VIDEO: This RV Was Built To Last

January 26, 2009

Some RVs are built to last. And when they do finally wear out, they often get rescued, restored, and put right back into circulation.

by Sean Michael

Airstream has been making travel trailers since 1936. You might think that the scrap yards are full of worn out old trailers. But actually, it’s said that more than 60 percent of ALL Airstreams ever built are still in service today.

Many vintage rigs are being used for camping. For some people, restoring a vintage RV is a labor of love.

For other people, vintage RV restoration is a business. There’s an entire industry of independent shops that do nothing other than restore vintage trailers. If you go this route you can have the best of both worlds, a vintage unit with modern amenities.

Some vintage rigs are being used for creative means other than camping, such as this 1966 model we found in Seaside, Florida.

There’s been a lot of talk about the environmental impact of RVs and the RV lifestyle. I won’t wade into the politics because that would achieve little other than annoying us all. (And there’s nothing worse than annoying yourself!)

But any way you look at it, restoring vintage RVs is a form of recycling we all can admire. It’s just fun to see these classic units still on the road.

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4 comments

  1. Avatar

    GMAs

    Such a deal… nice to see some of the uses that AS have gotten…

    However, we came across some disturbing info… went and checked it out and sure enough its real… (they would not let us film in the yard however)

    Seems the price of copper and Alu is up .. out here in Calif. and being that AS were made from alu… the theft and or trailer is being destroyed for its metal value.

    Yep they are being takend apart and scrapped for the value of the alu and steel. Some of the parts inside are being used/sold to places which inspect them and then decide if they can market them … mainly going off shore if they are still good…

    When we went to the one scrap yard… saddly we saw them crush a 31 ft AS with a fork lift … poke holes in it and shake the frame from the shell… totally destroyed in less than 3 min. from a trailer to a bunch of scrap metal.

    When we asked about them… and the rest that they had sitting in a row that were going to meet the same fate… (some older than 65) The manager said that they get them from places that people donated them to charities or just bring in for the scrap value of the alu… . The metal is worth more than the price and hassle they could get on the used market. Citing that the Alu skin was normally worth more than the value of the trailer.

    When we investigated it further we were told that due to health conserns a lot of the donated trailers are considered health hazzards and thus wrecking was the only safe option to make a profit from it.. We also saw proof that the fraimwork on a lot of them are so badly rusted and wood mold… that they could become unsafe on the road.

    We mentioned about restroration … and the manager laughed… with the comment… ya you could start out with one.. invest at least twice the value of the trailer into it and end up with one that cost more in time and labor… than if you went out and got a new one. .. not very practical.. he remarked. His attitude .. their junk.

    When we asked about how much a 30 ft trailer would be valued at for the scrap metal price.. his comment back was… anywhere from 500 to 2000 dollars depending on the market and size.

    Like old cars he went on to say… people bring ’em in and watch us crush ’em… usually they start crying and whimpering … I guess because they have memories of the times they spent with it. However, they lose sight of the fact that its only metal.

    We don’t get involved… were only after the metal values and what it brings in. Normally after we crush it down…we shread the alu pieces into little pieces and then it goes into the furnace to be melted down into blocks on site. The truck arrives and hauls it away to the buyer who then re-melts it into what ever they are making at the foundary. He laughed… it comes in on wheels and goes back out on wheels…

    He gazed looking up.. then chuckled at the next comment… who knows maybe it s recycled into makeing another one of them trailers again. Probably most likely beer or soda cans though.

    When we asked how many he gets in and crushes… he replied… depends on the time of year and all… he said that they are now getting about 3 or 4 a week. As the RV industry is dieing a lot are coming from old dealers who are going bankrupt. Most however are from donation houses looking for what ever money they can get out of them. When asked if they keep track of the years and sizes.. he said … NO… the bigger the more money it will bring in scrap value… that is all we care about. When it gets shreaded and melted everything goes … we don’t care.

    On a final quesiton I asked what was the newest AS they have salvaged. His response was… well we get wrecked new ones in all the time. I think they are 2000 or 8’s but, he added.. those are pretty beat up… rollovers and accident results, insurance buyouts that they want destroyed. As to the newest one that he has seen come in from charities houses.. was a 2007 31 ft. He wanted to buy it for his kids…because nothing was wrong with it… as he said .. not a dent in the thing.. it was showroom perfict…had awnings and even a TV dish… but the boss said no.. and it went to the shreader/furnace just like the others. He said nothing was left.. except for the license plate which they turn back into the DMV showing the trailer was destroyed. When asked how much they got for the alu… he said that they gave the charity house about 2000 dollars for the scrap metal et al.

    ONLY IN AMERICA… huh…

  2. Avatar

    Sean Michael

    GMAs, that is an excellent (albeit disturbing) story. It would be interesting to take a video camera out to that scrapyard to document what’s happening. It’s pretty sad to see icons of American history being turned into aluminum cans. It’s kind of like destroying antique furniture for the wood.

    Recently a beautiful vintage Airstream was stolen in the Seattle area. It is suspected that the thieves intended to scrap it for the aluminum. The owner was heartbroken, as he’d invested many hours and dollars restoring it to pristine condition.

    When we were camping in Las Vegas, Kristy’s bike was stolen. Someone told us that the thief probably just had the bike scrapped for the metal!

  3. Avatar

    GMAs

    What a shame.

    We just got back with the trailer vac up oregon way on a shoot while the wx was still good.

    While toodling down the road… Suddenly the traffic came to a abrupt stop. When we got closer to the accident we noticed a AS trailer in a difficult way. Seems the topic on the CB was that a semi truck passed the rig and the driver of the trailer lost control.. jackknifed and ran half way off the road.

    Wanting to see what happened, we waited in line like the rest. Sure enough when we got close it looked like a 29 or 31 ft excel that was being towed by a new toyota truck. The truck was bent behind the cab in a downward folded position.

    The AS must have come around and clipped the back side of the truck as half of the bed of the truck was inside the front of the AS on the right side.

    We had to stop while they were dragging the thing over to the median.. while stopped the enforcement officer started talking to us about towing and our rig. He was of the opinion that the tow vehicle which crashed … was way to light for the size (massive look) of the trailer. While our 250pu was the right decision according to his finding. Seems he had seen several of the metal trailers in accidents now.

    When asked how it happened.. he said that the seimi passed the truck and trailer and the turblance of the semi must have set the small truck and trailer into a osc. that the driver could not control. Fish tailed and got worse when he tried to stop.. according to the skid marks. (appeares he said that the trailer locked up all 4 wheels)
    We asked if anyone got hurt. He said sadly that the driver of the small truck impacted the steering wheel when the trailer drove the truck off the road into the bank. He died from internal injuries and bleeding before the medics could get their. The wife of the gent was taken to the hospital complaining about neck problems …by the flight life along with her dead husband.

    It was sad to see that this happy outing by the couple was moments later turned into a deadly situation.

    The reasion I post this is because it seems that more and more are looking for that cheap way to tow the trailer. Using a lighter vehicle is NOT what you want.

    We have come across several who will defend the right to go un-american with a tow vehicle that could end up costing not only the rig but life itself.

    I would think a good series of how to tow and what to tow with might be a good resource to be placed on the web. I am sure that AS manufacture might also help in putting one togeather… with what he recommends he wants the trailers pulled with.

    After all like in the junk yard (ops politically correct) the recycle yard … doesn’t matter how it got their.. if it didn’t …have to be… a accident looking for a place to happen.

    (by the way ) we did see a AS with a onan gen set built in…up at the shoot… ran on the propane from the trailer source …tucked in under the back area… looked factory installed…. wonder if AS manufacture is going to offer this as a option soon.

    hey do you have a CB in the truck and trailer or just use the Cell phones? CB is a good way to listen to real time road conditions and traffic by the truckers… might want to also do a clip on the why and how of its use on the road for traffic and caravaning as well as in camp.

    Drive careful out their… the rig you save may be your own.. as they say… that way one won’t see how your trailer was made in exploded view… and how they are built to last in their old age but never made it because of….. .

    … the adventure conteues…

  4. Avatar

    Sean Michael

    GMAs, thanks for sharing that story.

    I just posted a Q&A about tow vehicles today on TheLongLongHoneymoon.com. It’s in my Sidebar Blog.

    I agree that choice of tow vehicle is a SAFETY ISSUE.

    It’s terribly sad when a fun family outing becomes a tragic event. It’s worse when it could be avoided by simply purchasing the right equipment from the outset.

    We’re all trying to cut costs where possible, but we should NEVER compromise safety when doing so.

    I’d rather be driving an older SAFE truck than a new unsafe one.