JACKSON CENTER — The modern Airstream Travel Trailer has come a long way since the 1929 “tent contraption” that founder Wally Byam built on a Model T chassis. The iconic tear drop shape and silver aluminum shell is timeless, retro-cool, and recognizable worldwide. If you long for a home away from home, all roads lead to Jackson Center.
Byam bought a vacant factory in Jackson Center in 1952 after outgrowing his Los Angeles plant. Three times a year one of Community Blood Center’s Bloodmobile journeys to the Airstream factory for company blood drives. It’s a homecoming when CBC uses the Airstream Bloodmobile built there 16 years ago.
In 2006 Airstream noted that 65 percent of Airstreams built were still on the road. Airstream has been hosting blood drives since 2000 and they have proven to be just as dependable. Employees have made 2,388 donations over those 16 years. In 2015 Airstream’s three blood drives totaled 180 donors, 20 first-time donors and 170 donations for an average of 104 percent of collection goal. Airstream again earned CBC’s LifeSaving Ambassadors Club award for blood drive excellence.
Donor Services Director Andrew Keelor and DS Manager Tracy Morgan joined CBC Account Representative Kathy Pleiman in presenting the award to Airstream in front of a wall filled with images from Airstream’s 87-year history.
“We appreciate your commitment to hosting the blood drives and all the effort to fill them to capacity,” said Pleiman. “By assuring successful blood drives, you help CBC meet our commitment to the hospitals, including right here in your community.”
The blood drive history at Airstream has coincided with the company’s most rapid growth. “We were 158 employees in 2006 and now we’re at 694,” said Airstream President Bob Wheeler. “Obviously it helps fill the slots when we have more people.”
By all measures the Airstream work force is a happy work force. “We don’t have to advertise, it’s all word of mouth,” said Human Resources Administrator Cindy Oakley. “We’re always able to meet our hiring needs.” Many employees have worked at Airstream for more than 40 years, and a select few for more than 50.
It’s a place where they enjoy building homes for the open road that make dreams of freedom come alive. A positive sense of accomplishment on the factory floor goes hand in hand with a spirit of community service.
“If somebody gets sick, or a house burns down, everybody comes to help. It’s that kind of place,” said HR Manager Doug Burch.
As a company, Airstream is funding all materials for a Habitat for Humanity project in Jackson Center. Employees are signing up to work shifts that will begin in late summer, with plans for the selected family to move in to the completed home next spring.
Airstream believes in neighbors helping neighbors, and the example of the employee blood drives shines brighter than the silver, 30-foot flank of a “Flying Cloud” trailer.
“We know how critical the blood supply is to the local hospitals,” said Wheeler. “It’s one way to support the community, and a pretty small sacrifice for us.” He gave credit to Codes & Safety Manager Terry Coleman who serves as blood drive coordinator with help from Cindy.
“It would not happen without the hard work of Terry and Cindy,” said Wheeler.
“There’s not much more I can add,” said Coleman, a 37-year Airstream veteran with 56 lifetime blood donations. “Except to say this company is a huge supporter of CBC blood drives.”