A trailer's tale
How a bunch of aluminum, rivets and wheels brought two families together
I’m going to kind of take the day off and find someone else to do the work and tell today’s story. Let’s see. How about a recently retired Austin insurance company guy and a North Texas upholsterer?
It’s a tale from inside one of those subcultures that can be tough to understand from the outside. It’s about Airstreams: Those iconic-to-many silver travel trailers and the people who love them.
So it’s a story about a bunch of aluminum, a lot of rivets, some wheels and, in this case, two families connected only by their shared appreciation of shiny trailers and the open road. And it’s a story that, for now, ends in Paradise.
I’ll get out of the way here and turn it over to Stephanie Matney of Matney’s Upholstery in Bridgeport, about 50 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Stephanie Matney and her husband, Dan Matney, are Airstreamers. We’ll pick it up with her Nov. 7, 2017, post in which Steph blogged about the Matneys’ excitement about finding their third Airstream (consecutive, not concurrent). OK, Steph, you’re on:
“We found our trailer!!! We’ve been searching for a ‘60s (Airstream) Overlander and finally found a 1967 that is perfect. When you start with a great shell, original baby moons (hubcaps) and those fantastic curved windows that only the ’66 and ’67 have, you can’t go wrong.
“There’s nothing like finding a vintage Airstream that speaks to you, and this trailer was softly whispering, ‘Take me home and make me fabulous, please!’”
(OK, Ken here again. Sorry for interrupting. Just want you to know it was a long way from the behind-the-barn condition in which the Matneys found the trailer when they bought it in Throckmorton to “fabulous,” including eviction of a large rat who’d taken up residence and shared their appreciation of Airstream life. But the Matneys, undeterred, saw the potential. Heck, they’re in the upholstery business. They've worked on vintage vehicles. It’s their job to see the potential in things. Back to Steph in that November 2017 post.)
“We have set a rather lofty goal for a completion date. Oct. 29, 2018. That’s our 30th anniversary.”
(Ken here again for another brief, I promise, interruption. Matney's blog details the restoration in detail. It took a year and a month. They did the work themselves, and their first trip in the Airstream was in December 2018. Back to Steph, in a wistful Jan. 31 post recalling the first time they’d seen the trailer. If you’re in the Airstream subculture, this may bring a tear to your eye. If you’re not, this could help you understand the Airstream subculture.)
“It’s funny the things you remember about that first walk-through. The smell, the squeaks in the rotten floor, the sound of the cabinets when they latch. I remembered asking about all the weird brackets hanging everywhere. The owner told us they were for bunk beds. He said the original owner had four of them installed from the Airstream dealer for all his kids. There were two over the twin beds, one over the sofa bed, and one, believe it or not, over the sink and cooktop! I had visions of kids hanging everywhere in there! I thought about all those kids many times during the restoration and after a long year, she is FABULOUS! But, turns out, she wasn’t ‘home.’”
(Keep that “kids hanging everywhere” in mind. OK, I’ll try to stay out of the way. I promise. Geez, I’m annoying. Please continue, Steph.)
“The manual and many of the original documents from the original purchaser in 1967 were still inside the trailer when we got it. I saved them all and one item in particular always seemed to haunt me.
“It was the original ‘Lifetime Warranty Identification Card.’ I had it on my desk for several months and kept thinking I would make a magnet out of it or find something creative to do with it. One morning I decided to Google the name on the card. Up popped the same name, in the same city, but with a ‘the second’ behind it. I think my heart skipped a beat! An image of all those kids hanging everywhere popped in my head. I wrote a letter and filed it away with the plan of mailing it once the trailer was finished, then just before our first big adventure at Christmas to the coast, I pulled out the letter and placed it in a Christmas card. I mailed it and waited.”
The Airstream Lifetime Warranty Identification Card says, “This is to certify that Ole N. Ibsen is the original owner of Airstream trailer 0267 J 173 and is entitled to all the benefits of the Airstream Lifetime Warranty issued to him.” It’s dated July 8, 1967.
And here's the letter Matney put in the Christmas card addressed to Ole N. Ibsen II in Bloomington, Ill., knowing nothing about the man.
“Dear Mr. Ibsen, Last year my husband and I purchased a 1967 Overlander to restore. The original ‘Lifetime Warranty’ information was still inside and listed the purchaser as Ole N. Ibsen of Bloomington, Illinois. I’m hoping this was your father’s trailer. If not, I apologize for the intrusion and you can stop reading now. If it was indeed your father’s trailer, I thought you might be interested in seeing what has become of it.
“We would love to hear any memories you and your family have shared in the Overlander and look forward to hearing from you. Happy holidays.”
And then she waited, blogging: “I thought about the letter several times while we were on our trip. Did he receive it? Was it him? Did he care about his dad’s old trailer? Did he think I was crazy for writing him? Would he contact us? Did he have pictures? A few days after we got back home from our trip we received an email that would turn our world upside down.”
Her letter had been forwarded from Illinois to Ole N. Ibsen II at his new address in Austin, where he had moved last October. Ibsen is recently retired from a career as a technical analyst for State Farm Insurance. I’ll let him take it from here, via his response to the Matneys. It’s all yours, Ole:
“Dan and Steph, Yes, this is our 1967 Airstream Overlander. I cried when I watched the restoration video (which the Matneys had posted). We have such fond memories of camping in the Airstream and going to Airstream rallies. I have always remembered our (Airstream trailer) number 18976. We had seven children (in the family) and I am the oldest boy. I worked side by side with my dad as we set up the trailer at the campgrounds and traveled with the whole family. It was too expensive to stay in hotels/motels, so an Airstream was the next best thing. My parents purchased the unit in 1967 brand new for $7,000.
“I was there when they bought it from Mann’s Travel Trailer Sales in Normal, Illinois. I remember the shape of the key as my dad had it behind his ear when he shared he had made the purchase to my mom. One fond memory I have is listening to the radio in the Airstream as Neil Armstrong was setting foot on the moon while camping in Florida during July 1969.
“My youngest brother did a search about two years ago in hopes of locating our family’s Airstream to no avail. We thought for sure it was gone for good.
“I have so much to share with you and would love to chat with you. We have three of our seven siblings living here in Austin, Texas. I am in the market to purchase a Prevost tour bus, but the thought of being able to get the old Airstream, words cannot describe. … Can we come and see the unit? Thank you so much for reaching out to us. I look forward to hearing from you. Warmest regards, Ole N. Ibsen II.”
Here’s Matney’s blogged reaction to hearing from Ibsen, whose father sold the trailer in 1984 when he moved from Wichita Falls to New Hampshire. Ole Ibsen died of heart failure shortly after the move. He was 49. Back to Steph, recalling her and her husband’s reaction to hearing from Ibsen:
“We cried, had goosebumps and were like deer in the headlights. Stunned with excitement and happiness for this man that finally found his family Overlander. We looked at each other and said, ‘We have this man’s trailer.’ Before we had a chance to process what we just read, the phone rang. The voice on the other end was tearful when he said his name.”
It was Ibsen.
“More tears, more goosebumps, and a wild, wonderful, crazy conversation ensued. Somewhere in there I heard him say, ‘If you ever want to sell the trailer.’ I don’t think I even responded. It was too much. We couldn’t possibly do that. No way. He said he wanted to get with one of his brothers and arrange a time so they could come out and see the trailer once again.
“When the call ended, I looked at Dan and knew everything had changed in an instant. It felt like a gut punch and a big hug at the same time.”
(Let’s pause here to remind ourselves we’re talking about a bunch of aluminum, a lot of rivets and some wheels. I think we’re starting to understand the Airstream subculture. OK, back to Steph.)
“After much thought and a couple of sleepless nights we came to the conclusion that this was indeed his trailer, we could find another one. So, we sent the email.”
“Hi Ole, Wow, wow, wow. Dan and I haven’t been able to think of anything other than you, your family and the Overlander ever since we read your heartfelt email and then our wonderful phone conversation. We have always believed that everything happens for a reason. We have had some life changes over the past year that have also influenced our decision, but mostly it feels just right. If you are interested in buying the trailer, it is for sale.
“Whether you are interested in buying the trailer or not, we would love to have you, your wife and any of your family come up and enjoy the trailer anytime!”
On her blog, Matney reported: “In about five minutes the phone rang. I heard, ‘Yes, yes, yes, we want the trailer.’”
Ibsen and his brother Kent, who also lives in Austin, bought the trailer sight unseen, save for the photos and video the Matneys had posted showing the restoration work. Ole Ibsen first saw it in person late last month. FYI, I opted not to ask what the Ibsens paid for it. This doesn’t seem to be about money.
Steph Matney wrote this about a bunch of aluminum, a lot of rivets and some wheels:
“This has been one of the most amazing and unbelievable experiences of our lives. We could never imagine selling this trailer. It was that email! I get weepy every time I read it! I’m sure that sounds crazy, but all you fellow vintage (Airstream) lovers know what we are talking about. We buy these trailers, spend a year or two or more working on them, all the while dreaming, planning and wondering; not only of our future travels but of its past.
“Where has it been? Has it been on caravans or to international rallies? What was it towed with? What were the people like? Wonder what happened to all those kids that hung everywhere in here? All those questions have been answered. Unbelievable!”
She wrote about their previous Airstreams and how little they’d known about them, though they somehow knew their 1976 Overlander had been owned by someone who used Chanel moisturizer and their other one had been owned by someone who once met singer Perry Como. (Kids, ask your grandparents about Como.)
“And now we know our 1967 Overlander was owned by a big family that loved her and never, ever forgot her.”
Post-sale, the Matneys were in the market for another Airstream.
“We started searching for another trailer once the shock of selling this one wore off and BAM! There she was! One mile from our old house in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma! Another strange coincidence? I think not! The Airstream Spirits were working their magic! The moment we saw her, we know she was THE ONE!”
“But for now: Happy trails sweet Overlander! You look FABULOUS! Welcome home!”
I called Steph at the upholstery shop to seek an answer to a question some of us non-Airstreamers might have. What’s with the emotion? We’re talking about a bunch of aluminum, a lot of rivets and some wheels.
She thought a bit and did her best to make the rest of us understand: “You know,” she said, “I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”
And then she did.
“Everybody who has one, it happens to them. It’s because the time you spend in them is vacation and escape and adventure. It’s away from home. It’s sort of a fantasy life. You get in your truck and your trailer and you go down the road and you have a good time and relax.”
Sounds like paradise. And that’s where the ’67 Overlander is for now, undergoing some work at A&P Vintage Trailer Works in Paradise, Texas. The work Ole and brother Kent Ibsen are having done includes getting it back as much as possible to the condition they remember it in. That includes reinstalling the bunk beds they’d used in it when all those kids were hanging around in the trailer.
Among the kids who’ll get to use those beds is the youngest of Kent’s four kids: Ole Ibsen III.
Eric Ibsen, another of the Ibsen brothers, wrote this to the Matneys after the Ibsens brought the trailer to Austin recently before taking it back to Paradise for the work:
“We were all smiling ear to ear the whole evening. We toasted champagne, explored, reminisced and thought about our parents, Ole and Diana, and how they were there, with us in spirit and we were certain that they, like us, were grinning and weeping with hearts full of joy, admiration and a flood of emotions and memories of what was for all of us, some the very best parts of our childhoods.
“We talked about memories of our trips and we laughed, a lot! Seeing my 4- and 7-year-old nephews, Kosmos and Ole Ibsen III, nestled on the bed, watching their iPad and giggling was a moment of sublime beauty. To me, it represented that Airstreams are so much more than just trailers, they are vehicles that bring us and other lucky families together. Now, thanks to you, and in our case, for three generations. We are truly amazed that you are so generous of spirit, that you even considered selling your baby to us.”
I'm not saying you should run out and buy an Airstream. But I am hoping your family has something like it.
A bunch of aluminum, a lot of rivets and some wheels. And some old memories of times and parents now gone. And the joy of new memories to be made.