The first Airstream trailers company-founder Wally Byam ever built were made out of Masonite, a type of hardboard made of pressed-wood fibers. But for 78 years, the trailers have been made of shiny, malleable aluminum. They are built with the same precision and attention to detail as an airplane's fuselage.
Each Airstream requires on average 750 square feet of aluminum cut into hundreds of pieces to construct. Workers team up to rivet pieces of the metal shell together, making sure to carefully place each rivet as to not dent or compromise the material.
That teamwork is the cornerstone of Airstream's training program. Employees rely on a specific team for training and mentorship when they are first hired. But it's common, even applauded, for Airstream employees to jump from department to department during their careers, acquiring knowledge and sharing their own along the way.
For Larry Metz and Bob Sanford, that knowledge computes into what might as well be doctoral degrees in RV. Neither have a college education, as they both started at Airstream right out of high school. Aside from a milk route and working on the family farm, Airstream is the only full-time job Metz has ever held. His photo on the anniversary board is in the 50-year group. Sanford has been with the company since 1967.
One of the best jobs Sanford has had at Airstream was helping to build a special trailer to house the astronauts from the Apollo 11 moon landing. Because NASA feared what the astronauts might bring back from space, they needed an airtight land capsule that could stop hypothetical alien pathogens from escaping into Earth's atmosphere.
"It was a very restricted build process," Sanford remembers. "My part was to build two end shells and part of the body assembly. It was quite an accomplishment because it was something nobody knew about. You knew there was an event happening that wasn't going to happen for another couple years, so you were kind of anxious but also had a lot of pride about it as well."
With all those years on the job at Airstream, Sanford and Metz could have taken jobs elsewhere. In 1985, Honda opened a plant in Anna, Ohio, just 20 minutes away. It was a big deal that a Japanese company had picked a little town in Ohio to build its cars. And Sanford says he'd be lying if he didn't think about leaving-but not for long.
"But then I realized what I had at Airstream and what a sacrifice it may be to go somewhere else," he says. So he stayed and has thrived in the company's research and development division, becoming the go-to guy to fix and tweak machinery at the plant.
"The people you work with here are a big incentive to stay," he says with a smile. "Besides, were else can you go and work on cool projects like with NASA?!"