Driving along Route 79 in the Southern Tier of New York State, between Watkins Glen and Ithaca, one can witness the complete socioeconomic spectrum of the United States.  From mobile homes, to double-wide trailers, modular houses, purpose built apartments and town houses, new constructions and detached single family homes, all of these line the winding two lane road.  Sprinkled among the varied residences are an equally eclectic collection of businesses.  Garden centers, gas stations, farms, quarries, gentleman’s clubs, scrap yards and mechanic’s garages, these businesses, like the homes, dot the landscape and define the region.

Since I began driving Route 79 between Syracuse and Watkins in the early nineties, I developed a quick habit of ignoring every one of those houses and businesses.  They disappeared into the countryside, whizzing by my window in a blur.  One such business, was a used trailer and mobile home lot.  Normally, I could care less which repossessed ‘land yacht’ was on offer, but in August of 2000, the glint of a polished Airstream caught my eye.  Out of curiosity, I pulled in.  I walked around the trailer for a couple of minutes, waiting for a sales person to come out and attempt to sell it to me.  No one came.  For a reason I still can not explain, instead of returning to my car, I knocked on the aluminum door of the large, green, corrugated steel building dominating the lot.

A suppressed acknowledgment beckoned me inside.  The sun-filled sky was immediately muffled upon entering the wide hanger-like building.  Multiple trailers in various states of repair dotted the interior.  Off to the right, in an even darker corner, was a wood paneled office straight out of the 1970’s.

Behind the desk sat ‘Tinker’.  A wiry man in his mid-forties, who looked closer to sixty, Tinker did not look up from his pre-printed carbon paper invoices.

I inquired about the price of the Airstream.  He told me.  I forget how much.  Too much, anyway.  As I turned to leave, my eyes landed on a small framed picture hanging on the wall behind the desk.  It was a Habitrail.  Tinker did not know much about it, as the business and the picture was inherited from his father. I pressed his patience as far as I dared with my questions.

I had a three megapixel camera with me and convinced him to let me snap a shot.

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I was in the Watkins Glen Public Library when by complete happen-stance, I came across an uncredited photograph on microfiche from a local newspaper dated September 1966.  I was there helping my then fiance, Helen, research her Grandparents, who were local business owners in the small resort town.  This particular issue was showcasing events that had occurred over that prior Summer.  The photo was one of a dozen or so depicting typical Summer Holiday past-times: boating, auto-racing, swimming, etc.  Despite the image being very small on the page and relatively unclear in the film copy, it showed a gathering of trailers, mostly Airstreams.  A closer look identified a corrugated tube similar to the one I had spotted in ’97.

The library’s microfiche printer was not used regularly and it took many attempts to get a usable copy to no avail.  The librarian was very helpful and suggested we try the County Clerk’s Office, who might have a hard copy of the newspaper.  As it happens the County Clerk’s Office kept local publications in large leather bound volumes in the basement of the County Courthouse.  I should mention, the Clerk’s Office has since reported this and a number of other volumes lost during its initiative to digitally scan their archives. On the day however, and without much difficulty, we found the paper and the volume.  The only trouble now was the newspaper was too fragile to set on a photocopy machine (not to mention too big).  Not to be outdone, I ran back to my future in-laws’ house and retrieved my camera.  I snapped a picture in a dark basement of an old and faded newspaper photograph; my curiosity was again piqued.

 

During a hike along the Appalachian Trial in Virginia’s, Jefferson National Forest, on the Edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I came upon a pair of Airstream Trailers.  This was not a surprising discovery, as the AT crosses a great many public roadways along its route from Maine to Georgia.  Additionally, the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, which the AT parallels through North Carolina and Southern Virginia, is a huge draw to campers and RV enthusiasts.  These were not the first RVs I had come across and actually were not the first Airstreams.  I had always been drawn to the classic streamlined styling of these trailers however, this pair was unique and unlike any I had seen before.

As I came around the first, more polished trailer, I saw a large corrugated aluminum tube connecting the two.  I inspected the trailers and the tunnel as closely as I dared.  No one was around and both trailers were locked.  I ate my lunch in the area hoping someone would return so I could satisfy my curiosity.  Ultimately, I needed to continue on my way and I left this anomaly behind, or so I thought.

I did not have a camera with me but I sketched the trailers to record them the best I could.