Project Vintage Thunder

The latest on Project Vintage Thunder, by Airstream Life magazine. Sponsored by George M Sutton RV, Reese hitch, Dometic USA, PPG Paint, Axis Products, GSM Vehicles, and Zip-Dee. Vintage Thunder is an "honest" RV refurbishment and travelogue. We tell you what really happens ...

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Cherry Blossom Rally, Day Three

We have had beautiful sunshine and temperatures in the 60s for our final full day at the rally. I never got off the rally site because there’s been so much action here. Between touring other people’s trailers and giving Vintage Thunder tours, I’ve hardly had a chance to sit down.

This morning, Colin Hyde of GSM Vehicles gave a few of us an impromptu seminar on frame and floor problems, using the 1961 Safari owned by Rick and Mary Dotson as an example. Sadly, their Safari has several symptoms of serious frame problems, including popped rivets throughout the interior, some springy floor sections, and obvious movement of the body independent of the frame (just from people entering and exiting the trailer!) Rick and Mary were not thrilled by the news, but they are already considering doing a “full monty” floor replacement this summer. For all of us, the seminar was very educational.

Mary Dotson also donned her vintage dress and apron, for a quick photo shoot in front of the '61 Safari.

Stuart Natof gave me a tour of his highly customized 1964 Bambi II, which includes ducted A/C, a built-in scotch dispenser and queen bed. Yes, you can make a queen in a Bambi – if you are clever enough.

Later in the day, we had Open House and that kept me hopping. People have generally been impressed by Vintage Thunder and very supportive of the project. Nearly everyone in the Washington DC Unit subscribes to Airstream Life and so they were familiar with the project.

The picture below shows our friend Rob Baker standing in front of his 34 Limited, modeling the blue beret owned by his grandfather. Rob’s kids will be third generation Airstreamers.

With Colin’s help, we spec’d the paint and supplies needed for the final paint job. It is now set for early May, after we complete a few last jobs: welding in two new outriggers, replacing the window seals, fixing a few other minor things which I’ll blog later.

The kids were busy too. A crowd of them moved variously from visiting the horses and goats, to playing ball, to playing in the mud, drawing pictures on Vintage Thunder’s white board, etc.

We also discovered that the Mobile Communications Unit was the “original Skydeck”. With two rooftop walkways and a ladder, it became a handy perch for a number of ladies this afternoon (see picture).

Right now the barbecue is smoking and everyone is congregating near the tent. It’s basically been one large continuous party for the past 48 hours here. Safe to say a good time was had by all. We’ll be sorry to hit the road again tomorrow, but new adventures await Vintage Thunder.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Cherry Blossom Rally, Day Two

I can’t say enough about the crowd that comprises the Washington DC Unit. What fun! And being a largely vintage-owning crowd, they have been full of praise for Project Vintage Thunder.

We’ve had numerous impromptu tours. The official open house hours are Saturday from 1:30 to 4:00 pm, but I think half the attendees have already been through the trailer. Quite a few people ask about the aluminum interior, and surprisingly, how to paint the plastic. The photo album gets a lot of amazed comments, too.

Today has been full. We spent the morning talking and browsing trailers. During this time, Colin pulled out his paint books and we picked out the tentative color for the exterior. I don’t want to reveal our choice just yet. We may change our minds in the next few days. Painting is scheduled for May at this point.

For lunch we went to a great seafood place near Annapolis, then I got a couple of hours work done, and somehow the rest of the afternoon vanished while we were giving Vintage Thunder tours. Before we knew it, it was time for the potluck dinner (blue crabs were a feature) … it’s just one lively endless party with these people.

As I write this, most of the crowd is out at a campfire talking and laughing, while one of the members plays guitar. The kids (and several adults!) are roasting marshmallows. A few splinter groups have broken off around the site, and everybody seems to be having a terrific time. As soon as I get this blog post done, I’m heading back outside! THIS is just one good example of what Airstreaming is all about …

Thursday, April 07, 2005

We made it to the Cherry Blossom Rally!!

Vintage Thunder pulled into the rally site at Rogers’ Farm, Upper
Marlboro, Maryland, this afternoon. What a terrific spot -- close to
Annapolis and Washington DC, but quiet and secluded in the countryside.

A few people took the tour as soon as we arrived, and several others
are coming over tomorrow. The comments are very positive. Colin Hyde
of GSM Vehicles, who will be painting Vintage Thunder later this
spring, pronounced the body “very straight” and was impressed with the
interior renovation. We’ll be picking through paint chips tomorrow
with Colin, to decide what color to paint the exterior.

All afternoon, Airstreams and Argosies kept arriving. About 25 are
here already. A fellow Argosy renovator, Peter Grote, called this
afternoon from New Hampshire to get directions. He’ll be here tomorrow
to discuss renovations. His project started from the exterior inward,
whereas ours started with the interior outward, so we are looking
forward to comparing experiences.

There are some exceptional Airstreams here at the rally. We are parked
between the former NY state “Mobile Command Unit” and an Airstream
Funeral Coach, both owned by one of the WBCCI Washington DC Unit
members. Since neither is actually occupied by anyone, we have nice
quiet neighbors. I’ll post a picture tomorrow from the catwalk of the
Mobile Command Post.

There are also numerous fine vintage trailers here: a 64 Bambi II, a 66
Overlander, a 65 Safari, a Globe Trotter, a 73 Argosy in nearly
original condition, a 59 30-footer, and at least a dozen others. I
think there are almost as many vintage units here as were at the (much
larger) Florida State Rally. The newest trailer is a 2005 International

For those who were wondering, yes, the cherry blossoms are in full
bloom. They are spectacular along the roadways when you spot them, but
there aren’t any at Rogers Farm. Still, I can’t complain about the
scenery here. This is one fine bunch of trailers -- and people.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Wireless Internet Breakthrough!

Last night’s entry was posted today from the parking lot of a Sleep Inn (I backdated it). During our drive today, I pulled off the highway and borrowed some bandwidth from the Sleep Inn’s free wireless Internet. I would not have been driven to such desperate measures, but the previous night I was unable to connect to the Internet via my Verizon phone.

As it turned out, the problem was that I was in an “extended network” area (half a mile from I-95 in Smithfield, VA). In such areas, I can’t connect to the Internet using Verizon’s service – at least, I haven’t found a way yet. And since Verizon doesn’t officially support Apple Macs, their customer service is no help.

That’s why I was so pleased to hear from Airstream this week. They have been testing a new system from Sony and River Park which essentially connects to Sprint’s latest high-speed wireless Internet service (where available) and re-broadcasts the signal as wi-fi inside and near your Airstream.

I tried this system at the RV Industry Association trade show in Louisville, KY last December. It was very impressive, delivering megabit speeds anywhere inside or near their prototype “Airstream One” trailer. And yes, it works with Mac.

The really sweet thing about this system, which may be available as a 2006 option on new Airstreams, is that multiple users can simultaneously access the Internet, sharing the bandwidth. Imagine going to a rally and being a wireless hotspot for yourself and a few of your close friends!

Well, that’s what we are going to do. Airstream called today and offered me a trial of the new system, to be installed in Vintage Thunder in the next two or three weeks. The box is fairly expensive (about $1200) but I can tell you that the performance is equally impressive – at least in Louisville KY.

So future blog entries will include my impressions of this new system as we roam to the Homecoming in late May, the International Rally in June/July, and other events. If it works well, drop by Vintage Thunder with your laptop to check email at a rally. Personally, I can’t wait!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


One of the best things about owning an Airstream is the instant community you join. Everywhere we go, we find people in their Airstreams enjoying life and welcoming us into their homes.

The past two days at Hunting Island State Park in Beaufort, SC, we met a pair of Airstream owners and had nice conversations with them. This afternoon, on the road northward, we met a couple in a rest area who had coincidentally parked right behind us at the Florida State Rally.

Along the way today we stopped in at Don-Mar RV in Spartanburg, SC. Don and Mary are a sweet pair of folks with a terrific collection of new and vintage Airstreams on their lot. I spotted a rare Argosy rear-door model, as well as a row of about twenty Spartan Mansionettes. Don says at one point he owned 500 of them. Plus the lot held quite a few “one off” Airstreams, mostly conversions for commercial purposes.

Of course, no trip up I-95 would be complete without a stop at South of the Border. This place is tacky incarnate. They have cheap camping, but we didn’t want to stop that early, so we grabbed a few marginal burritos and hit the road. By the way, the gas prices at South of the Border are about 20 cents higher than the places just an exit or two down the road.

Tonight we are doing the Wal-Mart thing, since we drove all day and want to hit the road again tomorrow. Boondocking is fine, but Vintage Thunder has only a 10 gallon gray tank and so more than one night can be a problem. Tomorrow we’ll get a traditional campsite (or hit the rally early).

Of course, as soon as we pulled in we spotted an Airstream, so we parked right next to them (a Classic Limited 34). The couple who owns it are from Ontario, and of course this is their fourth Airstream, and of course they subscribe to Airstream Life! I dropped off a copy of the new Spring issue with them, since they won’t be home for a few weeks.