By Laura Samuel Meyn
Photos by Mark Graham
A vintage Airstream Argosy makes life on the road sweet for this family of four.
When Jake Richter first encountered “Jackie,” the 1979 Airstream Argosy he would name after the man he bought it from, she was definitely a fixer-upper. For a time, the camper had been parked on a deer lease, and the exterior had “little love taps on her from the cattle,” Jake says. Inside, things were less quaint: “It looked like a meth lab.” But when Jake showed it to wife Breinn, they both saw plenty to love in spite of sticky walls (a byproduct of cooking with propane) and 40-year-old carpeting.
The couple and their boys, Baron, 10, and Bronco, 7, enjoy camping, often traveling to scenic spots in the Western states for Jake’s long-distance runs (he’s fond of 100-mile courses). Tent camping was replaced by a 10-by-6-foot camper that served them well for a couple of years. But the 30-by-8-foot Airstream Argosy offered more space, with a bedroom, living area, kitchenette and bathroom.
Jake spent eight months restoring the Argosy on weekends and evenings. The biggest task was replacing the camper’s axles, which Jake accomplished with the help of a ramp, a transmission lift and YouTube videos. The refrigerator, freezer, stove, propane tanks and air conditioning are all original and in working order.
While Airstreams are known for their polished aluminum exteriors, the Argosy was the manufacturer’s effort at offering a lower-priced trailer; one cost-saving measure was using imperfect aluminum panels, which were painted rather than polished. After stripping off four coats of exterior paint, Jake painted the camper in coral and cream, inspired by the family’s travels throughout the Southwest and the trailer’s original color scheme.
Beneath the paint, the Argosy has Airstream’s iconic aerodynamic silhouette, but even so, it was considered something of a stepchild — Argosys originally weren’t allowed at Airstream rallies. These days, they’re back in the club.
Inside, Jake tore out the old carpet, patched the floor and installed a lightweight wood-look vinyl. The couple left the original interior paneling and the bathroom’s stylized floral wallpaper untouched but brightened up the remaining walls and ceiling with a fresh coat of white paint. Breinn made new curtains for the bedroom, where the boys sleep in twin beds, and the living area, where a built-in sofa folds out into a full-size sleeper for the grown-ups.
The camper’s Southwestern style echoes from a thunderbird blanket throw to a cowhide area rug, the horns hanging over the sofa and the cactus-print sheets on the boys’ beds.
Framed national parks art in the bedroom and bathroom give a nod to destinations reached as well as those still to come. The family plans one big road trip each summer in addition to weekend trips throughout the year. Last summer’s three-week trek was planned around Jake’s 100-mile endurance run in Ouray, Colorado; the family also visited Big Horn, Wyoming; Black Hills, South Dakota; and New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Sugarite Canyon State Park. This summer’s itinerary will take them to Yosemite National Park in California before they head to Salida in Colorado, where Jake will run the High Lonesome 100.
Jake pulls the camper with his Ford Excursion and sticks to driving under 60 miles per hour. “It was made before speed limits were greater than 55, so many people have blowouts or lose control,” he says. “The weight distribution hitch helps, but speed is a big factor.”
Once parked, the family likes to set up camp in Airstream style, with an outdoor rug, a propane fire ring, plastic flamingos, a pop-up tent with LEDs and a hammock. Breinn’s favorite spot is on the camper’s couch with a cup of coffee; there, wraparound windows offer a great view, and a little sill works well for setting down a mug. While the scene inside is sweet, naturally some of the best camping memories have been made outdoors. “We’ve done some pretty tough hikes,” Jake says. “I love watching the boys experience it and tell me, ‘That was really hard,’ but then say, ‘I’m glad I did it.’ ”
Even Coco, a friendly Lab mix, gets excited when Jake pulls the trailer out of storage. “She knows it means we’re going somewhere.”