Celebrating all things Airstream
By Matt Clayton
JACKSON CENTER — What in the world is an Alumapalooza? When posing this question to the average person, the typical answer is “Aluma-what”?
Taking hold of the -palooza suffix that has come to denote festivals, the festival that celebrates aluminum Airstream travel trailers begins May 30 and continues through June 4 in Jackson Center. This aligns with Jackson Center Community Days.
This year, 125 travel units with approximately 250 occupants will roll into Jackson Center for the event. Most will arrive in Airstream trailers, but other brand units are encouraged to come. Camping spots are limited and go fast once registration opens; camping is full for the event.
The event is produced by Airstream Trailers Inc. and Airstream Life Magazine, a quarterly publication by R&B Events LLC. The periodical is dedicated to Airstream owners and fanciers and the lifestyles they pursue. R&B is owned and operated by Rich Luhr and Brett Greiveldinger who oversee most of the planning and work closely with Airstream to prepare for and oversee the festivities.
“Filling up the allotted parking spaces is not a problem,” said Luhr, who also pointed out they’re simply out of space for expansion. “The good news is it makes for a cozy setting, a relaxed atmosphere where the smaller crowd allows the attendees to actually get to know each other as well as mingle with Airstream employees, their families and those living in and around the village.”
Luhr also said much of the success is due to the efforts of a dedicated staff of volunteers who travel in to help.
“It’s very social and a chance to get away from my desk and enjoy the lifestyle the event offers. It rekindles fond memories of a time when, along with my wife and daughter, I lived in an Airstream for three years. It was a most unique experience, and I have no regrets. Alumapalooza lets me relive some of those special times,” he said.
The list of activities is long: numerous cookouts, bike rides, scavenger hunts as well as workshops and seminars to help attendees learn more about their Airstream. There are also lighthearted events like a riveting contest, where people can try some of the tools used to build the trailers.
But the highlight is tours of the plant. Veteran tour guide Don Ambos, of Jackson Center, has been with Airstream for 59 years and knows every fact regarding Airstream down to the last pop rivet. (He agreed to help with tours in the early 1990s “but only for a couple of weeks,” and 24 years have passed.) He is passionate about the important role he has played over the years and is thankful to have been a part of the Airstream family for so long.
“Alumapalooza is togetherness,” Ambos said. “A chance to meet others and have an all-around great time socializing. When meeting Airstreamers for the first time you never know where they come from, and often times the stories they tell are fascinating!”
Ambos said his wife, Eileen, has been very tolerant concerning his zeal for doing tours but has often corrected him when he says Airstream is like a second home.
“Airstream is his first home,” she quipped when talking about his loyalty to the company.
Bob Wheeler, CEO of Airstream, is also excited about this year’s event.
“We look forward to this time of year for a number of reasons, it’s a ‘feel-good’ event and a great time for our employees to meet those who are so dedicated to living the Airstream lifestyle — they are passionate about what they do. There is also a ‘good energy’ surrounding this event and it is a great economic boost to our local economy,” said Wheeler.
Wheeler enjoys doing talks to update people about company plans and camps out with the attendees. He owns a 1959 Airstream Pacer but will be staying in a newer version at the event. Wheeler noted one of his favorite activities is the trailer-backing competition.
“It is fun to watch and listen to the couples yelling at each other in the timed event. You never know what they’re going to say,” he said.
Jackson Center Mayor Scott Klopfenstein and Village Administrator Bruce Metz also said the positive impact the Alumapalooza as on the village and local community.
“The event gives our citizens an opportunity to meet Airstream customers and interact with them in a festive atmosphere. Those attending contribute to our community in more ways than one,” Klopfenstein said. “Last year, the group as a whole contributed over $2,000 to our local food pantry. They are a very gracious and generous bunch of people, and we are thankful to know them as part of our community.”
Metz agreed, saying, “It’s nice to see so many Airstream owners come back to our town. It acknowledges the kinship we enjoy, and we hate to see it all end so quickly.”
Again this year, visitors will be able to sample a taste of the arts with live music on the grounds and visit the customer service lobby where the Airstream Fine Art Invitational is held. Top landscape artists from all over the USA are invited to display their art. Much of the art is Airstream-related and will be available for purchase.
May 30-June 4
Airstream factory, 419 W. Pike St., Jackson Center
Camping is full, but visitors are still welcome. There are two ways to visit:
1. Admission is free from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Visitors may walk around to see the Airstreams and shop at the vendors’ booths. (Friends of campers are welcome any day throughout the event.)
2. Walk-in tickets are available for $95, which includes credentials for all the workshops, seminars, entertainment and meals for the duration of the event. Walk-in ticket holders are also eligible for door prizes. Children age 15 and younger are included free with an adult.
A brief history
1929: Wally Byam built the first Airstream trailer. It was a tent on a Model T chassis. He improved the structure by adding a teardrop-shaped permanent shelter along with stove and ice chest. He received enough inquiries while traveling to consider this a business opportunity.
1940s: The Depression and World War II put the business on hold, but Byam learned much while building planes for the war effort.
1950s: Byam’s company had outgrown its California digs, and he set out across the United States to find a suitable second location. A factory was for sale in Jackson Center. (The California plant closed in 1978, and all aspects of the business are now housed in Jackson Center.)
1962: Byam died after battling cancer.
1969: The trailers were redesigned for the first time in 30 years, becoming longer with softer edges. It’s a look that is now classic Airstream.
1994: Another redesign debuted, redoing the interior and adding more width to allow for a bigger, more comfortable trailer while keeping its distinct look.
Today: Its newest model, Basecamp, is a redesign of an idea first launched a decade ago.
Courtesy of airstream.com