Catie Ebert, a real estate agent, was showing a house shortly after noon Tuesday when her phone started blowing up with calls, texts and messages.
Trying to be witty, she said, “Whoa, I’m very popular. Everybody is buying in a hot market.”
Then she looked at her phone and grew so excited she had to excuse herself.
Police had found her 1962 Airstream Overlander vintage travel trailer, which had been stolen from a Kansas City, Kan., business parking lot over the weekend.
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“It’s such a promising thing that at least it was found,” said Ebert, who feared she never would see the family heirloom again.
A person called police shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday after seeing the trailer in the parking lot of an abandoned church in the 9700 block of Swartz Road in Edwardsville, Police Chief Mark Mathies said.
The unlocked trailer appeared to be in good shape, Mathies said. It was towed and turned over to Kansas City, Kan., police for processing.
Police told Ebert that it appeared someone had sprayed the inside of the trailer with two fire extinguishers, possibly in an attempt to cover up evidence.
About six years ago, Ebert, of Prairie Village, rescued the trailer from a family farm in Texas and began restoring it. Because her grandfather once owned it, it held great sentimental value. She doesn’t know how much she had spent on renovations, but it was in the tens of thousands of dollars.
One of the final pieces of the restoration was to get countertops installed. On Friday, Ebert and her husband, Clint, took the trailer to Top Master in Kansas City, Kan., and left the trailer there overnight.
But when Clint returned Saturday morning, it was gone.
After looking for the trailer, Catie Ebert turned to Facebook, posting a plea for help. News of the theft spread across social media. The news media picked up the story too. By Monday morning, her plea had been shared by more than 3,400 people.
About 12:10 p.m. Tuesday, a friend of Ebert posted on her Facebook page a picture showing the trailer in the church parking lot in Edwardsville.
About 15 minutes later, Ebert posted: “Just got the call … THEY FOUND MY BABY!!!!”
She thinks the attention generated from her Facebook plea caused the thief or thieves to get nervous and dump it.
“I don’t really know how to explain how much Facebook helped,” Ebert said. “Without this many people, I don’t think they would have gotten spooked. … Obviously this goes to show that vintage trailers hold a special spot in everybody’s heart.”
A rise in popularity for all kinds of vintage items has spurred interest for older Airstream trailers, said Paul Mayeux, owner of the restoration company A&P Vintage Trailer Works in Paradise, Texas.
“People are being pulled toward them because of their timeless design and shape,” said Mayeux, whose company currently has about 25 Airstreams in its shop, including one from 1948, the first model year after Airstream restarted production following World War II.
Mayeux has heard of other Airstream thefts around the country. Some of the trailers reportedly have been put in shipping containers and sent to other countries, he said.
“This is the first one I know of that has been recovered,” he said of Ebert’s 1962 trailer.
The taking of the Airstream may be related to a larger theft ring that was being investigated Tuesday afternoon by Kansas City, Kan., police detectives about a mile from where the Airstream was found.
A few hours after the trailer was found, police were called to the 1800 block of South 94th Street on the border of Edwardsville and Kansas City, Kan.
Kansas City, Kan., police said several vehicles and two trailers believed to have been stolen were found at the 94th Street location. A witness told detectives that the Airstream was parked there earlier, according to police.
Vintage Airstream clubs exist in a smattering of cities across the country, including St. Louis, according to vintageairstream.com.
A national club rendezvous begins Friday in Durango, Colo.
Although Ebert had not had a chance to see what damage had been done, she said she was just happy to have the trailer back.
“I guess I just wait until they (police) let me come out and see what is going on and see if I have to start over (with renovations),” Ebert said. “The key to this is that even if I have to start over with the inside, I get to start over with the inside. It’s a privilege I get to start over with the inside.”
The Star’s Donna McGuire contributed to this report.