Vintage trailers roll into Tucson Mod Week

2013-09-29T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T12:05:26Z Vintage trailers roll into Tucson Mod WeekBy Gerald M. Gay Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Taking a road trip with the Mastrangelo family is like buckling into a big silver time capsule.

For the last seven years, Alex Mastrangelo, his wife, Michelle Haller, and their son, Dash, have traversed the American Southwest with a 1957 El Rey trailer in tow.

The 24-foot vehicle, similar in appearance to the classic Airstream, sports the original yellow four-top Wedgewood stove and matching General Electric fridge, an intimate dining space, two beds and a bathroom with a working shower, all surrounded by wooden cupboards, checkered linoleum and kitschy curtained windows.

The family brings the trailer to vintage rallies throughout the Southwest and parts of central California, hitched to the back of their 1959 Pinehurst Green Cadillac.

“It is a little different and something you don’t see all the time,” said Mastrangelo, 35. “At campgrounds, people will pull up in million-dollar diesel pushers, but all eyes will be on our trailer.”

The El Rey will be showcased next weekend along with more than a dozen other vintage trailers as part of Tucson Modernism Week, a celebration of all things midcentury-modern taking place Thursday to next Sunday.

Spearheaded by the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, the event covers a variety of topics.

Activities, most of which are free, include film screenings, a historical cocktail party, a midcentury marketplace and lectures from local scholars and longtime residents familiar with Tucson’s past.

Foundation president Demion Clinco said trailers, which celebrated their heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, were a perfect fit for the event.

“It was part of the American dream in the postwar era,” he said. “You could get a beautiful little Airstream trailer and drive out and see the country in this shining, gleaming example of Americana.”

The trailer show will take place on Saturday and Sunday at the historic Jewish Community Center building on North Plumer Avenue. Rich Luhr, publisher of the Tucson-based quarterly magazine “Airstream Life,” is scheduled to speak at the American Evangelical Lutheran Church on North Tucson Boulevard on Saturday afternoon.

Luhr’s talk will include a slideshow that revolves around extreme trailer makeovers.

“It will be sort of like Architectural Digest with its most glamorous houses edition, only an Airstream version,” he said.

A former cellphone consultant living in Vermont, Luhr quit his job in 2003 and shortly thereafter started the magazine. He spent three years living on the road, from 2005 to 2008, with his wife and daughter before settling in Tucson.

“It is a very convenient place,” he said. “We didn’t have to winterize the trailer like they do in the north. There are year-round Airstreaming opportunities. Tucson kind of hit all the buttons we wanted.”

Switching between his 30-foot, 2005 Airstream Safari Bunkhouse and 1968 Airstream Caravel — his original trailer — Luhr has traveled tens of thousands of miles, hitting more than 120 national parks and every major city along the way.

His magazine is well-regarded in the Airstream community, commanding more than 8,000 subscribers.

Even with a house on Tucson’s east side to call home, the Luhrs are constantly traveling, regularly visiting family in Vermont and Airstream headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio.

Airstream has been around since the 1930s and still makes an estimated 1,200 trailers a year.

“In some sense we still regard the Airstream as more of a home than our house,” Luhr, 50, said. “We have spent just as much time in it. It has brought us everywhere. We’ve had so many experiences with it. Our house is just the place where we stay between trips.”

Mastrangelo’s love for vintage trailers was the next step in a lifelong obsession with old things.

He bought his first antique at age 7, a 1936 Emerson wooden table radio that he still owns.

By age 15, he was fixing up vintage cars.

After graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in communications, he took on real estate while maintaining his love for days gone by.

Mastrangelo spent his first commission check — about $1,500 — on his first trailer, a 16-foot, 1958 Shasta that “resembled a canned ham,” at a swap meet for car parts in Phoenix in 2002.

“I went up to buy a hubcap and came home with a trailer,” he said. “At that point, I didn’t realize the hobby surrounding it. I just thought it was really cool.”

He and Haller, a fellow vintage trailer enthusiast, purchased the El Rey on eBay and had it shipped from Michigan a couple of years before their son, Dash, was born.

The vehicle had been sitting in someone’s driveway since the 1970s.

The plumbing was shot. The wiring was fried and the floor had been decimated by carpenter ants, but Mastrangelo saw the potential.

Today the trailer sits in tiptop shape. “I never counted the hours I put into it,” Mastrangelo said. “I’ve always had fun working on it.”

The trailer complements the other aspects of Mastrangelo’s life. Everything inside his midtown home, from the wall of radios in his office to the furniture in his living room and vintage appliances in his kitchen, hails from a bygone era.

The El Rey sits in front of the house, next to a 1954 Ranger Popup Trailer and just beyond a carport full of vintage vehicles, including a rare 1959 Buick Invicta wagon.

The family takes the El Rey out up to eight times a year. Dash, 5, has been along for the ride since he was 5 weeks old.

“I sometimes wish that I had that when I was young,” Mastrangelo said. “You can experience so much more. There is always something to do, someplace to walk, some animal to see. Otherwise, you are just in some hotel room staring at a TV.”

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at ggay@azstarnet.com or 807-8430.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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