Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Seller be square before the buyer drives there

Whirl wind adventure is what they call it. A 656 mile round trip, adventure of zero return is how I see it. Yesterday I left my house at about 4 am equipped with everything I might need to recover a trailer. The trailer was in Pittsburgh and I am in Baltimore. I didn't want to waste such a long drive out, so I made certain I was prepared for everything. The trailer was listed on Craig's List and there were others interested in her, time was crucial. The Seller had said in his ad that it was a 60's or 70's trailer and it was hard to tell in the four blurry photos what year it was exactly. I did know however, she was right in my sweet spot of the Airstream eras, 1958- 1962. After a few phone calls with the seller we found it to be 1958 double bed unit built in Ohio. Another big plus in my book, for I have a special spot in my heart for Ohio built trailers. I asked the seller three separate times if there were any major dents, and all three times I was told no, only a very minor one in the back that could easily be pushed out. So I blasted out there pushing my truck down the Pennsylvania Turnpike at 80 mph.

As soon as I saw the trailer, I could feel something was not right. From 50 feet away, I could see that behind the door the entire skin was rippled like the surface of the ocean. The door had either blown open twenty seven times on the highway, or someone had forgotten to close the door and a wind storm had beat it against the side over and over. It does not show up too well due to all the tree fungus and mold growing on her, but in real life it was bad.

Maybe in this photo you can see how well the door nestles into the side of the trailer. When closed, I could almost slide my hand thru the gap in the top. So that is three very long horizontal panels to be replaced, at least one bent rib there, and a door that needs to be re shaped to fit. We step inside and it was as if a tear gas bomb had been set off. Mouse urine must be flowing in rivers inside of her, or maybe it was the rain leaking in from literally every window. But the interior was so perfect. Not one thing on the inside had been molested. Every square inch was in pristine condition. The zolatone was a very dramatic speckle of greens and grey tones. The room dividers were in perfect condition and matched the zolatone exactly. All the cabinets opened and closed then latched. It was all there and so was that eye searing mouse urine. I got out the flash light and an ice pick and started to investigate how the floor was. Lets just say the ice pick was not needed. Every spot I could see plywood, it was black and rotting. Even the patch by the door, was beginning to rot. With in moments, I knew that the entire floor back to front needed to be replaced. I needed some air kind of bad, for the urine was starting to constrict my throat. I remembered the small, easily fixable, dent in the rear. I suggested we go check it out. Before we got to the back, the seller said "I didn't do that... I didn't push it with a back hoe..."

"GOD DAMN, YOU ARE KIDDING ME!!!!!"... "You said this is the only minor easily fixable dent" I could not get back far enough to shot the entire rear, but that crease went all the way across. It was actually two stabs of a back hoe and resulted in six separate tears thru the skin. Three more skin panels and a minimum of six ribs to be repaired there. Suddenly I heard voices in my head. I started hearing a Vintage Airstream Podcast from a year ago, and it was looping in my head... Rob Baker was saying "sometimes you just have to be smart enough to was walk away" Tim Shepard was saying " I drove to Texas and had to walk away" and Colin was saying "Literally " It was looping around like a Philip Glass/ Brian Eno melody... "WALK, WALK, WALK, WALK, away... walk, walk, walk, walk, away" I told the seller, "Sorry, Butch, I have to pass, I am buying this for my client and he will not be happy if I tell him that I will need to not only replace the floor, but also a quarter of the exterior panels." He was not pleased.

So back on the highway I got, empty handed, cash still in my pocket. Trying my best to enjoy the sites, even though it was now pouring rain. Next stop was Thurmont Maryland to look at a 1972 Overlander being auctioned on Ebay.

Her skin was perfect. No dents, no scratches, not even clear coat issues.

But when I opened the door, I saw the pergo floor and knew right away that someone was hiding something. Upon opening cabinets and looking in and under I could clearly see the floor rot. Strike one. I wanted to see how the latches and tambour doors worked and quickly realized that everything was made of plastic. In 1972 plastic must have been a new technology for Airstream, for it was as brittle as chalk. I stopped looking out of fear of breaking something. Strike two.

Another new technology must have been thermo pane windows. A few has nice beads of condensation in them and one even had ferns growing between the glass. Was that a terrarium an option or a standard feature? Once again I heard a voice, but this time it was Kenny Rodgers and he was playing his guitar.... 'you gotta know when to hold, know when to fold em...."


  1. Major bummer. I wish it had turned out better.


  2. That sucks, especially with the '58. You know my sweet spot lies with those early years also. But you also know when to walk and that knowledge is most valuable in the long run.

  3. Frank you show great restraint. We all know walking away is not easy, but you made the right choice. This Spring the web will be loaded with ole trailers that need lovin. People will be selling everything not tied down to make cash. Hopefully we won't have too!

  4. Dear Mr. Works,

    I'm not too sure you're as informed about the 70s models as you need to be sir.

    Clearly this '72 was originally owned by an aficionado of the culinary arts. The rare "James Beard Edition" did in fact offer terrariums as an option. What I see in your picture are actually threads of Saffron which are quite desireable, not some inedible ferns. I'll even wager a gentleman's bet that the original owner also opted for the black truffles option as well, which were usually very cleverly hidden under Pergo-type flooring due to their extreme rarity and high price. I'm afraid you may have actually let a diamond-in-the-rough slip through your fingers.

    As to the mouse urine trailer, however, you probably made the right call. ;^ )


  5. I have learned from using craigslist that virtually all sellers are ignorant or intentionally misleading, so whenever I go to see anything listed, regardless what the seller has told me, I go with the knowledge that it will be much worse than the description and I expect that I will be lied to. That way I am sometimes pleasantly suprised, but never disappointed.
    It can be hard to walk away sometimes, still.

  6. I have now walked away twice after lengthy drives. I'll continue to look for trailers that are closer to home. I know Frank will continue to look as well.

  7. I wish I were as smart as you were to walk away. I , too, drove a few hours for a cute '64 Northwest Coach "Little Dipper" 12' Travel Trailer and found not only mice droppings and urine, but a huge beehive that engulfed the entire front, overhead cabinets. All of the "residents" had long since vacated the trailer but what a mess! I took it anyway, since it was cheap...($200 as is and then my wife found over $50 in coins stashed under the bed, so really, only $150.)
    We've attemped to clean the interior a few times and got a lot of it out but that smell is awful. I'm not sure what to do with it. If I advertise to sell it, I have to disclose the odor and possible Hanta Virus risk. The wife won't go in it anymore. Is there a way to clean it and still use it?

  8. the smell is trapped in the wood and the insulation. You need to remove as much of that as possible. The wood can be sprayed with a pet odor remover that uses enzymes to break down the odors. The insulation should just be discarded and replaced with new. You can use the panels you remove to make templates for new ones and then you can make panels with some nice quality veneer. Could you email me some photos. My email is above.