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Conversations with Pee Wee

Airstream Aluminum and Avion Insights

Some insight to the purchasing and production of aluminum used by Airstream in the 60's and beyond.

Among other things, besides Caravan and Club participations, I worked at Airstream, California from November 1964, until April 1969. I started as the receiving clerk and left as a cost accountant. In between I worked on bills of material, started the first personnel department and became a materials manager. From 1967 until 1969, I helped in setting up a blanket order, release system typical of the automotive industry. The Director of Materials Management and I set up the sourcing and releases for the major changes for the 1969 Airstream. The initial purchase orders and releases came from the Cerritos plant for California and Ohio.

I want to address aluminum purchases and applications to the Airstream’s. The primary supplier of aluminum was Kaiser Aluminum, the secondary supplier was Alcoa.

Let’s discuss Kaiser Aluminum.

In the aluminum industry there was a grade of aluminum sheeting called Boeing quality or Boeing specification. This was milled at Trentwood (Spokane, WA). As shinny, and lustrous the metal used by Boeing was, Airstream’s was a notch higher.

When the line was set up to run sheet, new rollers and other production items were replaced. This assured that the beginning of each run would produce nothing but the brightness metal surface. Airstream’s metal was always the first of the production run, then Boeing metal and after Boeing other customers.

You bet Airstream’s shine was bright.

Alcoa was the second supplier, but not for roof, sides and front panels. Alcoa was used for stretch forming the segments in the end caps. For some reason the Kaiser metal changed color and did not match up with the siding panels. However, when the Alcoa metal was formed it matched. Nick Kaufman of KT Metals did the forming for both plants.

I have no idea when Airstream stopped using Kaiser Aluminum as a supplier, but it was after I left in 1969. When I left Airstream, I went to work for Kaiser Aluminum at their corporate office in Oakland, CA.

Kaiser Aluminum contracted their bauxite from three major locations, Ghana, Jamaica and Australia.

The electric potlines are expensive to run and to replace. I toured the potlines at Kaiser’s Chalmette, LA operation. I was told that they were basically strike proof from strikes... If the workers went on strike, they would shut off the power to the potlines. The metal then would harden, and the entire potline operation would require replacement. A six month maintenance project.

Some Avion insights

Avion is a very interesting story.

Oscar Selent, an Airstream owner and Caravanner lived in Benton Harbor, MI. Some way or some how his trailer was measured by the future manufacturers and owners of Avion.

Avion-to-be also purchased an Airstream and totally disassembled it. They blue-printed what they had done. Then reassembled it.

There will be a few items that I do not specifically remember, but I will italicize them.

I don’t know if the Avion came out in 1955 or 1956. They entered the South Bend RV show. The name of their first model was the Romney Cruiser?

At the show Avion only had one model, and handed out Airstream literature. Telling prospective customers that their trailer was the same as the Airstream specs as found in the Airstream literature.

Airstream went to court on “copy cat” principles. Avion had to change their contours and outside appearance. Whoopee for product identification, patents and copyrights. (I don’t know the year(s) of the court battle.)

The documents provided and the pictures in these photo galleries have been used with permission of Dale Schwamborn. They are intended for personal viewing and enjoyment only and are not to be used in part or in full on other websites, for commercial purpose, or for any other use. For information on this material you can contact Dale at

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