If you’re an adventurer or lover of the open road, you’ll like this story. It’s the story of one man who dared to dream beyond the berm, and then made a brilliant discovery during his journey back home.
In 2009, Gene Magre (MAH-GREE) was living well, remodeling high-end homes in southern California, when a midnight wildfire swept through his affluent neighborhood and burned his home to the ground. “It was crazy, pretty overwhelming, fighting fifty-foot flames with a hose. But it worked out good. I’m here now,” Gene adds with a grin. Back in Utah – a place where Gene’s previous work in real estate and construction somewhat prepared him for his next life-changing event.
“I was traveling, and I came across a small abandoned trailer on the side of a road behind some bushes. So I called, bought it, and pulled it back home.” It was an Airstream travel trailer. “I knew nothing about Airstreams. So I studied it. I started going through it and learning what Airstreams were about. They’re not steel. They’re not wood. They’re aluminum!” Like a silver bullet. American-made. Gene was riveted.
It was winter time, and Gene decided to turn the trailer into an office on the side of his house. He added electricity and a heater. Then one day, when the temperature was only nine degrees outside, someone knocked on the door and asked, “Is this for sale?” Gene thought, It’s winter. People don’t travel in trailers until summertime. So, why was this person asking now?
Gene soon realized he had stumbled onto something. The next big thing maybe? Opportunity had literally knocked on his door.
Gene and his wife, Jacqueline, were soon enjoying weekend trips chasing down used Airstream trailers around the country. “We found them in the tall brush, under tarps, behind barns, everywhere! Because at that time, everyone was discarding Airstreams!” So, the Magres bought hundreds.
The next challenge was learning how to bring these trailers back to life. “It starts with safety. Safety is the most important thing I do. I want something that protects the kids who are going to be going down the highway at 70 mph, with mom and dad pulling that trailer that’s been sitting in a field for 60 years!” Gene explains. “So, we take it all apart. We take every rivet out, replace wiring, add new heating components, new everything. We make the tables, cabinetry, redo the floor. Whatever they want, they can have it!”
The goal is to upgrade the trailers, so they last for another 50 years. “You can’t do that with a Ford pickup truck!” says Gene. Airstream’s really are an amazing creation.
Wally Byam, who built the world’s first Airstream in 1929, was an aeronautical engineer by trade. His innovative design minimized wind resistance. “I mean, look at the way it’s built! It’s like a rocket ship or an airliner,” Gene proclaims.
How hard is it to get that 60-year-old aluminum exterior to shine again? According to Gene, it takes about 400 man hours of buffing. That’s fifty Saturdays! (DIYers, beware!)
“We’re building everything you can think of that can be housed inside a trailer. Some people want to live in them, while others enjoy family travel. Others use them to run businesses,” Gene says. “We can design the trailer with any theme you’d like to see: a beach theme, snow theme, whatever you want.”
And the demand is not slowing down. “We’re answering hundreds of phone calls every month. I think people want to be able to get out of their house, get into the mountains, and enjoy this great country,” adds Gene.
OH, THE PLACES WE’VE BEEN!
As you tour through Gene’s collection of restored masterpieces, it’s hard not to wonder what stories these trailers would tell if only they could talk. Airstreams have played a huge role in American history. For example, did you know:
- NASA often uses Airstreams to transport astronauts to the launch pad.
- After landing on the moon, the flight crew of Apollo 11 was quarantined for three weeks in a specially-built Airstream, for fear they may have been carrying “lunar pathogens” back to Earth.
- In 1955, the US military used an Airstream while testing atomic bombs in the Nevada desert.
Fun fact: Airstreams are so American, their inventor was actually born on the Fourth of July!
IT’S NOT A FAD. IT’S A LIFESTYLE!
“People will stop and get out of their vehicles to take pictures of our Airstreams. I thought it was a fad, but it’s really a lifestyle,” says Gene. “Baby boomers are now boondocking with Airstream trailers and bringing mom and dad to see America! It’s a beautiful thing. They just seem to keep getting more and more popular.”
So, are you ready to be an “Airstreamer?”
A MOST INTERESTING MAN IN HEBER
“I am who I am, and I’m OK with that,” admits Gene. “I enjoy helping people. When an eighty-year-young lady says to me, `We’re so glad we found you,’ that’s really what matters. I enjoy my existence, and I try to do the best things in life I can. The journey’s pretty short, and hopefully, we can stay healthy and get through all the tall weeds.”
Speaking of weeds, Gene has recently purchased an open field next to his historic building located on Heber’s Main Street. With this additional space, Gene hopes to contribute to Heber’s many tourist attractions. His dream is to provide curious tourists with a beautiful stroll through Airstream’s unique history.
His passion is contagious. His story remarkable. And he’s quickly becoming a Utah legend. “People come and visit me from all over the world. They come here, and they can’t believe what they’re seeing.” `Airstream Gene’ rebuilt his dream here in the Heber Valley and is now on a mission to rebuild others’ dreams — one Airstream at a time.