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1930 is the year Omar Suttles put THE FIRST actual travel-trailer into production in Los Angeles….his port-hole windowed, Airfloat Trailer Coach…. 1930 Airfloat….followed by Arthur Sherman's Covered Wagon a year later.
Welcome to the Airfloat Coach Company History Page, where you may be surprised to learn that the “Airfloat” trailer coach is one of the oldest names in the history of American trailer coach manufacturing. In 1929 automotive engineer and inventor, Omar Suttles, built a little 12 ft. camping trailer in his Los Angeles back yard in an attempt to pacify his missus after ants, snakes and bears had turned their own camping vacation into a nightmare…..totally unaware of Arthur Sherman's similar, and very successful, efforts with his Covered Wagon coach back in Detroit a year earlier. Suttles first trailer was approved by the California State Motor Vehicle Association in 1930, but was registered by the California Auto Club because the state's Motor Vehicle Department had no category for travel trailers then. The frame was built over a 1925 Chrysler front axle and it was towed behind the couple's new 1929 Chrysler. A Maytag washing machine gasoline engine was added to run the electric refrigerator and drive the 12 volt generator so the couple would have electric lights from storage batteries, and from the beginning, Suttle's design included those round, port-hole style, windows. (I say port-hole “style”, because they were fixed and didn't open like port-hole windows on ships do.) This design proved to be so successful that in 1930 Suttles began production of the little trailer at his ten employee automotive shop in Pasadena….only one year after Sherman had begun manufacturing his Covered Wagon.
In 1935, after building a number of different trailers, Suttles introduced his sleek, new, Airfloat Coach at the (travel trailer) Outing Show in Los Angeles.
The newly named Airfloat Coach Manufacturing Company also moved to larger headquarters in 1935, to 1600 East Seventh St., which, is in downtown Los Angeles. (I drove by that location a while back, it's now a MacDonalds, of course.) That same year Suttles, at the request of the California Auto Club “Outing” Show Officers, was also instrumental in calling together a group of fellow trailer manu- facturers to help organize the first Trailer Coach Manufacturer's Association. The following excerpt is from an August 1955 edition of the Airfloat Fleet Review (the Airfloat company's newsletter) as Mr. Suttles remembers how things came together.
“Every year after the 1931 Outing Show, more and more trailers were exhibited at the show and every manufacturer gave the buying public a different sales pitch. Then came 1935. Show officers of the Auto Club (who were sponsoring the show) phoned me and said, 'Suttles, you trailer fellows are going to have to appoint a committee of two or three fellows we can deal with. It has become impossible to deal with each one individually.' We all had realized that, too, for by then we all had the gloves off and were at it bare-handed. The Club furnished me a list of those who had shown in the past, those who wanted to show that year, and those who never would show. Then I phoned my friend, Harold Wright at the Chamber of Commerce, and asked if he could add any more names to the list. This he did. I tabulated them and gave half of the list to Hal Smith, who was building the Halsco trailer. We phoned all of them and sold them on the idea of coming to the Elks Club to a “Dutch” dinner, with the sole purpose of burying the hatchet and getting acquainted, so we could form an association of trailer coach manufacturers. Believe me, it was quite a selling job, especially over the phone, but Hal and I got quite a number of them out, and thus the Trailer Coach Association was formed. Total membership numbered 25 firms. The Western manufactuers were striving for streamlining trailers, and somehow seemed far ahead in adapting different shapes and sizes, even though, in the middle west, several trailermanufacturers had formed a Trailer Coach Manufacturer's Association too”.
After serving the TCMA in many other capacities, Omar Suttles was elected to the presidency of that organization in 1939. In addition, as a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, and at one time on the staff of the Chrysler Corporation, Mr. Suttles designed and patented a number of exclusive features which he built into Airfloat Coaches.
For instance, every Airfloat trailer coach has a system within it's round, aluminum, “top hat” style roof ventilators which allows air to escape from the cavity between the roof and the ceiling….and which was invented by Omar Suttles himself. This cavity, which in all travel trailers, is filled with insulation and then sealed by the ceiling panels is dead air space and can serve to hold unwanted hot, or even cool, air. However, in the round vent openings of the Airfloat, between the ceiling and the roof, is a circular panel with small, screened, vent holes around its perimeter that serve to let hot air float up and out of the ceiling cavity when another panel is slid open with the help of a small knob. In addition, the heat of day can be retained simply by closing this panel again, thus, helping to insulate the coach from cool night air. Using one of these ventilator lids is poetry in motion in itself, as a simple screw-post design is used to raise or lower the lid, operated by simply twisting a small aluminum handle attached to the end of the post from inside the trailer. The ventilator lids can even be left partially open duringa storm to ventilate the coach, while at the same time keeping the rain out.
In addition, in 1942 Airfloat began offering a 24 ft. model called the Commodore 3rd Wheel which….actually had a third wheel! This ingenious device….also invented by Suttles himself, and by 1945, marketed by <Atwood Manufacturing>…..consisted of either a single, or a set of two, small pneumatic tire (s) attached to the underside of the tongue before the coupler, which greatly reduced the tongue weight on the tow vehicle. They're also called “dolly”, “tongue” and “Slimp” wheels…..after an aftermarket dolly wheel manufacturer of the same name…. Third wheels became standard equipment on all Airfloats from about 1947, continuing though 1955….except on their smallest model introduced in 1951, the little 16 ft. Skipper.
Also, from 1947 on, the company switched from using Masonite to aluminum for the exterior skin, with corrugated panels above and below flat areas that ran along the windows….such as the '48 Landyacht 22' at the top of this page wears. In addition, 1947 was the first year that the yacht-style, “double-door” system…..to separate the rear bedroom from the rest of the coach…was introduced. There are no bedroom doors, per se, however, when rearward closet doors on both the street side and curb side are opened at the same time they come together in the center of the coach to magically become….the bedroom doors!
An Airfloat coach was also one of the most expensive post-war trailer coaches you could buy….in fact, by 1948, a 26 ft. Airfloat Landyacht, (a little longer than the coach at the top of this page), at $3530.00, was only $140.00 less than a comparable 26 ft. 3 in. Spartan Manor, at $3670.00. A few years later, according to a manufacturer's survey taken by Trailer Topics Magazine, a 1951, 28 ft. Airfloat Custom Landyacht, at $4050.00, was $729.00 more expensive than a 29 ft. 9 in., $3321.41, 1951 Spartan Mansion. They were also usually anywhere from $1000.00 to $1500.00 more expensive than most other coaches of comparable size, except for Vagabond…..which for $4195.00 would get you their 1951, 28 ft. 9”, Model 262 and Westcraft, for, which, you'd have to shell out another $5.00 to take home one of their comparable, 28 ft. 6 in. Bath Shasta models. (However, not only, did Westcraft use a heavier gauge aluminum for the exterior skin than any other manufacturer, but, after actually working on some of these coaches for the last few years, I've come to the conclusion that their company slogan, which reads, “Westcraft - The Quality Leader” is actually true. In fact, it's my opinion that Westcraft Coaches were the best built trailer of the late '40s and early '50s era. But, more on them down the road….so to speak.)
This may come as a surprise that to many of you, but, it was actually an Airfloat coach that was the inspiration for the original book “The Long, Long, Trailer” by Clinton “Buddy” Twiss. In 1949 Mr. and Mrs Twiss purchased a 28 ft. Landyacht as the vehicle for their “Great Adventure”, as they referred to an extended excursion they enjoyed while Buddy worked on his novel. However, a 1953 Redman New Moon 32' was used in the1954 film of the same name, starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnes.
1955 was the Airfloat Coach Company's Silver Anniversary and to mark this momentous occasion, not only, was a large party thrown in Omar and Ruth Suttles honor, with over 1000 people in attendance at the Airfloat factory in downtown LA during the three day March event, but, since Airfloats were already silver in color, Suttles decided to have the skin of all coaches from then on….anodized in a gold color. In addition, in an apparent effort to provide more light and air and, because the port-hole windows never opened, the company decided to add rectangular shaped, “picture” windows to both sides and at the front, for the first time. The larger windows had two smaller windows, flanking each side, that also opened.
As you can see, Omar Suttles and the Airfloat trailer coach have played quite a large and important role in the history of the vintage trailer coach. However, in 1956 Suttles sold the Airfloat Coach Company, along with his patent rights, and retired….and with quite a grand gesture, as far as the evolution of the Airfloat style is concerned. Finally, in retrospect, it seems as though the Airfloat Coach Company itself must have also closed its doors the year after Suttles himself retired, as there doesn't seem to be an evidence of any Airfloats that were made after 1957.
The 1946 Airfloat Trailer was entirely constructed of aluminum. Aerodynamic principles combined with streamline design are the features of the trailer.
Airfloat's “Flagship” model – Las Vegas, circa 1957. This enormous trailer was the pinnacle of elegance and amenities in travel trailers in the 1950's. It's complete with a full kitchen and bath. Yes, that includes your own shower and tub.
Looking for other owners….we own a 1948. We are looking for others who have restored their airfloat. Email Chickebeadz@aol.com
1955 Airfloat 20, all original. Eurostream Caravans. www.eurostreamcaravans.com
Funky Junk Farms has 1936 and 1957 Airfloat http://www.funkyjunkfarms.com/john/trailers/
1950 Airfloat http://dougsvintagetrailers.com/trailers
1955 Airfloat Navigator http://www.vintage-vacations.com/1955_airfloat_navigator.htm
1956 Airfloat http://www.pbase.com/orangecones/airfloat
Henry Wallace's 1938 Airfloat http://www.thewallacecollection.net/html/1938_airfloat.html
Airfloat Flagship http://www.flickr.com/photos/stimpson5000/3350072553/
1953 Airfloat http://www.swvca.com/retrorestoration/airfloat.htm
1950 Airfloat http://dougsvintagetrailers.com/1950_airfloat_
1956 Airfloat Land Yacht http://everyonecandance.com/56_Airfloat.html