The new double-wide Airstream belly runners. This is where the sides and belly pan come together.
Yeah, an Airstream rebuild is a humbling experience. You think you’re going to snap it back together, like a pile of LEGOs that you just pulled apart, but nooooo!
I hear it when Paul (AP VT Works) says, “things don’t always go back the way they were,” but maybe I don’t always listen.
I had no idea the runners – that run along the bottom of the outriggers, and are where the side panels and belly pan get overlapped and riveted – would be so far off my dead center measurement of the originals, that I would have to go back in and weld in another whole set of runners.
I figured that having a double wide set of runners, rather than cutting out the old or moving the old, I would totally eliminate the margin of error (and tacked the two together along the length) … and be done with this SNAFU. Let me tell you, welding upside down with floor attached is a whole different deal. Put that together with days that start early and end by noon-ish due to the heat, and it’s a recipe for a good old fashion beat down. And that’s exactly what it was.
NOTE TO YOU WHO ATTEMPT THIS – Save these runners for the last welding you do after the shell is back on. Fold under the side panels, measure and weld for the new location of these runners. The old measurement will not work.
Appliances are starting to roll in now. We have a brand new Dometic A/C and I picked up our new toilet the Dometic 310 this week as well. We are starting the search for a refrigerator now. Amazing what trailer (gas + electric) cost these days, and always I guess. It’s hardly aligned with what you get for the dollar in a home refrigerator, so just put those comparisons right out of your mind.
There is a polisher working out at AP right now, and he gave me a cost on polishing the Safari. I would have to remove the clear coat, and Paul said that’s a pretty simple chemical process. For $2400., we can gaze at the landscape in the side of the Safari. Time to call in some debts?!
We put in a short day at A&P Vintage just because the work didn’t time out with the daylight. It’s not like we were tired from yesterday’s work, or anything like that!
Leslie and Anne took a look at colors for the Airstream’s new Marmoleum floor and Multispec by Multi Color Specialties, Inc. (resembles original Airstream zolatone). There’s still plenty of hard design decisions to be made above deck, but the path is set for everything happening below the Airstream’s marine grade plywood flooring. While they were talking, I managed to finish the edge painting of the ply wood and covered known wet areas (specifically the doorway and bathroom area) with a coat of paint just to have a shot at beading water instead of absorbing it.
One thing I had forgotten about, and really hadn’t decided, was where to put the spare Airstream’s spare tire carrier. It didn’t come with one, and there was no place for one evident in the old configuration of the Safari ’23. So, while we are in so deep, I decided to put a standard Airstream spare tire carrier that mounts between the main rails just behind the tongue – up and under the floor. That means leaving off a section of belly pan / insulation, and laying a sheet of aluminum below the marine grade plywood and sandwiched against the frame and the ply wood. We will lose some R value right there, but the ability to carry a spare up and out of the way is well worth another tradeoff.
It is amazing how much more real the project looks with pieces of plywood decking fitted neatly and almost puzzle perfect atop the frame. Now the frame begins to disappear, a time capsule for someone else to unwrap and say, “We can do so much better with today’s materials and technology. Bring in the magnetic levitation axle, and activate hail forcefield, ” in about a hundred years.
Earlier, I mentioned the possibility of the Airstream wheel wells being off, way off. I took one of the old ones (never throw your old wheel wells away until the new ones are completely installed)out to compare to the new ones that I left in Cottondale yesterday. For my money, in mymind’s eye, they were exactly the same, but Paul had a heck of a time with the ones I had made for a ’63 Safari that we assumed would be the same. It turns out my Airstream wheel wells are an exact match to my Airstream (1970 Safari), but not even in the ballpark for the ’63. Such is the Airstream life. I breathed a sigh of relief, and knew that the wheel wells wouldn’t be costing us any extra time.
On the other side of the design spectrum, apparently the best way to lay down these full sheets of Marmoleum is to lay it directly on the deck before we drop the fuselage back onto the deck – sandwiching the edges under the Airstream’s U channel support / bolt down strip. That makes for a clean install, and still stays true to floating the flooring (allowing for expansion and contraction of the surface).
Below is a good look at the wheel wells, and how they meet with the decking. It may take some adjusting, and further notching inside the wheel well decking, but remember the very outer edge of the well (where it meets the deck) is flush with the deck. Those little tabs running over the top are for securing the inner skin with rivets. If you have problems here, don’t fret! Much of this will disappear beneath a lot of further construction.
Decking is just laying on flange of wheel well here. If you get this tight of fit, you are doing great. Otherwise you may have to trim back the decking to make everything line up.
Note how I folded down the tab on the piece that is below deck. If your wells look like this, do the same.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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!