Sunday, November 23, 2014

Airstream Terraport, Airstream Factory, Jackson Center, Ohio

Our service appointment at the Airstream Factory Center in Jackson Center, Ohio, was for Wednesday, but we arrived on Monday. We didn't want to arrive during snow and freezing rain predicted for Tuesday. Living in the Deep South means we have very little experience in driving on snow and ice and we felt that we didn't want to learn while pulling Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer.

The Ohio State Line

In case you are wondering why two cold weather novices had an appointment in northern Ohio during November, you need to know that we called during August for an appointment only to discover that the next available service time was in the middle of November. We decided to chance it and hope that the weather didn't force us to cancel. It turned out that we saw temperatures in the low teens and snow flurries during our visit.

Selfie at a rest stop in Ohio

Jackson Center's city limits

Our new fear once we arrived in Ohio was the following week. If the Airstream people could not finish our repairs by Friday, we would have to spend the weekend there and the lows were going to be single digits the next week, the highs were going to be below freezing plus it was going to snow. We are poor candidates for camping in freezing weather.

Rosie arriving at Airstream's Factory

Wally Byum's Airstream trailer

Airstream's Factory in Jackson Center, Ohio

A 1930s version of an Airstream

Looking at the historic display at the Airstream Factory

If you are in Jackson Center for factory service, you can camp without charge in Airstream's Terraport area. The Terraport offers water, 30 and 50 amp electrical service plus sewage connections. The sewer connection was too far away from the dump port on Rosie, so we would have to rely on the dump station found near the exit of the camping area.

Airstream's Terraport

This turned out to be an interesting place to camp. The common thread linking all of the campers together was that we were all Airstreamers and had decided to adopt that lifestyle. We did see one non-Airstream truck camper pull into the Terraport one night. It was interesting in that they kept saying their other camper was an Airstream.

Rosie in Airstream's Terraport

We picked a camp site at the rear of the Terraport. We felt this would give us a better view of the factory area and the campground.

As winter camping rookies, we were warned to disconnect the water feed to Rosie if the temperature dipped below freezing. It was clear at 10 p.m. that it was going to freeze that night and we were outside in the cold removing the water hose. We were unable to reconnect the water the rest of our time there because of the cold weather.

We were also told to run our propane heater when it gets below freezing because it vents warm air to the camper's water tanks. This would help keep the fresh, gray and black water tanks from freezing. Armed with that knowledge, we used our electric heater to take the chill off in Rosie but the furnace to heat it.

On the morning of our service appointment, we heard Airstream's tractor heading towards Rosie around 7 a.m. It only took a moment for the driver to hitch up Rosie, then she was heading to the service bay.

Airstream's tractor hitching-up Rosie

Rosie on her way to the service bays

We jumped into the truck and drove to the service office. We met the technician there who was in charge of fixing Rosie. We had a long list of little things and one or two potentially big problems for him to solve. Our service technician decided to start with the scariest problem first.

We had a ground problem in the 12-volt power system. The ground cable was not making a solid connection with the batteries and my quick fix was to use a battery jumper cable to patch the negative terminals on the batteries to Rosie's frame. While this was effective, it didn't fix the underlying problem.

Our service rep said this could be a simple wire loose in the tongue jack or it could be a tedious process of tracing out the wires at $115 an hour. Turns out it was the latter and we invested more than two hours to fix this problem.

Our service rep would put Rosie back together every afternoon around 4 p.m. and the Airstream people would tow Rosie back to our site in the Terraport so that we could spend the night there. Then the whole process started over again the next morning.

Rosie in the service bay

Our service technician found and corrected a serious propane gas valve problem in our water heater that we were unaware of and could have been a serious problem later on. When he told us about that issue, we remembered smelling the propane gas "rotten eggs" scent a couple of times and mistakenly thinking we had a black water tank problem.

In addition to fixing the things on our list (missing rivets, door hinge problem, grounding system issue, a slow water leak around the panorama window, etc.), we wanted to add a couple of improvements. They installed a new bicycle rack to Rosie's back bumper and LED lights in the cabin.

Airstream's waiting room

Factory tours start at this desk

During the day, we would talk with other Airstream owners who were also there having their trailers serviced. We saw that valuable information was being passed on by experienced Airstreamers in the waiting room. We picked up on the "must visit" campgrounds, the best WBCCI caravans plus towing and maintenance tips for keeping Rosie in tip-top shape.

The store at Airstream's factory

Our trip to northern Ohio wasn't only about Rosie. Jackson Center is less than 50 miles from the farm Becky's father grew up on and where she visited her grandparents as a child. So, one day was dedicated to the nostalgia tour of the family farm.

A section of Becky's family farm

Another picture of the farm
With some crucial help from her father providing us with street names and landmarks, we found the farm. It was sad that the farmhouse Becky remembered visiting was no longer there, but the corn field and the livestock areas were. There were some emotional moments as Becky reminisced about visiting her grandparents at the farm and how much she wished they were greeting us from the porch as we arrived.

Old family photo of Becky's grandparents on the farm

We also found the K-12 school Becky's father attended. It continues to be used for all grade levels under one roof.

K-12 School in Ohio

Temperatures were an issue while camping at the Airstream factory in Ohio. Nighttime lows were in the low teens and we saw some snow flurries. We burned through a 30 pound bottle of propane in four days! We discovered that we can survive in Rosie through freezing temperatures, but it is more fun to be out in warmer weather.

Becky with a few snow flakes on her coat

Some specifics about the Airstream Terraport camping area:
  • There are four or five camping loops in the park. All of the loops are named after Airstream models. We camped in the Safari loop.
  • There are five camping pads in each loop. The sites are very close together, but the campers here are there for factory service and not for the park's features.
  • There is no shade in the Terraport.
  • The sites offer 20, 30 and 50 amp service.
  • There are water and sewer connections at each site.
  • There are no bath houses at the Terraport.
  • All of the camping pads are paved and close to being level. We dropped the stabilizers the first night, but not the rest of the time to help speed up our preparation time in the mornings waiting for the tractor to arrive and tow Rosie to the service bay.
  • There is a dump station at the park.
  • AT&T provided moderate 3G and 4G service over the park. Our service would frequently drop back to Edge while there.
  • There is Wi-Fi service in the customer service waiting room. We were able to use this Wi-Fi from the Terraport.
  • There isn't a lot of variety in restaurants near the factory. We quickly found our favorite table at the local Subway.
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS using our TV antenna. We also saw digital signals from THiS-TV, MY-TV, GET-TV and ME-TV.
  • Make sure you take the factory tour while in Jackson Center. You will see how Airstream trailers are hand-crafted and it will make you proud to own one.
We plan to return next year to add a few more modifications to Rosie.

On our last day in the service center, we were having to make decisions about what was important for this visit and what could wait until next time. We had to finish no later than 4 p.m. on Friday so that we would not have to stay over the weekend. Snow and single digit low temperatures were predicted and the next week was going to be much colder. We needed to head south before the service staff quit for the day on Friday.

The waiting room thinned out on Friday afternoon to just us, an Airstream owner from Louisiana and an Airstream motor coach owner. We had said earlier that we planned to hitch up that evening and pull out early Saturday morning. Our service technician promised that we would be ready that afternoon and as they tallied the bill, we started to dread spending the night in Ohio's sub-freezing temperatures. That was when we started thinking about getting three or four hours down the road towards home that night.

We able to make it close to the Kentucky/Tennessee state line before we stopped for the night. While traveling, we wondered if the Airstreamer from Louisiana was able to get on the road that night or if he needed to stay over the weekend so that his service crew could complete the work on his camper. When we left Jackson Center, the service technicians were working on his roof and his trailer didn't appear to be ready to roll. While talking about him, we heard his horn as he passed us on I-71 near Cincinnati. We were glad he was able to get on the road that evening. We saw him two more times that night on I-71 and I-65.

We mentioned earlier that several Airstreamers told us that it was worth heading to the factory in Ohio when you have Airstream specific repairs. We agree and plan to return in the future. Maybe next time we will be able to get an appointment earlier than the middle of November.

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