• December 22, 2014

Coryell County man restores Airstream travel trailers

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Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 4:30 am, Sun Sep 15, 2013.

GATESVILLE — Rodney Bond enjoys bringing new life to old things. That’s why he is working to put five old Airstream travel trailers back on the road.

“I just like working with old things,” Bond said. “I stick with quality.”

Bond lives and works on the home place where he grew up along U.S. Highway 84 east of South Mountain. “I plowed this ground with a B Farmall tractor,” he said. There is a custom-door shop on that ground now and those five old Airstreams.

Big fans of the 1960s television show “Bonanza,” the Bond family dubbed their spread the “Bonderosa.”

After a 10-year stint as a machine-tool technician in Midland, Bond returned to Coryell County and started making custom doors as the Bonderosa Craftsman.

After riding the boom-and-bust housing market for 24 years, Bond said, “I have done enough doors. I want to do more trailers.”

In January, Bond started buying old Airstream travel trailers to fix up and resell.

Bond’s wife, Tanya, office manager for the door shop, is fine with the change.

“I like the trailers better,” she said.

The move to trailer renovation is also good with Dale Butler, Bond’s brother-in-law, who has worked with him for 18 years.

“Vintage trailers are real nice to work with,” Butler said as he proudly showed off the interior of a refurbished 1962 Airstream that is hitched to a 1953 Chrysler in front of the shop.

While the two will repair other makes of vintage trailers — such as the two-wheeled “canned hams” popular in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s — Bond and Butler are drawn to the classic lines and mystique of the Airstream.

“I like the quality,” Bond said.

An American Classic

Wally Byam started manufacturing Airstream trailers in 1931 with the notion that Americans wanted to roam the country in comfort.

Within five years, Byam attracted 400 competitors in the travel-trailer industry. Byam’s company is the only one of those pioneers still in business today, according to Airstream.

Byam knew he had a winning design and put out an edict to preserve it: “Let’s not make changes, only improvements.”

Based on an airplane fuselage with rounded corners, the Airstream’s aerodynamics reduces drag and improves gas mileage, according to the company.

At the end of World War II, the country was poised to make a lot of the trailers, with unused material and manpower at aircraft plants, Bond said.

The sleek, shiny curve of the riveted aluminum skin still appeals to those who long to hit the open road with all the amenities of home, Bond said.

“An Airstream is an investment,” he said. “They have excellent resale value.”

The old units are well made and replacement parts are readily available from vintage dealers as well as Airstream, he said.

Because each unit weighs less than 5,000 pounds, Bond said, “they pull really swell.”

Reselling the load

Bond thought “fixing and flipping” the trailers would be quick work, he said, but the sturdy old relics needed a lot of loving care, along with replacement tires, flooring, plumbing and wiring that had been eaten by fire ants.

Hundreds of hours of work go into making the old things “roadworthy, comfortable, trusty and pretty.”

Bond said he is customizing a 1968 Airstream for a woman who plans to park the unit for a spare bedroom.

“I don’t think she plans to pull it at all,” he said.

Another gem that he keeps under cover is a 1967 Airstream he calls “cream of the crop.”

“The body is near perfect,” he said as he ran his hand along the smooth aluminum skin.

He said he spotted one of the old treasures while headed to a wedding reception in Coryell City.

“My wife and I have learned to look for shiny, round things in backyards,” he said.

For more information, call Bond at 254-865-4162.

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