Over the last couple of years, I’ve kept my eyes out for other ’69 Airstreams for sale on eBay and Craig’s List, mainly to see if I could find another trailer that I could buy inexpensively and use for parts. The Safari I’ve had for the past couple of years is gutted except for the bathroom, and so parts like overhead compartments (which might be challenging to build from scratch, especially without a template), original glass windows, and odd pieces of hardware are sometimes hard to come by individually in good condition, or are otherwise prohibitively expensive. Another reason I’ve been looking is the poor state of the chassis / frame of my current trailer. As shared in a recent post, this is one of the most expensive, time-consuming and challenging aspects of renovating the trailer I’d chosen. So I’ve always figured that with enough patience & vigilance, maybe I could find another trailer that had a bunch of these items in decent shape, that wouldn’t cost an arm & a leg.
I’ve traveled up to about 6 hours away from home to look at Airstreams with coveted parts, and I’ve been willing to travel to about twice that – but not much more. One of the things to be considered from a green perspective is that burning a lot of fossil fuel to travel for parts to recycle is a less-desirable approach – think locavore. Anyway, while searching, I’ve had one or two interesting or challenging encounters with sellers in the past. The biggest challenge has often been communication – either getting people to respond with more detailed information in a timely fashion (especially since there are often other interested parties), or sometimes even responding at all. I’ve sometimes resorted to tricks to get sellers to respond – from using multiple e-mail addresses and writing with different “tones of voice,” to having friends write to sellers for me. I didn’t like it, but sometimes that’s just what it took.
Purchasing trailers through an online auction like eBay without seeing them in person is another challenge. I’m very, very far from being a vintage Airstream expert, but I can say from the few experiences I’ve had that the more I’ve seen these trailers in the flesh, the better I am getting at gauging condition and spotting red flags in an auction or for sale listing. This process has helped me to ask the right questions, and to have insights into things that the sellers might not.
So this past couple of weeks, I’d been scouring the online listings again. On eBay last week, a ’69 Airstream Globe Trotter (which is a little smaller than my Safari) caught my eye. It definitely had some desirable parts. Also mostly gutted. I got into it – I ran the numbers on what value the parts had for me, figured out my maximum bid, and put it in about 5 minutes before the auction ended… and I lost. No regrets. But I was left with an eager, excited, vaguely wistful, hungry feeling that another trailer was out there that would help me move this project along, so I kept looking.
But I was surprised, three days later, when it suddenly popped up:
…Well, maybe it had. I needed to go look into it. The short version of the story is that I e-mailed the seller, and when I didn’t get a response after about a full day, I tried using another e-mail address & a simpler approach. Bingo! I got a response. A couple of e-mails back and forth, and I made a phone call. When we spoke over the phone that night, I immediately got a good feeling about the seller. He took his time, answered all of my questions, and was willing to get into as much detail as I needed. As it turned out, he’s a builder who also has a passion for green design / building – another good sign.
The next morning, I left the house early & drove about four hours – and there she was, this 1969 Airstream Tradewind Twin:
All I can say is that the Trade Wind met and exceeded my expectations. Size-wise, it was not so much bigger than my 23′ Safari that I’d notice… except for the presence of a second axle. The interior, as you can see, is in rather good shape. The seller said that he had not had the trailer very long, and hadn’t seen any leaks inside of it, and I believe him, but when I looked under windows and in one or two of the cabinets, there was evidence of some water slowly seeping in. Of course nothing like the holes all the way through to the ground in my current trailer.
I’d always figured that, even if I found a good ‘parts trailer’ that had built-ins, if it was any bigger than the Safari’s footprint, I’d gut the other trailer and put everything into the Safari. I just really like the 23′ size. I’ve known that having a second axle makes the trailer more stable, but I didn’t want to drive anything that felt too big, and I definitely don’t like the idea of paying extra for the additional axle when going through tolls. But now, standing inside this trailer, it dawned on me that I’d be using the Safari for parts instead.
My only real concern was (and is) the title. The seller had a copy of the title, but it had never been signed over; what he had was a bill of sale from the previous owner – which may well be sufficient, but far from my preference when it was certainly possible. So that’d be something for us to investigate & work out. But I told him I didn’t want that to get in the way of progress, and that I’d definitely be buying the trailer, and picking it up in the next week or two. I paid the man in cash and didn’t even try to negotiate for a lower price – very unusual for me – because I really felt that this was a square deal. And I liked the guy too, but I did request that we work on getting that title.
A note on the purchase price: It’s important that I mention that the amount I’d originally set in my mind to spend on an Airstream for this project was about $3,500. I’d gotten that number by asking one of my classmates what she was spending for a trailer bed and raw materials to start building her tiny house on wheels. What I can say now is that, while I have exceeded that number – especially having bought two trailers – I’m not very far off of the mark. I rationalize it by virtue of that fact that at $3,500 you’re not likely to find a 30- to 50-year old Airstream in perfect condition with no missing parts. Understanding that it’s not an uncommon practice to buy a second parts trailer (or else spend the time and money to source often rare, individual vintage parts), I figure that what I’ve done is to have spent at my expected budget (getting the best possible base trailer at my price point), and then saved money by purchasing missing parts in one shot in the form of a second parts trailer. Time that I might have spent in researching individual parts, I will definitely spend during de-construction of the parts trailer, at the very minimum. That’s the trade-off.
And so now, as far as this project (towards earning my sustainable design / build certificate) is concerned, finding & acquiring this trailer is a very welcome and timely surprise. Pending a professional inspection to determine exactly how roadworthy & water-resistant the trailer is, and how well all of the systems & appliances work, now I can focus on systems I plan to install – solar panels & a composting toilet for a start. Back to the drawing board again… but I couldn’t be happier.
Although then again, it’ll be good when I have that title in my hand…