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Airstream Trailer Living and Repair

Airstream Frame Rebuilding

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Airstream Trailer Frame Rebuilding at A&P Vintage Trailer

Touching up the primer on the Airstream frame, and a few more welds. When it comes to rebuilding the frame, it can be easy to forget parts (like the strips that run along the bottom of the outriggers (front to back @ 6-inches from frame edge-to-ege) and photographs are helpful reference. It’s also helpful to NOT dump the removed / discarded pieces until completely done.

There’s a uniquely angled piece of angle iron that secures the bottom of the back wall to the frame that Paul had to have special bent, and the long pieces of steel I was referring to earlier are also a unique thickness. Those long front to back pieces on the bottom of the outriggers are critical – it’s where the skins get riveted back under the curve!

The Safari Doubles as a Chicken scratch spot  in the evenings

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!

We Are Go For Ignition and we Have Liftoff

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1970 Airstream Safari '23 Full Monty
There are many images leading up to the Full Monty, and they will help you see what all goes into doing your own Full Monty moon shot if you have the Right Stuff.

So, yes I am an Apollo kid. I was a geek who sat out front at night with binoculars to see if I could see the astronauts walking on the moon.

Sometimes, for those of us who are not astronauts, our moonshots are much more earthly. Doing the Full Monty on our Airstream is as close as I have come to the process of building a space ship. Of course, we are unbuilding it now, and that makes the future as daunting as today, and probably more so.

There are several photographs showing the process, and I will try and create a show of some sort to bring all the images of the Full Monty together.

Paul Mayeux of A&P Vintage Trailer in Cottondale, Texas, is the indisputable head of mission control, and without his guidance, we would never have been able to walk on our new moon. Skills are one thing, knowledge another.

Finders Keepers

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Second move for the Airstream Safari in 6 years

Sunday’s transport of the Safari to A&P Vintage Trailer Restoration went off without a hitch … almost. Is it okay to say “without a hitch” when talking trailer lingo?

I had lowered the trailer onto the hitch of the Toyota fully expecting the 500-pound tongue weight to take the rear of the Toyota to the ground. I was mostly shocked when that didn’t happen, and instead the weight leveled out the car’s rear and made for almost a straight line body mass parallel to the ground. Amazing. It must be the suspension on the Sport version of the 4 Runner that provides the backbone.

The timing was precisely right as far as when to be in transit during a low tide of law enforcement on the road. Nary a peacekeeper was stirring until we hit Decatur, and what must have been a shift change. Still, we made it through town. There was some kind of auto flea market on the outskirts that featured just about every domestic classic car, mostly in rusted pieces, on trailers, and in piles. The wind blew dust clouds through that event, and that was enough to keep us from thinking about stopping on the way back through.

At the end of the line at A&P Vintage Trailer

WE breezed to Cottondale, actual town where A&P Vintage is located, with only a couple of navigational miscues. The Toyota ran more smoothly with the load than it does without, and although there was high wind, 18-wheelers and rough roads, no anti-sway – none took away from the ride, or took us near a point of danger in this short jaunt.Up the driveway, the last great challenge of the day’s road, and to the end of the distinguished line of Airstreams waiting their turn.

Leslie got out of the car, with no need to kiss the ground, and said, “Hey Shannon, there’s something missing.” Immediate adrenalin for me. “The air conditioner is gone.” Sure enough, daylight was all that was left of where the a.c. on top of the trailer once sat. Gone, as in without a trace. Talk about a sick feeling. Not about losing a great a.c., more about possible damage to others, and probable littering of the Texas roadside – something I hate to see.

Nothing but blue sky through the hole, the third opening in the roof, besides the two vents that came standard. That was another piece of knowledge imparted to us by Paul; our Airstream came stock without an a.c., and a third hole was cut to place the unit near the middle of the trailer. The a.c. was going to “go away” as it were, but I had hoped to dictate the time and place of its final departure.

I knew for a fact that the a.c. was just sitting there sealing the hole from the elements, and had asked Leslie an unnamed helper to re bolt the unit securely using wood to cross over the opening. The key words there are, “cross over.” I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that the unnamed helper had cut a perfect shape piece of plywood to fit precisely in the opening, therefore securing the a.c. to nothing but the board. It was a clean separation, like when the different stages of an Apollo moon shot separate. There was only a telltale scratch extending down the side of the trailer where it fell away once we had separation (down the curbside and probably right out of traffic).

Paul whipped out a quick rain patch, crawled atop the Airstream, and taped it over the hole. Another thing learned; Airstreams would support a person crawling around on the top of them – just try to hit the supports and stay off the hollow spots. I just figured the whole thing would taco, but chalk it up.

We quickly took our leave, and headed back retracing our route in expectation of having to pick up shards of an old brittle plastic trailer a.c.. What we found was nothing. There was not a trace of plastic, compressor, injury or maiming to be found. Relief was unanimous.

Perhaps our future junk was someone’s treasure that day? We’ll probably never know. What I do know is, that this Airstream is turning into our “box of chocolates” a la Forrest Gump.

Out of the Driveway and Into the Street

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We are hitched up and out in front of the house now. It has been the longest journey that never left, and now threatens to peak over the walls of fantasy and have a long look at reality.

It’s about forty-three miles to A&P Vintage, and we will be running a gauntlet of traffic that, with luck, will have no DPS cars or small town PD’s looking for an easy ticket. No lights – check. No current license plate sticker – check. No anti-sway. Hey, Tilley has been a driveway princess until tomorrow. After tomorrow, everything changes … and gets into the realm of “expense.”

I find it hard to imagine how many places we would have already been IF the economy of the past decade hadn’t beaten me to a pulp of my former self. It’s not like it is any better for my business now, but when faced with the “fix it, or forget it” ultimatum … well I have to try to get this done just to salvage the hours I already put in it. Sounds like a relationship doesn’t it?

I’ll take some pictures at A&P tomorrow, and see if they have any new trailers at their site. Just driving up is like seeing people’s presents under their Christmas trees. One thing is certain; tomorrow is going to be an interesting day.