Is it Art … or Trailer Trash?

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April 22, 2008

Airstream RV Blog – Save Airstream Ranch! from Sean Michael on Vimeo.

A fellow down in Florida named Frank Bates has built an eye-catching tribute to the RV lifestyle. He calls the display “Airstream Ranch,” and it’s causing no small measure of controversy. In fact, this is one RV story that could reach the Supreme Court.

Inspired by Texas’s famous Cadillac Ranch, the display consists of eight travel trailers partially buried in the ground (one trailer for every decade Airstream has been in business). The display is located alongside Interstate 4 in Florida. Its creator just happens to own an RV dealership on some adjacent property.

A few local residents have complained about Airstream Ranch. They petitioned the county government for its removal. These residents claim that Airstream Ranch is an eyesore, and little more than a promotion for Bates’s RV dealership. In short, they think it’s just trailer trash, and the bureaucrats have agreed. So this begs the question: is Airstream Ranch art, or is it just trailer trash?

After viewing Airstream Ranch, I’m saying that it’s art. It looks like Wally Byam and Stanley Kubrick got together to have a little fun. It brings some kitschy entertainment to an otherwise unremarkable (sorry, folks) stretch of interstate highway. It should be allowed to stand.

Is Airstream Ranch a promotion for Bates’s RV dealership? To the man’s credit, there’s absolutely no signage on Airstream Ranch. He could’ve erected a huge, screaming neon billboard on the property (not unlike South Dakota’s Wall Drug and many other roadside attractions). Instead the trailers stand alone, unadorned, like sentinels from campgrounds past.

Sure, it’s located on property adjacent to Bates’s RV dealership. But it’s also located next to a massive campground, and near some other dealerships. Without signage, the display is artistically ambiguous. It provokes emotion.

Bates has been ordered by the county government to remove Airstream Ranch. But he’s enlisted the services of renowned constitutional attorney Luke Lirot. This battle will be waged in court, and some say it could reach the highest court in the land. At issue are First Amendment rights like freedom of speech and expression.

I really like Airstream Ranch. Granted, a few vintage travel trailers were sacrificed for the sake of art. But viewing this sort of folk art is what great American road trips are all about. If it’s allowed to stand, Airstream Ranch could become a pilgrimage of sorts for RV owners and road trippers from around the continent.

But what do YOU think? Is Airstream Ranch art? Or is it just trailer trash?

My wife and I honeymooned in our RV! For more videos like this one, check out our website:

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  3. Chris, last I heard, Bates is sstill paying his monthly fine to the county, and Airstream Ranch is still standing. I think Bates views the fine as cheap advertising, lol 😉

  4. Definitely art, I’d say.

    And just like all good art, it stirs controversy!

  5. Ironically, a few weeks ago some local gang members sprayed some graffiti on Airstream Ranch! So now it’s even more like Cadillac Ranch… 😉

    Thanks Julie for your comment, we will try to keep ’em coming…

  6. Julie

    I haven’t seen it in person but if there is a way to make zoning allowance for it, I think it should stay. However, part of the appeal of Cadillac Ranch, which I have seen, is that the cars are covered in graffiti, which gives it more of an air of art. I agree with Bruce if they would just add to it instead of just having a bunch of old trailers with peeling paint sticking up out of weeds…that doesn’t quite seem such a statement.

    Thanks for the great stories! Keep them coming!

  7. Tye


  8. Donna, I don’t really have a picture — ironically I was too busy shooting video to snap photos! But I’m sure if you search the Internet, you can find one in short order. In fact, here’s a link:

    Bates told me that his one regret is the way he positioned the trailers vis-a-vis the setting sun. Some of the trailers were damaged in prior accidents. Bates positioned the display so that the “good” (undamaged) side of each trailer is facing the highway. Unfortunately, due to the way the sun sets there, most photogs want to snap pics from the opposite side. So the display ends up looking a little worse in these photos.

  9. Donna Kutz

    Does anyone have a picture of the Airstream Ranch? If so please post it!

  10. Elliot

    My wife and I drove by the Airstream Park while returning from FL and found it fasinating. We see crosses everywhere remembering folks who died on the highway. Why not Airstreams? It was so intriguing we went online to look up the local Airstream RV ad and were facinated. KEEP IT! It’s ART! Definately better that some of the “entertainment” billboards we’ve seen. Reminds me of the Whales Tail sticking out of the ground up in VT.

  11. I agree that some landscaping would be welcome. The display could also benefit from some dramatic landscape lighting; ironically, it’s so dark you can’t really see it at night.

  12. If the owner would put some type of landscaping or other decorations around the display, it may help. In it’s current form, it is not attractive.

  13. Robert Mahon, P. E.

    I’ll not comment on the value of the “Art” but will say we have enough government intrusion as it is.

    If this display is on the man’s property, as long as it poses no safety hazard to others, I believe he has the privelege to use it as he sees fit.

    Personally, if it goes to a higher Court, I hope he wins. Then, after the point is made, if he wishes to remove it, fine with me.

  14. Walti

    This is as much a work of art as Cadillac Ranch. Of course that isn’t saying much…

  15. Bates is a native Texan himself, and he acknowledges being inspired by Cadillac Ranch. As for the donor Airstreams, they were in bad shape to begin with…each was pretty much damaged beyond repair or restoration. If they weren’t used in this fashion, they probably would have been scrapped.

  16. ted

    Here in south florida we have “art” required for public display on some developments. much of this is worse than the airstreams so i feel by modern fl standards it is clearly ART


  17. David

    Declare plagerism! Ok, just kidding. However, he’s hardly original since there is the Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo, TX. In my opinion, it’s crude at best, but I guess it must be considered art.

    On the other hand, that display has got to be giving Airstream and Airstream owners fits! You have eight classic travel trailers that have people clamoring to buy and restore now rusting, stuck nose first into the ground to rot away over the coming years. This is hardly respectful of the brand. Add to this the fact that Florida’s soil is soft, the air damp and the overall environment salty and these eight Airstreams won’t last long enough to even earn a place on

    What will be, will be. But for me, pull them back out and give them to someone who wants them. Don’t waste history this way.

  18. Wink

    As has been said there is a lot worse things along our High ways down here.And how bout the junk yards with a wreck on top of there sign or building.And I can think of some trailer parks that people live in that look worse.Nothing wrong with living in a trailer just when you got a yard full of junk cars and boats and what have you.It sounds like they need to find code enforcement a real job.Or is it that he did not pay the county enough
    to advertise his business?If you want to live in a lody da gated community home fine But don`t build it next to a good old boys house that lived here all his life and try and tell him he can`t park his boat and four wheel drive in the yard because it hurts your property values.Thats why we live out where we do it is cheap land and low taxes or was any way and we like it that way.
    If Frank want`s to grow trailers fine.Code enforcement would do better to be out looking for weed farms and crack houses and believe me there is a lot more of them here than trailer farms here.


  19. Lynne

    I agree with Sean. I would much rather see displays such as this rather than signs about the “adult” establishments which line many X-ways. If no one objects to that kind of advertising then why would they attack this? The R/V “art” doesn’t suggest anything undesirable to children and is just one man’s idea of lightheartedness.

  20. Both sides here can present compelling arguments, which is what makes the case a fascinating one. If you drive along the Florida interstate, you’ll see all sorts of public displays, including advertisements for establishments of **ahem** questionable merit. And then there’s Wall Drug, which blankets the South Dakota landscape with approximately 234 billboards per square acre. 😉 By comparison, Airstream Ranch (which lacks any signage) seems pretty innocuous to me. But I certainly respect differing opinions!

  21. I recently drove past the “Airstream Ranch” and my immediate thought was that it was not art but an illegal junkyard. I believe in freedom of speech and expression but also believe that local zoning laws need to be complied with for the sake of everyone else. If it meets regulations, let it stay. One man’s trash etc.