When it was acquired in 2006, the trailer was largely complete; however, it exhibited water damage and other forms of deterioration that had accumulated over its 60 year history. Some of the original ceiling panels were missing, whereas every remaining ceiling panel was warped, stained, or otherwise damaged. The mahogany side panels were water stained and/or rotted. The floor was covered in glue-down carpet squares, under which the original linoleum was worn and water damaged. The cabinetry was complete; however, many of the surfaces were damaged by water, some severely. Many of the cabinets were missing hardware or small parts. The original mattress, dinette cushions, and curtains were missing from the trailer. Two original curtain tiebacks were in the trailer.
Restoration began with careful disassembly of the trailer. The dinette was disassembled and removed, the kitchenette was removed, the cabinetry was removed, the ceiling and wall panels were removed, and the trailer’s wooden subfloor was removed.
During disassembly, as upper cabinets were removed, a section of ceiling became exposed that had not been subjected to the elements and was undamaged. Prior to exposing this section of ceiling, it had been unknown precisely what the finished surfaces of the ceiling had been like originally. Recognizing that Aero Services was an aircraft company, research was conducted to learn about high end aircraft interiors of the early to mid 1940’s, at which time it was determined that the ceiling panels in 101X had originally been “flocked.” Flocking is a process by which millions of cloth fibers are sprayed through a specialized gun onto a substrate that has been coated with a color-matched glue. The resulting finish is very durable and has a look and feel comparable to suede or velvet. The use of flocked panels in a trailer is unique; however, flocking was used on some of the high end aircraft interiors of the day and would have been a familiar technique for Aero Services.
During disassembly, as the carpet squares were pulled up, it was discovered that the linoleum floor covering was comprised of five separate floor sections, with the center section being of a different color. The center section of flooring contained an inlay of a bird-in-flight, made of different colors of linoleum. The inlay area of the original floor was able to be removed from the trailer for use as a pattern for the new flooring and preservation. The original inlay was able to be removed and preserved and was used to reproduce the inlay in the new floor using reproduction linoleum.
After the trailer was disassembled, the interior was thoroughly cleaned and the inside of the shell was primed and painted drab green. Originally the aluminum subfloor and wheelhouses had been painted this color; however during restoration it was decided to paint the entire interior to provide a perfectly fresh surface to which insulation was to be glued.
During the restoration of 101X, new ceiling panels were made from inexpensive hardboard panels, as Aero Services had done when the trailer was built. Before the panels were flocked, they were trial fitted to the trailer. The panels were then lacquered to prevent excessive glue absorption, and the panels were then glued and flocked. The completed panels were installed in the trailer using stainless steel screws of the exact size and head style as original.
The interior restoration included repairing and refinishing the cabinetry. Where parts were damaged or missing, new parts were made or veneer was replaced. The interiors of cabinets were repainted to match their factory color. Missing mahogany cabinet handles were reproduced and vintage cabinet latches were obtained to replace missing latches.
Original light fixtures were renewed, and where fixtures were missing, proper replacements were located and installed. At the time 101X was built, fluorescent lights would have been considered leading edge technology, and Aero Services showcased the technology by not covering the exposed bulbs.
The trailer was originally outfitted with curtains and window shades. The window shades were custom made to fit the unique shape of the rearmost side windows as well as the slope of the front and rear windows. A unique feature of 101X’s window shades is that several of the shades draw up from the bottom rather than top-down, as is customary. Replacement shades were constructed using duck cloth and with stitching to match the original shades.
Reproductions of the original curtains were made based on photographs, curtain rod locations in the original wall panels, and with fabric selected to match one of the original curtain tiebacks. Dinette fabrics were selected to complement the colors of the other interior components and cushions were designed based on an original photograph.
The original electrical fuse panel was renewed and reinstalled in the trailer, however, for safety purposes a modern circuit breaker system was installed in a hidden location in the trailer. The wiring in 101X was originally asphalt impregnated cloth covered wiring. Modern copper wiring was used in the restoration, however, period correct woven cloth wiring harness covers were used to maintain an original appearance. Plumbing and gas lines were replaced with copper lines, as original. The original aluminum water tank was renewed and returned to use, beneath the front dinette seat.
Aero Flite 101X was built as a prototype by Aero Services, a company whose background was in aircraft design, construction, and repair. The company’s background contributed to subtle differences between Aero Services’ approach to trailer construction and the approach of other companies. These differences are an important part of 101X’s history that needed to be preserved during restoration.
Aero Flite 101X was built in late 1945 when postwar material shortages were very prevalent. Because of the shortages of certain materials, the builders were very intentional with respect to making the most of the limited resources available to them. Only the highest quality materials were used in appearance areas, whereas lower quality, cheaper materials were used in non-appearance areas. It was important during restoration to maintain this same approach, so that the postwar material shortages continued to be reflected in 101X’s construction details.
Another important factor that had to be considered was the trailer’s ownership history. The trailer’s history is well-documented all the way back to the day that its first owner, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., picked up the trailer at the Aero Services plant in Van Nuys, California in early 1946. Many of Vanderbilt’s travels with the trailer were documented in newspaper articles and magazines, and Vanderbilt included a sketch of 101X in the letterhead for his syndicated column. Third owner folk musician Sam Eskin traveled all over the country with the trailer and used it as a guesthouse for many years. On the cover of one of Eskin’s record albums, it was mentioned that Eskin always traveled with a silver trailer - an obvious reference to Aero Flite 101X.
Vanderbilt’s, Eskin’s, and their companions’ usage of the trailer is reflected in the trailer - in such places as surface scratches on the table top, in minor dings in the kitchenette doors, in minor scrapes in body panels or rub rails. These normal wear and usage indicators are an important part of the trailer’s past and help to connect modern users with prior owners and occupants.
All these factors were taken into account in the planning, researching, and restoring of the trailer. The approach to restoration was highly sympathetic to originality in materials and techniques, as well as to preserving as many of the original parts as possible.
The restoration did not seek to return the trailer to absolute “like new” condition. To achieve a “like new” restoration would have meant compromising originality for perfection. It was more important to preserve an original, albeit slightly imperfect, part than it was to achieve a “like new” look with a newly manufactured part. Where it was not possible or practical to repair and reuse an original part, reproductions were made based on the originals or period correct replacement parts were acquired.
Aero Flite Trailers
"America's Smartest Trailers"
Restoration of Aero Flite 101X
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All of the aluminum skin is original to the trailer, and despite all the miles Vanderbilt and Eskin towed it, only a few small dings or scrapes exist. While the skin was in generally good shape, it was heavily oxidized, pitted, and exhibited surface imperfections. The original distinctive Aero Flite stripes were faded, checked, and otherwise deteriorated.
Screws attaching rub rails, window trim, and other parts were rusted and in need of replacement. During restoration, all exterior trim pieces were removed. All of the trailer’s windows were removed. Exterior lights were removed.
The trailer’s skin, including the roof, was polished using Nuvite brand of polish. The polishing work achieved a highly reflective finish, however, the skin continues to exhibit some degree of pitting and imperfections associated with its 60 year existence.
The streamlined butane tank cover was missing from the trailer. A reproduction was fabricated, based on a photograph of the other prototype and using a template made from the cover on another early Aero Flite. The front and rear windows, which are Plexiglas, were replaced. The side window channels were relined and weatherstrip was replaced. The window and door insect screens and front and rear vent screens were replaced with brass screen material, as original. The trailer’s original entry stairs were rebuilt, missing and corroded support bracing was replaced, and the lettering was repainted, by hand, as original.
Research determined the turn signals on 101X were the same as those on a 1939 Buick. The original emblem, in center of the turn signal assembly, was missing. A replacement part was fabricated and a logo, inspired by the Aero Services, Inc. logo of the period, was hand painted on the part.
The tail lights were determined to be off a 1940 Plymouth Sedan. The originals had sustained damage to the bezels, which were replaced with original replacement parts. The license plate lamp was determined to be off a 1939 Dodge and is original to the trailer. New old stock side marker lights, all of which were amber originally, were purchased from a vintage aircraft parts dealer on Guam.
The restoration is accurate with respect to screws, rivets, and other types of fasteners. The license plate frame, hitch mechanism, jack mechanism, jack handle, and jack wheel are original to the trailer.
The axle, brakes, and springs were renewed and new tires were installed. New old stock hubcaps, similar to original, were installed.
Please note: these exterior photos are temporary only. When the distinctive Aero Flite stripes have been repainted, in the spring, better photos will be posted.
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