It all started when Rex Richmond’s wife Jina had a scrape with a service station on her way home from the Burning Man festival in Nevada.
“We’d had a big week, and I totally misjudged the gas pump,” said Jina (who goes by the Playa name “GiGi” while at Burning Man). “I made a big ol’ dent in the driver’s side panel. I’ve heard that’s the most common—but it was a terrible screwup.”
The incident quickly led to excited inspiration. “Rex likes to do artistic things, and build,” said Jina, (though he’s not an artist by trade, and holds the title of Senior Director of Health Policy and Economics for a cardiac medical device company). “He said, ‘let’s make something!’’ At first Rex considered crafting picture frames from the damaged aluminum panel that he kept after the repair. But Jina had a better idea. “I said no, you need to make something for Burning Man,” she said.
The 24-foot panel on their 27-foot 2010 Flying Cloud had to be completely replaced, and the Richmonds chose Airstream Adventures Northwest for the bodywork. “It was expensive,” said Rex. “But that’s not the point. The guys doing the work, who are the greatest, had taken the material off and they were about to throw it away. Because of the coatings and additives, it’s not recyclable, so I said, I’ll take it. We’re going to make something out of it.”
After pondering the design it for a long time, in March of 2014 he decided to create a 6-foot peace sign for use at Camp Airstreameri, a gathering of Airstreamers at Burning Man.
“It’s all buck riveted, just like they make the trailers,” he explained. “You can see that it has all the markings from the external parts of the trailer; the decals and everything else are still on it. We set it up so that the strip that says ‘Airstream’ goes right down the center.”
The shining peace sign has been to two “burns” now, and is used as the camp cornerpiece where two Black Rock City streets cross. “People use it as a navigation aid,” said Rex (aka “Jethro” during Burning Man).
For his next Playa project Rex designed a bar using reclaimed Airstream aluminum materials as well, though mostly not from the same original crash (“well, some of it,” he said.) “The Airstream Adventures people have been really nice to continue to share material with me. They gave me enough so that I was able to craft the bar, and I decided to incorporate trailer plates from as many states in the US as I could.”
Rex collects the plates from eBay, and has 44 states represented and two Canadian territories.
“It’s been a really good adventure to put it together,” he said. “I probably spent six months making it.” This year the new Airstream bar debuted at Burning Man (joining the Airstreameri surfboard bar in use by the funloving camp for a decade), and was quickly christened by a layer of infamous Playa dust.
If you have trailer plates you’d like to donate to the Airstreameri bar, the unrepresented states are Georgia, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington DC, West Virginia, and California. “California quit issuing trailer-specific plates, and they’re hard to find,” said Rex. “I also don’t have Guam or Puerto Rico, and can’t be sure the territories issued them. But they both have motorcycle plates, so maybe?” Write to email@example.com.
–By RG Coleman