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Caravan Stories: A Wisconsin Airstream

Evan and Gabby Schwanke, along with their two children, Anna and Sawyer, reside in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where about ninety percent of their family activities are out-of-doors. Avid campers and road trippers, the couple had always tossed around the idea of an Airstream or a Scamp, but hadn’t found anything in their budget. After a trip to Lake Michigan, the family stumbled across a farmhouse with nearly a dozen Airstreams in the yard...and after a couple months, were headed back to buy one for themselves, driving home with their first-ever Airstream, a 1969 Airstream Safari (23’).

Like all of us first-time Airstream renovators, the Schwanke family hoped to add new curtains, fresh paint, and then head off into the sunset, but by the next morning, they began to gut the Airstream. For the next fourteen months, the couple plugged away at a complete renovation, biding time through the long and harsh northern winter, for when the cold came, they’d been repairing and coating the frame with rust protectant. When spring arrived, the renovation picked up major steam. Evan and Gabby devoted nearly every weekend and even some weeknights to Airstream work. Outside of hiring a professional to have a new torsion axle installed, the pair did the rest of the work themselves, turning to the Instagram community for advice and encouragement when needed, thankful for so many sharing knowledge selflessly and wishing them nothing but success.

The Schwanke family did a full (shell-on) gut renovation. On that first morning after bringing their Airstream home, they noted the subfloor wasn’t in great shape, and that started it all. They replaced everything outside of the frame, shell, and interior skins. Their renovations cost around $7500, and they paid the same amount for the Airstream itself. They didn’t have a budget going into the renovation, noting that they were "optimistic rookies" when they purchased the Safari. Over the course of their fourteen-month renovation, the pair put every penny and whatever else they could spare into the Airstream renovation, and had many nights of Ramen noodle dinners to live out their passion. They were renovating the Safari with a strong, clear vision: to make memories with their family. 

Evan and Gabby’s passion is evident. When speaking about advice they’d give to others, they cautioned that in preparing to take on a project like theirs, you’ve got to be prepared for it to fully consume you.

“I do not recall a day where my wife and I were not discussing or planning for the Airstream. We probably even started talking to one another in Airstream jargon by the end of it. You honestly base your entire life around when you can accomplish the work, what the weather is going to be like, what supplies to order, is our budget on track, et cetera. The drive to complete the Airstream was so intense! We could have spaced it out longer and had more of a social life, but we enjoyed the work and the accomplishments. We wanted to complete our caravan and start making those memories in it,” says Evan.

Together, the pair did a beautiful job. As current weekend warriors, they aimed for a clean space that would allow their expanded family to camp comfortably. They put emphasis on usability for their interior, and through a cool, neutral color palette, achieved their goal of a simple, clean farmhouse look. The pair utilized reclaimed wood, installed a white porcelain sink, and crafted hardy, modern concrete overlay counters themselves. The aged oak gray flooring casts a quiet, calm hush over the space. The family calls this their ‘cabin on wheels’, a perfect description of the peaceful interior, which lends itself to focusing on self-reflection, family, and the natural surroundings on their weekend adventures.

To motivate themselves during the renovation, the Schwanke family booked a campsite at Fort Wilderness in Disney World eight months prior to completion. Their mission from that point on was to finish their Airstream before their reservation and take a 2500-mile road trip to celebrate their accomplishment. When they felt a lack of motivation, or wanted to give up, they would look forward to their family trip together and it would get them back on track.

Evan and Gabby are proud to note that their children Anna (7) and Sawyer (3), were just as involved in the project and love to draw the Airstream into their sketches and tell friends all about it. While the couple says they don’t think they’ll ever be one-hundred percent complete (like any renovation project, right?), the family is so proud to have finished their Airstream dream. 

Their first trip arrived, and the family took their newly-finished Airstream Safari from Wisconsin to Florida. They were a little nervous, but mostly they were just so excited and proud to see the past year and two months of hard work, sacrifice, and vision come to life.

“The best thing about the trip was having that Airstream with us. We felt so proud of our little home...each night we would get to climb into it and it was our space, exactly how we wanted it. We had an amazing time and couldn’t have been happier. We are now dreaming of all the new places we can’t wait to explore.”

Thank you so much, Schwanke Family! Can’t wait to see what the spring and warmer weather brings for you four.

For more of Evan, Gabby, Anna, and Sawyer's

Airstream adventures:

Kate OliverComment