By Joshua wood, tourism/business reporter
Cruising down the American highway with the sun glinting off its aluminum carapace, the Airstream trailer has permanently parked itself in the annals of popular culture. Now there are airstreams parked in Wyoming and they are for sale.
It’s a little easier for Wyomingites to get their hands on this symbol of Americana with the grand opening of Airstream of Wyoming scheduled for August 27 in Etna, in the Star Valley area of Wyoming.
This first Airstream franchise in the Cowboy State is owned by Dennis Decker and his family who also own Airstream of Utah.
Wyoming Born and Raised
Decker was born and raised in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming. After graduating from college, he worked for a tech company in the Bay Area of California.
“We got to the point where I needed to not travel as much. We were looking for an opportunity and founded an Airstream dealership between Powell and Cody,” said Decker. “We had that for a number of years and we grew it into a successful dealership.”
Decker sold Airstreams through the dealership in Park County, but it was not franchised by the company. After several years of operating the business, Decker sold it and relocated to Salt Lake City to work for a tech startup. Twelve years later, his contract was bought out and he looked to retire.
“I was actually looking to slow down a little bit. I went to find an Airstream trailer and to my surprise there wasn’t a dealership in Salt Lake City,” said Decker. “Rather than going someplace else, like many of the locals were doing at the time, I called up Ohio and asked them why they hadn’t approached this market.”
Decker said it was good timing on his part as Airstream was interviewing three dealerships in Utah about granting a franchise. He was encouraged by the company to submit a portfolio and was ultimately granted the franchise rights in 2016 and the dealership was opened in 2017.
Last year, Airstream of Utah was asked to serve on the company’s Dealer Council, which Decker said is an honor for a franchise. As part of that honor, Airstream approached Decker about expanding his dealership. Wanting to move back to his home state, he chose the Star Valley area in Wyoming.
Decker told Cowboy State Daily that nearly half of his sales in Utah came from Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
The dealership in Utah is still in the family, managed by two of his sons. One daughter-in-law is a salesperson for the franchise and another is director of marketing for Airstream of Wyoming. The new dealership already employs 10 to 12 people in Etna, which has a population of 185.
Camping in Style
Along with the dealership in Etna, Decker plans to build a luxury RV resort which will allow guests to have some privacy between spaces.
“It’s very different from most RV parks,” said Decker. “Rather than stacking everybody in very tightly, we’ve decided to only put three or four campsites per acre.”
An American Icon
Decker believes Airstream is as much an American icon as Harley-Davidson. He said there’s a good reason for that, too.
Airstream was founded in 1931 by Wally Byam. The very first travel trailer he built was on the chassis of a Model T and was little more than a crude tent on plywood so his first wife wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground. Eventually, Byam began to sell his design for a travel trailer. One could buy the plans for $1, or purchase a kit or a pre-made trailer. In 1934, Byam named his company Airstream and, in 1936, the iconic “Clipper” model was released.
Around 70% of the travel trailers built in the 1930s are still used today and the only time Airstreams weren’t built was during World War II. The structural aluminum used for the trailers was classified as a critical war material and could only be used to build vital aircraft.
Following the war, Byam reopened his doors and Airstream began to produce its iconic travel trailers again.
Linda Fleming, a retired teacher born and raised in Baggs, remembers her family playing a road game with Airstreams similar to “slug bug”. Fleming recalls her family comparing the travel trailer to Dewar flasks—typically used in laboratories to hold liquified gasses—and called them “Dewey flasks”.
“If we’d see an Airstream coming down the road, we would call ‘Dewey Flask’ and that would give us license to punch whoever was sitting next to us,” said Fleming. “Even to this day, when I see an Airstream, it’s a Dewey Flask. I don’t punch somebody, but I do call out ‘Dewey Flask’.”
The Airstream has appeared in movies from “Independence Day” to “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” to “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”. An Airstream trailer used as a mobile office by President John F. Kennedy and a modified Airstream was used to quarantine the Apollo 11 crew when they returned to Earth.
The American novelist Tom Robbins featured an Airstream in his book “Skinny Legs and All.” Two of the characters in the novel roadtrip across America in an Airstream modified to look like a baked turkey.
Paying for Quality
The Airstream has never been cheap, except for the blueprints. The first model, the Clipper, went for $1,200 during the Depression Era. Despite the price, Airstream had trouble keeping up with demand.
Today, an Airstream can cost anywhere from $46,000 up to nearly $165,000 depending on the model. Decker says there’s a reason for this. A standard travel trailer takes seven hours to build, far less time than that of an Airstream.
“An Airstream travel trailer takes 28 days to build,” said Decker. “They’re more expensive than standard ones (trailers) but you pay for more time to build it, you pay for a better product.”
A franchised Airstream dealership may be good news for Wyoming-based fans. Especially those like Fleming, who has always dreamed of owning the stylistic travel trailer.
“Anything with Airstream just seems like a happy memory,” said Fleming.