time you’re out in the Airstream, think about the history you’re making for your family or yourself.

Photo credits FIRST: (Unknown). SECOND: Marathon FL, 1962. Courtesy Rob Baker, THIRD: Bert Richter gets a haircut from F. Brick during the 1958 Western Canada caravan. Courtesy Herb Richter. FOURTH: Mrs. LaVergne and her pineapple. Courtesy her grandson Thomas LaVergne.

3 Responses to “Airstream time machines”

  1. Claudi Says:

    Rich,

    In 2005 my parents, after 35 years of Airstreaming, gave us their 1981 Excella II. A year later that had both passed away. When they gave us our Airstream it was not only the trailer they gave us but a new lifestyle. It was a wonderful gift. I have some memories of the Airstream when they first got her, others a little later on and of the many trips they took and a couple I took with them. I have many pictures. I have found journals of two of their longer trips. And best of all I have met many of their Airstream friends who are now friends of ours. From these friends I have learned why my picture window is only a single pane and not double paned. Where the dent in the back of the Airstream came from. I have met a couple who took their first long Airstream trip traveling with my parents. I have heard many tales about Mother and Daddy.

    We continue to have work done on our Airstream. But most of all we enjoy using her. As we sit here working we are dreaming of April 15th (my husband is a CPA) when we will leave for our first caravan. I just wish Mother and Daddy were here to see what a great gift they gave us……but I bet they already knew!!!!!

  2. Roger Says:

    I have a similar story. My parents gave us their Airstream (their 6th) when my father could no longer tow it. It is a 1992 Excella. I grew up in an Airstream. I have many fond memories and my father took many slides (Kodachrome). I have scanned all the Airstream slides that I could find and I have them at: http://airstream.casarodante.org

    It is a great legacy to have.

  3. abe Says:

    Roger,
    Thanks for the link, Those photos are wonderful!

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