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Airstream Ranch: Art or Ad?

On January 4, Frank Bates created what he says is a tribute to roadside architecture, and what his critics claim is his most audacious advertising stunt yet. Frank buried eight Airstream travel trailers nose-down, in a strip of land along the eastbound lanes of Interstate 4 in Dover, Florida. He calls it "Airstream Ranch," and says that in no way is it a promotion for his RV dealership, which happens to be next door.

"We consider it art," Frank told us, adding that the easily-identifiable Airstream design is "truly an American art form," and that an Airstream is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Frank says that he is a huge fan of roadside attractions, and that on a recent cross-country flight (in his personal helicopter) he landed at Cadillac Ranch, the attraction that inspired his work.

"There's no way to do it except to do it," he said, explaining his construction philosophy, "and then see what happens."

What has happened has been an instant avalanche of publicity -- and a wave of resentment from some of Frank's residential neighbors, who view Airstream Ranch as an eyesore. This can partly be explained because the trailers are not in mint condition, and Frank faced the nice side of the trailers toward the highway, while the beat-up side faces the houses. Frank is bothered by this only in that he now realizes that the beat-up sides face south, where the light is, and that most of the people who've stopped to take pictures of Airstream Ranch have consequently photographed the crappy side. "Man, I never thought about that," he said.

Until now, Frank has been known for visual stunts such as hanging a trailer from a construction crane near the entrance of his dealership, and for his plan (never executed) to paint "Save Moo-lah" on the flanks of cows that were to graze in the field where Airstream Ranch now stands. He insists, however, that the motives behind Airstream Ranch are pure -- well, mostly pure -- and he notes that nowhere on the trailers does it mention his RV dealership.

"Vanity?" he asks himself, unprompted. "I guess maybe there's a little bit of vanity in it. In the future it would be cool to be known as the guy who came up with the Airstream Ranch. Who wouldn't want that?"

At some point during this year, Frank will have to prove that his half-buried Airstreams are art to the satisfaction of Hillsborough County code inspectors. He asks that everyone e-mail him at his personal address,, and voice your opinion, whether you agree with him or not. He genuinely feels that the results will favor his position.

"If we get through this, I'm gonna put nicer trailers in there," he promises, adding that he wants to turn Airstream Ranch into a little park, with palm trees and lighting at night. Frank also says that he wants to buy a Muffler Man to add to the display. "My plan is to make this thing look really nice because I want this to BE really nice."

"If they make me tear it down tomorrow, I'm happy -- but I'm not gonna let 'em," he told us.

"People drive by and they smile," he said. "Why wouldn't I fight to keep something like that?"


Tampa RV

Tampa RV. I-4 exit 14, southwest corner. Continue past RV entrance to stoplight and turn right onto US 92, go 1/4 mile and take a right onto Castlewood Rd. 1/2 mile, ranch is on left.
Feb. 9, 2017: Torn down.

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