On the Road: Alumapalooza 8 Celebrates Everything Airstream

Photo: Alison Turner

By Tim Walker

You’ve seen them, of course. Who hasn’t? They’re at your local campground, standing out like a sore thumb beside a grove of maple trees. Or you might spot one being hauled down the highway by a satisfied dad in a pickup truck, its gleaming silver skin reflecting the summer sun. Or maybe you played in one as a child, while it was parked out behind Grandma’s house, quietly waiting for that next adventure down south in Florida. (Having traversed the entire country by car in my 30s and after spending my childhood in a succession of tornado-bait mobile homes until I reached the age of 15, this writer can certainly relate.)

Love them or hate them—Jimmy Buffett once famously sang, “They looked a lot better as beer cans”—it’s impossible to mistake an Airstream camper once you figure out what they are. America has pined for those silver-bullet trailers since the Great Depression, and it doesn’t show signs of abating anytime soon.

Now in its eighth year, Alumapalooza—an annual celebration of the Airstream camper, the community of people who love them, and their traveling lifestyle—is taking place at the world headquarters and manufacturing facility of Airstream, Inc. just north of Dayton in Jackson Center, Ohio. The event, which is held with the full support and cooperation of the Airstream company, Airstream Life magazine, and other sponsors, will take place this year from May 30–June 4, featuring camping, seminars, factory tours, and unlimited opportunities to socialize and hobnob with fellow Airstreamers.

“My business partner and I are both Airstreamers,” says Brett Greiveldinger, one of the co-founders of R&B Events, the masterminds behind Alumapalooza. “And he actually, about 15 years ago, started a magazine called Airstream Life. So we’ve been very involved in the community and very involved with the company. We decided about nine years ago to start doing this, and Airstream was on board with it and said, ‘Yeah, you can throw a party behind the factory.’ And while it is a bit of a party, it’s also much more. It’s a learning opportunity for the community of Airstreamers to learn new stuff and learn how to use their Airstream.”

There will be educational seminars, live music, and charity events at the eighth incarnation of the festival. Greiveldinger says the event has proven popular among Airstreamers. Greiveldinger’s company, R&B Events, has also brought Airstream-centric events like Alumafiesta to Arizona, Alumafandango to Oregon, and Alumaflamingo to Florida.

Alumapalooza 8 certainly has something to offer everyone, both Airstreamers and non-affiliated camping and travel enthusiasts alike (although ownership of an Airstream camper is certainly encouraged for attendees, it is not a requirement—after all, you never know who might be in the market for a new one).

While the comprehensive event schedule for the week had not been finalized at press time, there have been preliminary announcements of such events as the Airstream Fine Art Invitational, in which 25 top landscape artists from all over the U.S. display their Airstream art (which will be available for purchase); a special VIP Airstream Factory tour conducted by Plant Manager Marion Slater; morning yoga classes; Dutch oven cooking demonstrations; and musical events anticipated to appeal to outdoorspeople and road trippers.

There is an invitation-only art show, where professional artists from across the country submit paintings usually featuring, you guessed it, Airstream trailers. Airstream provides dinner for guests one night.

“What we try to do is to try and create an environment and a community that’s good for our Airstreamers, our customers,” says Brittany Fullenkamp, marketing coordinator for Airstream. “We run electrical service and water out to the fields that surround the headquarters, and they come in and park and just kind of enjoy their time here. And while some of them do get their service done while they’re here, a lot of it is just enjoying the community, and all of them hanging out and getting to know one another. It’s a lot of fun.”

Drive-by history

Airstream is a well-known American brand of luxury trailers, easily recognized by the distinctive silver shape of their rounded, polished aluminum coachwork. With their own magazines, websites, social networks, and festivals, the community of “Airstreamers”—think “deadheads,” except with more disposable cash—that has come together to celebrate their love for all things Airstream is only the latest manifestation of the decades-long love affair of Americans and those big, silver luxury coaches on wheels.

The basic body shape, still in use today, dates back to the 1930s and is based on designs created by aircraft design genius Hawley Bowlus, who had earlier overseen construction of The Spirit of St. Louis, the airplane Charles Lindbergh piloted on the first-ever solo nonstop transatlantic flight in 1927. Airstream, Inc., a division of Thor Industries, operates the factory in the Shelby County village of Jackson Center, which currently manufactures the campers, employs roughly 600 people, and serves as the site for each year’s Alumapalooza festivities.

The company was founded by lawyer Wally Byam in the late 1920s. In 1936 Byam introduced the “Airstream Clipper,” which featured the company’s now-distinctive aerodynamically rounded and aluminum-intensive design. Of more than 400 travel trailer builders operating in 1936, Airstream was the only one to survive the Great Depression, and while the country’s military needs during World War II made it difficult to acquire aluminum, once the war was over manufacturing resumed. While the campers were constructed in California for many years, in July 1952 the company established its factory in Jackson Center, Ohio, and the last Airstreams manufactured in California rolled off the assembly line there in 1979. All Airstream models are now proudly built right here in the Buckeye State.

If you’re interested in seeing the facility, keep in mind that free Airstream factory tours are held Monday through Friday, starting at 2 p.m. in the lobby of the Service Center. Tour coordinators suggest you arrive 10–15 minutes early to check in prior to the tour.

Travel essentials

As mentioned, Alumapalooza is known in the Airstreamer community as not just a place to have fun and build community, but also as a place to educate yourself about the ABCs of traveling, preventative maintenance, and the campers. Festivals are fun, after all, but nothing spoils the fun quicker than something going wrong, and as anyone who has ever been on the road knows, there’s always something that needs your attention. Having the knowledge to quickly resolve a conflict or make a quick and safe repair can often be the difference between a fun-filled family vacation and a sadly truncated trip, and the people behind Alumapalooza have scheduled numerous opportunities for campers to learn more about staying safe, making repairs, and keeping up with preventative maintenance.

Educational programs, tentatively scheduled during Alumapalooza 8, include “Battery and Electrical System Maintenance,” “Maintaining Your Propane System,” “How to Put Out a Fire,” “How to Rivet,” and “Secrets of the Hensley Hitch.” Trained professionals and company executives lead all educational seminars, and there will be time for questions and answers from attendees.

“It’s a great way for us to communicate with those people and kind of figure out our goals moving forward, to ultimately help them,” Airstream’s Fullenkamp says.

More niche topics during the week include “Polishing Airstream Aluminum” and “Alaska: It’s NOT a Foreign Country.”

Musical acts scheduled to perform during the week include Tim and Myles Thompson on Friday night. The Nashville-based father and son duo will perform an eclectic set of wide-ranging tunes featuring everything from Celtic and jazz to rock, pop, and country. Saturday night’s musical entertainment features Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours. McClain and the Troubadours perform humorous and folksy songs inspired by life in the trailer park, seen through the windows of a doublewide.

“We’re expecting 250-300 people for this year,” says Greiveldinger, one of the event’s co-founders. “And one of the events we’re trying this year for the first time is a timed contest. It’s a new thing we’re in the process of developing, and we’re calling it ‘Hitchin’ in a Hurry.’ Basically, a couple has to take a truck that is not theirs, and a trailer that is not theirs, in a campsite with stuff that is not theirs, and the contest is this: you have to leave. Now. Who can get the trailer hooked to the truck and the stuff packed away properly, in the shortest amount of time? And we’ll be giving prizes to the fastest couple, of course—we’re not sure what yet, but we’ll come up with something.”

If your plans for the week after Memorial Day take you anywhere near Jackson Center, consider swinging by the Airstream grounds and checking out Alumapalooza 8. The sight of that small community of travelers enjoying each other’s company might inspire you to find out what Bukowski, Kerouac, and Steinbeck were writing about, to go out and hit the open road yourself. Just make sure you wear your sunglasses.

Happy trails.  

Alumapalooza 8 takes place Tuesday–Sunday, May 30–June 4 at the Airstream Factory, 419 W. Pike St. in Jackson Center, Ohio. To get on the waiting list or for more information, please call 813.200.8877 or visit Alumapalooza.com. The free Airstream Factory Tour is held Monday–Friday starting at 2 p.m. in the lobby of the Service Center, on the north side of 274 next to the gas station. Please arrive 10–15 minutes early to check in. To learn more about Airstream or factory tours, please call 877.596.6111 or visit Airstream.com.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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