After a successful career restoring old homes and acquiring rental properties, Gene Magre tried retirement, but it didn’t suit him. He missed the creativity that had been an important part of his working life, Magre said. Besides, he added, his friends were still working, and, “it’s hard to play tennis by yourself.”
All that explains why Magre, at 66 and more than a decade after his retirement, is now back in the business world. His enterprise is called Vintage Airstream Restorations, and the name says it all. He acquires old Airstream travel trailers and sells them to people who want to see them restored. Magre and his team of craftsmen will do all or part of the work, depending on the buyer’s desires.
In what he calls his “boneyard” on two and a half acres in Heber City, Utah, Magre has gathered a couple dozen Airstreams dating back to the 1940s. He makes sure the trailers are safe for the road before leaving his property, but doesn’t do anything more than that if the buyer wants to undertake the entire restoration project on his own.
But from his work on houses in Salt Lake City and in luxurious neighborhoods in La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area, Magre has acquired expertise in plumbing, electricity and cabinetry that is transferable to the trailer restoration business. And so he and his team are able to do all the work entailed in reviving dilapidated Airstreams.
Many of the trailers he acquires are in bad shape. Magre and his wife travel back roads in Utah, Montana, Colorado and elsewhere looking for Airstreams that are no longer being used. Magre said he will strike up a conversation with, for example, a UPS driver, and inquire if he has seen any Airstreams that have been neglected. Through these searches and paying finder’s fees to people who help him locate old trailers, Magre has been able to amass quite a collection.
In Bridger, Montana, he spotted an Airstream amid weeds four feet high, started a conversation with the owner, asked if the trailer was for sale, and got it for $50. Other times the price might be as high as $5,000.
In developing the business, Magre has acquired knowledge of Airstream’s history, which dates to the 1930s, and the value of various models produced over the years.
“Just about everyone I meets loves Airstreams,” Magre said. “It’s part of Americana.”
The polished aluminum exterior has made Airstream an iconic brand, and that’s one reason some people are restoring the trailers and using them for business. Magre said he has been surprised by the number of women interested in acquiring trailers for everything from selling fabric to running a tattoo parlor. Park an Airstream anywhere, and it’s likely to attract a crowd, and that’s a good start for any business.
Magre said he never begins restoration work on an Airstream until a buyer comes forward because everyone has something different in mind. They all want to preserve the exterior look, but some opt for all the modern conveniences while others want the interior to reflect an earlier time with things like pink cooktops.
People interested in old Airstreams find him on the Internet. Customers come from all over. When I talked to Magre, he was working on trailers for buyers from Minnesota, California, Georgia and Canada.
Magre’s own Airstream is a 17-foot 1963 Globe Trotter, which he has restored so well that the comment he always hears is simply, “Wow!” You can see the before and after photos on his website at vintageairstreamrestorations.com.
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find First Glance online at rvlife.com.