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Old 06-10-2006, 07:40 AM   #1
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Is there an Airstream/Byam historian in the group?

Hello,

I have been reading the messages at this forum for quite some time now, however, this is the first message that I have posted. I collect vintage trailers built by now defunct companies using a monocoque design. Because the trailers I collect were built using the same techniques and materials that Airstream used at the time, the discussions on this forum have been extremely valuable to me.

I recently purchased the prototype for the Aero Flite brand of trailers. The production Aero Flites were built between early 1947 and early 1949, with the prototype having been built in 1946. The trailers were built at the Van Nuys Airport, which is where I understand Wally Byam was building Airstreams immediately following World War II.

When this prototype Aero Flite trailer was sold throughout the years, a bill of sale was typed up and signed and provided to the new owner. Miraculously, the bills of sale stayed with the trailer all these years and were provided to me when I picked the trailer up last week.

The trailer was originally owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. Despite being a multi-millionaire, Vanderbilt was very active in the trailer world in the 30ís and 40ís and was the president of the American Trailer Association in the late 1930ís. The earliest bill of sale showed that Vanderbilt sold the trailer in December 1947 to Wallace Byam. In 1948, Mr. Byam sold the trailer to a fellow by the name of Sam Eskin, a folksinger who often traveled with a trailer in tow. I received the original document with Mr. Byamís hand printed name and signature and a notary seal from a Los Angeles notary. I thought it was interesting that the sale was to Byam as an individual rather than to a company. I speculate that Byam bought the Aero Flite from Vanderbilt so that Byam could get Vanderbilt into an Airstream trailer, since Vanderbilt would have been a high profile trailer owner at the time. Eskin, the folksinger to whom Byam sold it, later sold it to someone else and ultimately my wife and I ended up with it from its most recent owner, who acquired a piece of real estate 20 years ago with the trailer included.

I am most curious about the relationship between Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. and Wally Byam. From a Google search I found a quote from Wally Byam indicating that Byam and Vanderbilt had traveled throughout Europe together in 1948, via trailers. I bought a postcard on Ebay (has not arrived yet) that shows Byam and Vanderbilt together with an Airstream trailer. Apparently Vanderbilt had some role with Airstream, but the role is unclear to me at this point, which is why Iím hoping there is a historian or some ideas for resources that can be reviewed.

I donít think it is by accident that Vanderbilt ended up with the prototype of the Aero Flite trailer brand, but his role in the Aero Lines company is also very unclear. The Aero Flite was designed by a Lockheed Aircraft designer (Frederick C. Hoffman) and I understand Wally Byam was active at Lockheed (also at Van Nuys Airport) during WWII, but how Vanderbilt fits in there and the Byam/Vanderbilt relationship is unknown to me.

It seems I have rambled long enough. The purpose of my message today is to ask if there is an Airstream historian among the group or if anyone knows of good sources (books, etc) for information about the company during the late 1940ís. Are there any sources or estimates for the number of Airstream trailers built during the late 1940ís? Any assistance or ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!

Kevin Reabe
Central Illinois
kevinreabe@aol.com
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Old 06-10-2006, 08:25 AM   #2
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Hi Kevin, and wecome to the forum!

What an exciting find, it sounds like a trailer with a lot of well documented history! We do have some historians on here, including the VAC historian, Fred, who I'm sure will check in soon.

Airstream company itself sells a book on Airstream history which just came out last year and I hear it's very good. You might want to check out the company store at their website.

Last of all, I think you're going to need to share pictures of this one! I know I'm dying to see what it looks like.
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Old 06-10-2006, 09:31 AM   #3
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Hi Kevin:

I don't know too much about Wally Byam's immediate postwar career during 1945 to late Spring 1947, but give call me at 303-399-8104 to discuss your recent Aero Flyte acquisition and its interesting Byam connection, as I talk much faster than I type (and I'm a slow talker). An article on Wally and Neil's 1948 European Tour appears in the Summer 2004 issue of Airstream Life magazine. I look forward to hearing for you.
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Old 06-10-2006, 02:55 PM   #4
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Prototype-

Has Rick Henderson certified it as the original prototype? And do you have documentation and numbers to support it- like is it 46-1001?

It sounds like you have lots of paperwork, so I'm sure you've got the proper proof- we'd love to see some photos also...

If it is the prototype, its value should be somewhere in the range of about 50% of what the Great Westerns are worth. Vince turned down some big money for his, and Michael sold his once for $25K and then a "secret" figure to a VIP...
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Old 06-10-2006, 03:42 PM   #5
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Actually...

...If you bought the trailer that a gentleman named Steve had- the one that was in NY- thats NOT an Aeroflite- its built by Aero Services, which went bankrupt and a member of that firm started Aero Lines. If its got blue graphics and a door with a curve at the top, thats the one. Should carry VIN # 101X and I was told its in great shape, frame and all.

You have in fact, misrepresented your trailer here in the forums. You have a one of a kind, from a bankrupted company, owned by a shipping line owners spoiled son- and its probably worth more than it would be as an Aeroflite...

Aeroflite was the best built trailer of all time- and built by REAL aircraft mechanics, not trailer builders like Airstream. The metal work is fantastic, the design, simple and original. Only problem was that the frames tend to powder out over time, but they're aluminum and electrolysis was not a well known disease at the time these were made.

If I remember correctly, a 1947 Falcon weighs in at 2050, and at the time cost $5000- correct me if I'm wrong. Pretty good, considering that they were built with aluminum stolen from Lockheed, so the story goes.

I know where a 1947 Aeroflite Hawk is- an am trying to get that one. That was the 16' Model...
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Old 06-10-2006, 04:50 PM   #6
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Hello Stephanie. Thanks, for the warm welcome. I have several photos, but have not yet figured out how to post them. I'll try to do that this evening.

Kevin
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Old 06-10-2006, 04:52 PM   #7
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Hello Fred,

I'll look forward to speaking with you soon. I am unable to call today, but will strive to call in the next few days. Thanks.

Kevin
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Old 06-10-2006, 05:22 PM   #8
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Hello Millionairstream,

Yes, it was built by Aero Services, the company which was owned/operated by Hussey before it entered bankruptcy in 1946, and before Hussey founded Aero Lines, Inc. The serial number tag is very similar to the tags on Aero Flite trailers built by Aero Lines. The tag reads, "Aero-Flite Trailer Corp. Division of Aero Services Van Nuys, CAL Serial No. 101X" I describe it as an Aero Flite because it has the term Aero Flite on its serial number tag. But, there is a distinction that needs to be made in that it was built by Aero Services not Aero Lines. Do you have information about the history of Aero Services that suggests Vanderbilt was involved? I have wondered about his involvement and how it was that he came to own this trailer. I assumed it was not by accident that he owned it. The model, according to the paperwork, is "Lark." The door is curved at the top and has a removable panel. It has blue graphics, in the same pattern used on Aero Flites built by Aero Lines. The trailer appears to have been clear-coated from the factory. The cabinetry is of higher caliber than what Aero Lines put out.

We own an Aero Flite Falcon (AL48-1078), the 78th one built. The frame on that trailer was very bad and it was necessary to replace it. It had turned to powder, exactly as you described it. I have built a new frame for it using the same materials and techniques as original and plan to install it later this summer. The entire frame is constructed of aluminum and is riveted together as they did it originally.

They were very well constructed trailers and I particularly like the styling. I haven't ever seen a "Hawk." Was it styled like the Falcon?

I had also heard the myth that the trailers were built with stolen aluminum, but my research has not been able to find any evidence it is more than a myth. Would like to learn more about that, though, as we develop more on the history of the Aero Lines company.

Thanks for the discussion.

Kevin Reabe
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Old 06-10-2006, 05:46 PM   #9
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Until I figure out how to post photos on this forum, perhaps this link to a Yahoo album will work.

http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/kevinr...91YAFBtFJ29kJt
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Old 06-10-2006, 06:47 PM   #10
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Look at the bankruptcy case file

Quote:
Originally Posted by kevinreabe
Hello Millionairstream, Yes, it was built by Aero Services, the company which was owned/operated by Hussey before it entered bankruptcy in 1946, and before Hussey founded Aero Lines, Inc. ... Do you have information about the history of Aero Services that suggests Vanderbilt was involved? I have wondered about his involvement and how it was that he came to own this trailer. I assumed it was not by accident that he owned it. Kevin Reabe
Kevin:

Call the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of California and ask the clerk how to go about requesting the bankruptcy case file for Areo Services' 1946 bankruptcy filing be located in the Gov't Archives and made available for your in-person review. There may be pleadings in that bankruptcy case file that describe how Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. obtained possession of the prototype travel trailer. As pure speculation, he may have been a senior secured creditor who forelcosed on collateral, or he may have made the highest bid for that particular company asset. In any event, there should be a report of the bankruptcy trustee describing how he liquidated or reorganized the company while in bankruptcy. And I would think there should be something in the case file identifying the officers, directors, and perhaps 5% or more company shareholders, listing all creditors, and describing the disposition of company assets, including that prototype trailer if it were a material asset of the bankrupt company. Good luck!
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Old 06-10-2006, 09:53 PM   #11
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Frame and Bankruptcy-

Fred gives great advice about the bankruptcy files, but my guess would be that with the passionate attack that Rick Henderson has made on finding every tidbit on the history of Aeroflite, he's probably done that by now. I can say that if Rick did the same amount of work on Airstream history, people would know what Wally Byam had for breakfast every day and which hand he used to pick his nose with- there is very little that was carried forward about the 2 year fledgling company that didn't make it, and Rick has turned over countless stones to discover and share information. If he hasn't done it, the mere suggestion will have his boss one employee short on Monday and he'll be in the LA County courthouse at dawn. He lives in Lemon Grove, so he's also of a proximity to handle the work best in a geographic sense.

Rick has a website that is up but its still under construction- bookmark it for the future- www.aeroflitetrailer.com -and Rick was a one time poster here on the forums, which I believe was about #48-1078 found by member robandzoe in NC and sold on Ebay, but correct me if I'm wrong. That post is found here- http://www.airforums.com/forum...con-14572.html

I can appreciate the originality of the frame, but when I saw the rivets, and I know that welding and thickness improvements could seriously improve the strength and longevity of the trailer. My personal opinion was that the frame was the weak point and probably led to the scrapyard demise of many of the 100+Aeroflites built. My guess is that they were without a tig machine then, but we have them now and the improvements would be worth having a slight non-original feature. I've got a 1949 Airstream with a tube frame that if I live long enough, will also see a welded aluminum frame instead of the pipe...

The other question I would pose is this- your interior is definitely much nicer than the others. Most are door skin ply that is basically slid into aluminum channels. You also have a bulkhead that divides the trailer and affords a bedroom, where most were just all one open space. Has anyone weighed it and compared it to another fully equipped and complete Falcon? Vince had a complete one that was sold to a SF resident, and last I heard it went back to Vince to be sold on consignment. It had the doorskin interior and that corrugated skin, and I believe it was a 1948.

My estimate, from being inside of Vinces, and seeing the sturdiness and what looks like a much higher quality cabinetry job in your pics, would be that yours probably weighs 200# more than a standard one. Thats certainly allowed when you consider how much lighter these were than a comparably sized Airstream- almost 1000#. That era of trailers were really weight conscious, which I wish Thor would pay some attention to- when a 22' trailer pulls in next to my 22' early 50's model and weighs 1300#more and needs tandem axles- somethings wrong. Hopefully the fuel crunch will bring about some realization of how we're accepting this insane pattern of heavy trailers made with home construction techniques, rather than aircraft- which is obviously far superior and more efficient.

Seriously- good luck with both of them- fantastic acquisition on the 101X and lots of dedication on that frame job with #78. Keep us posted, but be careful- this site is supposed to be for Airstreams, and too much about better quality trailers of a "brand X" nature will probably have the guys in blue hats coming down on you... Maybe we need an off-topic, off-trailer category...?
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Old 06-10-2006, 09:54 PM   #12
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Hi Kevin, thanks for posting the pictures. What a fantastic looking trailer! When it's restored that will turn heads wherever it goes. I love the art-deco lines and the rear end - very cool! Sounds like a great mystery to unravel as well. Good luck!
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Old 06-10-2006, 09:56 PM   #13
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Quote:
Keep us posted, but be careful- this site is supposed to be for Airstreams, and too much about better quality trailers of a "brand X" nature will probably have the guys in blue hats coming down on you... [IMG]../images/smilies/smile.gif[/IMG] Maybe we need an off-topic, off-trailer category...?
To my knowledge no one has ever come down on anyone here for talking about non-airstreams, and I certainly don't intend to start. There aren't any 'guys in blue hats' here.
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Old 06-10-2006, 10:24 PM   #14
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Kevin

I really appreciated seeing the pics of your trailer and the history that accompanies it. Thank you very much for sharing it with us. It's great to learn more about the industry and how it impacted Airstream's future in the same way that Wally impacted the industry.

Barry
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