Jackson Center, Ohio: population 1365—where Wally Byam found the vacant paper factory in 1952 that would house his Airstream production center. Today, workers in JC continue to crank out the aluminum beauties at the only plant that builds new Airstreams and delivers them by flatbed to dealers across the country.
‘Streamers, plan a pilgrimage to the factory at your earliest convenience. (New buyer tip: order from a dealer, obtain the production number of your unit, and scurry to Jackson Center where you’re welcome to watch [and photograph] your very own Airstream being built step by step on the line during its nine day assembly process.)
The public factory tour (held each day at 2pm) is fascinating—if you love factory tours, and who doesn’t—but it may surprise you. (The Weaselmouth perspective describes it well.) Airstream is a monstrous facility occupying a wide spread of land, yet inside it’s nothing like the automated automobile assembly line you might imagine. It’s more like a home dreamshop.
Each unit is built lovingly by hand (though the new automatic router that cuts windows and doors from a pattern keeps the guide and tour participants riveted—no pun intended), and the factory sounds are satisfyingly deafening. Trailers pass through specialized workstations where plumbing, furniture and lighting are installed, aluminum paneling is riveted, units are checked for leaks (subjecting each to a PacNorwest-level rainstorm in a sealed spray chamber), and finally affixed with their proud insignia.
Disappointingly, no pictures are allowed; a prudent rule, preventing someone like me from publishing a photo of the “water leak awareness” board or other behind-the-scenery that some might use for evil.
A family business in a small town, “everyone is related” at Airstream (quipped the guide). I got a little verklempt when CEO Bob Wheeler thanked the Alumapalooza gathering for not just supporting a brand, but for providing the livelihood for hundreds of families.
Consider your visit to the Airstream repair center as an opportunity to relax. Your trailer is fixed when it’s fixed; it will be towed to the Terraport—the onsite campground—where you’ll overnight if there’s more work to do when the workday is done. (If predictability and rigid travel plans are how you roll, the Airstreaming lifestyle may not be for you.) At the blessedly air conditioned service center—tricked out with Airstream-themed furniture, comfy sofas and wifi—owners chill out, swap travel tips, chat up the friendly service staff and shop in the “Wally Byam” store for collectibles and gear. Your dog is welcome. There’s free coffee, and cookies. Sit a spell.
Airstream production fun facts
- 66% of all Airstreams made are on the road today
- The 25-footer is the top seller, but more Eddie Bauers are on the line now than any other model
- The body style has changed only six times in 80 years; new shapes appeared in 1936, ‘46, ‘50, ‘58, ‘65 and 2005, each time reducing the number of panels (reducing the opportunities for leaks)