Gulleys’ travels

By Jennifer Gulley

My parents, David and Mary Gulley, began their cherished history with Airstream trailers when they were very young. Both of their childhoods were spent traveling all over the country in various types of campers. 

“My first memories of an Airstream were when I was a young child and my parents purchased their first one in 1965,” David said. “They enjoyed their Airstream so much that they owned three of them over the span of twenty years.”

A Gulley Family 1956 caravan trailer in front of the Heritage Center at the Airstream Headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio. This particular trailer has traveled to Mexico, Canada, Cuba, Italy, Austria, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland and France.

Their enthusiasm for the brand caught on with other members of my family, such as aunts and uncles. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, they attended many Airstream-related events, rallies, and even the 1976 International Rally in Louisville, Ky. “It didn’t take long for camping cross-country in Airstreams to become a family tradition,” David said. “Because Airstreams became a symbol of spending time with our families, it was only natural that Mary and I would have an Airstream of our own when we became adults. What we didn’t realize, however, was that our first Airstream would end up being the last one that my parents ever owned.” 

My grandparents sold their custom 1976 Airstream in the 1980s. My dad did not lay eyes on the trailer again until a decade later when my parents were driving near Hot Springs and they miraculously spotted it for sale. 

“I knew it was my parents’ old trailer because of the custom green sunshade that my mother had chosen,” David said. “The faded imprint of their WBCCI membership number could still be seen above the front window. There was no mistaking it.” (WBCCI stands for Wally Byam Caravan Club International, now known as Airstream Club International; Byam was the inventor of Airstream.)

My parents purchased the trailer on the spot. It had been completely redone on the inside and they spent the next two years renovating it back to the original design that my grandparents had ordered it 20 years earlier. 

Rediscovering the 1976 Airstream served as inspiration for my family to become involved in the Arkansas Airstream Club. “We were young parents at the time, and we loved sharing our happy memories of camping in Airstreams with our two children,” David said. “It was, after all, a family tradition to grow up in an Airstream. We have spent the past 30 years involved in our local club and our membership has allowed us to travel, make friends, and form life-long connections with other people that are just as passionate about Airstreams as we are.”

The club has also provided us an opportunity to become exposed to a variety of other types of vintage trailers from the 1930s through to the 1960s. This exposure sparked our interest in both original unrestored and restored period-correct trailers. We are deeply fascinated by the history, ingenuity, and craftsmanship, of Airstream and other brands dating back to the early 1920s. 

The interior of the Airstream was retrofit to match the interior design of his family’s 1970s trailer.

“For many years, we have strived to find forgotten vintage trailers that contain a rich history and restore them to their original state and former glory,” David said. “We research the era it was built to ensure accuracy in not only the restoration, but also when decorating these treasures in period-correct décor.”

“We have been amazed at what a formal affair camping was in its early beginnings,” Mary said. Vintage pictures show families dining by their campers in dress attire, using fine china during meals, and setting up candlesticks for lighting. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, during the mid-century modern boom, the style of camping accessories changed from the formal to the brighter and more whimsical. The decade saw colorful chairs and ice chests, eye-catching awnings, water coolers and lanterns that popped in their design, picnic tables and baskets full of personality, and every other imaginable camping accessory. In this timeframe, the interstate system was developed to allow families the luxury of traveling with ease, as well as to accommodate the tremendous influx of travelers who were visiting national parks and monuments.

In contrast to the bold accessories of the mid-century modern trailers, more contemporary and present-day photos show trailers outfitted in a more low-key, practical way, stocked with essentials and battery-powered accessories that offer casually-clad campers all the modern-day conveniences of home. 

“Even though our family has grown up and expanded, we carry on the tradition of camping together,” David said. “We are so fortunate to live in Arkansas, with all its beautiful state parks, mountains, and lakes so close by. Our beautiful state allows us to enjoy camping virtually year-round, and our family tradition of taking our Airstreams for a spin will carry on for years and years to come.”