IS THIS 1936 AIRSTREAM SILVER CLOUD (Wooden) THE OLDEST AIRSTREAM FACTORY-PRODUCED TRAILER STILL IN EXISTENCE?
(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 https://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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
Here are more pictures of the “facelift”:
As found by Sue from “Iowa Boys” once located in the San Fernando Valley
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 . . .
Wall plaque cleaned up
Dining table area
Some interesting magazine old pictures and advertisements with the Airstream Silver Cloud:
*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.