When the Great Recession hit in 2008, many families encountered hard times, and that was the case for Justin and Anna Scribner of Bend, Oregon. Justin couldn’t find jobs as a contractor and money was tight because Anna had quit work as a website designer to have their baby.
To keep afloat they started selling possessions, including a collection of old motorcycles and a prized Airstream trailer. It was the 1964 Airstream that was the hardest for Anna to give up, and to console her, Justin bought a dilapidated Silver Streak Sabre travel trailer and promised to restore it to its original glory.
Justin not only fixed up that trailer, but after he and Anna used it for a while, he was able to make money selling it, buy another trailer and before long, the hobby of buying, fixing and selling travel trailers had evolved into a business.
Today, their company, Flyte Camp, has a crew of 12, and their work is the focus of a television show, “Flippin’ RVs,” that appears on the Great American Country channel.
The Scribners are not reality TV superstars like the Kardashians, and Great American Country is not as well known as other Scripps outlets like Food, Travel and HGTV. So Justin and Anna are not household names, but if you catch one of their “Flippin’ RVs” episodes, you’ll see why they have a TV show. They are youthful and engaging, enthusiastic and passionate about classic RVs, and as likeable as can be.
Not Just Nostalgia
Vintage RVs from 50 years ago or more have great nostalgic appeal, allowing many of us to recall life when we were young. But that’s not the case with Justin and Anna. They aren’t that old. He’s 42 and she’s 38, and their fascination with vintage vehicles derives from admiration for the brilliant design and amazing craftsmanship, more than nostalgia.
Justin grew up with parents and grandparents who were RVers, but Anna said she always thought you weren’t really camping unless you were in a sleeping bag and a tent. So after their marriage 18 years ago, it took some effort for Justin to convince Anna that they should buy an RV. Fortunately, he found a great one, a 1958 Shasta Airflyte, a travel trailer with such an iconic design that Forest River, owner of the Shasta brand, reintroduced the Airflyte last year as a retro model.
When Justin brought home the old Airflyte, Anna said, “It was love at first sight.” As someone who prizes good design, she was dazzled by the clever details, including the attractive pulls, handles, knobs and other hardware. She instantly understood the appeal of old trailers.
Justin said he and Anna have always been “kindred spirits,” sharing an enthusiasm for vintage objects, from cars and motorcycles to RVs and houses. In the TV series, you see the lengths they will go to as they hunt down old refrigerators, stoves and other appliances in their determination to make their restorations as authentic to the period as possible.
They concentrate almost exclusively on travel trailers built before 1965. Justin said that date is important because trailer production changed, moving away from the appealing curves of the 1940s and ‘50s to a boxier look. The new designs made trailers easier to build, but, in his eyes, less attractive.
In the beginning, the Scribners spent a lot of time seeking out old trailers abandoned in fields and backyards so that they could restore and sell them. They still do some of that, but today about 80 percent of their projects come from people who have old trailers that need restoration and hire Flyte Camp.
As the business has grown, Flyte Camp has assembled a crew that not only has skills in woodworking, plumbing, electricity and appliance repair, but also understands how things were done more than 50 years ago and can replicate that work.
From Episode to Series
The business has been boosted by the TV show, which provides nationwide exposure the Scribners could never afford to buy. Their entry into the TV world began when a television production company filmed one of their restorations for an episode of the “Extreme RVs” series on the Travel channel. It was so successful that another episode followed, and that turned into the “Flippin’ RVs” series on Great American Country (GAC). The first episodes ran last September and a recent batch ran every Wednesday in April, with a concluding episode scheduled for May 6.
Filming is now under way on a new season. The TV production crew works at the Flyte Camp shop in Bend three out of every four weeks for nine months to film a 12-episode series.
Justin said trying to restore trailers and film TV shows at the same time is “extremely difficult.”
“We’re a business, not a TV studio,” he said. When the TV production company needs to film, the audio can’t be drowned out by background noise, so whatever else is going on in the shop at the time, perhaps woodworking or appliance repair, gets interrupted. These delays can create problems, since the restoration projects usually have deadlines. Nevertheless, Justin said, the television crew has been great to work with, and of course, the television exposure is extremely valuable to the business.
The success of the television series reflects the growing interest in RV restoration. So many people are attracted to it as a hobby, Justin said, that parts are increasingly difficult to find.
Some travel trailers arrive at his shop in such poor condition that there isn’t a lot to salvage. When something cannot be restored, it has to be replicated, and that’s where the skills of the Flyte Camp crew and their suppliers really come into play. They have to understand the craftsmanship of 50 years ago and emulate it to create a trailer that looks like it just came out of the factory in the 1940s, ‘50s or ’60s.
In some case, design alterations are necessary. The owner may want a bathroom in a trailer whose original design did not include one. The task is to fit the bathroom in while maintaining the period look.
What comes across in the TV show is an insistence on authenticity and a willingness to go the extra distance to find an elusive part or add that extra little detail that makes the trailer shine.
Justin and Anna clearly love the fact that they have been able to build a business on something they are so passionate about. As Justin says, it’s a shame that so many beautiful little trailers have been sent to the scrap yard. Thanks to Flyte Camp and other restorers, many classic trailers are being saved and put back on the road. And no doubt that process will continue as long as there are people like Justin and Anna who love great design, value craftsmanship and appreciate the extraordinary creativity that went into travel trailers built decades ago.
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail email@example.com. Find “First Glance” online at rvlife.com.