Our 1973 Avion LaGrande 28ft travel trailer was ready to pick back up at Cayo Repair Service in Watervliet MI on June 29. So we hopped into our tow vehicle and pulled off a whirlwind trip! Nothing like cutting it close… We have to leave Tuesday afternoon for a five day camping adventure with our two you grandsons. Could not disappoint them (or me!)
Check out our video during our return trip. All total with Kevin and I sharing the driving we did 1650 miles with 30 hours of actual drive time all in 2.5 days. Ugh! But worth it.
My husband Kevin and I are avid YouTube watchers and follow about a dozen full time RVers. A handful of them are in Airstreams, one is in an Avion. From time to time, these Vloggers end up talking about how they dodged a bullet and were able to miss a potentially damaging hail storm. In other cases, folks have not been that lucky. Owning a vintage aluminum trailer takes special attention. We and fellow owners know these shiny (or in our case, anodized) aluminum beauties require care and protection not only from the elements of weather but also from what it can dish out like falling trees, baking sun rays, forest fires, lightening….or hail!
In this blog I have gathered up some tips and suggestions from fellow RVers (of any type rig really) on how to try at least to minimize (or escape completely) the horrible and expensive damage that a hail storm can do to your Avion. Having to replace any of the skin panels on a vintage Avion is expensive and time consuming. To date, I am really only aware of one person who most would entrust to this task and that is Chuck Cayo of Watervliet, MI. I have Chuck’s contact info on my resource page and as a foot note on several of my blog posts. Chuck’s grandfather, uncle and father owned the Avion corporation. He grew up with them and repairs and restores them to this day. We drove our “Pewter Palace” to Chuck this spring (2018) –a 15 hour drive so we could have him work on it. Yes, he has that stellar of a reputation for anything Avion. SO–if my tips below come too late, and your Avion (or Airstream for that matter) has been damaged by Hail….call Chuck!
STEP #1 IS TO PURCHASE A GOOD QUALITY WEATHER ALERT RADIO AND KEEP IT ON WHEN USING YOUR AVION! Be sure to get one that runs on batteries too!
There are several good Apps found in the Iphone and Google Play Store that offer weather alerts. Keep them on when you are RVing but maybe away from your rig so you know when to ditch that grocery cart and get running! We use one from the National Weather Service and are sure to put in our location at the time.
Avoiding Hail Storm Damage:
#2—GET ‘OUTTA THERE! We are fortunate to have wheels on our beauties and hopefully yours is towable and with good tires. So hitch her up and get out and away if you have any forewarning that hail is even possible! Spend the weekend or a few days in a nice place away from harm.
This Avion did not escape…a hail storm! (photo by JoAnn Jackson Edgar (TX)
The saving grace is most hail storms are very fast moving….your task is to move before the storm moves over top of you!
if leaving your locale completely is not an option…..
#3 Hitch up your rig and tow it to one of these possible shelters:
Many are free and available in most locations (if you are out in the open on BLM land, sorry…cannot help you other than try to find some trees somewhere to get her under).
Look around your neighborhood or a local town for any of the following:
(Hint—scope these out as you are approaching your overnight campground or stop if there is even a chance you may get a hail storm rolling through!)
The Contractors entrance with large overhang at a LOWES or HOME DEPOT
The outlying lanes of a drive up bank area with large overhang
Local town, etc. park with lots of tall trees, or side road with same. Even getting tucked as far as you can under trees will break the direct fall of many hail stones.
Highway Underpasses are perfect places to hide out. Just don’t run over the motorcyclist that is also seeking shelter from the storm!
Do It Yourself Car Wash Bays. these are perfect! even if you have to let your tow vehicle be exposed, that is what insurance is for and the tow vehicle will be far easier to get fixed than your vintage Avion or AS.
If you are fortunate enough to know someone who owns an airplane hangar-ask if you can bring your trailer into safety there till storm passes.
If you know someone who owns a car dealership, or a large repair garage they may let you bring your rig in for the short time needed till storm passes.
A covered pavilion at an Elks Club or similar, or a local park. Often these are flush to the ground on cement pads and can be driven on. (careful about permission first!)
Some campgrounds we have seen in AZ ,TX and southwest actually have whole rows that are with covered pavilion style sites (often with solar panels on top)
A local storage facility may have lockable storage garages large enough. Worth the call to find out and to ask if in a pinch like a storm coming if they would allow you to rent one just for a day in case of emergency. Bird in the hand, some may allow this!
If time permits, you could I guess even get some sheets of thin 4 x 8′ plywoodlaid atop your rig (throw some guy ropes over top to secure down tie off on cement blocks, etc. on ground along side of rig) as best you can to protect the aluminum skin at least a good percentage of it. IF you have solar panels up there, this is a must to protect them!
Keep your Avion in an RV Storage Garage (this is what we do) for the piece of mind that she is always protected from all elements when not in use. *this also prolongs the life of awnings, curtains, Eternabond tape on roof, Everbright or similar finish treatments, all sealants around windows, roof vents, skylights, etc too! We figure its an investment in the long run we would rather pay now…than pay later!
If you are in a location in the USA (or elsewhere around the world) that is prone to hail storms, (tornado’s and hurricanes too) then investing if at all possible in your own secure built shelter/garage for your favorite Avion may be the best option-obviously if you have enough room on your property to do this.
Our RV Storage Garage. It was specially built for RV and Boat storage. Check your yellow pages!
If you have any further suggestions or tips please reach out to me so I can add them to this as an update. By no means do I consider myself an expert….I merely like to pass along what I have learned from others and “pay it forward”.
Anyone who has done even a modest amount of Avion researching has stumbled across the term “Travelcade” or “Travelcaders” on more than one occasion. But what is this term all about?
Why do some of our vintage trailers have large circular Travelcade stickers (and ID # numbers) and some do not?
WHAT WAS THE TRAVELCADE CLUB?
In brief, the Avion corporation started an “Avion owners fan club” if you will of Avion owners who liked to get together and host large and regional rallies with their trailers. The term Travelcade was used as the name of these gatherings and the people who attended were called “Travelcaders”. Belonging to the membership club was optional for Avion owners and hence that is why some Avion trailers do not have ID #’s and others do. Bob Muncy’s book goes into great detail about the Travelcade club and is a must read. Additional information about owners/#’s can be found at Dr. G’s website and others.
Sadly, after the Avion production was sold to the Fleetwood Corp, the club began allowing owners of any type of Fleetwood RV into the fold. This created a homogenization of the camaraderie which was ultimately perhaps led to the demise of the Avion portion of the club. (also, originally the Avion Corp provided funds to host rallies, Fleetwood did not continue that tradition and began charging members). Thankfully we have branches of the Silver Avion Fellowship around the country that are doing their best to keep that kind of owner gatherings and camaraderie going!
Vintage photo of a Travelcade gathering-note the knitted caps with the official “Travelcade” patch on them! (yes—we have TWO of these originals!) See our previous blog post for more photos of original Travelcade swag we have purchased and proudly wear when we are at Tin Can Tourist rallies and the annual Silver Avion Fellowship rallies which are held today!
The member number was applied to your trailer (facing the trailer on streetside front and back) so that when you rolled into an event the spotters at registration could identify you quickly AND there were large membership directories printed and published so you could easily find friends, locals to your state, etc. by those numbers on their rigs.
TRAVELCADE CAPS AND SEW ON PATCHES:
From time to time you can find an official original travelcade cap for sale on Ebay. That is where we found ours which were being sold by a gentleman who grew up with his parents Avioning at many big rallies (over 500 Avions or more!). He was also parting with some other Travelcade swag which we gladly purchased and love to wear at rallies! Here is Kevin sporting his cap!
You will see they are slightly different than our originals but at $6 each they are great to have to sew on your own windbreaker or baseball cap.
FYI- we have seen original photos of men wearing official “Avion Pith” helmets at the original rallies (makes sense as many where held in Florida where heat had to be a huge issue!). The pith helmets were traditional white. We have yet to find any of those for sale.
TRAVELCADE MEMBER ID NUMBERS:
Our original numbers are still in very good condition (perhaps at some point one of the three prior owners did replace them but they are the original numbers. You can tell this because there is no ghost images other than those numbers we have) and at some point, when we find someone with a directory from the New England Unit we will be able to verify once again our original owners name and home address back in the day.
The best place to find out the history of the Travelcade club is to visit Dr. G’s website. He has a comprehensive online story about it as well as a list of Travelcade members (I believe original owners with their member ID #s) and also current Avion owners. The lists are not comprehensive by any means, nor, i think kept too current. That would be a daunting task for anyone. I know, for example, we have asked to be added quite a while back but this has yet to happen. Nevertheless, its a great resource and the story of the Travelcade club is told well. So sit back, visit the site and enjoy reading!
Want to see some original Avion Travelcade event brochures and ephemera? click here!
OFFICIAL TRAVELCADE TRAILER STICKER EMBLEMS
If your Avion does not have any Travelcade stickers, or originals are in bad shape and you want to replace them, here is a link to a fellow who sells them on Ebay. The price is reasonable enough and we have ordered from him with very good results. The stickers came promptly and are of good quality. So stay tuned on their life expectancy!
Again, not everyone will have these SECURITY UNIT stickers to the right of their entry door above the handle. These Avion owners, from what we understand were often times police or security officers in their “day jobs” or were very involved with the organizing group of volunteers for the Travelcade rallies. These rallies were huge and could exceed 500 trailers so an amount of decorum, safety and management had to be maintained. Our trailer does have such a sticker and again, for purposes of anyone who was attending the rallie (from young children to adults) you would be able to quickly locate a safety person to assist you if you got lost, or needed medical or safety help. We understand that some of these folks primary functions was during load in and load out days where hundreds of trailers needed to be parked and maneuvered. We are not aware of any reproductions of these stickers currently being made and that is really kind of neat for us…we are proud to have ours in such perfect condition for an original (most likely from the late 70’s-80’s)-our original intact and on our trailer is pictured below.
Many thanks to fellow Avion owner Sherry Holmes Kinzey (PA) who just posted this photo of memorabilia found in her parent’s Avion. Obviously those who were part of the Avion security were also issued a badge to wear! (photo by Sherry Holmes Kinzey)
More travelcade nostalgia–pictures from Travelcade rallies in the 60’s-80’s….enjoy! If I recall correctly, we took these photos from archives at the RV & Manufactured Homes National Museum in IN.
Hope to see you at an upcoming Tin Can Tourist or Silver Avion Fellowship Rally (which is basically the modern day equivalent of the Travelcade clubs).
There are currently Silver Avion Fellowship clubs based in Texas, Arkansas and Michigan. All host rallies and welcome fellow Avion owners to attend. The easiest way to find them is via a search on Facebook!
Clearly anyone who owns an Avion understands that they are historic preservationists in the most fundamental sense. Not only do they maintain, restore and covet their aluminum beauty…they also USE it as it was intended to be used—for enjoying the outdoors, sheltering from weather and creating memories with loved ones and dear friends. If they did not revere history and love nostalgia they would own a modern cardboard box, flat top trailer with little to no personality and certainly not built for the longevity that the Avions can boast to this day. (our Avion turned 45 years old this year-2018, and I challenge any modern box campers to be on the road in excellent running order in 45 years!).
NOTE: at the end of this blog post I have a list of resources for reproduction items talked about throughout this post. Enjoy!
Almost monthly, there are questions about, or seekers of information on the various medallions, decals, numbers and company markers on the trailers.
In this article I will attempt to answer many of the questions and in some cases provide some current links to where some of these items (or reproductions of same) may still be obtained today. Also included are links to other websites where directories of the Travelcade member ID # may still be looked up. Sadly, currently no one source of all those numbers exist so the hunt is on and if someone would eventually scan and post the books in an archive it would be like winning the lottery for a lot of us! More about that in a subsection below.
Lets start at the beginning…the birth so to speak when an Avion was coming off of the assembly line.
As a side note, see our post about our trip to Benton Harbor MI in April 2018 to see a video of the plant that still exists but now is a cheese factory.
Avion Coach Company Medallions and Logo Markers:
These logo medallions from what we have seen were almost always painted red. Today many look like a pale/faded tomato red, but from what we understand a deep true red was more similar to its original color. Over time, the colors have faded. This is the same with the rub rail- that vinyl strip that slides into a channel that goes around the trailers mid-belly in two layers with a shiner (non-anodized) strip in between them (at least on the years surrounding our years of production. In the 80-90’s the colors for Avions turned more to using blues and black. You can see that along the way one of the three previous owners of our trailer replaced the rub rail with black which is very common to see these days. The rub rail material is not easily found in the right size. Resource list at end of this post. Some people have taken to painting the rub rail vinyl back to red, or from faded black to black. It can be done, but I have seen them and to me it looks a bit like a cob job. Perhaps if you were to actually remove the vinyl and spray paint it it might be better—but no way am i promising you will ever get that rub rail back in the channels again very easily!
As another side note to the company medallions, above is the dealership plate from where our 1973 Avion was originally sold from. This dealership does not exist anymore but we have located where it was through old news clippings and at the time surely it was on the outskirts of Dearborn Heights in a rural area– but now that address is smack dab in the middle of a very built up almost urban environment. Our little lady did not travel that far from her birth place to be purchased for the first time. Many Avion’s also still have their original dealer emblem on them. Again, its all about nostalgia for us and we wear it proudly.
Below is our LaGrande “model” medallion which appears on both sides of the trailer to the rear-basically even with where the bathroom is located (at least with 70’s models). Early Avion photos (50’s-60’s) we have seen do not appear to have these though there were some model names. See second photo below for placement. Many of these model plates that we have seen are, like ours is pitted. They are stainless but age, and in our case, being kept in Florida near the ocean in the winters for many years has caused the pitting. If a rig has been kept under cover or in a garage these emblems may be in far nicer condition. The background is dappled/textured a bit and supposed to be painted all flat black. Only the raised lettering is supposed to be shiny. The “Travelcade” models (a wee bit of a step down, basic model of Avion) also have them in the same locations. It is not advisable to remove these unless you really know what you are doing. (again, this was before our baby had her first bath!)
HOW CAN I TELL HOW OLD MY AVION IS AND HOW LONG IT IS? In the photo below you will see the vehicle details on the orange plate that was afixed to the trailer upon completion at the Avion assembly line plant. This is not our trailer but you can see and tell the year, month, and production # as well as the model style “LaGrande”.
These plates are very important when looking at purchasing a new to you Avion or for reference for a rig you currently own. Hopefully you still have one on your trailer. This one is located just to the right of the door entry. This is also where ours is, however there is another plate on the streetside as well that also has important trailer information and should be documented.
There is an excellent resource website maintained by “DR G”, Dr. Don Gradeless that is a treasure trove of manuals (PDF by year) you can download or view, info regarding Avion specs and also early rosters of some Travelcade member units.
Here is how to read the numbers (see image below)- this stands for trailers made at least in the 1970’s that we know and cannot attest to how earlier or later models may be marked.
SERIAL NUMBER 75-L-28043
1975 production year L = LaGrande Model 28 = foot length043 = 43rd trailer made that year.
Trailer Travelcade Member ID Numbers and Units:
I will be including a whole separate blog post about the history of the “Travelcade” membership club because it really was cool! But for purpose of this post, I refer to the wonderful Avion history book written by Robert Muncy (link to purchase here) entitled SILVER AVIONS AND CAYOS. Muncy writes that the Travelcade club of Avion owners got its start in 1959 and had its highest rendezvous turn out of 818 Avions in Coldwater MI in 1970. Please see my future post about the Travelcaders and their club soon!
The photo below is our Avion, our “Pewter Palace” as we call her with her original Travelcade ID numbers and geographical unit emblem. Not all Avion owners joined this optional club and so if you do not see any type of stickers like this (front and rear streetside is where they should be) then the owners did not partake. Benefits of the club included a printed newsletter, attendance at rendezvous (FL, MI, WI) and the ability to order and wear some of the truly awesome “Travelcader Swag” like earings, jackets, knitted caps, pith helmets, bolo ties and more….remember….this IS the 1960-70’s!! See some of the swag we have gotten so far in this previous post or on our Avion Swag post page.
Our trailer’s second owner was from CT and therefore was part of the New England Unit which sadly no longer exists. In fact, the whole “Travelcade” club and movement died out after the corporation sold to the Fleetwood RV company in the 80’s. Happily, a diehard group have resurged the zeal for hosting rallies of Avions again and now there is are very active “Sliver Avion Fellowship ” units based in MI, TX and more recently one started in Arkansas. The trend and desire to all get together again is growing each year as is the popularity of owning one of these classic, well-built beauties. We attended the Silver Avion Fellowship Rally in Elkhart MI in the summer of 2017 and had a blast with over 25 Avions of all designs, lengths and styles present. The MI group, I believe is the one who got the whole Fellowship rolling again. Search Facebook for The Silver Avion Fellowship and ask to join. There is a similar named fb site for the event too. I believe that black numbers and letters were the standard issue of these rigs. People attending the Travelcade official rallies back in the day would register with their trailer number. There were published member directories for each year and geographical unit. If you are lucky, someone at one of today’s Fellowship Rallies may come with one and you can look up your original Travelcade member’s name, address, etc. On occasion someone will also post out on one of the Avion FB pages that they have access to one of the books , or you can post out on the Avion Owners facebook pages that you are seeking a “look up” for the numbers on your rig. Folks are more than happy to help find this nostalgic piece of history out for a fellow Avion owner.
As you can see by our membership number—our trailer owner’s were the 14229 members enrolled. WOW!
Below these emblems, or on the curbside somewhere near the front side panel, some Avions also have a vertical list with smaller letters of the location and date of EACH Travelcade Rendezvous that they had attended. It is an amazing story for your Avion and we highly recommend that you LEAVE it, or if needed get repro stickers if some of the letters or dates are worn off. Some trailers only have a shadow (left from fading of the finish) on their rigs. Again—this is a badge of honor that should be maintained in our opinion and we know many other Avioners agree. So please keep them visible! We wish we had some but perhaps our owners were more interested in just reading the member newsletter than traveling south. We do know they took our trailer to Alaska twice though!
If you look very closely below you will see under the “pie slices” a discolored area on the body. In the right light, you can see EACH of the rendezvous that this trailer has been to. It was quite amazing and yes—a badge of honor we are happy to see they have kept even though the actual black letters are long gone. Those letters were issued to you when you arrived at the Travelcade Rendezvous. Today’s Silver Avion Fellowship Rally we attended in MI is reissuing these once again and we will put it on our trailer once we get our clear coating done by Chuck Cayo this spring.
Below are some resources for items mentioned above. Please do remember to check back to my blog often as I will be adding an entire post about the Travelcaders and club which will include some vintage photos of rallies, people wearing Travelcade swag and more… including where to buy reproduction Travelcade Large Member Stickers like what is on the front and rear of our rig (we have purchased new ones to replace our very faded and worn out ones)
CURRENT RESOURCES THAT WE ARE AWARE OF:
(these were viable at date of this post, sorry if no longer active) Please contact me if you find new or other sources!!
(1) Chuck Cayo (above) keeps black in stock most of the time.
(2) Others have used sources found on Airstream (gasp!) forums, recently someone used vinyl stripping found on a website that sells it for lawn chairs. He said it worked well. I got some samples, nice colors but is very thick and not sure how well it will last with temp changes/extremes of full timing plus would be really hard to insert in because it is flat, not curved and very stiff. They said do it on a sunny warm day, and use a heat gun to soften and insert- perhaps with a putty knife to help tuck into track gutter.
(4) Travelcade Member ID #’s and Units: This is a very recent link that I found posted on one of the handful of Avion facebook pages that i belong to. So far, I believe the folks who have ordered from her have had a positive experience. Mind you, you must have a steady hand to apply these…or take the letters and numbers to a professional sign shop or automotive detailer who does this kind of thing and have them apply them! As mentioned, so far, we have only seen black letters on originals but I believe some current owners are using red for their numbers. I guess its a matter of choice.
As always, I hope you have enjoyed this post and gotten some “take aways” from it. I would love to hear your feedback, or if you have other sources for the items discussed above or anything to do with Avions. Its all about helping each other to preserve and enjoy our beloved Avions as much as we call.
We look forward to meeting fellow Avioners on the road in days ahead….till then…
2018 will go down as the winter that never ends…yes, it is April- long past the Easter holiday and we are still getting snow. We had chatted with Chuck Cayo (a.k.a Avion guru) over the winter about bringing our Pewter Palace to his repair and service business this spring so we could have a punch list of things done including the installation of a new ZipDee awning system, replacing our old Carefree system and vinyl awning PLUS installing new awning systems all way round the rig.
Chuck is the grandson of one of the two original owner brothers of the Avion (and Cayo) corporations in Benton Harbor, MI. We were in luck and Chuck said he had a window of scheduling that could put us in the ques for Mid April. Perfect! By then, Kevin would be off of his extremely rigorous and mandatory 24/7 “on call” status with NYS DOT (yes, overtime this winter was big with so much snow…but I also once again became a “snowstorm widow” not seeing him sometimes for what seemed like days on end!)
So we booked it in figuring also that perfect weather would be our guide. NOT!!! We hit the road a little earlier on Friday than originally planned just to be able to scoot out of NYS before yet another sleet, snow and rain storm came barreling through.
NY, PA TO OHIO BORDER: We got as far as over the Ohio border and found an excellent rest area/truck stop directly off Interstate 90 Westbound at exit 223. This Flying J truck stop has about 8 dedicated RV parking spots on the left front area of lot. Much quieter there than in back with big rigs. There is a Denny’s restaurant that opens at 6 AM. Nice breakfast. And the Flying J store and bathrooms were great, spotless with store having very good variety of foods, snacks and beverages even at 10 PM when we arrived.
As we approached through OH and into Indiana and Michigan the next day we caught a storm of rain, and some snow….yeah…it followed us! Ugh! There were some high winds (25-35 MPH) but Avion’s are so aerodynamically designed that honestly Kevin said that the wind is really a non issue. We cannot say the same for other RV trailers and Class A’s we saw along the route who were blowing all over the place!
A great thing we also learned was that the state of Ohio has really become RV Friendly in that they have been upgrading some of their rest areas and creating some dedicated RV overnight parking WITH ELECTRIC HOOKUPS! there is also potable water and a dump station area onsite at these special rest areas. You can pick up the info flyer on these at any of the rest areas. There is a self-pay kiosk where you pay $20 for an overnight with electric and put the chit on your dash so you don’t get rousted in the middle of the night. Bad part in their planning was the sites are quite short and close together. We are talking a parking lot folks! But honestly, with the 28.7 feet of our trailer plus our Chevy Suburban’s length we were hard pressed at the first one we checked out to be able to fit our rig. And God help us if someone pulled into either side of us because the first rest area were all straight back in’s (no angle to pull out or in) so to make that “J” turn to get out with approx. 48 feet of rolling metal- would be impossible. The photo below shows that back in only lot. Fine for small bumper pulls, vans, small class B & C’s.
Below is the flyer detailing some of the info about these special rest areas. Again, only in OH on RT 90 (wish NYS would take cue and do this!) and it is only for ONE night stays. Good in a pinch, esp. if it is so late at night that its too late to get to a campground and you want an easy off, easy on in the morning. We suspect these spots are very full in season!!! They are first come, first served. The Rest Area as Mile Post (MP) 79 on the Westbound side did have 8 pull through sites on angles which was a little better, but again we just fit nose to tail. BTW–the OH rest areas are beautiful! huge, have pay showers if needed, and you can eat off the floor they are so clean. Decent offering of typical fast food Starbucks, Burger King, etc. Nothing to write home about food wise for this gal.
Of course the 90 degree turn in Cleveland OH is always fun! Check out the very cool building on the right but then please………Take it slow please!!!!
AT this point it is lightly snowing…
On through Indiana for a bit, still is amazing when going through the Elkhart area to see all the many manufacturers of RV parts, trailers and motorhomes just finished their assembly line and waiting to be shipped to dealerships all over the US. Elkhart is the RV capital of the world (no kidding!) and if you want to stop there, you can even go on factory tours that are scheduled (advance reservations are suggested because of set times/days of the week they are done). We did not stop this time, but had visited the RV Hall of fame during our last visit to this area last summer when we attended our first Silver Avion Fellowship Rally. The RV/MH Hall of Fame sits right off the left side of the highway as we were heading west. Easy in and out, plenty of RV parking. Worth supporting and definitely worth the visit to see some of the really rare, early tent campers on Model A’s etc right through to modern styles.
On to Michigan and nearer the “Motherland” by every passing mile! This was now Saturday, April 14 and we had made reservations to stay in Coloma/St. Joseph KOA just north of Benton Harbor MI. We had always planned to get to MI early enough on Saturday to visit the ORIGINAL AVION FACTORY AND HQ in Benton Harbor first. Onward we went, despite frigid temps and blowing winds and the occasional snow flake or two…
We had reached out to a historical facebook page of folks who love Benton Harbor history. They, along with the wonderful book published by Bob Muncy about Avion’s were key to us finding the original location. Bear in mind, to those who live in IN and MI this pilgrimage may seen downright ridiculous, but for us, who are so literally obsessed by “everything Avion” we just had to find the original site, buildings, and location of where our “baby” was born!! And we did!!!
1300 East Empire Ave, Benton Harbor, Michigan. Thanks to some clues from those facebook folks, google satellite image maps (comparing them to Muncy photos) we found the Avion Maternity Ward–still intact, but now a Cheese Factory/Importer was in the manufacturing plant and next door, the Avion HQ and Sales room was empty but perfectly intact as it was in the heyday! This was an awesome experience, brought chills to our spines (disregarding the weather!) and truly was so cool to park our rig right in front of both buildings. Kevin was in his glory!! It was so cool! Good we were there on a weekend as there were no cars to jockey around in the parking lots!
On to our KOA in Coloma/St. Josephs. Nice campground, easy access. We had the honor of being their first “American” campers of the 2018 season….yes…it is now snowing a bit with the rain! It got down to 29 degrees that night. We did have to take a different site than we were assigned because as nice as this campground is (and the owners were very nice!) the campground lies very low and many of the sites were flooded due to rains for the past few days. Since the rain was supposed to continue through our stay we did not want to have to test out the Avion’s buoyancy much less need a tractor pull competition to get her out of mud. The owners understood and were accommodating for sure.
We ventured into Coloma for dinner, cute downtown, neat boutique type shops including one very original 5 & 10 Store that functions much like it did in dime store heydays. The owner obviously loves retro and loves his G & M Variety store. You can get everything from fishing tackle and slogger shoes to makeup and very nice home decor or hardware items….and penny candy, etc. still too!! The set up is just like original dime stores (just minus the little old/ancient sales ladies following you around every corner and every aisle for fear you were going to steal some pair of socks or something)…it was very cool!I only wish it has fountain service where we could have gotten a yummy grilled cheese or roasted hot dog on a grilled bun! (ahh the memories!!). We ate at the local brew pub in downtown. Decent, but nothing out of the ordinary for us. Back to camp, bundle up and relax.
Sunday we spent day tripping in our car going to visit Holland MI. Sadly, lesson learned not much is open on a snowy, cold Sunday in Mid-April. We hit a terrible snow storm enroute and were very happy to not be towing anything. Eight cars spun off the highway in one hours worth of the trip, no DOT trucks in site. Waylaid at a great Antique shop which worked out well to let the snow pass by and melt off highway a bit. Holland was a bust, most was all closed and we got there so late due to 25 mph max on highway during storm. We did eat at a great restaurant in one of the shopping mall areas. I think the name had “Annies” or “Ann’s” in the name. Also a “wooden shoe” antique mall on outskirts heading out of town was worth the stop. Prices for antiques are alot better in MI compared to NY!
Monday morning it was up bright and early and off to see Mr. Chuck Cayo in Watervliet which was only about 15 minutes from our campground. We arrived to find the door to the main shop locked. oh no……the service door was open and in we went to meet one of his helpers “Bill” who explained to us that Chuck had been hospitalized on Friday due to emergency medical situation—clogged artery! Nearly took him to the big Avion lot in the sky! YIKES! So Bill assured us Chuck was doing well, but would be in hospital for at least the rest of the week. He took our three page (yes, three page) punch list and keys, we parked our baby the Pewter Palace, gave her a hug around the beam and wished her well. We also took time again to check out the other Avions in the lot for sale or for repair. Always fun to see after market creative fixes, additions, etc. and variety of rigs.
We had told Chuck we just need her back for Mid to Late June….seems like so far away…we miss her already but know she is in very good hands! Till June little lady!!
In our travel last summer to Michigan and Indiana, we stopped by Cayo Service & Repair which is located in Watervliet, MI where current owner, Chuck Cayo continues to work his magic restoring, repairing and promoting vintage Avion Luxury Travel Coaches. They do not have a website, but they do have a facebook page with limited info including their contact info and map for directions.
My goal in this post is to share some storage ideas we have come across that owners of Avion’s have employed to garner some much needed additional storage space.
Please remember- there is a cautionary tale about adding excess weight to the rear of any travel trailer. It can throw off your correct weight distribution and tongue weight ratios and therefore safety-so please use caution and get professional advise as needed.
Anyone who currently owns an Avion, regardless of year (except perhaps those five 5th Wheel Avions that were produced and may be still in service) you know that Avions’ suffer from a real lack of exterior storage for important things like modern sewer hoses, fresh water hoses, repair kits, emergency roadside warning kits for breakdowns, not to mention the proverbial citronella candles, exterior carpet mats, camp chairs, gas grill, etc.
The extent of our exterior storage on our 1973 Avion LaGrande 28′ that is not already dedicated to the sewer/grey water flush system and electric hook up is very minimal compared to the huge storage found on modern trailers or Class A’s especially. The streetside compartments we have are filled with sewer, water and electrical apparatus for the most part and offer very little if any additional storage. Below is shot of our streetside “business compartments” that include our Hot water heater (one with vent plate), and behind that our water/sewer connection compartment. The small one underneath that drops down to open and contains some cleaning supplies but that is about it. Note how a former owner cut a hole into that door so that the sewer hose comes down through. Nice idea but now the compartment is virtually useless to keep anything contained much less dry! (BTW yes, we LOVE our red Anderson leveler system and strongly recommend!!)
Our only real curbside storage
But it is a direct inlet to under my bed!
With regards to this curbside “storage area” in the two photos directly above—- it should be mentioned these are underneath my curbside bunk used for sleeping. So really..no sewer hose is going in there!! We also found when we bought our trailer (we are fourth owners) that this area had been leaking due to poorly maintained rubber gasket around the door flap. Kevin has since replaced and realigned and it no longer leaks. We do manage to cram our Anderson leveler system into the small curbside drop down compartment (see sample in photo below) as well as some chocks for wheels and the plastic pads for our crank down levelers. See previous blog post for details on this project from Summer 2017.
Some Avion owners have taken to install water run off shields over top of these curbside access panels. This is a great after market idea and one we are going to still look into for double protection from the rain that literally flows like a river down the side of the rig. Here are two photos from the same rig that we saw on an older Avion parked at Cayo for repairs. The smaller, lower one is where we store our leveler system, etc.
It should be noted that NONE of these small drop down exterior storage areas are waterproof by any means. The aluminum panel underbellies of these Avions are great, but after e.g. 45 years of being on the road (our rig has been to Alaska at least 2 xs and Florida annually for over a decade or more) they are not water tight- not sure if they were ever truly meant to be. So whatever you plan to put in these smaller areas that are on the sloped down lower part of your Avion…be sure it is nothing that will rot, mold or get otherwise ruined by splash from your wet tires, or rain seeping in would wreck. Also, replacing the original latches with new stainless steel latches is also advisable. The originals do rust and can stain your exterior finish with their run off, or rot off completely at some point. Source for the stainless ones is Cayo themselves, or here is a link to the exact latches themselves at VintageTrailerSupply.com.
BTW- VintageTrailerSupply.com is a great source for tons of stuff and their customer service is outstanding- I know this from personal experience. Some have reported getting them at your local big box hardware store, but I am not sure if those are 100% stainless–I suspect not.
Other ideas for increasing your exterior storage:
Here is another photo we took at Cayo last summer.
You can see where some ingenious owner fabricated a rear bumper storage area similar to what is found on many Airstreams. This one had two liftable storage lids that lifted up from the top. The hinge end was near the spare tire mounted in the center. Note--the spare tire mounts (and tire covers-we have that too!) were OPTIONAL gear when these trailers were made, at least in the 70’s and so the original owners would have had to have them ordered as part of their options package at the time. Some used ones can still be found by scouring the facebook pages where Avion parts are being sold by folks who are salvaging the ones unable to be fully restored but are still good for parts. There are several, just do a simple search on Facebook for Avion Trailer Parts. You may have to ask to be invited as some may be closed groups to keep out spammers and ner-do-wells that could clog up the process of Avion owners reaching real Avion owners.
This one had its sewer hose neatly tucked in. The tray underneath can be made to go completely underneath the whole area. Its just that due to the spare tire placement your access can only be from one side or another. I do not recall if these lift lids were fastened down with latch locks or simple 90 degree angle hasp locks with pad lock but simple enough to do! Again, this tray sits exactly between the round bumper and the trailer body.
How About Vintage Camp Coolers as Outside Permanent Storage:
Originally, we had a plan of attaching brackets to hold vintage aluminum camp coolers to the back of our rig. (That is until we went to Cayo and Kevin saw the rig in photo above) The idea being when on the road, they could hold our water hose on one side and our sewer hose (in a plastic trash bag) in the other. They would each sit on top of the bumper area and on either side of the spare tire. Reminder, if you go this route, be sure to select one cooler small enough to fit underneath your original license plate holder and light bracket because I really think you want to keep that original feature intact.
I really like this idea and am still trying to convince my husband that my Ebay purchase of these two coolers was not in vain. He is leaning more towards the inline tray concept instead. Let’s see who wins this one! Maybe Cayo can fabricate something inline that has the access doors opening on either end and thereby satisfying both parties!!
DUEL PURPOSE!! With the vintage aluminum cooler concept (they are highly collectible so plan to pay a bit for decent shape ones) I like the idea that after you park and take out your hoses, these coolers can actually still perform a viable purpose. I don’t know about you, but I hate my 8 cubic foot refrig being taken up with bottles of beer (or a growler is the worst!) and any other soda cans or large pitchers of green tea, juice, etc. that could find a far more suitable home and keep deliciously cold in our vintage coolers on the “poop deck”. Heck, one of our coolers even has its original bottle opener right on the side. How convenient is that!!??
Here is a photo of both of them on the back.
They are not installed at this point in time. Kevin’s plan was to drill through the bottom of each one, using a rubber gasket to block leakage (but who cares if water drips out right?) so that when we have our gear in there, a simple hasp lock with padlock could be used to prevent (or deter) access to inside and ability to undo any straps, etc. and steal the cooler. We also do have the original hard plastic spare tire cover but it does not fit when we have the coolers in place as well. Its do-able but the coolers would have to go a bit further to the outside edge more as the hard plastic cover is wider by at least 3 inches overall to the vinyl cover we have on there now.
ADD ON BRACKET to hold a STORAGE BOX:
While at the Silver Avion Fellowship Rally, summer 2017 in Elkhart, IN we also saw this Avion. The owners had actually had an additional mounting bracket installed beyond the rear bumper so that they could hold this lockable, hard plastic after market storage container. We have seen these on cars, but honestly we wonder about the added weight that this box and then its contents includes. There are many stories about not putting too much weight on the rear of Avions (or any trailers for that matter) that will skew the delicate balance between your weight distribution, tongue weight, etc. So please be careful about any added weight (vintage cooler, generator, etc. of any weight) that you put on your rear end.
SIMPLE BUMPER AREA CAGE IDEA:
Here is another example we have seen that utilizes that area between your bumper and your rig itself. This was on a 60’s Avion Sportsman model that we were fortunate enough to meet the owner and take a tour inside when at the Northeastern Tin Can Tourist Rally at Sampson State Park in the NY Finger Lakes, September 2017. There were FIVE Avion’s at this awesome rally!!! He simply used bungy cords to secure the hose while traveling o the road. This is a basic fix but for a sewer hose and some other weather proof types of supplies (waterhose in a vinyl bag?)—it works….and is completely ventilated!
LAST WORD ON EXTRA STORAGE FOR LONGER ELECTRIC CORD NEEDS:
Somewhere along the way, a former owner of our rig applied rubber cup covers with adjustable and removable stainless steel bands on both ends of our tubular rear bumper. Yes the bumpers are hollow! So my husband, Kevin decided this would also be a great place to store a longer, spare electrical cord for our trailer besides the one that is permanently attached to the rig in the streetside compartment. Its a little tricky snaking the cord in and getting it out but thank goodness he did! We had to use it when at the Tin Can Tourist Rally we attended last summer. Due to some uneven ground and where we had to park in order to extend our awning we were too far a distance for our onboard cord to reach. Wholla….out from our rear bumper appeared the extension with a double ended link to reach the electric post!
Well that is all I have for now, but I will continue to provide updated photos as we are on the road and see creative ways to increase your Avion’s exterior storage.
Safe travels, and remember….ONE LIFE! LIVE IT!!!
Luisa & Kevin Sherman, The Pewter Palace, 1973 Avion LaGrande, 28′- Queensbury, NY
The city of Elkhart, Indiana may not mean anything to someone who has never owned or camped in an RV. However, for those of us who have fully ingested the “bug” Elkhart, Indiana is the RV Manufacturing capital of the WORLD! No kidding!! Really! In this blog post I include many links that bring this history of RVing to life!
Here is a sneak peak of the RV/MH Hall of Fame exhibit area! See more links below!
For decades upon decades countless brand name RV manufacturers have set up their company production lines in and around the Elkhart area. If you visit, you can plan to take a factory tour if you want too but check ahead because they are only offered at certain factories on certain days of the week and times. Because of this, a multitude of outsourcing smaller manufacturing businesses have populated the area producing everything possible for those large brands like Fleetwood, Winnebago, Forrest River, Thor, etc. Things like smaller plants that make the windows, the cushions, the hitches, the extruded plastic AC covers, electrical and plumbing fixtures. It was comical being at a stop light and seeing flatbed trailers stacked with 15 shower stalls, trailer frames, stacks of windows being rolled down the road to finish off someones new trailer or motorhome! The majority of all the RV’s from tiny pods to large 45 foot diesel pusher Class A’s are made in Elkhart.
SO–it is no coincidence that the RV & Manufactured Homes Hall of Fame is located in Elkhart, easily seen and reached by Interstate 80. Don’t get me started on why the MH does not stand for Motor Home…but it actually stands for Manufactured Houses which to some degree is also represented in this museum (especially a small MH outside the building that is open for a tour- more of a sales pitch for the builder than anything I feel) . I suspect it was during lean years of funding for the museum that they had to expand their scope to include manufactured houses into the museum’s mission. It is just my humble opinion, but doing this inclusion of manufactured homes into an RV museum was a disservice to the tens of thousands of RV owners whose homes (whether part time or full time) are truly on “wheels”. Manufactured homes may be indeed built on an assembly line like an RV but by no means do they function nor are intended to be moved from spot to spot weekly, seasonally or for that matter ever…once put on their foundations.
Neverthless, when we were venturing to our very first (and not to be our last for sure!) Silver Avion Fellowship Rally in Elkhart in the summer of 2017 we made the pilgrimage to the Hall of Fame and enthusiastically became Life Members! (Actually this was more a fiscal decision than anything because they made it easy to justify a Life Membership versus us just paying for admission to the two of us for the day–a difference of about $10 if i remember correctly. So now we can go anytime we want!)
Here is a link to the museum’s website so you can do your own “touring”!! WE DO encourage you to visit this museum, support its livelihood and share with your friends. Its exhibits truly do paint an accurate and colorful vision into the thread of our own Americana!
One of the reasons, we justify for return visits is that the museum was in the process of expanding their parking area to the north of the building and supposedly this will allow for even more boondocking (or limited hookups) for the RV family of which we are a part of and supposedly special events, perhaps even themed rallies (by year of RV or brand perhaps?!!). On the second floor of the museum is an archive library which although very unorganized by Library Science codes (our librarian friend Robin Stiles would throw a fit the way someone has tried to organize their collection–NOT!)we did find quite a treasure trove of Avion files including manuals, advertising pieces, etc. The archive section of hanging files is fairly easy to use- someone thankfully put those in alpha order so at least the “A”s were easy enough to find. As for the stacks..not so much–we scratched our head for a half hour trying to figure out what method someone had employed to categorize the shelves and shelves of RV manuals, books, how to guides and more…to no avail. Sadly, there was no volunteers present in the library that day either- perhaps that could have helped. BTW- in our exit survey we did comment that we highly recommended they tap a college intern who was studying Library Sciences or a retired librarian who would get in there and reorganize the stack system so that folks could find things. Even if they did not go by Dewey Decimal system…alphabetical like the hanging file folders would have been better. And then please…label the shelves or areas! Ok enough of my rant, I should talk, my files at home are not much better!
For the purpose of this blog post, i am going to literally add in all the photos we took while on tour at the museum into a flip book on our website at some point-but it is time consuming (so will be perhaps a 2019 winter project). For now, here is a great link to the exhibit area of the museum. The photos are arranged by vehicle type so will be pretty easy for you to scour and select. Check out the other link below which actually lists by rig their complete inventory with description and photo. We spent over 4 fours and really enjoyed going in and out of many of the vintage trailers and RV’s of all types, names, shapes and sizes. Some homemade, some “state of the art” when produced in the 1920’s, 30’s, -70’s.
At some point, when I have time—I am also going to include a “flip book” of the Avion brochures and sales pieces that we found that were right around our rig’s year which is 1973 onto the resources page of our http://www.ThePewterPalace.com website for easy access anytime. For some reason (maybe the Avion Coach Corp was feeling a fiscal pinch in 1973) we have a hard time finding that particular year or even 1975 brochures, etc.
Interestingly enough, this was also the year (1973) that the Avion Coach Company made the most significant change to their body style and design. So you would have thought this would have been a major push to new marketing. The transition between the front and rear sections from ’72 to ’73 is very noticeable. It went from the more traditional fan sections of aluminum nose to the more “bread loaf” style like ours is with only three sections. You will see the difference immediately in the photos below..
PRE-1973 AVION Nose and Rear construction:
Below is our 1973 with NEW AVION design rolled out that same year (affectionately called the “breadloaf” style) design which afforded more interior headroom, less seams that can leak too!
Not only was this a major exterior change visually, but it also greatly opened up the living space in the nose and rear bathroom areas extending headroom on both sides. When we were at our Silver Avion Fellowship Rally going inside the 1960-early 70’s models you can really tell. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some purists who love the earlier styles and while we do love them too as they are truly the classic look…we appreciate the bit wide open more space of ours especially since we will be living in ours full time when we retire. When you are dealing with less than 200 sq. feet of living space on a full time basis—every square inch of floor and head space counts. I would also go so far as to say, anyone who is over 6′ tall would definitely want the newer (tongue in cheek, ours is 45 years old this year!) style affording more headroom and less a feel you have to crouch to get into your dinette area.
(our 1973 Avion, dubbbed “The Pewter Palace” in winter storage in Queensbury, NY for the LONG winter of 2017-2018)
So back to our trip to the RV-MH Hall of Fame Museum. Surely, for anyone interested in “vintage” anything, this is a great place to visit. Also, if you own a vintage Shasta, Scotty, Winnebago, Bolus, Silver Streak, Airstreams or any of the other dozens out there, you will want to visit this mecca of motor and non-motor recreation vehicles.
Spend some time in the archive library to find and take photos (no they do not have a place to pay for copies to be made either—zheesh!) with your cell phone or camera. Fellow RV’ers and the actual manufactures or collectors of such ephemera have been very generous in donating volumes of great stuff to peruse through–so please do check it would when visiting and leave yourself enough time…and storage space for photos on your camera.
Enjoy and hope to bump into you someday at the RV Hall of Fame! If you are an RV hobbyist or depend on your RV full time to keep a roof (albeit mobile one) over your head—please support this museum and its mission in any way that you can. This is a core part of our American History experience and the American experiment!