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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.

 

Another Day at the Airstream

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Images from another workday at A&P Vintage Trailer Works.

Work Gets in the Way of Work

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Ahhhhhhh! I forgot and left the Airstream home alone (actually at A&P’s) for 45 days!

Finally made it back out to Cottondale, Texas, today. It’s been so long I may have to remind you that is where the Safari 23 resides, among many more Airstreams at A&P Vintage Trailer Repair, aka. Ann & Paul’s.

I described the feeling to Ann as what I would imagine a parent to feel when they look up two months later, and remember they forgot to pick their kid up at school. You hope they are still there.It felt like the inanimate Airstream was a little upset being left out there in the rain, wind and hail. Thank goodness we have so little of all of those in North Texas these days. Global something, you know.

As many steps as we made forward before the work hiatus (when I actually went to work), I also took a couple of steps back, and they feel like they were knee-deep into mud. First, the angle iron (custom bent as you recall) that runs along the back wall – sandwiched between the wall and U channel – had to be cut out with the plasma cutter. It didn’t line up properly AND I had already sandwiched the bottom of the angle between the floor and the frame with liberal amounts of that bonding calk. Done, cut out and gone. SECOND, the perfectly straight runners that go underneath along the outriggers (they are where the belly pan and outside wall panels curve under, meet and get riveted), no longer line up the same distance in as they did on the original frame. Rather than cut those out, I ordered a whole new run of them, and they will run doublewide down the length of both sides of the trailer. None of that would be a big deal, but I am the guy who hates rust. That means everything that has been cut out was already painted – well painted. That means I now have to paint the runners, crawl around on the ground with a welder, and act like a weldor again. I hoped I was done with that, but NOooo.

On the cooler side, I did order our new Dometic air conditioner today. We went for the biggest they have, since it is Texas after all. I should have that in a couple of days.

The checklist gets longer not shorter now.

There’s still the sheet of plywood that supports the freshwater tank. Somebody remind me why I threw the old one away. It’s a funny thing. This sheet of plywood really needs to be bullet proof. It covers a huge area of the bottom of the trailer, is exposed to all the elements we will be navigating (think Stony Pass water crossings), and it supports a lot of weight. What a recipe. The original wasn’t in too good a shape, but it did appear to have the sheet of aluminum adhered to it quite well – almost like another layer of plywood veneer! So, I have to bomb-proof that piece of plywood.

We also have a buckle in the marmoleum flooring that runs in a visible spot. The floor laid out fine before we dropped the shell back on it, but now with heat (or whatever) it is a serious problem. It looks like we will have to cut a splice in the marmoleum, gather and glue it.

NOTE – Just to give you guys the heads-up, I am about to pump some serious energy into this website. You will notice a “Instagram” photo in the sidebar, and a twitter feed as well. I have put off really “plugging in” this site until I was ready to deal with what it means for readers and traffic here. If you ever see anything you don’t like, let me know. I AM ALSO MAKING IT EASIER TO COMMENT on this site. You can comment and ask questions without having to register or login. Your comment will be held for approval, but that’s only prudent.

I am also undertaking the redesign of Ann & Paul’s site this summer. So keep your eyes on www.apvintagetrailerworks.com in coming weeks.

A New Beginning – The Build Back Officially Underway

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New Airstream Outriggers going on as rebuild begins

This week was the week.

Years in the unmaking, the Airstream is finally turning the curve upward as the rebuild officially got underway. If you remember, I custom cut the curves in the outriggers recently (outriggers are the parts of the Airstream Trailer frame outside the main frame rails) with plasma in the new shop, and had those waiting, at A&P Vintage Trailer, for me to have the time to spend there replacing the old ones.

Earlier in the week, I had squared up the frame using screw jacks along the main rails of the frame, using a huge level, or some other leveling device you have total knowledge of and confidence in. I used leveling screw-type stands typically used when camping, along with 1x12x12 boards to keep the jacks from sinking in the dirt. It makes for easy fine adjustments when leveling, and readjusting as work tends to move the frame around a bit. DON’T FORGET to also put a couple of auto jack stands underneath – just in case the Airstream frame decides to slide off the the screw stands. Level the frame to the world (bubble level). The axle was removed by unbolting it from the frame using the largest impact wrench you can find, using something to spray the nuts and break the rust, and finally breaking it loose with a BFH pounding the brake drums.

Welding the outriggers on first is not necessarily the order to take things in, but I was ready to declare a victory and show improvements. The process for replacing outriggers on an Airstream is pretty straight forward. The original steel is pretty thin and the welds can be good or bad, depending on who was welding in the factory that day, or any number of other factors. Once you get this deep into an Airstream Trailer, you see all kinds of things that make you wonder. The old outriggers were typically removable by hand, deadhead hammer to start them moving, and once the weld gets brittle, just bend back and forth until the old outrigger comes off.  I try and do all of one process before moving onto another (remove all outriggers in an area / brush and grind all surfaces / start welding) Yes, you can use a torch (got one), you can use a sawzall (got one), you can use a plasma cutter (got one), but I wanted a good line of the old bead to accurately place the new outrigger against. It makes a good, hard marker that actually gives you something to butt flush* up against.

Once you remove the old outrigger, get ready to weld.

Clean all surfaces to be welded including the new outrigger if it has any rust or other impurities. Grind down those old welds, and make sure you are allowed to adjust vertically by grinding ends off welds. The factory guys ran their beads mostly randomly – sometimes front and sometimes back side. Grind off any other pieces that will not be in play for the new outriggers (completely). When determining where to place the new outrigger: 1) butt up against old weld, 2) flush up against top rail (this insures flat floors!), 3) square on sides against main frame rail, 4) tack weld, 5) make adjustments, 6) make final weld running bead inside and outside all the way around. NOTE – Out of all the outriggers replaced, a fair number were never welded in square at the factory, so *do not be surprised if you need to pull the new outrigger off the old weld line – to square it up.

TOOLS NEEDED

  • Grinder with heavy brush and cutting wheel.
  • Steel hand brush.
  • Welder – I use Miller 135 wire feed (no gas outdoors)
  • Heavy Duty extension cord if you are running power (a long) distance to your welder.
  • Angle – for making sure your outriggers are at 90-degrees from main rails.
  • Deadhead hammer for making “adjustments.”
  • Leveling tools like a very long level are critical.
  • New outriggers – custom made through A&P Vintage Trailer. All are same length on this Airstream. Preserve original front triangular outriggers.

Airstream frame outriggers - square and level

Remember to square up and level. Then tack weld, and square up and level again. This is about a level and wave-free floor in the future!

There’s really not a need to have the holes cut in the outriggers to save weight because the reality is the amount of weight saved is negligible, and why give up strength. The steel itself is a custom bend of 11 gauge steel that Paul at A&P that is a major upgrade in strength to the frameworks of any Airstream trailer.

NOTE – some of the angles of the outriggers can be compromised by changes in the angle of the axle plate toward the back (of this Airstream), and using a plasma to cut away metal and level UP the outrigger can be common. If you tack properly and cut the outrigger before final welding, you will be much less tired at the end of the day. The outriggers at the very back were not replaced, as you can see, because the entire back end of the frame (just past the axle plates) is being cut off and replaced – boxed.

I had to take Sunday off to let my body rest. Dang! Those muscle cramps hurt, and two gallons of water yesterday wasn’t quite enough. So, labor day will be just that. It’s an exciting time for the Airstream, and it’s equally exciting to see activity picking up at A&P Vintage Trailer as people come-and-go as they prepare for the fall Airstream season. I’ve started making commitments for the first quarter of next year for the Airstream, so there’s no going back now!

When The Cat’s Away

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I’ve been laying low, staying cool, while Ann and Paul have been away at an Airstream gathering out west (I’ll wait for their details), and while we have a pile of pieces to put the Airstream back together, we’ve definitely been busy on the home front. If it wasn’t a temporarily defunct home central A/C, it was something else.

I did have time to get the wheel wells fabricated by the guys at Able Sheet Metal north of Denton, and I did load all the steel for the outriggers and bring it back to the new shop here in Denton. Oh yes, there’s a new locale for Leslie’s Cimarrona manufacturing along with a palatial new spread for our steel and wood working tools. The shop 1200 square feet of gloriously air conditioned comfort, will get its first steel work when I taper the 11 gauge steel C channels for the frame’s outriggers this week. That curved taper is what enables a smooth wrap on the bottom of the trailer, and as it turns out, every single one will be replaced.

As significant as that is, the outriggers, frame pieces outside the frame that provide strength to the edges of the Airstream, are all the same length, and the taper is the same for every one as well. What a relief that is. Paul and I cut off the ends of left and right outriggers so I can simply follow the angle with my plasma cutter and get a good clean cut.

The replacing of the outriggers along with every single cross member with 11 gauge C channel cold steel adds significant strength and stability to the frame, a wider top to that channel that allows us to stagger the bolts that will hold the decking down. Looming at the rear of the frame is a clean cut off of the frame and replacement with a boxed end to the rear frame / cross rails.

While I am deep into the manual labor of deconstruction-construction, Leslie is looking intently at Airstream layouts for inspiration in her soon to come remodel/rebuild of the interior. The changes are significant, and a radical departure from the original layout. Like Wally dictated, we consider ourselves to be making improvements – radical improvements. Reminder – I am the heavy (beast) worker, while she is the beauty (fung shue / design / layout / soft stuff) rebuilder. And I can’t wait to turn Tilley over to her!

 

 

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