In the 1970s, Gene Magre started restoring Salt Lake City Avenues homes. Having marked success, Gene then moved to San Diego and restored homes there for many years. He restored homes for celebrities. He doesn’t like to drop names, “but the most famous celebrities.” Gene adds casually, “I earned enough money to do what I want, where I want, how I want. So it worked out pretty good.”
The “where I want” he decided was Heber, Utah. The “what” is Airstream trailers. Not VW busses, no classic cars, no homes. Just Airstreams: the silver bullet, riveted aluminum, American-made classic, a symbol of wide open-road freedom.
“I did an experiment last year. I put four trailers out here and rented a piece of dirt. In February, when it was 20 degrees below zero, I had people coming and wanting to talk about the Airstream trailer, and they wanted to buy a trailer in February … in 20 below zero weather! I knew right then that I had a home run.” That home run is called Vintage Airstream Restorations.
Gene’s business is now attracting customers from all over the country. Every trailer has a different story. He says the common trait among Airstream owners is a yearning for the open road and a return to a life offering more community, freedom and connection. And with every Airstream he restores comes a great story.
Contacted by a man from Tyler, Texas, Gene was commissioned to build a tailgating Airstream for his son who is a football star at Baylor University “to provide a place where they could tailgate, aggregate and entertain, while the son was playing ball.” Gene says the theme is always unique. Gene has restored trailers custom-suited for businesses including a fabric store, a BBQ restaurant and a tattoo parlor. His clients are from all over the country, and his unique, highly skilled staff can do everything and anything. Gene employs a former Audi engineer and a former Boeing mechanic, yet his rates are still below what top shops in California charge. What does it cost? Gene sells Airstream shells for as low as $4,000, but the restoration work usually ranges between $25,000 and $80,000.
Gene describes most fifth wheel trailers as “put together today with bubble gum and screws. There is not a whole lot of pride there.” His Airstream owner is different. “These guys, they love being polished. Owners love being involved with the theme, decor, and planning.”
Gene will be upgrading and expanding his operations this month into a facility that can increase his output fourfold. His next big goal is to find an easy method for Airstream owners to finance their trailers. “The Airstream trailer is one of the few iconic parts of America that is going up in value. If you go to your Ford dealer and buy a truck, next week it’s worth less than you bought it for. When you buy one of these, it’s worth more.”
“I just love what I’m doing. I just eat it, sleep it, talk it. I just love doing it. It’s just a fun, fun deal. A fun, fun deal.”