Drive past Madrid, home of the Mineshaft Tavern and a tribe of people who are still wearing tie-dyed T-shirts and you won't find much. Pass the last of the roadside miners' cabins and what you'll find is miles of beautiful scenery in all directions.

The road, best known as "the Turquoise Trail," is popular with bikers. The cruisers ride to the Mineshaft on Sundays and add some class to the weekday crew. The sport bikers--- some with well scuffed knee pads on their leather riding outfits--- don't stop. They just burn road and run the twisties from Santa Fe to Albuquerque.

But if you went a few miles past Madrid, turned off on a dirt road known to some as "Mail Box Road," and followed the ruts a few miles you would eventually come to the home of Rick Ruff, Airstream Guardian Angel.

Mr. Ruff, now in his late fifties, lives there with his collection of six Airstreams, all venerable, all collectible. He has no electricity. He trucks in his water. He trucks in his propane. Solar panels recharge the battery in his residence and two aging generators are run from time to time for the sole purpose of running power tools. He stays in touch with the world with his cell phone.

His Christmas card pictures a lone Bambi---the coveted 16 foot trailer from the sixties--- covered with snow, the Sandia Mountains far in the distance.

Talk about austere beauty.

Another photo shows a rainbow landing in the midst of the six glistening Airstreams.

Rick lives lite. A former leather crafts worker, he became familiar with trailer living in the years he went from one craft show to the next and learned that the best way to make the economics of hand craft work was to live in a trailer. Like me, he was charmed by the odd perfection of the Airstream's ovoid shape.

In time, he gave up making leather bags and other craft work. He started fixing people's Airstreams. He will also go and pick up a trailer for you and bring it back to your house, having recently towed a '40s trailer from Southern California to Santa Fe.

That's how I met him.

Last November when I bought my 1971 Safari, a 23 footer, the seller told me about Rick. I called him immediately because, well, I was scared to death about what I had done. I was even more scared about what I might have to do. While the 35 year old trailer appeared to be in good shape, I was no judge and I'm not very good at fixing things.

The fastest way to build a collection of spare parts is to ask Scott Burns to assemble something. Let's leave it at that.

So I hired Rick to re-rivet a window, install new tires, and assorted other tasks before having him transport the Airstream to the BdoubleD, otherwise known as the Burns Family All Hat and No Cattle Ranch. This is where it now lives, with a view of the Sangre de Christo Mountains from the front window and a view of the Jemez Mountains from the back window, waiting for its first trip in early summer.

Then, the "mobile bunkhouse" will spend a month in Red River, north of Taos.

Before then, I will be counting on Rick to help with a multitude of small but vital repairs. You would be amazed at what happens to 35 year old plastic parts, how difficult it is to find small replacement fans, etc. Even so, our mobile bunkhouse is already earning its keep as a place to start the evening with a glass of wine.

Rick isn't the only person devoted to Airstreams. Use the web to explore the cult of Airsteam and you'll find dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people who have either restored their own Airstream or offer to help others do it.

This simple purchase has already had an impact on how we live. We may never live as austerely as Rick Ruff, but its space has already redefined our ideas of what we want or need. Plans for building a walk-in closet have been abandoned. Plans for doing a major bathroom remodel have been canceled. I figure the Airstream has already saved us about $40,000 in remodeling expenses. That makes it a pretty good $5,900 investment, don't you think?

And my wife has a new vocabulary for living in the material world. She wants, she says, "to hold things lightly.

Rick Ruff knows how to do that. Most of us would do well to be learning.

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Investing the Airstream Lifestyle