Flipping Trailers

Scott Mayfield’s love of fly fishing led him to a hobby that had never crossed his mind: restoring vintage Airstreams, the shiny aluminum travel trailers originally produced by out-of-work aircraft mechanics in the 1940s following the end of World War II.

Seeking a more comfortable sleeping spot than the back of his pickup truck for weekend fishing and camping trips, Mayfield, the energy services administrator at Kootenai Electric Cooperative in Hayden, Idaho, settled on a neglected 1976 Airstream Sovereign. He thought that was the end of his Airstream rebuilding days—until he stumbled upon another vintage Airstream, and another, and another.

“All of a sudden I realized, ‘Uh-oh, I think I have a hobby that’s getting out of hand,’” he says.

The trailers Mayfield hauls to the craftsman garage near his home in the country have typically been put out to pasture—literally. Kootenai staff, contractors, friends, and acquaintances frequently alert him to trailer locations. He’ll find them abandoned in farm groves and other out-of-the-way places. One that he purchased for $200 required sawing down three trees to get it back on the road.

After hundreds of hours, working between the demands of his job and family (“One wife, one daughter, one dog, one cat, two boats, and six trailers,” he jokes), the renewed trailers—including his first one that eventually ended up in an Airstream-themed campground in Japan—look shiny and new.

“The most fun is remembering what a trailer looked like before I got it and what it looks like when I’m finished,” he says.

Mayfield’s carpentry skills, which he learned building his home, come in handy when restoring the interior furniture and cabinetry, but completely rebuilding trailers was unfamiliar territory in the beginning.

“It’s been a bit of learning on the fly, from the appropriate polishing technique to learning about the separate electrical systems—[12-volt and 120- volt]—to taking the shell completely off, reinforcing the frame, and replacing the deck,” he says.

He built a wood gantry with two chain hoists as his wing-it way to lift the shell from the deck.

“I thought, ‘Well, here we go. This is either going to work out or I’m going to have a really big mistake on my hands,’” he says of his first attempt. “There were a lot of doubters.”

He prefers Airstreams built no later than 1967; newer vintage models have materials developed for NASA that are difficult to find and work with, such as curved windows and processed-wood-and-tambour doors.

Before putting his trailers up for sale, Mayfield and his family have some fun naming them. There’s “Great Aunt Esther,” “Great Uncle John,” and “Great Aunt Mildred,” all Flying Cloud models from the ’50s and ’60s.

The sale ad listing for “Roy,” named after the original owner, sounds like something from a dating profile: “Meet Roy, a 52-year-old, 19-foot-long Airstream Globetrotter. He is fit as a fiddle, happy, and has a bright and shiny personality. He is a bit playful and loves adventure.”

The restored trailers have seemingly found happy endings: One went to a documentary filmmaker who uses it as a film-processing studio. Another went to a Royal Canadian Mountie to use as a lake cabin.

It’s quite interesting to learn people’s plans for the trailers,” Mayfield says.

As for Mayfield himself, his trailer is “Everett,” a 1953 Airstream Clipper named after his grandfather. Every time he hitches Everett up to his pickup truck for a family vacation, he knows he’s pulling number 12 of 26, a 17-foot, 1,900-pound piece of nostalgia.

“We get a lot of smiles and thumbs ups,” he says.

Fundraising on Ice

He may have never laced up a pair of skates, but Patrick Higgins nevertheless has managed to find himself on the ice with Olympic figure skaters like Scott Hamilton and Sarah Hughes. His celebrity brushes come via Skate for Hope, an annual event he helped launch to raise money for cancer research.

“I’ve always had an interest in philanthropy,” says Higgins, director of communications and member services at Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, the Columbus-based statewide/G&T. “I thought Skate for Hope would last a year or two, and it’s been 15. We call ourselves The Little Show That Could.”

In addition to serving on the nonprofit’s board of directors, Higgins emcees Skate for Hope, which is considered one of the premier figure skating events in the United States. Working from the stage at one end of an ice arena, he announces the amateurs who are raising money for cancer research, as well as world champions who headline the event.

“One of the coolest things about being emcee and being up close is to watch the sheer athletic ability that skating demands,” Higgins says.

Figure skating legend and national skating commentator Hamilton, a cancer survivor who was raised in Bowling Green, Ohio—where the event has been held—has joined him on the emcee stage.

“He was extremely gracious, especially given that I know next to nothing about figure skating,” Higgins says.

Higgins has also shared co-emceeing duties with Hughes, an Olympic gold medalist whose mother is a breast cancer survivor.

“Both Sarah and her mother are amazing. Sarah is quite accomplished, on and off the ice,” he says.

Overall, he says, it’s humbling that big-name figure skaters—the show-stopping Johnny Weir, U.S. national champion Ashley Wagner, and Russian Olympic gold medalist pair skaters Tatiana Totmianina and Max Marinin among them—donate their time to Skate for Hope.

“If I’m flipping channels and see that figure skating is on, there’s a good chance I’ll see someone who has performed at our event,” Higgins says.

The organization, which recently moved from Ohio to Florida, where Higgins’ college friend and event founder Caroline Bongirno lives, has contributed $575,000 to cancer research in Ohio and nationally.

“What we raise financially in the scheme of things is peanuts, but we’re proud that we’re out there doing what we can,” Higgins says.

For Higgins, the fight is highly personal. His mom and aunts battled breast cancer, and he remembers the feeling when Bongirno called him with the news that she had breast cancer at just 33 years old. When Bongirno, an amateur figure skater, later came up with the idea of a skating fundraising event, he was immediately on board.

“I thought, ‘If she’s interested in doing something that will enhance the fight, then I’m interested in helping her,’” he says.

Higgins sees similarities between co-ops and Skate for Hope in that the efforts are for the benefit of those who would otherwise be without services. He’s also able to put his communications and media relations experience to good use in his volunteer work.

Being involved with Skate for Hope also helps put the stresses of daily life in perspective, Higgins says.

“There is a world out there beyond the deadlines and the day-to-day,” he says. “This has put the fire in me to help fund cancer to oblivion.”

Brewing Up an Idea

Tanya Schneider’s days start early—and always with coffee. By 5:30 a.m., she’s in her kitchen grinding beans for a fresh cup and some quiet time with her husband before getting five kids, ages 3 to 17, out the door and herself to Homeworks Tri-County Electric in Portland, Mich., where she’s executive assistant.

“It’s the time I’m able to slow down, think, and just appreciate life,” she says of her morning ritual.

That meditative side of coffee—not just the caffeine boost—fueled Schneider’s lifelong passion and inspired her to start roasting and selling her own brand: Courageous Coffee. She had her first cup when she was 6 years old, after begging her dad to give her a taste of the thing she associated with relaxation and slowing down.

“I immediately fell in love— the smell, the taste, but mostly the moment,” she says. “I began to understand how coffee can be so much more than just a drink. The older I got, the more curious I became. My curiosity eventually got the best of me, and I purchased my first coffee roaster—about the size of a small toaster oven—and began educating myself on ways to roast a perfect batch.”

About eight years ago, while helping pack military care packages to ship overseas, she decided that the deployed soldiers deserved to have good coffee.

“I bought a bunch of green coffee beans and roasted them in my little roaster,” Schneider says. “It took me forever, but that’s when I realized I wanted to do this for other people someday. I wanted my business model to be set up so that I could give back to others in need.”

She began saving money toward that goal and ended 2016 as a bona fide coffee roaster, after packaging her first bags of Courageous Coffee.

Schneider works out of a 12-foot by 12-foot playhouse-like building in her yard.

“I call it my little coffee house,” she says. “It’s the place where the magic happens.”

That magic starts with raw beans delivered in 150-pound burlap bags and sourced from countries like Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Kenya. A bigger roaster has replaced her toaster-size one, though the 3 pounds it handles is nothing compared to the ones coffee giants like Starbucks use.

The roasting process, which takes the beans from green to ready-to-brew brown, is somewhat of an art form.

“It uses all of your senses,” Schneider says—especially smell. “At first, the beans start smelling like fresh-cut grass, and then popcorn, and then they have a little nutty smell, and then they finally start smelling like coffee. That’s when I know I better pay close attention.”

When the beans begin cracking, around 400 degrees, she shuts off the heat, depending on whether she wants a light, medium, or dark roast. Next the beans are put into a cooling bin before packing and distributing.

Schneider roasts the beans on her own, but the tasting—a process called cupping—is a family affair.

“We have our own little family rating scale,” she says of the different flavors they sample. She packages four roasts, both whole beans and ground, which she sells in area businesses. Ten percent of proceeds goes to nonprofit organizations; the first donation helped fund blankets and personal care bags for homeless people. Most recently, a donation of $250, along with many bags of fresh roasted coffee, was made to go toward sending military care packages to active duty troops.

For Schneider, starting the morning with a cup of coffee is worth it if for no other reason than the few minutes it allows for reflection and prayer.

“My business mission is to make a difference with each coffee purchase. But my personal mission is to get people to begin each day with a grateful heart,” she says.

Wrestling With Success

When Dennis Lanier heads home after reading meters and handling other AMI and engineering tasks at EnergyUnited, headquartered in Statesville, N.C., he’s ready to enjoy some sports—not as a participant or observer, but as an artist. Lanier, who has a graphic design degree, designs wrestling belts and creates NASCAR artwork.

“I’ve been drawing my whole life,” he says. “I pretty much knew all my life that I wanted to get into art.”

One thing he never imagined was his artistic abilities leading him to the over-the-top and theatrical world of professional wrestling and clients Matt and Jeff Hardy; Shane Helms; “Double J” Jeff Jarrett, a heavyweight champ with a country-music-singer shtick who now heads up Global Force Wrestling, a wrestling promotion company; and Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins singer and guitarist who founded Resistance Pro Wrestling.

Working through a friend’s company, Top Rope Belts, Lanier creates custom designs on his computer for the metal plates that adorn the extravagant belts. The 5-to-10-pound belts, which wrestlers snap around their waists, sling over their shoulders, or earn as trophies, are a team effort to make; specialists handle different parts, such as the painting, leather work, etching, and bejeweling.

“It’s fun, especially when you see them on TV and you know, ‘That’s my belt,’” Lanier says.

Ironically, Lanier says a large part of the wrestling belt business doesn’t even involve wrestling.

“People are moving away from traditional-style trophies and instead using wrestling belts for awards like salesman of the year,” he says. Top Rope has made belts for corporations like Microsoft, clubs, the military, poker championships, and sports teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Mets.

While the wrestling belts are a newer artistic adventure for Lanier, NASCAR artwork has been a longtime passion.

“I’ve been a racing fan since I was about 10,” Lanier says. “I was always sketching cars in high school, and then that started to pick up with my illustration class in college.”

He uses illustration markers for his vivid renderings of the cars and their drivers, such as Mark Martin and Brian Vickers, a NASCAR Busch Series champion who commissioned two paintings from Lanier. “I probably spend more time on a driver’s face than I will the rest of the painting to make sure it’s right,” Lanier says. “Most people can relate the color of the car, the logos, and the racing suits, but getting the face is the trick. I’ve had a lot of compliments on my driver’s faces.”

In a sport known for having passionately loyal fans, artwork and memorabilia of favorite drivers can be coveted like baseball cards. But becoming an officially licensed NASCAR artist isn’t easy.

“It’s a tough business to get into,” Lanier says, noting there are trademark issues, and a race team may charge up to $1,000 for its marketing crew to even review artwork. Lanier’s dream commission would be for Dale Earnhardt Jr., son of the legendary driver killed during the 2001 Daytona 500 and whom Lanier credits with his love of stock-car racing. “It’s just a matter of getting the right connections,” Lanier says.

“Sometimes I still consider myself a starving artist, but I’ve had some decent success,” he adds. “And I’ve gotten to meet great people and some famous people from all spectrums.”

Lanier’s full portfolio of art can be seen at his website, dennislanier.com. To see Top Ropes’ collection of belts, visit topropebelts.com.