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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!

Outriggers Cut and Done

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Using plasma cutter to put curve into Airstream outrigger frame pieces

The new shop got a workout yesterday. The first new steel project to go through the doors of the new 1200 square foot location was plasma cutting the outriggers for the outer frame of the Safari. Paul and I cut off a couple of the outrigger ends – left and right – so I could have a jig to follow with the plasma cutter.

The thing about plasma cutters, if you haven’t used one, is they are super agile and responsive to your hand movements, like a hot knife cutting butter except the cut doesn’t melt back together again. So what we did is cut the driver side (street side) curve off an outrigger, and clamp that one on the curb side pieces to follow the curve with a clean plasma cut. Then the opposite for the other side. One thing you want to do is get the jig a little way off the piece you are cutting to avoid having the plasma cutter slipping offline and cutting the jig (you can see I learned that on the job). Put some thick washers between the jig and the piece being cut, then C clamp it down. I can’t emphasize enough how easy it is to slip off and cut the jig (like butter).

 

 

Airstream outrigger curve recreated in 11 gauge custom C channel steel

Original Airstream outrigger sitting on top of new 11 gauge C channel steel custom made for A&P Vintage Trailer. There’s no need to cut the oval holes in the new 11 gauge, and the custom C channel will be stronger and easier to hit when the time comes to bolt the decking down to the frame (C channel is part of the framework).

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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