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The Camper That Inspired the Airstream Is Back With Heated Floors and Wi-Fi

The Bowlus Road Chief Endless Highways edition can be powered for an entire week by its 4 kWh Lithium iron phosphate battery. 

By BRYAN HOOD & DWELL

Trailer manufacturer Bowlus remembers exactly what camping used to be about—getting away from it all. The company’s latest offering is a thoroughly modern update of the brand’s original camper, the Road Chief, that promises nostalgic travelers the chance to get away from the din of the city and live off the grid while still enjoying the comforts of home.

First created by aircraft engineer, designer, and builder Hawley Bowlus in 1934, the Road Chief was the world’s first aluminum riveted travel trailer and was originally intended to carry flight crews to distant airfields, according to Digital Trends. Though Bowlus only made about 80 trailers over the course of three years before shuttering, the Duralumin vehicle caught the eye of celebrities like Clark Gable and Carol Lombard and is believed to be the inspiration for the iconic Airstream Clipper, which was first manufactured in 1936.

But as of 2014, Bowlus is back in business, and the company has gone about updating the Road Chief so that it now offers everything a 21st-century traveler could want from a camper. Though it looks almost identical to the original trailer, it’s inside the wood and chrome accented cabin that the hand-made Road Chief Endless Highways edition really stands apart.

Measuring 26 feet in length, the camper’s features include a master bedroom that can fit a king-size mattress, two seating areas that convert into twin beds, a spacious kitchen area, bathroom and large shower, and can comfortably sleep and dine four full-size adults. A cozy bedroom with two single sleeping berths is found at the back of the trailer with upholstered headboards, blue-and-white-striped linen bedding, reading lights, and curved port holes, completing the nautical vision.

In addition to those amenities, it has heated floors, continuous hot water, air conditioning, cellular booster and modem, private Wi-Fi network capability and remote power management via smartphone app or the internet.

Bowlus Road Chief Endless Highways edition 

As nice as those features may be, the real draw might be the 4 kWh Lithium iron phosphate battery that powers the Endless Highways edition. Bowlus promises that the battery can power the entire trailer for up to a week, as long as you can go without A/C.

Influenced by the original 1930s model, the interior design certainly has a nostalgic bent, with warm walnut and blonde birch wood finishes that are complemented by aluminum accents. Nods to the nautical are seen throughout the interior as well with blue-and-white striped table linens and cushions covered in a blue, organic vegan fabric with white piping.

Like Bowlus’ other travel trailers, The Wave sleeps four and includes all the bells and whistles with a full bathroom and kitchenette. Dining, kitchen, and bathroom spaces are thoughtfully laid out in the cozy 26-foot space with living at one end of the trailer and sleeping at the other.  The Road Chief Endless Highways edition starts at $187,000. Another model, the Road Chief On the Road, is slightly shorter, measuring only 24 feet, and starts at $137,000.

The original aluminum-clad trailer, the Bowlus Road Chief, was designed by pilot Hawley Bowlus in 1934 to act as his mobile home when he traveled around California. When Bowlus wasn’t flying planes in the sky, he was living on the road in his trailer. 

With technology in mind, special mounts for tablets are found in both the sleeping berth and main living space. Round aluminum weather instruments keep in mind the marine theme. A 21st century version of a ship’s log is mounted on the birch paneling to record stories of life on the road.  

A nod to Bowlus’ aviation background, The Wave, the latest model from the historic company, features an aerodynamic shell fabricated from solid aircraft-grade aluminum with a polished mirror-like finish. The Wave’s tapered hull design draws inspiration from the shape of yachts. Hub caps are painted in black to appear as if the trailer is floating down the road.

The 26-foot trailer’s aluminum hull draws design inspiration from the tapered bow and stern of a yacht. Courtesy of Bowlus Road Chief

Built for off-grid adventures, a high-end electrical system (2,000W inverter, 80A/hr fast charger and 4 kWh of lithium iron phosphate batteries) can handle week-long remote journeys. To extend your trip, Bowlus included a solar panel that smartly tucks away inside the trailer’s shell. A Bluetooth-enable app allows you to connect to the trailer and track your power usage, meaning you can smartly plan when to return to civilization and when to keep on going. 

Performance-wise, a lightweight shell with a low center of gravity and high ground clearance means the The Wave can handle off-road adventures with ease.

Limited quantities of the 26-foot trailer are now available for $225,000. Custom builds also are an option.