19 September 2010

Airstream, Curtis Wright or Silver Streak?

Trying to determine the manufacturer and year of an early American aluminium trailer can be confusing. Airstreams of the late 1930s, Curtis Wrights of the 1940s, and early Silver Streaks all look very similar; and many secondary sources on the web are, at best, muddled, so any corrections are welcome.

Wally Byam started working life in advertising, and later either worked for or became a magazine publisher during the Great Depression. In seeking to get to the bottom of reader complaints about inaccuracies in plans for a caravan published in an early DIY magazine, Byam started building them himself, in plywood. From 1930 this became Byam's full-time occupation, and he founded Airstream - web sources give the date as anywhere between 1931 and 1934.

In about 1935 Byam went to work for William Hawley Bowlus. Bowlus was an aircraft pioneer, had been Superintendent of Construction on Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. He'd taken to designing all-aluminium bullet-shaped caravans - the Chief and the smaller Papoose. When Bowlus went bust in 1936, Byam bought some of the equipment and took on some of the Bowlus workers. He started selling, under his Airstream brand, a near copy of the Bowlus Chief, the key difference being that the Airstream had the door in the side instead of at the front. Byam's caravan was called the Clipper.

Meanwhile, a chap named Curtis Wright, one S, made clever use of his name to build caravans at the facilities of aircraft manufacturer Curtiss-Wright, two Ss and two surnames hyphenated together. One-S Curtis Wright hired Byam and in 1946 they started producing, at Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport, a trailer based on Byam's pre-war Airstream Clipper. The relationship lasted only a few months. In 1947 Byam refounded Airstream, first making again the Clipper, and, from 1948, offering a range of sizes. Wright founded Curtis Wright Travel Trailers, but in 1949 sold out to three investors who changed the name to the Silver Streak Trailer Company. The Silver Streak Clipper was built in South El Monte, California.

Today's acquisition is ostensibly a 1947 Curtis Wright. However, it bears a badge that says it's a Silver Streak from El Monte, so must be of 1949 or later. Against that, though, it has two rectangular windows at the rear, instead of the one wide window, or two 'Argonaut' windows, that feature in every image of Silver Streak Clippers seen so far. A bit of a mystery at this stage.


Miles Johnson said...

This might solve the mystery:
Apparently Silver Streak bought all of the Curtis Wright production in 1950 and marketed them as Silver Streak Trailers.

YMGW said...

Thank-you Miles. That might well account for the uncertainty over whether the trailer is a Curtis Wright or, as badged, a Silver Streak. On the other hand, the website introduces further confusion by assuming that Curtiss Wright and Curtis Wright are one and the same.

Randy Flasch said...

I have one of these trailers that looks just like the one in these photos but is probably a little older because the tail lights are not built into the body but has only one center mounted tail light. I have no title, but it looks just like the one in these photos. It is totally gutted on the inside and is just being used to store old car parts. I am in Mesa, Arizona. If anyone is interested in purchasing this trailer for about $2,500 or so, get in touch with me at derrand@cox.net. It has the old fashion trailer ball mount missing parts, so, to tow it one would need to weld a new hitch mount on the center pipe. I don't know if it is a Silver Streak or a Curtis Wright, but you will probably be able to tell if you look at it. Let me know on this because the City is getting after me about getting it out of my yard because it is an eyesore. I'm not "into" these old trailers, but everybody who sees it tells me it is worth some money so I shouldn't just give it away. Thanks much for your interest. Randy F. Phone 602-565-5556.

Ivanovich said...

Well, what you have looks almost identical to what we have .... and we're under the belief that what we have is a 1953 Silver Streak 'The Clipper'. Ours has the badges with a serial number '2475' (El Monte Cali.)which corresponds with the date.Ours also has the dealer's plate 'Earl E. Smith Trailer Homes' Portland, Oregon.
Except our has a different front/rear window configuration again. On ours the front and end 'mask' windows were altered or modified at some stage. The original lozenge-shape holes were visible when we took out the interior lining. From our research there appear to be numerous front/rear window configurations.
We miraculously found ours here in Byron Bay, Australia. Apparently shipped out here by an American film maker who migrated. You can find numerous pics of ours here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25291729@N03/sets/72157626340212389/

YMGW said...

Thank-you for that. Can you expand please re how to interpret the serial number to confirm year.

Ivanovich said...

To tell the truth it was a while ago we tried ascertaining the exact year of our trailer. I'm sure we found some online reference to serial number / year specifics, I think it came down to just accepting it was roughly this era of production. We did a lot of online research and comparison with other's. With the early Silver Streaks there wasn't a lot of official records / data kept.I'll see if I can find any data we might have.