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Airstream Repairs – Restoring the Original License Plate Light

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Well the Texas weather told us just about all we needed to know this past weekend. I ran out to A&P Vintage to see where the leaks are in the Safari, and was both disappointed and pleased at what I found.

Some of the leaks that got our attention have been slowed. Unfortunately, slow doesn’t count. And we added a couple of new ones to the list. After Paul couldn’t trace down what’s left, he decided it’s time to pressurize the trailer to find the rest of the leaks. The leaking refrigerator vent on the roof is fixed.

  • Leak – on the vertical rivet lines (both) at back center outer skin.
  • Leak – front big rectangular window left (street) side.
  • Leak – visible empty rivet hole in front roof around new fan.
  • Leak – visible from rivet in roof holding second new fan.

Believe it or not, that’s progress.

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LICENSE PLATE LIGHT

I decided to do something slightly more visually rewarding, and finally got into the light that illuminates the license plate. There can be numerous configurations of the exact same piece of hardware on Airstream tails. Typically the light and the license plate holder are a single unit attached together. And that unit can be placed any number of places – dictated by the model of Airstream Trailer it goes on. Not on the 70 Safari 23′ though. The license plate (bracket) is on the back hatch door, and the light is above it. IN BETWEEN is a vent hole (pop out screened) that used to vent that back area where the battery/inverter/electrical/sink once were located. So we pulled the screen and ran a patch over that vent – which will no longer be necessary as we move all electrical to the front street-side.

If you can’t see the images large enough – It says Yankee 331 Norwalk Connecticut. Overall the split in the rubber housing can be a problem. The actual light housing has two hairline cracks in identical places on both sides, and I am missing that darn lens that goes in that long rectangular opening to diffuse the light source. That will be the hardest thing to deal with.

Once I tapped out that old bulb housing (quite easily), the new LED has plenty of room to mount. I used a flat grey primer to help bounce the LED light around before it passes out that long rectangular opening (with something to cover that opening yet to be found.

 

Hard At Work

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airstream rebuild #airstreamlife airstreaming grote scare light led license plate light

THE PUSH IS ON TO MAKE HAY

There’s a push on, what with 80-degree January days, to get a lot done on the Airstream. As you probably know, we’re parked at A&P Vintage Trailer Works out in Paradise (Cottondale) Texas, and they’re even more busy due to the break in typical winter weather.

Just before we left last night, the owner of the prominent Airforums.com came out to check on his trailer and drop off a load of parts to go into that ground-up rebuild. His trailer has a great looking body, and the frame – built from scratch – is just as much a work of modern engineering art.

I was so busy putting the new belly pans up on our trailer, and the physical demands of drilling so great (drilling rivet holes through aluminum sheet then a steel frame – some of it boxed), that I didn’t have the energy to take photographs.

We’re doing a lot of little things to begin to button up the outside for good. That includes finding a new scare light that will substitute for the holes that once held the radio antenna – on the front road-side curved panel.

And there will be some time involved in retrofitting a new bank of LED’s into the old license plate housing that on this Airstream model, is separated from the license plate. Oh the joys of a unique trailer. That shouldn’t be a problem though. We also patched the old ventilation hole that was just below that light, the screened hole that provided air circulation for the old lead batteries and inverter. (This is all at the tail of the trailer.)

Now that the back inside fiberglass end cap is down, all access is granted to the taillights, the body panel seams, the running light mounting, the wire running to all that, and finally access to the end cap itself.

THE END CAP

As you can imagine with a 45-year-old piece of curved cooked fiberglass, there are a few hairline cracks in it. What we do for repairing those cracks is to drill two small holes just beyond the end of the cracks, and then glass it again – on the backside.

LED TAIL LIGHTS

I’v now been around the track twice in order to finally settle on a replacement LED taillight for our particular trailer. They typically go by terms like, “replaces old Grote Can,” and come in varying degrees of fit and finish – all at an extremely high price. The ones I settled on are / were sold at Airstream Supply – www.airstreamsupply.com, and the ones shipped first were the wrong ones, and completely unlike the photograph shown – Round LED Airstream Tail Light – the ones shipped are the type that get “glued” or essentially Sikaflexed into the original mounts, and have those modern 3-pin connectors. You’ve seen them everywhere.

That is a big nogo for me. I let them know, and was informed that there are only five (red) lights left in the world, and they would trade them out for the extinct ones. So four of the last five in the world – screw in LED light replacements for vintage Airstream with 20 led’s – are headed to me as I write.

I’ll make sure to get photographs of the extinct tail lights when they arrive and maybe as they go in. No matter what, we will be doing away with old school connection that plugs into the old bulb socket. Those old sockets are only still working because they’re inside a hermetically sealed, and never opened housing. Eventually they will go out (remember the springs and oxidization?).

Time to get back to work on the Thursday Texas Fly Fishing Report. You can see that crossover (if you want) at www.texasflycaster.com.

Thanks for reading!

Installing a New 110 Outlet on Outside Wall of Airstream

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airstream 110 wiring outlet #airstream #airstreamers 12 volt wiring

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ON THE 110 Volt SIDE

Some things are simple, and some are not. When you’re dealing with a piece of Airstream that reaches from the outside to the in of your trailer, that’s a vulnerable spot. And all kinds of bad things can happen where these exposures are.

I think if you take a look at the way we installed and sealed the 110 single outlet, it makes sense, and really isn’t that difficult of a repair – all Airstream repairs considered. Inside, the skins are still off, but the insulation is going in, and I am running the 110 wiring circuits as instructed. I am actually using some outdoor quality wire (by local manufacturer United Copper Industries).

Running 110 in the Airstream Safari 23′:

  • Curb Side Circuit – That 110 outlet / a 110 inside back / refrigerator
  • Top Single Circuit – A/C
  • Street Side Circuit – Kitchen 110 / Bathroom 110 / Dining 110

I think this is accurate, but of course will get the approval of my supervisor along the way. It’s certainly possible to run another circuit, and simple stuff. The draw from the A/C is the greatest single draw of our particular trailer. We all know electric heaters and hair driers can be huge draws as well.

ON THE 12 Volt SIDE

Inside any Airstream Trailer, there’s plenty of 12 volt action going on as well. And it’s cleanly divided into two flavors. Right now, I am in the midst of wiring the new lights we installed on the trailer a few weeks ago. And I am still looking for a practical (spelled affordable) LED solution for the tail lights. All the external Airstream running lights are wired on their own accord, and powered / controlled only by their connection to the tow vehicle. All of these external turn/brake and running lights are powered by LED’s and use a fraction of the power needed to run the old style Edison bulbs. What a world! Nevertheless, there is the need to be efficient in how these lights are wired and run inside the skins because it’s hard to imagine breaking open the skins again to find a problem.

  • We’re using LEDs I purchased at a local truck stop on the outside of the trailer – for the amber and red running lights.
  • I am using 16 gauge marine grade (aluminum coated copper) wire from
  • I am using heat shrink butt-to-butt connectors for the running light connections (and all 12V connections).
  • We are leaving enough “slack” in the wires to be able to pull them out, away from the body – when polishing time comes.
  • Every place where it’s logical to secure the wires against the inside of the outside skin, I am using a powerful outdoor double-sided 3M foam holding tape (used for taping mailboxes to brick and such).
  • Every place that wires run through those round holes in the inside “studs” (for lack of a better term) – will have RUBBER grommeting to prevent friction wear for every single wire or group of wires running throughout the trailer. I’ve seen what happens to those plastic snap-in grommets, and it isn’t pretty; they are cooked by years of heat and crumble away.

I have seen and done wiring since I was a kid, car stereos and such, so I would hope to be a little better than average at this part of the Airstream rebuild. In general terms, a lot has changed for this 1970 Airstream’s wiring –

We’re moving all the controlling devices, battery, inverter, breaker boxes – to the front of the trailer – AWAY FROM the very back of the trailer. This does not pose any problems (due to the inside skins being out), and is a significant weight relief to the back end of the trailer. It’s entire probable we will end up running two batteries when all is said-and-done.

Airstream LED Lighting Outside

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#airstreamtrailers #airstreamers airstream LED lighting LED taillights for Airstreams

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It’s a tough for me to swallow. The pricing on the taillight LEDs for the Airstream are anywhere from $29 to $35 dollars apiece on www.led4rv.com, and when I look at them up close, in person, at A&P Vintage Trailer Works; I see a Chinese unit that cost somewhere in the neighborhood of a dollar to produce, okay maybe $2-dollars. Keep in mind, that retail cost is times four!


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Buttoning Up and Riveting Down and Lighting Up

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#airstreamers airstream trailers led lighting for airstream u channel rebuilding restoration

On the way back out to work on the Airstream today, and looking at LED external lighting for the Safari. Paul, the “P” in A&P, recommended looking to the website www.led4rv.com. I have dabbled on that site before, as we Airstreamers do, looking at every single item whether it’s related to the job or not. Paul told me there was a complete set for the 1970 Safari, but I no longer see that offering.

LIGHTING UP

So what I am looking at is the LED replacement for old bulbs, and lenses for the taillights. Those appear to be this item – LED Tail light kit for Airstream units from 1969-74 SKU221 and the images below show a little of how they look and work. They simply appear to have the lens and LED’s as a unit that plugs into the existing socket. Now, there’s no way I am sticking with the existing socket, so I will have to find and install those as well, but they can be found just about everywhere. And since this is a new fit, it would be more practical to completely do away with the original bulb connector (tons of oxidization potential in there), and use a direct connect two prong all weather connector. Those are extremely common, and common sense says to make that upgrade. It involves changing both ends of the connection, but why go to all the expense of a new light, and have a forty-year-old connection? Those old bulb connections are his-to-ree.

Airstream LED light replacements

 

LEDs for Airstream Trailers

Why stick with the old connectors? Upgrade your connectors while you’re upgrading your Airstream taillights to LEDs!

BUTTONING UP

The button down process includes, in our case, removing the rare aluminum U channel from the inside walls in some places, and securing it to the floor (this is the U channel that holds the trailer to the deck) with stainless steel 5/16″ 1.5 inch long bolts and nylon locking nuts (used in practical numbers), as well as stainless screws for modest securing.

Now this has to be done because the U channel can be misaligned with new things like the new wheel wells, or because of a variation in the new decking, or for any number of other reasons. Bottom line: the U did not line up. So, attach the U to the floor (most critical) and then button (rivet) the walls to the U channel.

Take a close look at your Airstream Trailer’s U channel! It is anything but typical. The bottom of the U that contacts the floor has a couple of interesting and vital characteristics. First, it has a raised line running the length of the U. That line keeps us from sliding the U all the way to flush with the edge of the decking. Very important. Second, you’ll see some holes drilled in the U channel that have no apparent purpose. Those are called weep holes, and they are supposed to be there to allow condensation from the walls to run down, through the weep holes, down into the belly and out. Do they work that way in real life? Heck, I don’t know! So don’t cover the weep holes, or run extra screws through them. Just go with the flow.

RIVETING DOWN

Before we can run around the trailer riveting the wall back to the U channel, we have to make a full run around the trailer, drilling out all the old rivets. They can be inside and out. They can be obvious, and they can be sublime. That’s a rivet. Miss a rivet, and you have a problem. That is why it’s really smart to have two sets of eyes on this process.

Riveting an Airstream trailer is a whole other story that needs a lot of time and space to explore. If we think of a rivet and gun as the Airstream version of hammer and nails, it’s possible to learn and get proficient at using a new kind of hammer and new kind of nails. Stay tuned.

 

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