Our “Chrome Twinkie” is a 1964 26′ Airstream Overlander Land Yacht. It was built in 1963 at the Airstream factory in Jackson Center, Ohio and was originally purchased on August 16, 1963 by Charles and Marcella Niederhelman of Amelia, Ohio for $6,095. Marcella was expecting their first child when they bought the Airstream and they were looking forward to years of camping as a family.
The Niederhelman’s son was born with Down Syndrome. Sadly and unfortunately as a sign of the times back then, they gave up hope of ever living like a “normal” family and never camped in their Airstream. The only time it ever left their property was some time in the late ’60s when Charles’s brother took his family to Florida on a fishing trip. Other than that one time, the Airstream remained on their property, occasionally used as a guest house until it was purchased in 2012.
Allison Dufau of New Richmond, Ohio had noticed the Airstream sitting and never moving from its home in the back yard of the Niederhelman’s property for over eight years. Every time she and her husband drove past it she would comment to him, “There’s that Airstream just sitting there!” Allison noticed the house and property falling into disrepair and began to leave notes on the front door inquiring about the Airstream. She persisted for five months until she was contacted by a nephew of the deceased owners, who had inherited the estate. He told Allison that he had planned on scrapping the Airstream as he felt it had little or no value due to its condition. Someone had left the roof vents open and the interior was so severely damaged by the years of neglect and exposure to the elements.
Being an advocate for second chances and a glutton for extensive rehab projects, Allison convinced the owners’ nephew (who now was the true owner) to sell it to her. It took several months to locate the original paperwork and complete the sale to Allison and her husband Tim in the fall of 2012. The Dufaus were in the midst of a massive restoration project of their beautiful Victorian era rivertown home in New Richmond. Within a few months of the Airstream residing in their back yard they realized they neither had the time nor the resources to begin yet another restoration effort. They decided to sell the Airstream in the summer of 2013 in the hope of finding a buyer that shared their vision of restoring the aging beauty and using it for its original intended purpose.
Our interest in the travel trailer lifestyle began about 2011 when we fancied living vicariously through some close friends who had semi-retired and purchased a “SOB” home away from home (Some Other Brand). We began discussing our own plans for retirement and our love of travel. Although both of us knew little of Airstreams at the time, we both agreed on their classic lines and timeless design. Mike purchased a copy of “Airstream Life” magazine and as he flipped through the pages he caught sight of an ad for Colin Hyde Trailer Restoration. Mike had befriended a Canadian by the same name while living in Key West in 1979. He decided to contact this Colin Hyde in the magazine in the off-chance that they were one and the same. Sure enough, it was his long lost friend, and as it turned out, the foremost authority on vintage Airstreams and their restoration. Mike explained to Colin that we were interested in purchasing an Airstream and he provided tremendous guidance and insight as we began our search for the “perfect” vintage Airstream.
With a streak of great luck Mike found Allison’s listing for the Overlander on Craig’s List in New Richmond, Ohio, just 30 minutes from our home in northern Kentucky. When he met Allison she made it crystal clear that she was not parting with this Airstream for it to go to just anyone. In fact she had turned down two offers from folks who wanted to remodel it into a food trailer. She was adamant that the new owner had to have the desire and ability to restore the Airstream to its intended purpose, which was to take it on the road to see this beautiful country. Mike then told Allison that he’d been in touch with his old long lost friend Colin Hyde and she was familiar with his name through her own research on Airstream restorations. When he told Allison that Colin would be doing much of the restoration she exclaimed, “I want you to have the Airstream!” (This is where M.J. did the “happy dance”.)
Upon inspection Mike saw that although severely tarnished, the body was in near perfect condition. The interior was another story. It was a total loss due to the vents being open throughout the years. Knowing that we weren’t interested in a retro Airstream interior, this was the perfect candidate for our restoration project. When he asked about the selling price Allison said, “How about $1500?” This was considerably less than her listing price and Mike couldn’t get the money out of his pocket fast enough while replying, “You’ve got a deal.”
M.J. had yet to see our new purchase but concern about her possible reaction to our “diamond in the rough” faded rapidly when she stepped foot inside and immediately saw its potential (another M.J. happy dance). We knew we had bought a real beauty; it just needed a pampering make-over.
Although the tires were severely dry rotted, they did hold air long enough to tow it to a garage near our home to grease the bearings & axels and install new tires. As we pulled into the repair shop lot we noticed a police car had followed us in and were sure we were going to be ticketed for no running lights, brake lights or plates! As the officer got out of the cruiser and approached me the first thing he asked was “What year is that?” We spent the next 15 minutes or so talking about Airstreams and our restoration plans. He never once mentioned any traffic violations and as he got back in his cruiser he smiled and said, “I’ve always loved those things.”
We put our Airstream into an indoor storage unit because we were in the process of getting ready to sell our large house in order to simplify and downsize. We weren’t quite ready to begin our project but felt we had our dreams of traveling someday safely tucked away in that storage unit until the right time presented itself. We would occasionally go out and just stand inside the trailer imagining what it was going to look like when we finished it. M.J. has always had a sort of knack for naming things. When we began discussing a name for our trailer she said, “You know, it looks like a giant chrome Twinkie to me.” The name stuck. We have officially named it “The Chrome Twinkie”.
We began gutting “The Twinkie” in the spring of 2015 and will chronicle the restoration process and eventually our travels via blog posts to this site.
The day we towed it off of Allison and Tim’s property Mike promised Allison that we would keep in touch and would let her know how the project is coming along. This website is part of the fulfillment of that promise. Stay tuned!