We did it. We bought a house, with wheels. We bought something we could afford, without living beyond our means and something that we could pay cash for and still have money left over to focus on making repairs and decorating it to suit our own needs. We bought a 1975 Airstream Argosy and we plan on living in it. For a while. For real.
Deciding we wanted to live in a super-small, mobile space wasn’t the easiest process, though it was the easiest choice we could make. When faced with the challenge of having to find a new place to rent, we were really discouraged with what people were charging in our current neighborhood and seemed like there must be a better option. Whilst visiting some friends out in Portland, OR this summer, we came up with the idea of “Hey, we’re pretty serious about our relationship, we should buy a house and save money!”
Upon our return from our vacation, we promptly took up a search for homes we could “afford” (can anyone really afford the house they live in without having to have a mortgage?), and were surprised at what the lender offered us. Yet, the idea of accruing that much debt was a suffocating weight and house-hunting was starting to put a strain on each of us and our happy relationship. Then, one day it hit me: we should buy an Airstream. No joke, the idea came to me out of nowhere, I don’t know if it was the voice of the universe or my frugal self-conscience, but it just felt like the right thing to do.
As soon as I had the thought, I instantly started informally researching (i.e. Pinterest and a Google search of blogs) and found some really motivating material. Then, I called Matt at work and told him about my revelation. As expected, he immediately agreed and we both felt the weight and pressure that was crushing down on us to buy a house lift.
We started looking for used Airstreams that day on different websites and on Craigslist within a three-state radius. I don’t know if any of you have ever looked for anything you need on Craigslist, but it can be an interesting, frustrating process. We had a set budget (under $5,000) and were being as picky as possible. At one particular point of frustration and in a bout of hopelessness, Matt suggested that we just buy any old piece of junk RV with 4-wheels.
Yet, any old piece of junk with 4-wheels just wouldn’t do for me! I had to have an Airstream, didn’t he understand, I’d had a VISION! Plus, Airstreams look cooler and will hold their retail value (I hope). Luckily, our Airstream dream was right around the corner. A few days later, Matt sent me a list of links he had found in North Carolina and I started perusing them. One particular post for an Airstream in Carrboro caught my eye.
The person trying to sell it seemed like she was the type of person we are, as she had already lived in the Airstream for over a year on a farm whilst utilizing a composting toilet, etc. Also, she had hooked it up to run (temporarily) on solar power, which was another bonus point, in our eyes. We weren’t just looking to find a trailer and have a “Here’s your cash, let’s get out of here” Craigslist transaction; we were looking for the full experience. I emailed the woman and asked if it were still available. We hadn’t had much luck yet finding legitimate people selling these Airstreams, or hadn’t found anyone that had responded at this point in time.
The owner replied within 12 hours to let us know the Argosy was still available. In another few days, we were finally able to catch each other on the phone and chat about our lives and plans for the Airstream. She seemed to also feel the mutual vibe of crunchy-awesomeness that was slowly being forged between us. She mentioned she was looking for someone who wasn’t going to take the Argosy on the road but was looking to use it as a more permanent home. I assured her that we did NOT want to take it on the road and wanted to live in it on some land. A few days later, Matt and I made the 3 hour drive down to Carrboro, NC to meet the Argosy and her owner.
It felt kind of like adopting a pet from someone who really loved her pet, but just didn’t have the time to spend at home with it anymore and wanted to travel and see more of the world, which I could understand. The Argosy seemed like a living entity, and visiting it only enhanced that feeling. I think within 5 minutes of being there Matt and I turned to one another, and we each had the look of fondness and sureness to imply that yes, this indeed was destiny, and we wanted to make a deal.
So we shook on it! Even better, we paid less than we had originally budgeted for, which was awesome, because we were going to make some big changes to the Argosy (including fixing the electric), not to mention figure out a way to tow it home, which we would have to invest a little extra money into, too. Two weeks later, on a rainy Sunday evening, we borrowed our friends’ 2007 Chevy Silverado Z71 with four-wheel drive and drove back down to Carrboro. Now the real process of getting Argie (as we so fondly refer to her now) home would begin.
I don’t know in what universe I was thinking that we could just pop down to North Carolina at 8pm on a Sunday and pick up this trailer and be home by midnight, but surely I was a tad too optimistic. I didn’t even wear a belt.
As the lights in the Airstream weren’t working, we had to attach some after-market tail lights. Matt spent days in advance preparing to go pick up this trailer; he was so good! I took care of the emailing, phone-calling, the hand-shaking and truck-rental – the rest was up to Matt. Part of this advance prep-work that Matt did was to go to Harbor Freight to pick-up tail lights and additional length of wire to be able to attach these lights to, in addition to a ball-and-hitch to fit the tow package of the truck we were to borrow. He built a great set-up that would easily attach to Argie so that we could safely tow her home.
So, upon arrival in Carrboro, we decided the first thing we should do would be to untangle the wire and plug in the lights, just to make sure they worked. We plugged them in and, to our complete shock and dismay, they didn’t work. How could this happen, everything was going so smoothly, surely there must be some mistake? We spent a little over an hour checking to make sure everything was plugged in properly (only about a hundred times). In the meantime, the owner of the trailer was being very accommodating and was helping us as much as she could. She was even using her own battery of her car to help us to operate the electric lift on the trailer, as there wasn’t any power to the Airstream.
Right around the time her car stalled out, we were starting to give up hope. Matt was combing through the instruction manual for the truck, as I was meditating on the ground and praying for a miracle. We were entertaining the idea of turning around and going home, to return at some other time with another vehicle to pick-up our new dream home.
Then, after getting her car started again, the owner of the Airstream offered to go see if her friend was still up, a friend that for whatever reason really enjoyed working on frustrating projects like this. We tried to stop her, but she was a woman on a mission!
In five minutes, she was back, and her friend was with her! The friend brought with him a set of wire testers to see where we were losing power. He was quickly able to deduce that the issue lay not within the lights themselves, but in the truck! The truck was not registering any power being sent to the trailer/lights/towing area. This was a big-time bummer, as we borrowed this truck specifically because the owners assured us that they had recently towed something and that the lights had worked (and it was the cheapest deal we could find). It was an unforseen circumstance we hadn’t expected, nonetheless.
Luckily, this friend was no dummy and had a solution! However, the night was wearing on and we had some choices to make: should we get this hooked up and drive all night, only to sacrifice safety and sleep or should we get it all hooked up, sleep in NC (at the most hospitable Craigslist seller’s house ever!), and drive home safely in the morning?
So we chose safety and sleep! By 2:00am, the truck was hooked up to the trailer and the brake lights, turn arrows and running lights worked: halleluiah! And we had a comfy bed to stay in?! Though the evening proved rather challenging and didn’t go as easily as planned, it all worked out for us in the end and gave us one hell of a story to tell.
We got up early in the morning, hit the road, and didn’t really have a hard time getting home. We quickly realized that going faster than 60 mph wasn’t going to work for the truck and trailer, so getting home was a bit slow going, but other than that, it was smooth sailing the whole way! Matt was so awesome at driving the giant, behemoth trailer down the road; I was simultaneously proud of him and happy that I myself didn’t have to do it.
Upon arrival in Ashland, we were even able to find a suitable parking spot for her to spend some time for the next few months as we fix her up. It was quite the adventure and it took about four times as long as expected, but everyone made it home safe, including our beautiful new house-on-wheels, Argie. Step one: acquire Airstream trailer – check! Now, for the process of remodeling, which I’m sure won’t be nearly as easy…