The Vintage Camper Trailers Magazine

1955 Airstream Bubble Whale Tail, 16’, VIN# 283

Portland, OR
United States

$49,000.00 (Or Best Offer)
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Meet Ruby, a time capsule of Airstreaming in 1955. This rare trailer has been professionally restored to her original factory condition in every detail. While her history is unknown, there are a few unusual details that strongly suggest that she participated in one of the 1950’s Wally Byam’s Caravans to Mexico or Central America (see below).

Acquired by the present owner in 2003, Ruby then had a shell-off floor replacement and professional body work including panel replacement, window replacement, and a new axle and wheels. The interior was professionally restored to its 1955 state with appliances and fixtures sourced from 1955 Bubbles, and the woodwork was replicated by a professional cabinetmaker. All of the cabinet hardware is either original to the trailer, new-old-stock, or correct modern reproductions. Upholstery and curtain fabrics were custom-designed for this trailer based on 1950’s fabrics, and handwoven by the present owner.

In 2022 Ruby underwent further extensive restoration; stripped down to her shell, all seams were sealed inside and out, new Rockwool insulation was installed, and local areas of the floor were repaired. Copper plumbing was replaced with PEX. The interior shell was freshly painted with Zolatone-look paint and the interior was reinstalled as it had been before this work.

Ruby presents the authentic 1955 camping experience: Bubbles are surprisingly roomy and have a supremely comfortable and functional floor plan with a full-time bed and a full-time dinette. Bubbles of Ruby’s floorplan [there were two floorplans available] have an icebox, sink, 4-burner propane stove and Panel Ray propane furnace. There is a toilet and black tank but no shower. Bubbles originally had a fresh-water tank with a hand-pump faucet and no electric water pump; an electric pump was added to the trailer in 2022. Interior lighting is 12-volt electric, 110 electric, and propane; the 1955 roof vent has a 12-volt fan. [Note that there is no refrigerator, oven, water heater or grey tank, and the toilet is flushed with a pitcher].

Professionally appraised in 2022 by Polk Associates at $71,300.00.

Detailed Description:

o Shell-off floor replacement.
o Frame was sand-blasted and painted with POR-15 paint. One rusted outrigger was replaced; the rest of the frame was in excellent condition.
o New axle and wheels; new tires and brakes.
o Three exterior panels were professionally replaced using bucked rivets.
o Windows were removed and remounted with new gaskets and screens.
o One non-original window was replaced with the exact Hehr Standard window model that was used in the original.
o All of the window hardware and the rear brake/turn lights were sandblasted and painted with resilient metallic paint.
o The roof vent was salvaged from a 1955 Airstream – it has its original 12V fan motor.
o The exterior was polished in 2009.
o All seams were thoroughly sealed from inside and out in 2022.
o A custom awning was professionally made from vintage awning fabric [this is a vintage-style awning that slides into the original awning rail].
o The external grab handle with light was added; it is not an Airstream feature but is from a 1950’s trailer such as a Spartan.
o Deadbolt lock added; the existing original lock is functional and has a key.

o All new electrical wiring. Electric is standard 110V, 20 amp.
o Interior lights were converted to 12V; two 12V outlets were added. Circular fluorescent ceiling fixture is 110V; it was sourced from a 1950’s Airstream.
o All interior electric light fixtures but the fluorescent are original to the trailer.
o Intellipower converter/charger was added, and new AGM battery [replaced 2023].
o CO detector [basic hardware store model].
o Running lights are new reproductions of the originals; LED bulbs are used in the original rear brake/turn lights.

o The 4-burner stove and the icebox were salvaged from a 1955 Bubble and professionally restored.
o The Panel-Ray heater is age- and model-appropriate for the Bubble; it was professionally restored.
o The Humphrey propane light is age- and model-appropriate for the Bubble; it was professionally restored.
o Two 20lb Worthington aluminum propane tanks [recertified in 2023]. New gas lines (2022) and regulator (2008).

o New Rockwool insulation (2022).
o New interior Zolatone-look paint (2022), sealed with clear coating for cleanability.
o All of the wood interior cabinets are new, custom-made reproductions of the originals, correct in detail, layout and wood. [Street-side closet layout was converted from hanging clothes storage to shelves.]
o Cabinet hardware is either original to the trailer, new-old-stock, or correct modern reproductions.
o Metal overhead cabinets and their doors are original to the trailer.
o The bunk is original to the trailer.
o The medicine cabinet and magazine rack were salvaged from a 1955 Bubble.
o Flooring is Marmoleum, professionally installed.
o The mattress and dinette cushions are new foam.
o The upholstery and curtain fabrics were custom-designed in 1950’s style and hand woven for the trailer to coordinate with the flooring.

o New freshwater tank, with water lines replaced with PEX in 2022.
o The toilet was salvaged from a 1957 Airstream.
o The Fiberglas black tank appears to be 1950’s vintage and came installed in the trailer at purchase in 2003.
o The sink, hand pump faucet and the city water faucet were salvaged from a 1955 Bubble.
o Electric water pump added 2022; bypass valves added for city water and hand pump faucet.


o 3-flag holder
o vintage-style awning made from vintage awning fabric
o awning poles
o 3 flag poles

o Cyclo, DeWalt polisher and polishing supplies
o Reese weight-distribution hitch

Possible Connection to a Wally Byam’s Caravan

When Ruby was purchased in 2003, removal of a previous patch on the street side revealed that at one time the entire trailer had been professionally painted white with a yellow undercoat. It was common to see Airstreams with white roofs, and a few completely white, on the caravans to Mexico and Central America. There is also a factory-installed bunk over the rear bed instead of the narrow shelf seen in almost every other Bubble. Above the outer edge of this bunk, a row of metal rings has been set into the ceiling – possibly for a cargo net or a privacy curtain. Another modification is to the rear bumper: the license plate holder was moved from the center of the rear of the trailer to the left side, and holes were drilled into the bumper to allow attachment of extra cargo. The 1950’s era black tank may have been installed for caravan use. And finally, there was an old, very worn “Wally Byam’s Caravan” sticker on the front center panel. Added together, these features indicate a strong possibility that Ruby was purchased and customized for extended travel to a warm climate, potentially one of the southern 1950’s caravans.
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