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DC’s Airstream: A Deanwood Resident’s Plan to Bring Iconic Trailer Rentals to the City

by Tianna Mañón

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Michael Vallen’s 1964 Airstream Overlander, shown in west Texas on a cross-country road trip.

If you start seeing Airstream trailers scattered around the city in the coming months, you can thank Michael Vallen.

Vallen, a Deanwood resident, founded Nomad Mobile Motor Lodge in 2014 with the goal of offering restored Airstream trailers to people in the mid-Atlantic region for short camping trips, alternative lodging when visiting DC, special occasions, branding for company events and even for the entertainment industry to use while filming. The company’s warehouse is located in Temple Hills, Maryland, but Vallen runs the day-to-day operations out of his home on Jay Street NE.

Vallen’s passion for Airstream trailers started a few years when he purchased and restored a 1967 Caravaner, traveled extensively in it and then sold it to friends. He soon acquired another trailer — a 1964 Overlander, and restored it. But this one he chose to keep. He spent a year apprenticing with Frank Yensan who owns Frank’s Trailerworks in Baltimore, before starting his company.

Right now, Nomad Mobile Motor Lodge has just two trailers available for rent, but Vallen said he is excited to expand the company’s fleet. UrbanTurf recently spoke with Vallen about his passion for Airstreams and what he hopes to accomplish with them.

This interview has been condensed and edited for publication.

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Vallen’s 1964 Airstream Overlander camping in the Shenandoah Mountains at sunset.

Please describe the mission behind Nomad Mobile Motor Lodge and how you got involved in restoring Airstream trailers.

The company offers vintage early 1950-1960 travel trailers that are restored to as close to their original state but with all kinds of modern conveniences added. I take the trailers to the location, folks get to rent the trailer for as long as they want, and then I come pick it up. It’ll be for people to use really anywhere they want.

I have two degrees in architecture. In undergraduate, I studied how Airstreams are constructed at a factory in L.A. So I started there. It’s very addictive.

What are your specific plans for the Airtstream trailers in the DC area? Where will they be located?

I’d like to see a way to scatter them around DC. It would be pretty awesome to have an Airstream parked on the Mall and someone sleeping in it. My goal is to offer people visiting DC a completely different lodging experience.

I was invited by Yelp to Yelpchella in Dupont Circle. That’s where I am going to kind of have our big premiere. We’re going to bring a 1957 26-footer and have it parked there on August 25.

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Interior of the fully renovated 1964 Airstream Overlander.

What permissions and licenses do you need to rent the trailers and have them located in specific sites around DC?

That’s to be determined. My initial rental offerings have been to people who take the trailers to regular campgrounds where there is already the appropriate infrastructure [in place]. But I did an event at Marietta Mansion, a historic property owned by Prince George County. It had no electricity and we just parked on the grass. We’re looking to work with the National Park Service, private property owners, and DC Parks and Recreation.

How did you end up in DC, and specifically the Deanwood neighborhood?

I’ve had a house in the neighborhood for just about five years. I have an Airstream parked in the driveway.

What type of restoration is usually required for the trailers and can you describe the finished product of one that you recently completed?

It depends on the condition that they’re found in, but most are pretty wrecked. When they’re 60 or more years old, they’re pretty beat up, but we take care of them. We restore the interior woodwork with modern finishings but I try to come as close as possible to the original designs. We add modern touches like water heaters, air conditioning and heating, sound systems, and a small LED screen TV.

We have two right now, but a third one is halfway finished. It should be done by the spring. Another one is 10 percent done, and that will take about six months to a year to complete. I have two guys who work part-time. Proud to say they’re both DC residents.

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Nomad Mobile Motor Lodge’s workshop in Temple Hills.

For alternative lodging purposes, why is this a compelling option? This is a large city with many comfortable options for temporary rentals.

Well, you’re not in a big building and you’re not in someone’s house. The big difference in what I’m trying to do is I don’t want them stuck in one place. I want the people that rent them to have the opportunity to say “let’s take one to the beach” so they can go wherever they want and it makes visiting a different experience than a hotel room. All of [the trailers] will be posted on Airbnb. We’re not doing our own hosting just yet.

Right now, you have two completed trailers. Where do you see the business a year from now?

I hope that other people are as enthusiastic about it as I am. I haven’t been very vocal about it, but I’ve gotten very good feedback. I’m trying to keep the price under the average hotel room in DC. [The Airstreams rent for $175 a night within 100 miles of DC and $200 a night beyond that radius.] To answer your question, my goal is to have ten trailers in full operation. When you visit the website, I want there to be a smorgasbord of options.

All photos courtesy of Michael Wilkinson.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/dc_airstream_how_one_dc_resident_is_brining_trailer_rentals/10246

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