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Take a Picture – in an Airstream Frame

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Airstream Safari Frame Done New Axle and topcoat of paint

Hard to believe, but the frame is complete on the Airstream Safari. I knew the day would come, but I really didn’t know when. We had to do some maneuvering – switching the disc brakes onto the 35-degree axle, and off the 22-degree, but I appreciate that kind of work because it comes in handy down the road … somewhere sometime.

After I put the old tires/rims back on the new axles I took a tour of all the trailers on the A&P Vintage lot, and of all the Airstream Trailers there, none, not a single one, had the same tire-rim combination. At this point, fretting over the tires and rims (rims more than tires) seems a bit frivolous. Tires yes. Rims whatever. It’s not like we have a polished trailer or anything to go with fancy rims, but yeah, folks notice those things.

I noticed some interesting square holes on the front of the step, and think that may be either an Airstream add-on, or an improvement. What’s the improvement, you say? Add another step made from square tubing and the step and bracket to hold the step. We’re going to need it now because the Airstream just jumped about eight inches (at least) in height. It will drop about three after the weight’s back on her, but we’re a long way from the sprung axle that came with it.

I will post a slideshow of wheels, so you can see just how many variations there are – in one single place.

Airstream Axles – This is How You Roll

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The axle is waiting and ready for the install on our Airstream Safari frame. It’s going to be a 35-degree which gives about 1.5 inches more height than the 22-degree. This Airstream axle is made by Rockwell, and you can purchase them through A&P Vintage Trailer in Cottondale, Texas. Paul can have these ready and waiting in about four days.

Original 1970 Airstream Safari Axle

As you can see, this is a  major and extremely necessary upgrade for most restorations of vintage Airstream Trailers. Axles are your connection to the ground, and the ground is what stops you, right? I also opted for the disc brakes (and controller), which should have the Safari stopping on dimes and giving change.

New Replacement Axle for Airstream Safari with Disc Brakes

I finished all the welding of the frame yesterday, so now my painter will be coming in to paint the frame with a topcoat (it’s primed) after the axle is on (allowing me to move the frame away from other trailers), and I have sand blasted and primed a couple of other spots. There’s only a token amount of old frame remaining on the Safari – from just behind the axle plates forward, and the total long distance replaced came out to something like 80-inches. That’s almost entirely boxed as well. Add the custom cross members, and you get the picture.

Two Daze Gone


doing the full monty on the airstream - building the skeleton
All bolts are ground off, and now Leslie is building the internal skeleton for doing the full monty.

Two days out at A&P Vintage Trailer in Cottondale, and I’m beat down, dazed, but less confused.

Of course we waited until temperatures began to kiss triple digits before we finally got back out to Ann and Paul’s, just like most of our projects … wait until it’s the ultimate torture test, then start it up.

We are all the way down to the bottom of the curve, with all the rivets out of the outside bottom skins, while Leslie began building the framework for the inside lift.

Now, the images here are the exact information I’ve been looking for on doing the Full Monty – FOR YEARS! I really don’t recommend you try this yourself at home until you have passed some kind of mechanical competency test, but in the meantime feel free to ask for more information so that all the blanks can be filled in, and you can decide whether you want to go down this slippery road.

The step-by-step process includes going through the channels (inside and flat U channels on the plywood floor) and grinding off the heads of bolts that reach all the way through the floor, and the phillips screws that simply reach into the 1970 plywood.

Grinding is a more finesse process than you would imagine because you want to preserve the channel, which is riveted into the side of the external Airstream skin. Things like these channels are hard, if not impossible to find. Use a thin metal cutting disc to grind off the heads with a four inch electric grinder. You may have to remove the safety shield from the grinder to get into hard to reach spots – always use protective glasses or a shield because sparks will fly. Keep water or a fire extinguisher nearby in case some of the old plywood decides to smolder or ignite. Use CAUTION.

Drilling the rivets is what it is, after hundreds if not thousands of rivets drilled out by now. If you’ve drilled one rivet, then you can surely drill out any remaining rivets that hold the wheel wells to the outer skin, any of the rivets that hold the curved bottom skins to the back corners, etc … The front bananas should already be long gone, and in safe keeping because they are rare indeed. My luck ran a little thin along the back driver’s side corner, where the plumbing mess was, and I had to drill out about ten steel rivets which are much more of a pain than aluminum rivets. Whoever uses steel rivets on aluminum should have their rivet gun confiscated immediately.

Leslie cuts every individual piece for the internal skeleton
Each piece of the internal skeleton measures differently when you are working on a curved surface.

I piddled my way through punching out the remains of the bolts, through the plywood subfloor and into daylight. Meanwhile Leslie was using her vast wood skills to build the new ribcage that would be used to hoist the body off the floor. If this sounds daunting, well heck yes it is. And without someone as experienced as Paul to answer the minute questions, we wouldn’t stand a chance.

By the time it got too hot to continue, all my rivets, all the bolts, all the phillips screws, all had been at least hit if not removed, and Leslie had the verticals up on the skeleton. Leslie’s work was more technical and construction while you’ve probably gathered I was still in the demo mode. I LIKE DEMO.

Paul, knows his limitations, so he was smart enough to take a siesta from working on a ’67 Safari, we worked until the heat finished us off completely. It’s like Eastwood said, “A man’s gotta’ know his limitations,” and I was certainly finding mine.

While our labor has no price, we are headed toward some materials that do. It’s time for the plywood – marine grade 5/8″ is on the top of the list now, and the axle looms as the next major thing. Our Safari, thank goodness, is a single axle, so at least our expense is half what dual axle Airstreams cost. I am sure I will touch on the downside of single axles along a roadside, at altitude, someday.

Headed back out to A&P’s tomorrow to finish the internal skeleton. If we aren’t at the bottom of the build, at least we can see the bottom now.

Have a Ball?

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It’s getting down to brass tacks. I was looking for a 2-5/16″ trailer ball, and realized that I don’t even have one. Guess what? Wal-Mart doesn’t have them either. I headed out on the highway to Camping World, and they were closed. Maybe they took President’s Day off?

This wind has to let up before I pull Tilley out of the driveway though. We did have wind warnings here in North Texas today, but I think they are done tomorrow. I’ll find that trailer ball tomorrow as well.

Finishing up the button-up on the trailer today included pulling street side hub and checking the bearings, repacking them and putting it all back together again. Just another day for the Airstream grease monkey. There weren’t any metal pieces or shavings in the old grease, so I know all the noise coming from the hub must be brake rubs, rusted drums and shoes.

It’ll be interesting to see how the trailer sits on the Toyota, with a 500-pound tongue weight.



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