The Airstream Diary

Airstream Trailer Answers and Questions

Instinct and In Stink

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My instinct tells me that I don’t need to call Paul at A&P Vintage Trailer and tell him to get ready for a good old 1930′s Texas dust storm. He already knows, but I feel the pain of our Airstream sitting wide open and apart. She’s going to need a good cleaning after this one!

I am clocking some good days out near Sunset, Texas, working in the oil fields on the Barnett Shale. Most of the days I drive home and cha-ching – the next piece or part for the Airstream is paid for. We are making the monetary progress that I had been looking for for a few months now. Progress, once off the Shale, will be rapid fire, as long as I am not called back out (which would be fine if I were).

And with financial progress finally underway, so too can the Airstream product research get underway. I can finally get serious about some of the big ticket things, and sock them away for when their time comes – because it’s coming just like that dust storm tonight.


The path to reconstruction goes to shite by necessity. We have come a long way from our original intent to NOT have any commode or that plumbing in our Airstream. We were talked down by Paul and Ann, when they explained that you aren’t always “hooked-up” and when you’re on the fly road, sometimes you’re nowhere close to a hook-up. So we went from always assuming we would camp in parks and be close to bathrooms, to embrace the common sense of needing indoor plumbing and the ability to go boondocking.

Plus, being able to boondock means you are not paying for that hook-up, site or whatever entry fees and all that jazz.

Before we headed down this commode road, we did research the composting commodes that are scientifically interesting, but require constant attention – even when not in use at all. See, I avoided saying constant feeding! Nevertheless, through past experience with shite eating microbes – for yard dog applications – I was confident that we would not have the discipline necessary to feed this bird. So we went conventional.

We begin at the bottom (of the trailer silly), and that means a black tank. We are going from an above the floor tank curved into the back streetside corner, to a total rearranging of everything – including the commode. The commode was the root of all our evil to begin with – the tail rot that lead to the ground up restoration you are witnessing. IT WAS THAT EVIL that almost soured us on having a commode at all.

Now, thanks to Paul’s direction, we are moving the bathroom, the commode and going with a below deck black tank for the Safari. We welded in the cross members with this in mind, and as the black tank is being built, we will also run a grey tank next to the black. The 1970 Airstream Safari ’23 did not come with a grey tank.

So there will be three items underfoot. ONE – a grey tank, TWO – a black tank, and THREE – a pan that is exposed from the bottom of the trailer (imagine laying on the ground behind the axle and looking up) that supports and protects both tanks. I’ll detail the whole thing as it happens because I know there will be details.

These will be galvanized steel, but I imagine the tanks could be done in stainless if you wanted. I am wondering how rust is prevented from happening once the welding burns off the galvanizing though? I am a big fan of stainless from my darkroom days, but that’s an expensive proposition.


Probably the best way to start is by defining our parameters. Neither Leslie, nor myself are too daunted by being on the trail – camping in the Colorado mountains for a week at a time. So, we are looking at what we consider to be a luxury item.

Next, I am a guy and Leslie is a gal – just in case the names threw you. I have typical white guy short comings when it comes to my hind quarters, and Leslie … no I am not going to make a “Does this dress make me look fat?” mistake. Translation; we don’t need a commode with extra size or reinforcement.

I figure a little internet research is the first way to start finding the right throne for our aluminum castle. Let’s have a look. The first pop on is Thetford.

I’ve heard of Thetford before, and when I go to the Thetford website and click on their “permanent toilets” I realize I am already in deep … look at all the choices, recirculating, cassette and marine. And look at those names that were conceived just to inspire me to use their toilet: “aria, bravura and silence plus,”. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really associate toilets with silence. Maybe they mean the sound of the flush? It looks like Thetford is a pretty dominant manufacturer, but that only means I have to look for an off brand. Back to google.

Slightly down the search page, a name I actually like - Dometic – pops. Going to the Dometic page and hitting the drop down there gives me fewer choices – ceramic, ceramic/plastic and plastic. I like that simplicity. I hadn’t thought about it much, but now that I do, I LIKE the feel of ceramic, not that I like spending a lot of time hugging the ceramic, but it cleans easier and, you know, it’s CERAMIC.

The Dometic 310 China has an exotic name, not as much as it used to, and an elegant look, with a thinner base that gives it an organic appeal, and since we are ultimately talking organics, I clicked it. Okay, I’m done. They use words like, “tasteful and elegant Euro design,” and seal the deal with “POWER FLUSH”! Yes, I put it in all caps, but you get the point. It’s just that the narrow base gives the idea of more room in our eventual enclosure.

dometic toilet for airstreamI’m probably not done with my research. Of course I have to call my Mom to get her to check her Consumer Reports for their ratings – and isn’t that one of the things moms are good for – helping with making informed decisions on sexy things like a toilet for an Airstream? To be continued …


Dragging Bottom

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The trailer is finally at the bottom, and we have virtually all parts assembled to begin the rise from the bottom on the longest restoration curve for an Airstream that I have ever heard of.

There won’t be much left of the frame except the two long rails running front to back, and even those rails will be chopped about five feet from the back because they were so rusted past that (where the bathroom and tail rot were located) that they rusted all the way through. Needless to say, I am ecstatic that we went this far and are doing all this. Nothing could have been worse (from my perspective) than to build a house on shifting sand. And shifting sand is what you get when you rebuild an airstream on a rusted frame.

Essentially, the frame was a fleck of rust away from worst case scenario. All outrigger frame pieces will be replaced, and I will be cutting those with the plasma cutter this week. All the cross members / beams, or whatever you want to call them – are to be cut out. We have all the steel for that job as well. And the rear section of rails, both side will be replaced and boxed. So the front and rear will be boxed.

Our new 35-degree axle with disc brakes will be on hand when it’s time, but that time is still a ways away.

Decisions Decisions

Now that all parts – marine grade decking, 11 gauge C channel steel beams for cross members, outriggers and tail boxing, 35-degree axle – are gathered and ready for the build-back, some  other decisions do pop up.

ONE – what kind of plumbing will we want and where? The 1970 Safari didn’t have a grey tank, and now we will be adding one, but before we do, we need to know where the plumbing is going to be.

TWO – Part of the plumbing decisions are contingent on what kind of commode we are going with for the Airstream bathroom. We have done a complete 180 from the original idea of no bathroom at all, and see the light and logic of having  a full bathroom – commode, shower and sink. Along the way, Paul mentioned these composting toilets, and we are intrigued by that possibility. There was so much damage from bad commode plumbing in the original Airstream that it would have made anyone  think twice about adding back a commode. Plumbing really is the root of all evil in a travel trailer.

As most internet searches in the disheveled world of Airstream internet presence go, I came across more NOT related to commodes in Airstreams than direct information on commodes. I came across an interesting site On The Green Road at which is an interesting site. The Green Road hit sites directly addressing the composting commode – Nature’s Head and Sun Mar .

It looks like the Nature’s Head runs in the $800-dollar range, and that, is probably about what a nice fully plumbed traditional commode setup will run – especially since I am determined to have a stainless black tank if we have to have one.

As disinterested as I am in commodes, I can still find time to think about the lesser details that are also so much more simple. Do I need shock absorbers for the new axle? And do I replace the tire rims with new ones, or powder coat the old ones and go from there. These tiny things that barely matter help me keep my mind off the next phases of rebuilding the frame on the Airstream.


If I didn’t have the knowledgeable help of Paul at A&P, I probably would have just started cutting the cross members off the frame right where it sits. Unfortunately, what WOULD HAVE happened is the long rails would have lost all their square, everything remaining would have been free to twist, and the trailer would be permanently flawed and potentially impossible to reassemble. SOLUTION – We have to square the frame up on leveling stands, jack stands, and whatever other stands I can get – to square the frame up BEFORE cutting off of the old frame parts begins. Replacement will go one at a time instead of cutting off all, then replacing all.






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