March 4, 2017 Toni Miltenberger


(Portions of this article appeared in the January-February 2017 of the Vintage Camper Trailers Magazine. Volume 6, Number 1, Issue 29 and can be acquired by going to www.vintagecampertrailers.com…)

(Go to http://www.pinkflamingorvradio.com/march-2017.html for a radio broadcast and slideshow of the Palm Springs Modernism Vintage Trailer Show and an interview with the 1936 Airstream Silver Cloud’s caretakers which is about one-third through Show #083).

While Dr. Holman’s 1935 Torpedo was officially recognized in 1984 by the Airstream Trailer Company as Airstream’s oldest known trailer in existence, please allow us to present this case — that this wooden/masonite 1936 Airstream Silver Cloud is the oldest Airstream, full factory production trailer, presently in existence.* The story goes that Dr. Holman read an ad for Airstreams in the May 1935 edition of Popular Mechanics. For 25 cents he could purchase a folder illustrating four Airstreams. He then purchased plans for five dollars for his Torpedo in 1935, but the trailer was not completed until 2 1/2 years later and wasn’t on the road until 1937. In addition, it was not actually built by Airstream. Do-it-yourselfers used products from many different sources to build their trailers from the plans. This Silver Cloud has the original tag emblem and was produced as trailer No.199. With that said, we invite and would truly appreciate anyone with an older Airstream production number on a trailer to share that information with us. We have heard of an older emblem tag but the trailer no longer exists, i.e., please share pictures and location of an existing trailer with an original emblem with an actual earlier production number. We consider the Dr. Holman Torpedo as “home built”. It is our belief that both historic trailers survived, because they were later shielded in metal skin.


The 1936 Airstream Silver Cloud was considered to be the leader of the Airstream line at the time. Wally was influenced by plans found in trailers manufactured in England — thus the English Caravan look.

1936 As silver cloud dec 36 popular
1936 Airstream Silver Cloud adv 6 - Version 31936 Airstream Silver Cloud Brochure Pic    as silver cloud 37 brochure

Some of the 1936 features of the trailer included a galley at the left of the door, a double bed at the rear [more like a 3/4 bed today], and a “large clothes closet” [really small by today’s standard] with a hinged double door which could be used as a room divider. There was a chest of drawers with a place that could be used as a wash basin and a breakfast nook table with three positions that could be assembled to make another double bed or pull-out twin beds.

1936 As silver cloud dec 36 popular 1 - Version 2   1936 Airstream Silver Cloud adv 5

When we brought home the Silver Cloud, it was painted brown and white and skinned in metal with some replacement windows. When the metal was pulled off, the original wood and masonite was painted blue and white. We decided to restore the trailer back to its original plans. During its restoration process, 70 percent of the cabinet material was saved. The door faces, closet, front bed frames, trim, hardware and everything else are original. The hardware has been cleaned and re-plated. 75% of the 1/2 inch plywood is still the same flooring; the only change to the flooring was in the back where a section of four feet was replaced. The bed framing material is all original. The actual structural sides had to be replaced because this particular trailer was built with 3/8” plywood — not 1/2” which Wally said about some of his other trailers plus 1/8 inch masonite over that. Someone in the 50s reworked the trailer and put aluminum skin over the exterior original painted masonite. Underneath, the original framing showed markings of all the windows and holes where everything initially would have been located. The long windows put in during the earlier refurbishment are now replaced with the original sized windows. We repainted the trailer with a later 1936 paint scheme.

sc1   IMG_0013_2_2
        Skinned in metal  (brown & white)                       Original masonite (blue & tan)

Wally liked to exhibit his aluminum 1936 Airstream Clipper with a Chrysler Airflow. We are showing our 1936 Airstream Silver Cloud with a 1937 Chrysler Airflow — even though the Chrysler is mostly original and is in dire need of a paint job and new upholstery (purists say n-0-0-0-0-0-0-0 — don’t change it); so, we won’t!!! Well, okay, it was me that wanted to do that; Chuck has always loved the way the Chrysler looks. He’s right; I concede . . .

The 1936 Airstream Silver Cloud made its official debut at the Palm Springs Modernism Week in February 2017.IMG_6772










Here are more pictures of the “facelift”:

1936 Airstream Polaroids   1936 Airstream Polaroids 1
As found by Sue from “Iowa Boys” once located in the San Fernando Valley

1936 Airstream Polaroids 2  1936 Airstream Polaroids 4

36 airstream   IMG_0008_2

Brought home from Iowa Boys; thanks to Sue — Sue and Chuck knew its historical value;
took me ten years to fully understand what they already knew . . .

IMG_0007_2   IMG_0002Original tag

100_0769-150x150   IMG_0014_3
kitchen seating

IMG_0033_2   100_0770-150x150
ice box

100_0768-150x150  IMG_0048_2
Bedroom and closet                                             Closet and shoe storage

IMG_2436_2   100_0767-150x150
                                                                                                      Wall plaque

IMG_0007   IMG_0013_2 IMG_0003_3   IMG_0026_2
Last registered in 1982                                         Ready to disassemble

IMG_0007_3   IMG_0051_2 IMG_0057_2   IMG_0003_2 IMG_0004_2   IMG_0005_2

AS36.9   IMG_2354

IMG_2437   IMG_2436

IMG_6134   FullSizeRender

IMG_4058   IMG_4056

IMG_4942   IMG_4985
 Primer coat
IMG_4986   IMG_5018

IMG_5020   IMG_5092

IMG_5618   IMG_5093

IMG_6419   IMG_6420
Trial run to Lake Cachuma to visit vintage trailer friends to make sure the Chrysler could
get over the hills pulling the ’36 Airstream before taking it to the Palm Springs Modernism Show.

Interior Pictures:

IMG_5105   IMG_6787
Wall plaque cleaned up

IMG_6793   IMG_6790


IMG_6792   IMG_6786

IMG_6789   IMG_6561

IMG_6548   IMG_6524

IMG_6794   IMG_6788

IMG_6526   IMG_6796
Dining table area


Some interesting magazine old pictures and advertisements with the Airstream Silver Cloud:

Trailer Travel September 1937   36 airstream ethyl adv
Trailer Trqvel Sept. 1937, Page 12   36 airstream scloudtrailer travel 1

sept 37 as silver cloud janet gaynor  barbara stanwyck shant as sc

 Happy trailering!

IMG_6759   IMG_6109

*********************1936 Airstream pamphlet 1_2*********************

*Postscript: The first sentence in this article has been corrected from its original statement — I read somewhere that Wally Byam, himself, had recognized the 1935 Torpedo as the oldest Airstream in existence; but suddenly realized upon re-examining my own story for a thousandth [an exaggeration] time that Wally could not have done that (so don’t believe everything you read) as he passed in 1962. A big ooops! It was recognized by the Airstream Trailer Company according to my research.