20 April 2017

Their Silver Streak restoration is almost too nice

Alan Kashefi, a retired engineer in Riverside, Calif., enjoys fixing things. “If I don’t have anything to fix, I gotta break something,” he says.

He and his wife Holly also like to camp. For decades, they used a succession of Volkswagen vans. But in campgrounds throughout the Southwest, Alan—who has Americanized his name from Hossein Kashefipour—always found himself admiring vintage travel trailers.

About four years ago Holly finally told him, “Either shut up, or just go buy one.”

They bought a 1952 Hanson Love Bug, the style of short trailer known as a “canned ham” because of its oblong shape and flat sides. Alan restored it in a marathon effort, triumphing over termites that had destroyed important parts of the structure. In 2014, the Kashefis showed their Love Bug in Palm Springs Modernism Week’s vintage trailer show and won the Best Small Trailer award.

Appetites whetted by this success, they searched for a larger trailer and found a 1957 Silver Streak Clipper. It’s a 22-foot aluminum-skinned coach that rides on a single axle. This Clipper is a “park” model with extra storage for long stays in trailer parks.

Silver Streak Trailer Company started in 1949 in suburban El Monte, just 12 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, and targeted Airstream as its competition. Debating whether a Silver Streak is built better than an Airstream can generate much discussion. Fit, finish, storage space, ease of access to appliances and even to the subfloor earn praise for the Silver Streaks. While Airstream trailers are considered sleeker, the Silver Streak still isn’t bad-looking itself.

The Clipper was introduced with all-aluminum construction including stamped, heat-treated transverse ribs. It also had Warner electric brakes, fiberglass insulation in the walls and ceiling, dual-pane side windows, and Lucite ones in front and rear. Electric refrigeration was optional.

Alan and Holly became the third owners of this Clipper, paying $9,000 on Feb. 13, 2015. Bob Eid and his family had treasured it for many years, and two different International Harvester Travelalls pulled it on its journeys.

“The belly pan was in awful shape,” Alan says. “I was under that trailer for about five months.” Holly, who works as an Amtrak reservations agent at the Riverside call center, would announce her daily departure, and Alan would stick his head out in order to say, “Have a nice day.”

Once the new belly pan was riveted in place, he laid a lovely wood floor over the existing linoleum. He also refurbished kitchen drawers and cabinet doors, replaced broken glass windowpanes and worn window seals, and covered the aluminum ribs with wood, establishing a warmer feeling inside.

The bathroom was redone with polished aluminum “to make it look bigger,” Alan says. And he made a spa-style slatted floor.

As a signature touch, he built a wine bar at the entryway.

While Alan toiled, Holly rounded up trim and décor items. “A lot of the stuff I have in there belonged to my parents,” she says. “Stuff like that means a lot more.”

Compared to the Love Bug’s sleeping accommodations, the Clipper’s “Lucy-and-Ricky” twin beds are an upgrade, she says, reminding that the Hays Code, which censored Hollywood productions, wouldn’t allow the couple to sleep together on I Love Lucy.

At the end of the year-and-a-half-long restoration and retrofit process, the Kashefis spent $3,000 for a professional polishing job. But they didn’t worry about pulling out every little dent beforehand.

“You need to leave some of the character in it,” Alan says. “They’re like wrinkles, like battle scars.”

A number of pieces like tail light lenses and electrical doodads came from Vintage Trailer Supply, the specialists in Montpelier, Vt. “They are awesome,” he says. “Their service is fantastic.”

By last fall, the Clipper was finished, and the Kashefis bought a 2016 Ford F-150 to tow it. Loaded, it weighs about 5,000 pounds, and Alan says the pickup “pulls this trailer like a toy.”

In the handful of camping trips since, they’ve found themselves besieged by the curious. “Most people are amazed you have such luxury,” Holly says. “People cannot stop asking questions.”

Yet for all the care that was lavished on the beautiful kitchen, wine bar, and dining space, these amenities haven’t always proved practical. Closing the door in order to dine, the Kashefis hear the knocking of yet another looky-loo.

To savor an undisturbed meal, the couple joke, it’s better to leave the campground and find a restaurant.

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