Vintage Base Camp specializes in restoring and repairing Airstream trailers


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May 24, 2023

Vintage Base Camp specializes in restoring and repairing Airstream trailers

Greg Penner, co-owner of Vintage Base Camp, credits his parent's hobby with

Greg Penner, co-owner of Vintage Base Camp, credits his parent's hobby with getting him into the restoration business.

Penner's parents got their first aluminum alloy trailer from Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream in 1989. They became so enamored that they would sometimes have three or four of the distinctive shaped trailers at the same time.

"That's how I how I got to know the brand, by working on my parents' trailers and their friends' trailers," Penner explained. "I brought an Airstream in 2014 with the intention of doing flea markets. Then a friend of the family contacted me through LinkedIn and said, 'I have a friend who has a trailer and it's in two pieces, and she can't get anybody to work on it.'

"They knew my family and that I worked on them. I told them I'd do it, and that's how my business got started. That person was my first client."

Penner operates Vintage Base Camp with his wife Julie. The business, located at 7016 Hughes Ave. in Crestwood, Kentucky, specializes in restoring Airstream trailers from the 1940s through 1970s, although the shop also offers customization services for newer models.

Penner said the company generated about $800,000 in revenue in 2022. He added most of that business came from repeat customers or through word of mouth, because the company never advertises.

Vintage Base Camp is not an authorized "upfitter" like Louisville custom design studio Rockerbuit, which signed an agreement in April 2022 to become one of a handful shops in the country licensed by Airstream.

Rockerbuilt tends to focus on newer Airstream models, because even used trailers from the 1970s are expensive to customize as a brand new one, which cost anywhere from $40,000 to $180,000 depending on size and features.

Vintage Base Camp focuses on older models Airstreams. The company's projects fit in three categories: full jobs, which require complete gutting and rebuilding or restoration; work-ins, which need just a few modifications; and day jobs, quick repairs or inspections.

The Penners charge a flat rate of $140 an hour at their shop. Greg said the projects typically cost between $500 for a day job to more than $150,000 for a custom build.

Vintage Base Camp has done custom trailers for Gilberto Gelato and Set the Bar, and the company is currently putting the finishing touches on a commercial event trailer for a Mom Water, a Southern Indiana-based vodka water company.

"It's as much or more than buying a new Airstream, but you're getting exactly what you're want because you're working with our company, the designer and myself, to engineer your dream," Greg said. "We can do a lot of things Airstream can't do because we're doing it custom."

Julie said her husband's artistic skill and inventiveness is what keeps customers coming back.

"Most of our business is repeat clients because they know the quality of the work that we do," she added. "Sometimes people want them to look as close as possible to the original, but with all the modern conveniences. Greg is able to do that because of his background."

Greg holds a bachelor's in art the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio, and a master's degree in sculpture from the University of Cincinnati. He actually spent seven years as a college professor at Morehead State University prior to opening Vintage Base Camp, where he applies his knowledge of metal and woodworking to every project.

Vintage Base Camp is housed in a 3,500-square-foot building that the Penners purchased in 2020 for $275,000. They had 12 employees before the Covid-19 pandemic, but that number of has dwindled to eight because it is hard for the business to find people with the necessary metal and woodworking skills.

Greg feels his business has lasting power because he doesn't see the demand for Airstreams dwindling any time soon.

"It's an iconic brand. It's almost like a piece of Americana," he said. "Why do you pick a Polo shirt? Or why do you buy a certain brand of shoes? Because you're buying quality. Airstream is something that is made in the United States and holds its value."

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