Airstreams have had a long, congenial relationship with the National Park system—the two rather grew up together, with Airstream kind of a kid brother to the older park system. Indeed, this year Airstream produced the Pendleton trailer, a commemorative issue recognizing the park system’s 100th anniversary.
Having been a seasonal ranger for Grand Teton National Park for years in the 70s, Doug Leen knows a fair amount about the parks and their history. He’s touring around to all the parks now in a 1948 Airstream Trailwind, which by its contents and design is a mini-national park on wheels.
His 1973 discovery of an original Works Progress Administration (WPA) poster, one of 14 commissioned between 1938 and 1941, led him on a winding trail in search of other originals, resulting in him years later finding the negatives for 13 of the images. His business, Ranger Doug’s Enterprises, initially reproduced the 14 WPA posters and was later commissioned by many of the other parks to produce new prints in the vintage style of the originals.
Lean bought the 19-foot (20-foot with the longer tongue he added) Trailwind in 2013, but the first two shops he engaged for its restoration weren’t up to snuff, so the restoration took 2 ½ years. “In frustration, I moved from Alaska to Cody, Wyoming where the trailer was finally towed, and did the work myself using an RV repair shop, two welding shops and a custom furniture shop,” says Leen.
Besides the remarkable custom furniture work done by Lester Santos, there is a magnificent interior diorama of national park scenes painted by Janet Bedford, depicting Monument Valley, the Grand Tetons and other inspiring vistas.
Leen is currently traveling to all the national parks lecturing on the park system, the WPA and the history of the posters while camping out in the Trailwind, which needed a bathroom and shower added as well.
The trailer is his fourth Airstream: “The previous three were all vintage Bambis. The first one was previously owned by the president of a chapter of the Vintage Airstream Club and it was tricked out. Unfortunately, some drug addict stole it for a portable meth lab. It blew up, taking another trailer and house with it—what a loss,” says Leen.
Leen has also given talks to art galleries and at corporate seminars, but he thinks a year on the road in a small trailer might be enough. “After one year in a 20′ trailer, I’ll be ready to go home to Alaska—we’ll see.” The vintage Airstream, with his logo on the side, gets a lot of attention on the road. “Everyone points at it and rubber-necks as I drive by,” says Leen.
Leen is happy that there’s a historical symmetry between Airstream history and National Park history. “Airstreams go hand-in-glove with our National Parks. They have become synonymous with American mobility and freedom on the road,” he says.
See Doug Leen’s poster work at his website.
— By Tom Bentley