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Visiting the new Airstream Heritage Center and taking the Airstream factory tour

Airstream trailers are known the world over for their high quality and sleek designs. But did you know that every Airstream anywhere in the world is made in a small town in Ohio? It’s true. Jackson Center, Ohio, population 1,500, is the home base, or the “Mothership” as the folks at Airstream like to call it, for all Airstream production.

Since the Airstream factory employs 1,250 people, it’s easy to see how important the iconic silver trailers are to this town. In fact, generations of Jackson Center citizens have been employed at the factory.

Airstream Heritage Center Museum

vintage airstream at the Airstream heritage CenterAirstreams might be the ONLY reason to go out of your way to visit Jackson Center, but fans of the brand will find the trip well worth their while. That’s because you can tour the Airstream factory, and the newly opened Airstream Heritage Center museum.

The Airstream Heritage Center tells the story of Airstream creator Wally Byam and the company’s history and evolution over the past 90-plus years.

The museum centers around the theme of Wally’s creed, which continues to inspire the company to this day: “To place the great wide world at your doorstep for you who yearn to travel with all the comforts of home.”

Wally Byam exhibit at the Airstream Heritage Center museum

The space is stylish and the exhibits intriguing. Especially the parts about the old Wally Byam Caravan Clubs’ international trips.

There are a number of early vintage Airstreams from various points in the trailers’ evolutions to marvel at.

Several of Wally and Stella Byam’s personal Airstreams are also on display, including the one they took on their round-the-world tour.

Wally Byam's round the world trip in the Airstream Heritage Center museum

Be sure to take time to watch some of the historical footage. I especially enjoyed the film interviewing a family who had been on that famous globetrotting caravan as children.

It’s sad those kinds of trips are no more. I understand why. It had to be a logistical nightmare, not to mention prohibitively expensive. But, boy, would I love to go on one!

Airstream oddities

The Airstream Heritage Center is home to other Airstream oddities and collectibles as well.  Perhaps most unusual is the short-lived Airstream motorhome hearse that somehow failed to catch on. They can’t all be winners.

Airstream Hearse at the Airstream heritage center musum
The short-lived Airstream hearse motorhome

Another such trailer is Wally Byam’s gold Airstream. This was another prototype that never caught on, but Byam’s idea was to be able to paint each trailer to match its tow vehicle.  That doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me, but these never did go into production.

Wally Byam's gold Airstream at the Airstream Heritage Center museumThe vintage Airstreams are in great condition, many with original appliances and sometimes even original upholstery!

For a lifelong Airstream fanatic like me, the Heritage Center was heaven… almost.

While I understand the need to preserve the vintage trailers, you really can’t get a good look at them as all visitors are allowed to do is peek in the doors. This precludes any viewing of the rear parts. I am not sure what the answer is or even if there is an answer, but I would have loved to be able to see the entire trailer.

Also, the Heritage Center currently paints an incomplete picture. Several models were not represented. For instance, the infamous fiberglass “Squarestream” model and the B190 come to mind. Not to mention any of the new Sprinter vans.

Perhaps this is because those are not conventional “Airstreams” in look and feel.

Nonetheless, I expected a more complete picture of Airstream. However, I realize this is a newly opened attraction, so maybe it’s not supposed to be a comprehensive look at the company, or maybe they will add to it in the future.

All that aside, I did enjoy wandering the exhibits and dreaming about what it would have been like to have been on one of those caravans.

Airstream Factory Tour

Airsteam factory tour, Jackson Center, OHNewly reopened post-COVID is the Airstream factory tour, housed in the same building as the Heritage Center.

It was fascinating to see the workmanship and care that goes into building these trailers.

Every part is done right here in Jackson Center. It’s the RV equivalent of Santa’s workshop!

Everything from forming the bodies out of flat sheets of aluminum, to constructing the cabinets, to making the window frames, and even sewing the curtains, is done right in this factory.

Airstream Factory TourQuality control happens at every station along the road to building a trailer. This is because if one part is off, it will be impossible for the next team to do their jobs and make every fit and function properly.

It will take the team about 4-6 days to finish a single trailer.

There is a lot of testing that goes on before a trailer leaves the factory.

This includes a water test where 10,000 gallons of water are dumped on the new trailer to make sure there are no leaks.

The only disappointing thing about the tour was that you can’t see any finished Airstreams!

trailer assembly at the Airstream factory tourThey are so behind on inventory that there is no showroom at the Mothership headquarters. Each trailer gets delivered as it is made.

Despite other RV companies cutting back on production as dealers have too much stock, the opposite is true of Airstream. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a brand-new Airstream at dealers’ lots as they have all been custom-ordered.

Perhaps this too will be remedied once production catches up with demand. In the meantime, it is a testament to the enduring popularity of this iconic RV brand.

trailer assembly at the Airstream factory tourAirstream mothership practicalities

  • The factory tour is free, but reservations are required. There is a $5 admission charge for the Airstream Heritage Center museum.
  • Get more information about the Heritage Center here and the Airstream factory tour here.
  • If you own an Airstream, consider getting repairs done while visiting the Heritage Center and Factory Tour. They even have an on-site campground, the “Terra Port,” for Airstream owners to park while getting repairs.

cabinet making at the Airstream factory(Airstream Heritage Center photos by Cheri Sicard. Airstream Factory Tour photos courtesy of Airstream.)

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Bob M
5 days ago

If they water test all Airstream trailers. I wonder why some owners have complained about water leaks in new Airstreams. I think the old Airstream motor homes were nicer looking on the outside. The new Airstream motorhomes are ugly.

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