With a patient and persistent mindset, Matthew Zwack rebuilt an iconic travel vehicle.
Executive: Matthew Zwack, 43, president of Florida operations for commercial construction company Owen-Ames-Kimball. Firm has offices in Fort Myers and Naples as well as in Michigan. The South Dakota native has worked at the company since 2005 in roles such as job site superintendent, general superintendent, chief safety officer, and, most recently, vice president of operations.
‘When you’re camping you really have no choice but to relax. It’s where I can really, truly turn my mind off and relax and get out of my head.’ Matthew Zwack
Diversion: Restoring a 1970 Airstream trailer. “It’s a super-enjoyable project that’s taken me about four years of working fairly steadily to get it to the point where it’s at now,” says Zwack.
Dare to dream: Zwack remembers seeing the iconic trailers driving down the interstate as a kid in South Dakota. “We called them the chrome Twinkies going down the road,” he says. “Every single time I saw one as a little kid, I wanted one.”
Hidden potential: Zwack found his Airstream on Craigslist several years ago, and it definitely needed some love. He paid about $3,000 for it. “It had been sitting in a field for 10 or 15 years,” he says. “It was missing windows and all rotten on the inside. I got a really good deal on it, so I was happy. But when I showed my family, they thought I was crazy for buying such a piece of junk.”
Skilled labor: An experienced carpenter, Zwack knew he could pull off the needed overhaul. He completely gutted and rebuilt the interior, installed new axles and brakes, rewired the whole trailer and put in a new floor. All told, Zwack has spent about $5,000 to $7,000 on the restoration of the Airstream.
Shining example: Revitalizing the aluminum shell of the trailer has proved the biggest challenge. “I thought it would be relatively easy, and it ended up taking almost an entire year of just polishing,” says Zwack. “The process just takes forever, and mine was in really bad shape because it was sitting in a field baking in the direct sun, which oxidizes the aluminum badly. But it was worth it; it looks beautiful now.”
The inside story: Zwack fixed up the interior in a modern style, with pallet wood walls, dark gray cabinets — he built them himself — and a dark wood floor. The Airstream has a small kitchen but no bathroom to allow for enough sleeping space for his four kids, who range in age from 11 to 23. As they get older and go off to their own lives (and maybe their own campers?), Zwack plans to redo the interior again to add a bathroom and dining area so he and his fiancé can travel around in the Airstream even more comfortably.
Time well spent: Zwack has worked on the Airstream in the evenings and on weekends over the years. “Working on it helps me de-stress,” he says. “I have to have something to do to take my mind off of work; I think everybody does.”
Rest and relaxation: Zwack has been camping since he was a kid, and he’s used his Airstream with his family to travel to various campsites around Florida. “When you’re camping you really have no choice but to relax,” he says. “There’s nothing that needs to be done, so to speak. It’s where I can really, truly turn my mind off and relax and get out of my head.”
Up north: Some of Zwack’s favorite Florida camping spots include Koreshan State Park in Estero and Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County. “We like the state parks,” says Zwack. “We also go to the primitive campgrounds with no electricity or running water. Deep Creek Preserve is a fun place to go.” On the future trips list? Taking the Airstream to the mountains in North Carolina and Georgia.
Inspiring imitation: Zwack’s parents now have their own 1970s-era Airstream trailer his dad has been restoring for the last few years. “When we go somewhere together, seeing two vintage Airstreams all polished up side by side is a cool sight,” he says.
The way to go: “If someone wants to restore a vintage camper, they should choose an Airstream, because the entire structure other than the wood subfloor is either aluminum or steel,” says Zwack. “No matter how old an Airstream is, it can be relatively easily restored without having to rebuild a whole bunch of the structure.”