The Airstream is a gas

A recent editorial blog entry described in vivid detail the return home, after months on the road, to discover cute, fuzzy members of the animal kingdom taking residence in a Tucson house and backyard.  No doubt attempting to qualify for the first-time home buyer tax credit, or the all-you-can-eat D-Con buffet.  

Our situation became the mirror opposite.  The old trailer had sat in repose, behind a corn crib and shaded by a silver maple, stoically awaiting our return from four months of summer cabin life.  

The initial entry into the Excella was a buzz; literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of yellow jackets welcomed me back, with gusto.  Enduring three stings, above the left eye, now swollen shut, the next trip is not to the ER, not to the pharmacy for a fresh Epi-Pen, but to the local hardware store.


Josh, the owner’s son, extends a polite welcome, “yo, one eye, you looking for plumbers putty to stop those tears ?”.

“No, you little…(rhymes with twit), direct me to the Auschwitz for Airstream aisle.”

“Pronto, Tonto”, he replied.

An hour later, in beekeeper garb, I re-enter to set off two bombs of….drum roll….The Fumigator.


In 24 hours the crisis is over.  I’ve got that macho Schwarzenegger swagger, somewhere between the governator and the terminator, as the toxic slime has rendered the foreign invaders deep-sixed or staggering like drunken sailors.  

Now here’s a tip, a Phred Sez, or hint from Heloise; close your roof exhaust vent completely before departing on an extended leave. The yellow jackets had created a paper pulp nest, the size of a Little League catcher’s mitt, between the roof opening and the screen.  It took less than an hour to hand vacuum and fill a bag with the deceased critters.  Death to the invaders.

One week later it is time to winterize the unit and prepare the barn for winter trailer storage. 

dscn3636.JPGSince 1881, home to creatures great and small

All too familiar with raccoons, possums, and groundhogs as frequent guests, I discover we have new friends, the homeliest and unloved of mammals, frequent fliers, especially at night, yes, bats.  Guano evidence everywhere. 



They are really not too bad, as they devour their weight in mosquitoes and gnats.  However, this results in many bat bowel movements, which are a mixture of both urine and excrement, and when dried, resemble dark brown wild rice. The bottom line is this, we must learn to live and die with nature.  

And let’s dispense with the jive whining about a couple of mice and and a few furry prairie dogs.  Get over it.

Tonight for dinner, Lynn announces, pork stir-fry on a bed of (eek !) rice pilaf.      

Dilemma in Aluminum

Vintage pain without its counterpart, suffering, has engulfed us in the last month.  An elderly couple  living nearby on our remote stretch of beach, both  readers of Airstream Life, offered to sell us their vintage 1985, 30′ Avion because they were aware of my fascination for old aluminum.  In 1990 they had purchased the unit from the original owner, a Sturgis, MI dentist, and used it routinely for nearly twenty years ownership.

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They traveled frequently to winters in Florida and summers on the art show circuit (her, an accomplished artisan), but advancing age and two hip replacements for him prompted them to park it in 2004.    At an embarrassingly low offered price, I agreed to a “mercy” purchase after the five year hibernation and the unseen problems sure to arise like earthworms in a bait can, rather than see it end up on the lot of an enterprising (translation: greedy) dealer.p>So what is the problem ?  

That is it, there are none.

The trailer is absolutely original with the flocked mirrors, plush velour valances, removable sculpted deep pile carpet over linoleum flooring, mid-1980s matching upholstery, drapes and bedspreads (imagine the muted gaiety of a French whorehouse), all unmolested and in perfect condition.  The bolster behind the sofa, a base for pillows during the open bed position, is still wrapped in the factory plastic covering.


No smoking, no pets, no grandchildren to booger the interior, no dents, no hail damage, no bruises, pure anodized aluminum pewterizing with age.  The rich soft texture of the solid cherry cabinetry (not veneered) remains a virgin, never assaulted by an accessory crazed owner with a DeWalt power drill in his holster.


The first two weeks were spent evaluating every mechanical component, disassembling the interior/exterior where necessary, cleaning, making the few minor repairs when needed…..major fun.dscn3563.JPG

Now for the hard part.


Side by side to an Airstream of comparable vintage, the Avion is clearly superior; build quality, cabinetry, insulation, and suspension.  The superb quality downside, if there is one, results in a heavier unit.  Now. before the loyalists unload their quivers and begin the assault on the messenger, please be aware that since 1998 we have owned a 1986, 34′ Excella, lived in it for seven winters and towed it coast-to-coast, US and Canada, for more than 30,000 miles, so I should be able to provide an objective evaluation.    

The differences are subtle, not profound.  Most of the mechanical components are identical or similar, i.e., Atwood water heater, Suburban gas furnace, Dometic refrigerator, Magic Chef range, Amana microwave, Everpure filter, Thetford crapper, Shurflo water pump, ZipDees all around, Delta single handle faucets.

The entry assist handle at the door is much more substantial on the A/S, but the Avion outer and screen doors are a better fit, more durable, much easier to lock and unlock.  The A/S interior is brighter (more contemporary fabric design) and the larger window area allows more natural light. even without vista-view overheads.  In contrast, the Hehr jalousie style windows in the Avion provide more air circulation and are much easier to operate with fewer skinned knuckles and “aw s#its”. Storage space is not equal; the Avion ‘basement cubbyholes’ and  less severe airline style overhead bins make the A/S a clear loser by a landslide. Our Excella, however, does have the dinette which we find very useful, but at the same time, curtails the ‘pantry’ and aisle space.

With limited experience of < 100 miles, towing feels the same, weight is almost equal, and it will take me some time to evaluate the Avion’s Adjust-A-Ride independent suspension at each wheel with two split axles vs. the solid triple axle of the A/S. First impression: I like the former and I sense that there is less torque and stress to the coachwork and the interior components.

In the Avion, the exquisitely machine dovetailed drawers (solid poplar secondary wood) with the highest quality Accuride ball bearing slides, the overhead door double strut supports, all perform like they did when they left the Benton Harbor, MI, factory in October 1984.  Despite an appropriate standard of care applied to our Airstream, the cabinets, the hardware, the build quality in general is inferior and in danger of loosening from the walls; doors and drawers must be bungeed for travel, eventually doomed for an inexorable slide toward GSM or Timeless Travel or Jackson Center for re-engineering.

Minor issues; porcelain sinks in the Avion trump the plastic and stainless steel of the A/S, the standard rectangular twin beds a nice plus vs. the A/S “three squares and a rainbow” shape bed with the chronically ill fitting sheets.dscn3597.JPG

Avion features like the double medicine cabinet and nearly full size bathtub represent a + along with a 65 gallon freshwater reserve tank for extended boondocking. A looming Avion negative, the absence of a nightstand between the beds…where do you put your coffee in the morning, the Heineken at night, your latest read, your glasses, the K-Y Jelly ?  

There is no moral to this story.  I’m not comparing an apple to an orange.  These are the same fruits…list price for the Avion when new, a princely sum indeed, $ 26,593, the Airstream at a whopping $32,109 { $53,307 vs $64,365 in 2009 dollars}; both GVWRs ~ 8550 lbs.  Both top of the market in the mid-80s.  The future is unclear, but if forced to choose one over the other….well, perhaps the readers can help me decide.  We don’t need two trailers, a his and hers, unless my wife suggests we open a “Shady Dell North” on the Indiana farm.  

There is no doubt that the Airstream brand is powerful, iconic, durable and has survived despite the volatile and cyclic history of the RV marketplace, whereas, Avion, like hundreds of other manufacturers, did not.  This is not an excuse for the Avion demise, as I recall there were far fewer Duesenbergs built (<1200) than Yugos, and you can still buy a Yugo today.

Pause for a moment to reflect; what i
f the Airstream company had, like Avion, been engulfed in the tentacles of Fleetwood (now defunct and entering bankruptcy protection as of March, 2009) and the Avion brand had instead been secured by the better managed, cash-rich Thor Industries?

It might be that your next trip to the mailbox would be for the highly anticipated fall issue of Avion Life.  dscn3572.JPG

“Choose your pleasures seriously”

…… a quote by the renowned furniture designer of the twentieth century, Charles Eames, provides the entry into today’s subject, PINCHING.

Before you elect not to read on, be assured, this will not be a vulgar essay  on inappropriate behavior.  Yes, yes, one can almost hear the gag reflex as Sylvia shouts the length of her modular, “ohmigawd, Stanley, the pervert is spewing more of his R-rated trash”.

No, please turn your attention to the photo below:  Pinch PointLong a fan of the unusual sign, this was a first.  Taken at the dock landing for the Neebish Islander, a ferry serving a few hundred residents across the western span of water less than 500 feet, it is located in Barbeau Township, Chippewa County, twenty miles south of Sault Ste. Marie, Mi.Neebish Islander

The channel provides passage for the Great Lakes freighter traffic from Lake Superior to Lake Huron on the scenic St. Mary’s River.  So narrow, that northbound ships travel up the east side of the island, also less than 500 feet wide separating Canada (St Joseph Island) and the U.S.A.  You might feel genuine concern about the porosity of our border, and the ease this most vulnerable position would be for the transfer of illegal drugs and/or aliens, but a minor presence of Customs Service and Border Patrol agents reduces most smuggling activity to cigarettes headed for Ontario in canoes and kayaks (where provincial taxes make them $ 7 to $ 8.50 per pack).

 The presence of the sign was precipitated by the following:The Joseph L. Blockso close you can wave to the crew:The stern, Joseph Block, Indiana Harbor  who, according to Wikipedia:on October 12th, 1990; the Joseph L. Block grounded in the St. Marys River (Neebish Channel) causing bottom shell plating damage by the #’s 1, 2, and 3 port ballast tanks including a hull puncture. The carrier proceeded in ballast to Fraser Shipyards, Superior, WI for repairs.

 The ship has always been a favorite of this writer.  Having been born in Indiana Harbor, I was an employee (read : grunt laborer) at Inland Steel during a college summer, 1958, at $ 2.25/hour.  The President and CEO then was one Joseph Leopold Block, salaried at $225,000/year.  We never saw him anywhere near the blast furnaces, ample cause for me to consider a different career.

Understand then, why I take serious pleasure watching 778 feet of Joseph L. Block, carrying 30,000 tons of taconite ore lazily through the Neebish Channel on a warm August day.