Culture on the Skids – Trailer Parks and Airstreams

| October 2, 2008

Trailer parks and Airstream trailers

I’ve lived in trailer parks, and I’ve lived in trailers and mobile homes. Shelter is shelter. Somewhere along the way the whole trailer park thing earned a bad wrap. Maybe it was their slow decent into the down-and-out subculture. Or maybe it was their tendency to show up in places they shouldn’t be, like tornado alley and hurricane hotspots. I don’t flinch whenever anyone says something derogatory about trailers and parks because I’ve been there and done that. What they are isn’t what they once were.

Where I grew up, trailer parks and mobile home parks were everywhere. It’s the Valley way. Snowbirds, now the PC term is “Winter Texans”, had huge trailer parks where they flew their US Marines flags, their state flags and other manners of yard art and whirly bird decorations, spiked in the ground for the duration like so many Northerners reclaiming their piece of the South. Anything but carpet baggers, they came by the hundred thousands bringing union retirement money to flush the Rio Grande Valley economy, and create a local dependence that exists to this day. If you were a Valleyite, you would in all probability live near, between or next to a trailer park that was a ghost town for nine months and an Anglo Saxon enclave for three months out of the year. Such was the case with my grandparents place. Their fence backed up against an old, well established trailer park that always existed in my memory and is still there to this day. To the south of the trailer park is Harlan Block Park named after Weslaco’s most famous WWII veteran, who was one of the GI’s raising the flag at Iwo Jima. Block was killed in action only a few days after that image was made.

For awhile, my Grandpa had a trailer in back and when I was staying there working in his auto parts store, sometimes on weekends in the summers, I would live in the trailer – sleeping like a growing boy and then a teen who needed his sleep, and grew, six inches in one year with the help of Grandma’s vitamin regimen (it’s true, and we had the marks on the wall to prove it!).

My parents, for a time, lived in a mobile home park in another nearby town – one filled year-around with locals – not snowbirds. It was the 70’s, and teacher pay, and professor pay, and starting a new life together, all added up to starting with “shelter” and working up from there. It wasn’t so bad back then.

Earlier years, traveling west, revealed my Grandfather’s admiration for Airstream Trailers. We would be driving, and he would say “Look at that Airstream! They’re perfectly balanced. Aluminum. Riveted. They don’t rust and you don’t have to paint them.” He said it again, and again. If he could’ve gotten permission from Grandma, there is still no doubt in my mind he would have had one. There may have been other factors, incomprehensible to a four-year-old, but Grandma’s approval was equal to the president’s signature – or veto.

Thus it was that I had a little knowledge about Airstreams, and a desire much later, to see that I could have the Airstream Dream Grandpa missed out on. I don’t think he thought he missed out, but I knew he would approve. Grandpa also had a habit of getting me into projects, like fiberglassing boats at twelve-years-old, that were daunting. When a 1970 Safari 23′ came along through a friend, we went down to look at it, and immediately fell in love with the dream.


Having a 1970 Airstream, is like having a muscle car from that era that is run down, but fully depreciated, and a valuable diamond desperately in need of cutting. Airstreams are a classic case of “one thing leads to another”, a situation where if you uncover a problem, it uncovers another problem. Now, the Safari sits waiting patiently. It is completely gutted, and awaiting what is called a “Full Monte”. The “Full Monte” is a repair maneuver where (due to the Airstream’s monocoque design) you separate the twinkie part of the trailer from the frame and base of the trailer. The twinkie is suspended while the deck covered frame and running gear are rolled out and restored. Then, after a new axle with new brakes and braking system, restoring or replacing any of the parts of the frame, complete replacement of the deck, you roll the new base back under and bolt it down. It’s nothing less than a ground up restoration. Our Airstream will be a Safari 23′ on the outside, and whatever we want on the inside. The most modern conveniences, or none. A built in fly tying area, or none. State of the art built-in Bose sound system, oh yes. Ground effects lighting, oh yes. The sky is the limit, but weight is the enemy. That’s it. It will be modern though – a complete stripping off of the vinylclad from the inside skins will update the interior to a brushed aluminum look. I’ve logged weeks with those walls, and chemicals that are probably illegal in third-world countries. So far it is my ultimate technical challenge – aluminum, rivets, demolition, plumbing, electrical, suspension, brakes, virtually all avocations are encountered in this project.

So the Safari has been sitting for awhile. Thank goodness for not being in a homeowners association. It has a little grass growing around it. Hey, it is hot nine months a year around here and there’s no A/C. I don’t need official harassment anyway – the family takes care of that. It all rolls off me anyway. I know it will be the ultimate escape pod – a beach house, mountain home and base of all fly operations no matter where it stops. Where we stop is where we stay. The coolness factor is vivid in my mind, and the cherry on top will be a dry fly etched on the outside skin – somewhere. Sure, we don’t have a tow vehicle, but I’m thinking that by the time it’s ready, they will be giving away one-ton Dodge diesels. Fall is here though, so it’s time to get to work again. Aluminum – the stuff that dreams are made of.

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Category: Adventure, Culture on the Skids, Life Observed

About the Author () is where to find my other day job. I write and photograph fish stories professionally, and for free here! Journalist by training. This site is for telling true fishing news stories, unless otherwise noted.

Comments (3)

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  1. Cindy says:

    Do RVs count in this category at all? practically all of my family’s vacations were cross country RV trips in RVs my dad would buy cheap, fix up, and then sell to pay off the vacation. Good times. I see you added weather and moon cycles to the page.

  2. shannon says:

    I am thinking Coors Lite in the silver can?

  3. Joel Hays says:

    Lemme know whenever you need cheap, unskilled labor. Will work for beer. Come to think of it – what does one serve with an Airstream redo? It’s got to be an old-school brand with a quirky little twist. Maybe original Pearl (if you can find it) ICE COLD!

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