The Airstream Diary

Airstream Trailer Answers and Questions

Framing Up the Airstream

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The heavy hard work of rebuilding the frame has taken up most of recent visits to Cottondale, at A&P Vintage Trailer, and it is reassuring to see just how solid looking the final product really is. It’s kind of like comparing the S.S. Minnow to the U.S.S. Enterprise – at least in my eyes.

If I recall correctly, most trailers, including Airstreams, were built for a 25-year maximum live span. That means things start to  “go”  well before the 25-year mark, and are pretty much gone at 25. Well, Airstreams are not nearly so fortunate as to die all at once. Imagine a 1952 trailer and about the only thing you can envision is … an Airstream. That’s because Airstreams started off (were born if you like) differently, and as a consequence, live longer lives.

Underneath an Airstream, a 1970 in this case, you will probably find some rust, some pitted structural steel and in our case, structural cancer eating away at important bones. That’s just how it goes. However, this damage gives us a chance to come back in with better, stronger improvements. Where once there were lightweight airplane wing looking internal steel hollowed, now there are 11 gauge C channel pieces – no flex, no holes and no rust. We are adding some weight, but the payback in strength outweighs that by more than enough.

Being told these improvements matter is one thing, but seeing immediate visual evidence of strengthening is quite another.  Leveling is critical, and a long level is a must – to run in every direction insuring that the new pieces welded on are straight and level with the rest of the trailer. Paul also runs plumb lines over longer lengths to give a better sense of overall level. Needless to say, the guys at the Airstream factory (Ohio) have their own idea of square and level. Leveling reaches all the way out to the edges of the outriggers, as they are the platform for the decking to the outer edge of the floor. There won’t be any half-inch plywood shims between the cross rails and the decking (as ours came from the factory). Your welds will be more thorough and stronger than the originals in most cases because you have the time advantage over a factory fabricator. You will also see their mistakes, by commission or omission, so seize the opportunity to correct them – make improvements.

Of course none of this would look like it does without the supervision of Paul at A&P, so if I sound like an authority, I am really speaking from his experience. I will claim it as my own when I start on the next Airstream trailer. Yeah, there’s going to be another one, sometime somewhere.

The grey paint is a primer that we brush on, and brushing on primer, upside down rolling on the ground is considerably less fun than welding from those positions. We try to prime the steel and welds as soon as possible to avoid a lot of brushing off rust if they sit in the weather. Believe me, you would rather brush slag and smoke film than rust!

The boxing of the rails certainly straightens up everything, and we decided to run them from just in front of the axle placement to where they ended naturally, where the back outside compartment for cords and sewer hose is stowed. Total length of the boxing steel is eight feet, and that leaves around four feet of the frame that is not boxed (front is factory boxed). If you think you can just go down to your local steel shop and pick up the 11 gauge steel that goes inside the rails, good luck. Paul has this bent for this specific purpose, and it is a clean tight fit.

All the outriggers are done. The boxing of the rear is done. Now, it’s time to put in the cross rails – based on the new location of the black tank (commode), and grey tank (shower and sinks) which was not a factory stock item. At some point I will try and get the floor plan drawings of the new layout into a post.

As my focus shifts toward the Airstream, more related topics like art find their way into my purview. Here is a poster by Alan Peters at Jupiter Visual – ‘To Live is to Ride” . Very cool stuff.

Meanwhile, have a look at the photos below, and click on one to start a slideshow.

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