The Ties That Bind

Erica Sherwood reaches out to the world while staying connected to family

By Carla McKeown

In the routine of daily life, it’s easy to think that our small towns in North Central Texas are isolated from, even insulated from, the rest of the world.  It often seems that no one outside of this area can find Graham, Breckenridge, Olney, Graford or Jacksboro on a map.
Then, one day, you’re reading a national magazine and see a story by a Pulitzer Prize winning author writing about a woman in Breckenridge, Texas. That’s when you remember it’s people who make up our communities, not just coordinates on a map. And people make a much bigger impact on the world than locations do.
There on page 137 of the August 2013 issue of Reader’s Digest is a story by Philip Caputo. The essay is adapted from his recently published book “The Longest Road.”

Two years ago, Caputo and his wife, Leslie, along with their two dogs, embarked on a four-month trip across the United States, towing a vintage Airstream trailer behind their pickup.
They were searching for the answer to the question: What is it that unites Americans?
They traveled from the southernmost point of the U.S. to the northernmost and then to Breckenridge to return the Airstream that they had leased from Erica Sherwood, who owns Noma2013 FALL TODAYS FAMILIES-cover3dica, a vintage trailer business.
After having driven more than 16,000 miles from Florida to Alaska, Caputo says in the article that he found the answer to his question right here in North Central Texas.
“…I asked for Erica’s thoughts on what united Americans, and she nailed it,” Caputo wrote at the end of the article. “‘It’s hope,’ she said. ‘Isn’t that what it’s always been?’”
Sherwood met Caputo through Rich Luhr, the owner of Airstream Life Magazine. Caputo was looking to lease a trailer for a cross-country trip he was planning. Sherwood says she doesn’t usually lease her trailers, but she liked the concept of Caputo’s project and she trusted Luhr’s judgment.
Sherwood gets a little philosophical when she talks about Caputo’s project to discover what unites Americans.
“It’s something that most people don’t think about…hope,” she said. “But, it’s what drives people to go to work, to get up off the couch…we hope for something more for our kids, we hope for more happiness…it’s what drives people.”
She puts just as much thought into discussing her family. In addition to renovating vintage trailers for her business, Nomadica, she and her husband, Jef, also own and operate Texas FunWear, a screenprinting and custom embroidery company in Breckenridge. Their son, Dax, is in kindergarten.
Additionally, their businesses are next door to her parents’ business, Stephens County Propane. Sherwood also has a propane certification and can assist her parents when she needs to.
“It’s great,” Sherwood says about working so closely with her family. “We all can help each other out. I’m very fortunate to have them.”
Her mom sometimes accompanies Sherwood to deliver trailers to customers, and her dad offers advice and assistance with the renovation work.
She especially likes the fact that her son is growing up near his grandparents.
“Like they say, it takes a tribe,” she says. “It’s rewarding to get to grow through life with my parents; I’d do anything for them.”
It was family that led Sherwood to her interest in the vintage trailers. An uncle was moving to France and sold his Airstream to Sherwood’s parents. It wasn’t long before she was hooked and had learned to completely remodel vintage trailers.
Over the past 13 years, she has owned more than 200 vintage trailers, most of which she has sold or traded. Sometimes a trailer needs to be gutted and completely remodeled, but others require just a few minor repairs. A typical restoration project takes about a year.
She does all of the work herself and is grateful for the support of her husband. With a laugh, she says, “Since I was living in a trailer when he met me, he can’t say too much; it’s not like I was hiding anything.”
Sherwood says they travel in her personal trailer a couple of times a year. That trailer is a rare 1948 Airstream that she bought already restored about three years ago.
Her favorite years are the models from the 1940s and ’50s. When she outfits the trailers with furnishings and linens, she uses vintage items, seeking out period pieces in thrift stores and online.
Sherwood uses the word “culture” to describe the community of vintage trailer collectors.
“It’s a lifestyle of contentment,” She says. “It’s being OK with what you have, even if it’s not much materially. There’s some happiness in the fact that you can have a home anywhere in the country. There is peace involved with that.”
Vintage trailer enthusiasts often belong to groups, such as the Tin Can Tourists, the Airstream Club or the Wally Byam Caravan Club International, Sherwood says. And, they often get to know each other online and at sales.
With the restoration process being so time-consuming, Sherwood usually only works on about one trailer a year, preferring to work with specific individuals.
“My clientele is more of a private clientele. I don’t sell, typically, to the general public,” she says.
Although she usually doesn’t lease the trailers, like she did for Philip Caputo, Sherwood sometimes rents them out for celebrity events. For example, she has rented trailers to movie stars and musicians who used them as accommodations for wedding guests. Such transactions have enabled Sherwood to meet a diverse group of people.
Often just traveling with a vintage trailer is enough to spur encounters with strangers. “Especially if it’s a shiny trailer, people approach me,” she says. “And, I’m happy to oblige.”
In fact, Sherwood is eager to talk to just about anyone about vintage trailers. Recently, she spent quite a bit of time on the phone talking to a woman from California who was trying to decide which trailer to buy. Sherwood didn’t want any payment for her advice, but when the woman insisted on paying, Sherwood agreed to a donation to a charity at her church.
The quality of vintage trailers, especially the Airstreams, is one of the factors that draws Sherwood.
“Just being in one and knowing that it’s 60 years old, and it’s still just as rock-solid as it was when it was brand new,” she said. “It’s a labor of love but not a labor in vain. It’s rewarding because I know it will last another 70 years. It’s an awesome legacy.”
For anyone looking to buy a vintage trailer, Sherwood advises taking the time to educate yourself on the pros and cons of each year’s models. She also recommends having a budget and familiarizing yourself with the costs affiliated with necessary repairs.
But, when it comes to finding the right trailer, she recommends that the buyer go with their feelings.
“When you walk into one and it feels like home to you, that’s when you know that’s your trailer.”

(This story originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Today’s Families)

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