Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Claytons Update

Well there really isn't much to update.

I continue to fix leaks as they pop up - set your expectations for this, it's an endless task.

Here are a couple of recent pics of the Tradewind in the back yard.

It was definitely worth all the effort.  It's a great working environment and provides a comfortable stay for guests.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stage 1 Renovation Complete

Well, we've reached a pretty big milestone.  The Interior renovations are largely complete.
I think it's looking pretty good.

Here are some of the highlights...
Completely updated layout
240v throughout for power - including uninterruptible power supply (we get a lot of trees falling over power lines up here in the hills).
12v lighting including LED strip lights recessed behind a panel in the ceiling.
Bamboo floor
Bar fridge
All new upholstery
2-pak high gloss desk
(Replica) Eames soft cushion executive chair.
Dinette that converts into a kids bed
Couch that converts into a double bed (retained and modified from original)

It's all a pretty big change from the original...

Let me know in the comments what you think or if there is any particular aspect you'd like to know more about.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Design: Floorplans

It's been quite a while since the last post... and it isn't because nothing has been happening.  Quite the opposite in fact.

We moved down to Federal, shifted our business, enrolled our daughter in a new school, renovated a kitchen in the house and had 15 people camp at our place over the new year.

...oh, and we renovated the Airstream.

It is very close to complete but I'm not going to post pictures just yet. We need to go back a couple of steps and fill in a few gaps.  So, this one is about how we settled on a floor plan.

This is the original 1974 Tradewind floorplan...

Starting from the left, you can see the bathroom.  Moving clockwise around we had a full height wardrobe, then a countertop with some cupboards below and tambour (rolltop) cabinets above.  Then about "midship" you can see the stovetop and double sink. At the front (far right on the plan) you can see the "Goucho" couch.  There is a little shelf just to the right of the doorway and then to the left of the doorway, you can see the refrigerator and pantry cupboard.  The long thing to the left of that is a couch that pulled out into a double bed.

It's astonishing that they fitted it all in there.  It is basically a full self-contained accommodation unit.

As previously stated, we don't need any of the kitchen or bathroom facilities and we need much less storage than was available in the original Tradewind layout.

Cutting to the chase...
This is the floorplan that we arrived at...

We put a diner style table (dinette) at the rear where the bathroom was (left on the plan above).  This has a table top that drops down to create a small double bed when you rearrange the back cushions. Then there is some storage for guitars and filing in a narrow cupboard that runs all the way up to the ceiling.  That cupboard also hides part of the wheel arch and creates a very deliberate spacial divide between the dinette area and the rest of the trailer.

We moved the couch over to the other side to take advantage of the views across the valley out the front door and window on the door-side.  The couch also faces the design wall on the other side.  The idea is that this is a place for clients or collaborators (or me) to sit and be able to see / access the design wall (where design ideas and workings will be posted).  The couch will also have armrests built large enough to accommodate a drink, dinner plate or laptop.  We are reusing the original couch which pulls out into a bed so the trailer can be used by guest when they stay.

Moving clockwise around, there is a small space for a music keyboard or a guitar and then the main desk is at the front end of the trailer.  It is about 2400mm wide and 800mm deep - quite large.  It needs to accommodate studio monitors and two mixing desks as well as providing space for sketching etc.

Around past the door is the design wall and a bookshelf underneath.  The bookshelf only sits about 500mm high and was kinda necessary to cover part of the wheel arch on that side.  It also provides another surface to place designs in progress as they go up on the wall etc.

Next to that - before we get back around to the dinette - is a reproduction of the counter from the other side in the original plans.  It is designed to act as a tea / coffee and cocktails station.  The cupboard underneath is large enough to take a bar fridge.

And that's it.  It is much more open and fit for our purpose but it still has some shape to it and a deliberate set of distinct spaces - the overhead cabinets will go back in and help to reinforce this spacial segmentation.  I've seen shots of Airstreams with completely open workspaces inside and they look soulless to me.  There is some charm in the cosiness suggested by little dividing walls and overhead cabinets.

Before deciding on this final floorplan, we went through a number of iterations.  I used a user interface design tool (Balsamiq Mockups) to mock these floorplans up.  Once I had a few elements in place, I printed it out and cut the pieces apart. This allowed us to move things around very quickly and try out different configurations.  I highly recommend getting things onto paper.  Computer tools are great but you need to get tactile with it and push things around.  Nothing else allows you to come up with 5 crazy and improbable layouts in 5 minutes.

This is what the paper cutouts looked like...

Here are some of the other layouts that almost made the grade...


Friday, October 14, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Design: Research - Prepare Personas

In the last post I spoke about bringing an Experience Design approach to the renovation of the Airstream.

In this early - Research - stage, it is very crucial to know who we are designing for.  One of the common mistakes that designers and engineers make is designing for themselves.  Another mistake is designing for everybody and yet nobody specifically.  This happens all the time in large organisations with unnecessarily overbearing or inappropriately directed stakeholder governance (oversight).  In layman's terms, this latter issue results in "design by committee".

Personas aim to obviate both these issues by focussing the designers / engineers / (or in my case) cabinet maker on the specific individuals who will be using the resultant product.

This is where it gets a little recursive because I am the main user and I am the designer - so there is absolutely a conflict.  I am very rarely designing products for myself so personas help me maintain objectivity.  You might think that writing a persona for myself is unnecessary in this case and you may be right but bear with me because I think it will be valuable in a couple of ways:
1.  It helps me be very deliberate and objective about my goals, needs and motivations,
2.  It may be helpful when briefing in contractors,
3.  It is important for you - the audience - to understand my goals etc. so that the subsequent design activities have context and can be evaluated for validity,
4.  It might help other UX designers (or trailer renovators) understand these methods better,

In describing how these things work, I'm going to draw heavily on Alan Cooper's work with personas.  He was instrumental in bringing them into modern design practice.

What are personas?
- Personas are represented as individuals - even though they usually stand for groups of users,

- Personas are based on research,
- Personas capture motivations and goals - critical as goals drive behaviour which drives tasks which are supported by features,
- Personas are distinct because they have different motivations (not just because they have different roles),

- Personas are the basis of the design - every feature / function can be viewed in the context of a persona,
- Personas are rich and tell an engaging story about somebody who will use the design.

Considering the design of our Airstream, these are the three distinct personas:
Primary Persona: Matt Morphett - User Experience Designer and Film & TV Composer
Secondary Persona: Ghita Fiorelli - Film & TV Editor and Business Administrator
Tertiary Persona: Randall Journeyman - Writer and guest staying in the Airstream for a few days

In the interests of time, I've drawn up only the primary persona (it's all about me).

As you can see it offers some context and background providing insight into my motivations but the stars of the show (beyond the pictures) are the goals and motivations.

Getting these right and designing explicitly for them is key ensuring the best outcome with any design.

The next step is to put this persona into the context of use (the Airstream) and write a scenario showing what a typical day looks like.  This will will help me plan out the features and the layout.

Thanks for watching.  Leave comments.

Let me know if you would like the persona template for your projects.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Airstream Renovation as a Designed Experience

As someone who designs experiences for a living, I can't help but try to bring a very deliberate approach to the design of this Airstream.  I'm gonna borrow some of the methods from my profession and apply them to the trailer renovation exercise.

I really enjoy slowing the design process down (just enough) and making each of the steps very explicit and deliberate. This really helps me get to the best design when I'm working and ensures that each design decision is made for the right reason.  This is a small area and I have a very tight budget - everything needs to be there for a reason and each feature needs to occupy only as much space as it requires to support my needs.

The User Experience process can be broken down into three phases.
1.  Research
2.  Design
3.  Validation

In theory, all this should take place before physical work (demolition and construction) begins.

In the following diagram, I've laid out these phases with some of the activities I may undertake clustered below them.  There are many approaches that could be taken and I could have employed some different activities to the ones listed (I may yet) but at this stage I've packed my kitbag with those coloured dark grey.  I figure I have covered Requirements and Best Practice (Thanks Hoffman et al) in previous posts so they are checked off in green.

I recently attended a workshop by Jon Kolko where we practiced Insight Combination and Reframing activities as design synthesis techniques. I'm keen to give them a go in this context.

Next up... Personas.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A First Look Inside

Well the Airstream made the trip safely from the Port of Brisbane down to Federal on the back of a tilt-tray late last week.  It is staying at Ghita's mum's place around the corner from our place while we do some work on it.

We went down from Brisbane on the weekend to take a look.  And it's just lovely.

There are some very minor blemishes and small scrapes, most of which will polish out when I get to that stage.  It's just so pretty...

The interior is very "original".  Much of it will have to go.  We just don't need the fridge, cooker, entire bathroom, wardrobe, etc. etc.  And the finishes are all so dark.  It needs to be lightened up and opened up.

Some of the little 70s luxury touches are awesome (clock, exterior and interior temperatures)...

A few more parting shots...

Oh also, it came with the original owners manual.  Check out the name inside...

Hehe : )

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

We Passed Quarantine!

Ghita braved (and vest-ed) up and made the journey out to the Port of Brisbane yesterday to do battle with the port folks and massage our trailer through the customs / quarantine inspection. And apparently it was a battle.

The security folks were terribly rude and made her feel like she was doing the wrong thing at every step - which she wasn't.  They are basically just lazy bullies.  Anyway, she got through them and met up with the AQUIS folks who were lovely.  They chatted with her about vintage trailers and her (our) adventure while they looked underneath for hidden contraband / Americans (I guess). They found none.

We were expecting it would need to be washed.  We've heard stories that nearly everything does.  Thankfully the combination of a sympathetic inspector and Ghita's rustic charms eased our passage and the trailer passed inspection unconditionally.  Woot.

Port Tips:
- Have all your documents ready (even ones you don't think you'll need)
    - Bill of sale
    - Port permissions
    - Printout of portside contact
    - Any form of certificate of ownership
- Bring the keys your seller cut for you and sent in the mail in case the ones they stashed on the outside of the trailer have been misplaced.
- Wear hi vis and boots
- Look and act like you're meant to be there (you are!)
- Stand your ground and don't take shit from port security.
- Bond with your inspector
- Enjoy the moment. You've just picked up your baby.  I'm sorry I missed this moment.
- Don't forget to take photos for your blog : )

Buoyed by this recent success, Ghita has confirmed transport for tomorrow.  She's not riding with them, they are just going to deliver it to Federal.  We'll head down and check it out at the weekend.  Apparently it needs a good airing.  Ghita opened it up on the dock and it smelled like the 70s had died in there.

She has similarly charmed the transport dudes but I need to save that story for another post.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Eagle Has Landed

Well it has been a while since the last update.  

Things have been pretty busy with work but the main reason is that there just hasn't been much to report on the Airstream front.

We had a few delays on the US side with overland transport and then it seems we missed a couple of ships heading out of the port just north of LA.

The good news is that our Tradewind apparently arrived at port in Brisbane last night.

I'm in sydney for work and Ghita is booked in for the customs inspection at 2pm today.  The port authority requires special clearance for access to the port and there are particular clothing requirements.  Ghita needs to wear steel capped boots and a hi-vis vest  : )

She has some (non-steelcapped) Blundstones and has borrowed a vest from our neighbour who says he was called a "new age trucker" when he last wore it to port in similar circumstances.  I hope Ghita takes some photos.

Depending on how the inspection goes, the Airstream may be released tomorrow or it may need to be cleaned which will cause a delay of a few days.

We have some overland transport standing by.  Basically a tilt tray truck that will take the Airstream 200kms down to Northern New South Wales where it will reside at the mother-in-law's place until the site is fenced and levelled at our place nearby.

I hope to update tomorrow with details of how the inspection and associated portside craziness goes.  We've heard horror stories.

In the meantime, we have been watching the ship's progress from LA to Tokyo to Brisbane on a ship tracking website.  Yesterday as the "Delhi Highway" drew closer to port, it seemed to do a little victory lap. Woohoo!

: )

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Design: Starting With Requirements

Our Airstream will end up behind the house operating as a home studio so there is a lot of work to be done to remodel it from it's current state to the new ideal.

What it looks like right now.
It is largely furnished with original appointments, many of which will need to go.  I've thought about this long and hard.  On one hand we could keep it in a tour-able state, alternatively we could optimise the layout for our specific purpose.  We just have to be ruthless and go with the latter and tear out everything that isn't required.  If we try to stay original / tour-able, there are just too many compromises to be made and this would chew into the trailer's utility as a studio.

One great example is the bathroom.  It would be handy to have a bathroom if we ever took the Airstream on the road but I'd be sacrificing a huge piece of floorspace for it.  That section could be (in fact probably will be) used as another workstation.

I guess that is a neat segue to a discussion about our requirements and what we expect to use the trailer for.

Requirements (in order of importance)
1.  Accommodate one or two creative professionals as they work.
I am a user experience designer 80% of the time and a film / television composer the remaining 20%.  There are some specific requirements that I have as a designer (such as a design wall) and as a music composer (like basic sound treatment) that need to be considered as well as space for equipment.
Ghita is a film / television editor and I'd like to have space in the trailer for her on the occasions when she has a job on.  I also have this dream of fulfilling my desire for collaboration by accommodating other designers on occasion - ideally these occasions wouldn't clash with when Ghita is working on a film as there isn't room for three in there.

I read that a fellow Airstreamer had sighted the following ethos in his renovation...

"Everything in the trailer must have at least two uses"

2.  Provide occasional sleeping accommodation for visiting friends and relatives.
The house is tiny and until we renovate there simply isn't room for people to stay.  It is a great spot and we expect friends to come up and spend time with us.  I'd like that experience to be as comfortable as possible.

3.  Be a focal point for entertaining. 
The Airstream will be a very unique fixture at our place and I suspect that we may spend some time around it.  It would be handy to be able to take lunch or a tea / whisky break out front or to work outside in the sun when the weather is good.  I expect to have a small deck and I have a few other tricky ideas.

- 2 x Large work desks
- 1 x design wall (this is a space where you can pin the latest iterations of a design and post sticky notes with thoughts and ideas etc.)
- Space for 1 x 4 octave keyboard
- Space for 2 x guitars
- A small amount of storage space for music gear etc.

- Small cocktail / tea station (possibly plumbed with sink and maybe cold water for a jug).
- Space for a small bar fridge
- Viewing facility - i.e. space to watch movies
- A couple of casual seats / couches inside for meetings or when extra clients / colleagues are about
- A small deck outside with a table and chairs large enough for 4-6 people to work or eat lunch around
- A lit pathway from the Airstream to the house

So that's what I need.  The next step is to start laying out ideas.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

More Airstream Spotting in Queensland

I was in town the other day and happened across the Grill'd promotional Airstream.  Grill'd is a burger-joint start-up.  The trailer is touring around the country showcasing their wares.

This is one of those modern Airstream where you can crank out the side for more space.  Very nifty.

It seems there is a recipe / formula for hipster coolness, it goes something like this...

[anything] + Airstream = instant cool

Again, a somewhat rare sight here in Australia but I may have to change my tune if the sightings keep up at this pace.



Sunday, June 19, 2011

Airstream Spotted in the Wilds of Queensland!

The other day, I had to drive down to our place a Federal and check out the driveway with a tractor guy to determine if we will be able to get the trailer down there (still unclear).

Anyway I was driving back up the highway to Brisbane heading home and I was listening to the awesome Vintage Airstream Podcast (The VAP) in the car... as you do.

And what should whizz through my peripheral vision at 110km/h but this pretty thing...

I stopped and doubled back to take a photo.

It had a US license plate on it and some customs markings.  Looks like it has just landed.

Can anyone identify it?

Looks like 1960s, longer than 22 feet.  I think it might be a Tradewind International.

For the US readers, this is probably a pretty frequent sight but for us it is pretty darn rare.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

STAGE 2: Finding The Right Airstream

After you have narrowed down to a shortlist of years and models, you need to start looking for a particular trailer.

Who am I kidding really, your already looking at ad listings, maybe you've even bid on a couple.  We'll in any case, there are really two steps to this part... Finding trailers that are for sale and evaluating them to see if they are a good buy.

Finding Candidates
For us in Australia, I think there are really only 4 ways to do this.

1. eBay

- Easy searching and watching (i.e. you can set up watch lists and see what price trailers go for).
- Pay with your preferred method - paypal is cheaper and more convenient than a wire transfer.

- There can be a little hype as with many eBay sales.
- Apparently there are a lot of "polished turds" on there and you need to know what to look for.
- Everybody else is looking on eBay too so when a good one comes up, it doesn't last long.
- There isn't always a "Buy it Now" price so you may not know what it will eventually sell for.
- There is no opportunity to bargain or haggle.

Important eBay tips
Make sure that you are searching the US eBay site not the australian site.  There will be almost no airstreams for sale on eBay in Australia.  Once you find an eBay candidate, you'll need to contact the seller and explain that you'll be shipping it to Australia and ask if they are OK with what that entails.

2. Consult one of the online Airstream classifieds listings
There are a few dedicated online Airstream classifieds.  These two are arguably the best.


- Vey easy to search as they are often categorised by model and year.
- They usually have great pictures.
- Sellers are often a little more in the know so they tend to have already provided answers to the important questions like if it's original or water damaged or in towable condition.

- Because sellers are in-the-know it may be harder to find a "bargain".
- All the other in-the-know airstreamers are cruising that site too so you'll have to compete with them.

3. Engage a buyer's agent
- Somebody is looking for you in places you would never think of.
- They know what to ask buyers and you may not.
- It gives you peace of mind that you will find a good one.
- It saves you a lot of time and effort (and lost revenue if you are self-employed).

- It will cost you some money (budget at least $1,000) but they will likely save you some too.

4. Search Craigslist
This one is my favourite and is basically how we did. Actually our approach was a hybrid as we had The Airstream Guy working for us too.


- There are many, many more candidates to choose from than with any other method.
- People don't always know what they have so you can find treasures.
- There are absolute bargains to be had.

- You have to put up with a site that is regularly festooned with pictures of scantily clad "singles"ads.
- There are no photos in the search results listing.
- The photos in the ad detail are usually terrible.  There must be some kind of size limit on the upload because they are bad and there aren't many of them - usually a 3 photo max.
- Craigslist Airstream sellers don't seem to be very email savvy so communication can be a little difficult.
- Craigslist isn't national so you have to search state by state, region by region. But wait... no you don't, there is a sneaky way around this that gives you access to the whole of the USA! Read on...

Important Craigslist tips
The most important tip: Use  This site aggregates all of the regions so that you get a whole of USA Craigslist search.
- Sellers usually don't know which model or year they have.  Keep your searches broad - try leaving off model names or lengths or years.
- Just Skype call their contact number.  If you wait for them to respond to email, you may be beaten to it by a US local who simply called them on the phone.

Evaluating Candidates
This is the tricky part.  If you have agent working for you they can give you their learned opinion but if you don't have one of those, you just have to do your research and get an idea for what to look out for.

In short, you'll want to avoid big issues that will be expensive or difficult to fix here in Australia.

Here's what to ask the seller:
- Are there any soft or sagging spots in the floor as you walk around the trailer? (evidence of water damage and rot in the sub-floor).
- Are there currently any leaks that you know about?
- Does the rear bumper separate away from the rear panels when you bounce on the bumber? (evidence of frame separation).
- Are there any dents in the exterior? What size are they? (i.e. basket ball or tennis ball) Where are they? Minor dents on flat panels may be pulled out easily whereas large creased dents in corners are nearly impossible to repair and replacement panels are prohibitively expensive.
- Have the axles, bakes and running gear (wheels and tyres) been recently serviced?  Are they in good working condition?
- Do all windows open and seal correctly? Is all the glass present - have any windows been replaced with some other class or plastic (replacing with real glass - especially curved panes - is very expensive)?
- Is the plumbing all functional?
- Are all the appliances (fridge, stove, air-conditioner, etc. functional)?

An easy mistake is to evaluate the candidate based on the outside appearance.  Most vintage trailers will be unpolished and may look a little ratty.  Once the clear-coat is stripped, they will look wonderful. After a full polish, they will look even better.

Happy hunting.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

STAGE 1: Deciding which Airstream you want

Your choice of Airstream is a necessarily subjective thing. Everyone is different, with an individual set of needs and tastes. Let me be clear though, to the average man or woman on the street, they all look very similar. They are all lovely silver colored wingless aircraft sliding silently down the highway. But once you get into it, you come to realise that there are some very important styling and appointment differences between them all.

The two main things to figure out are:
- Model, and
- Year.

...I guess you need to have an idea of your budget too, but if you have made it past the post on budget then your choice of model won't be too severely curtailed.

Some people need no help deciding which trailer they want and have already fallen head over heels in love with one or another.  For the rest of us though, this can be a more measured and deliberate process.

So, let's break it down...

The Year
I think this is a largely heart-driven decision. Some people just absolutely love the stylings of the 50s or 60s trailers, others (us included) like the look of the 70s ones.

My theory is that it has a lot to do with your age. It depends which era you grew up in, when you were just starting to form your tastes and appreciation of visual style. Buying an Airstream is an exercise in nostalgia for many people, they are remembering a more carefree time when they were younger and their life was simpler.

Having said all that, there are 20-year old kids these days buying 1960s cars because they love the aesthetic so maybe it just depends on your tastes. The best thing to do is look at some and see what takes your fancy.

By far the best way determine which year model you might prefer is to take a look at the Photo Archive at Vintage


When you land on the site, scroll down and you will see a blue coloured table with years and models. Simply click to see the photographs.

Here are some style notes broken down across the various years to help structure your viewing...


Style Notes...
- Lots of scolloped aluminium panels in the front and rear end caps - 13 I think.
- The "whale tail", a kind of straight sloped rear end that almost looks like it kicks at the bottom.
- A simple pair of round tail lights.
- Squarish windows with narrow frames.
- A real wood interior.

These shots are all the same model of trailer (a 1956 Fyling Cloud 22 foot)


Style notes...
- Fewer panels in the end caps.
- To my eye, it seems the tail has less of a kick to it. Still straight though.
- Sometimes a single pair of tail lights or sometimes, two lights on either side.
- Windows still squarish and with narrow frames.
- Still a real wood interior although a darker kind of wood.

These shots are all the same model (a 1965 Safari 22 foot)

OK, it changed quite a bit in 1969 and then through the 1970s.  There were a lot of cost cutting measures (particularly with the interiors) and a lot of styling amendments - I think for the better, though it seems I'm swimming against the tide here.

Style notes...
- A small number of panels at the end caps.
- The tail and front have a lot more shape to them. They are no longer straight, rather they exhibit a distinct transition at the now very noticeable "waist-line".
- More taillights! Up to '74 there were three round ones on each side. After '75 there are 4 square ones. This was a major deciding factor in our purchase.
- Windows much more rounded with a kind of spaceship porthole feel to them. Larger riveted frames accentuate the styling.
- Awful wood veneer interiors, but the overhead cabinets (up to 1974) have a really nice aircraft overhead locker feel to them.

    1970 Caravaner 25 foot model showing the round framed windows (a Caravaner feature was it's many windows)
    A 1973 Safari 23 foot showing 3 segment taillights and pronounced waist-line

A 1977 Tradewind 25 foot exhibiting the 4 segment tail lights

    A 1976 Tradewind 25 foot with the wood veneer and airline style overhead lockers

So that's years and styling, the next aspect is size.

From the mid 40s (I think) Airstream started to standardise the model names and sizes.  In other words, in any given year, a Safari was always one size and a Tradewind was always another size.  Having said that, these sizes increased over the years so that (for example) all the way up to and through the '60s a Safari was always 22 foot and a Tradewind was 24 foot.  then in the '70s they grew a little to 23 foot and 25 foot respectively.

The length of trailer really depends on your particular needs and what you plan to use the trailer for.  If you plan to take it camping with a family of 4, you might need something larger but if it just going to sit in the garden as a sanctuary or office, you might be able to get away with something a little smaller.

There are a few other things to consider when thinking about size:
1. It is easier to tow a smaller trailer.
2. Smaller trailers seem to be commanding higher prices (22 footers are disproportionately more expensive).
3. You may not be able to fit a larger trailer on your place. We are actually worried that the 25 foot Tradewind won't squeeze down our windy dirt driveway.
4. The larger it is, the more expensive it is to import (shippers charge by cubic meter).
5. Larger trailers will take more money and time to strip, polish and renovate.

So, that's it.  Hopefully you now have a better idea of what you are looking at - what sets one model apart from another.  The rest it up to you.  Choosing an Airstream that meets your notion of what looks awesome is a very personal thing.

Good luck.  Let me know if you have any questions.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Great People I've met who have really helped - Part 2: The Airstream Guy

OK, the next person that we made contact with was Mark Evans, The Airstream Guy.

Photo by Vaughan Wingfield
Mark is an Airstream collector.  He has a bunch of really lovely trailers, all pre-1970s - he likes 'em old.

Mark has made a fulltime gig - nay an artform -  out of helping people find an Airstream trailer in the USA.

Step 1 - Searching
He has a million contacts and knows all the right places to hunt down exactly the trailer that you are looking for.  He scours local classifieds listings all over The States that you would never think to consult.

Step 2 - Inspecting
Once he has found some candidates that you like, he can go out and inspect them for you.  Mark knows all the things to look for in an inspection: soft floor spots, sagging rear-end, signs of leakage and rust in the subframe.  The kind of stuff that us normal folks wouldn't even know to look for, let alone what it looks like if / when we do find it.
Mark inspected one for us and took a bunch of photos while we were searching.  He made a 400km side trip while picking up a trailer for another client. This was invaluable.

Step 3 - Purchasing
When you decide on the right one, Mark can negotiate and execute the purchase for you.  Some US sellers are wary of dealing with people overseas or on the internet and fear scams (possibly rightly) and will only deal with a US resident and sometimes only in person with cash.  Mark can do this for you too.

Step 4 - Repairs / Modifications / Polishing
If needed, mark can tow your trailer back to his workshop and perform modifications or repairs.  If your trailer needs an axle replaced or something else fixed in the running gear to make it safe and secure for transport and towing, it might make more sense to do this before it ships to Australia where the cost of parts, shipping and repairs is quite prohibitive. Mark is based in Kansas, right in the middle of the country so he is centrally located for any of these inspection or towing gigs.

Step 5 - Transport and Shipping
Mark can find you a great shipping deal and organise all the arrangements to deliver the trailer to your port in Australia.  This includes overland US transport to get the trailer to port from his place or from the seller.  Mark understands how all this stuff works - there are tiny little details that I had no idea about, such as ensuring that one key is mailed to me and another is left hidden on the outside of the locked trailer so that customs at either side can be told where to find it if an inspection is required.  You do not want a window broken by a customs agent - You've seen those TSA "patdown" videos, officials at international borders aren't gentle!

Mark approaches this stuff with a level of professionalism and passion that you are unlikely to find elsewhere.  He is responsive, answering emails quickly and even taking calls at all hours.  And for us, this was the most valuable part of his contribution, just filling in crucial gaps in our understanding - things that could have been really costly had we not got the right advice in a timely manner from somebody who was being paid to keep our interests in mind, as opposed to just someone on a forum who has no such motivation.  It is really handy to know that you can just call him up and say "Hey Mark, I've spoken to this seller and the trailer seems great but can you have a chat with him?".  Mark will call and shoot back an email summarising the key points, setting your (control freak) mind at rest.

And Mark is a lovely warm guy, there is not a hint arrogance in his dealing with you as you come up to speed or with the sellers.  The latter is very important as gently facilitating the sale is a delicate art in many instances.  Mark offered to host us next time we are in The States, he is just a great guy, you get the picture.

Of course, Mark charges for this professional service and I can say that it was worth every penny.  As I've said before, you can (probably) do much of this yourself but you just don't know what you don't know.  The thousand or so dollars that you spend with Mark (a small part of your overall purchase and import budget) is easily saved in the following ways:
1. Getting the best shipping deal,
2. Acquiring a more sound trailer that requires less repair and renovation when you get it home,
3. Allowing you to spend more of your day working on your day job (and earning an income) rather than managing overseas activities, and
4. Giving you better peace of mind and allowing you to sleep at night - actually, you ain't gonna sleep better, you're so excited about this process once it gets going, you'll be on the forums 'till the wee hours.

So, everyone.... Mark - The Airstream Guy.


Friday, June 10, 2011

We are officially owners - The title and keys arrive

A very US looking envelope just arrived in the post...

We have been anticipating this for a few days.  We are now official owners of an Airstream.

When you go through this process, you will want to make sure that you have the right documents sent to you and that the right documents stay with the trailer as it is shipped.

With the trailer
- A copy of the bill of sale. This is just a receipt effectively that proves you have paid for the trailer.  Customs at either side may need this.
- A copy of the title.  This is basically a proof of transferal of ownership.  It is a state based document that may be required by the overland transporter or the shipper at the US end but unlikely.  If the overland transporter gets pulled over and asked if he owns the trailer, it just helps if he can show the title and the paperwork he has from his masters.  Hopefully they both have your name on them and he is let on his way.
- A cut copy of the trailer keys.  Secreted somewhere on the outside of the locked trailer as described before.

Sent to you in an envelope
- The original bill of sale.
- The original Title.
- The original keys.

This is what it should look like when you open the envelope (if your sellers are as awesome and obliging as ours - kudos Bryan and Brent)...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Great People I've met who have really helped - Part 1: Chris Haddon

One of the best parts about the whole experience is that you will meet some really great, very passionate, creative and terribly generous people along the way.  With any luck, many will turn into good friends.

At this point I'm only a few weeks into it and I've already met some great folks.

Chris Haddon
 I guess it started with Chris, really.  

Actually, it started with Chris's and Jane Field-Lewis's truly excellent book My Cool Caravan.
I was looking at old caravans and a web search turned up the book. I found a copy while I was working in Sydney the next week and just fell in love with it.  It is beautifully photographed and infused with sympathetic humour and whimsy completely befitting the subject matter.  The format is heavily image based with wonderful style notes.  It makes for fantastic inspiration as you are deciding which van / trailer you want and is a great reference as you are planning your renovation.  The book features a number of classic and vintage vans, not just Airstreams. 

Chris lives in the UK and owns two Airstreams, one of which functions as his office in the back garden.  Talk about living the dream.

I emailed Chris a few questions and he immediately suggested we Skype.  I pumped him for info and he was very obliging.  Chis is a great guy with knowledge about finding and transporting vintage vans but most of all he has a keen sense of visual style and a great design aesthetic.  His office trailer looks lovely and is another inspiration point for my renovation.

They have just released another book called My Cool Campervan.  It looks great too.

Visit the website:
Read the reviews: Amazon reviews - My Cool Caravan

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What should you budget?

OK, I'm gonna cut to the chase here because this is the question that most people ask once you tell them that you are importing an Airstream to Australia...

It will cost us about $17,500 to have an Airstream sourced in continental USA and shipped to our property near Byron Bay (in Northern NSW) Australia.

Kimono wide open, this is what our budget spreadsheet looks like...

These figures are in Australian Dollars.

We went over a little.  I was hoping to get it in under $15k but we found an awesome trailer and what are you gonna do.

You can absolutely pay less for a trailer - we were looking at a really nice one for $4,000.

You can do it without the US agent - most people do but we found ours invaluable.  We employed Mark Evans who is known as The Airstream Guy and he totally lives up to his name.  Totally worth it for the peace of mind.  Mark is a fantastic bloke, more on him in a future post.

The shipping is about the best price around.  Frank at Kiawah Lines is very, very thorough and responsive. Lovely guy too.

The only other strategy for reducing your cost is to find a trailer closer to one of the few ports that ship to Australia - thus reducing your overland component.  If you go east coast, the sea component becomes more expensive anyway so you pretty much need to be finding a trailer on the west coast and close to California - the main port is just near LA.  The extra bonus of buying west coast is that it is dryer on that side and there is less chance of rust / leakage problems but these trailers have not always lived at their last destination, they move around.

So, there you go.  If $12,000 -  $20,000 (in fact the sky is the limit) sounds a little rich for you then pick up a copy of the Trading Post and start checking out Millards and Viscounts at the weekend : )

Let me know if you have any questions on budgeting.